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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Session 8: Shuggie's Dreams

Shuggie Otis Obscurity covers Shuggie Otis like a shadow - whatever he could do now would never erase the truth that for an incredible quarter of a century one of THE greatest West Coast psychedelic soulsters was atrociously IGNORED and badly served.

Son of bandleader/impresario Johnny Otis (aka John Veliotes), Shuggie was a prodigy - he played in bands at the age of 12, disguised behind shades and 'tash (more obscurity!) to play in nightclubs, and at the precocious age of 17 he released his first solo album (1970's 'Here Comes Shuggie Otis'). Two more fine, razor-sharp albums followed in '71 ('Freedom Flight') and '74 (the delicious 'Inspiration Information').

And then - at the age of 21 - that was it. For 26 years....

Someone so gifted either makes it (Stevie Wonder, as a for instance), or it seems not only DOESN'T make it, but is doomed to struggle forever. Whatever personal demons or external circumstances that contributed to Shuggie Otis' disappearance from the scene, they were powerful and malignant enough to make him go and keep him gone. And apart from a blip or two (The Brothers Johnson's reached #5 in the Billboard pop chart in 1977 with Shuggie's classic "Strawberry Letter 23"), that's where he's stayed.

Apart, that is, from two significant instances. In 1994 ace hipsters Digable Planets released their second LP 'Blowout Comb'. Amongst the many choice cuts on that essential slab, the last track, 'For Corners,' samples 'Island Letter', from "Inspiration Information". That's the first time that King of Bongo saw the name Shuggie Otis. As always when he hears a sparkling refrain, KoB is on the hunt for the original -- but, in this case, zip. Nada.

Seven long years later, KoB is in a record shop in Camden Town, London, England, and, hearing a CRUCIAL tune on the PA, is amazed to hear that the track is called "Strawberry Letter 23" by, you guessed it, SHUGGIE OTIS man! Needless to say, that CD was in the bag, KoB was out of there, and that disc was in the cans.

Inspiration Information, by Shuggie Otis
Buy "Inspiration Information" from Amazon

Lovingly reissued by focused-weirdo David Byrne on Luaka Bop, and one of the KoB fave LP's, combining 'Inspiration Information' in its entirety, and four extra tracks from 'Freedom Flight', and essential purchase. It's purely inspiring, for sure, to hear some of the spaces that Shuggie made is own. Possibly THE first commercial appearance of a drum machine (just beating Sly's 'There's a Riot....'), lush orchestrations and close-up solo work, possibly it's only in hindsight that the visionary aspects of Shuggie's work can be appreciated. People, the LP sounds like it was recorded yesterday. And, whilst 'For Corners' is a fine, beautiful song, 'Island Letter' is a pure slice of genius. Genius.....

So today, King of Bongo is proud to present Shuggie Otis - long-neglected pioneer! And also, the track that started it all for King of Bongo - Digable Planets' 'For Corners'.
Blowout Comb by Digable Planets Buy



Shuggie Otis: Island Letter [mp3 | 4:41 mins | 192 kbps | 6.44 MB]
Digable Planets: For Corners [mp3 | 7:02 mins | 192 kbps | 9.66 MB]
File under: What Cool Breezes Do, What Warm Rhythms Make
[Click on the link and you’ll be taken to yousendit where you can download the track. First come first served people, only 7 days and/or 25 downloads allowed!]

PS - More Digable Planets to come!

2 Comments:

Anonymous Megan Romer said...

Hey, glad to do it! I really like your blog! I'll be back over very soon!

10:11 pm  
Blogger King of Bongo said...

Thanks - you get a King of Bongo hug!

Megan's writes the About.com at World Music Blog, a great source of info for people interested in getting into stuff other than what's on the radio playlists.

Check her out, she's CRUCIAL!

2:49 pm  

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