Shuggie Otis – A Legend Lost & Found

Shuggie Otis CD
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INSTANT REPLAY: overlooked moments in music history — by Ryan Kailath

Shuggie Otis
Inspiration Information
Luaka Bop | 1974/2001

If you’ve heard of Shuggie Otis, you can stop reading now. You already know that he declined the Rolling Stones’ invitation to join the band after Mick Taylor quit in 1975. You’ve heard the praise heaped on him by David Byrne, Tim Gane, and nearly every music magazine in print. You remember the Brothers Johnson selling a million records with their cover of Otis’ Strawberry Letter 23, which topped the R&B charts and made #5 Pop in 1977.

If you haven’t heard of Shuggie Otis, don’t feel bad. Until very recently, neither had anyone else. Otis disappeared soon after singlehandedly writing, arranging and recording his masterpiece, Inspiration Information, at the age of nineteen. The soulfunky experiment, lauded today by as many electronic artists and DJs as it is by traditional rockers, was too far ahead of it’s time to sell Gold in 1974. In 2001, David Byrne discovered this lost gem and re-released it on his Luaka Bop label. The whirlwind of press and rave reviews that followed was enough to coax Otis out of his premature retirement. He now plays occasional live shows, but prefers to remain out of the limelight. “I just wanted to do what I want to do,” he said in a later interview. “I had my own identity.”

When I play Inspiration Information for my friends, I like to make them guess who we’re listening to. Stevie Wonder is a popular mistake. “Didn’t Outkast sample this song?” The more soul-savvy bet money on Curtis Mayfield or Isaac Hayes. I keep them guessing until I get the answer I want to hear. “Whatever it is, it’s really sexy,” declares one of my guests, inevitably. “Who wants to dance?”