Shuggie Otis Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON, April 14
Published Apr 15, 2013Throughout his storied career, Shuggie Otis has remained a cult favourite on the fringes of soul, funk and pop. Following an early start backing up Etta James and his famous father (R&B legend Johnny Otis), the teenage wiz kid earned a surprising credit playing bass on Frank Zappa's "Peaches en Regalia." From there, Otis cut a series of overlooked solo albums culminating in 1974's Inspiration Information, a near-flawless collection of psychedelic bubble-gum soul that sounds like Sly and the Family Stone on Vaseline. However, he remains best known for the stone cold classic "Strawberry Letter 23," a song that became a smash hit with its cover by the Brother Johnson, later sampled by Outkast on the immortal "Ms. Jackson."
Inspiration Information first earned a reissue in 2001 from David Byrne's Luaka Bop label, and sees a newly expanded version this month with an odds and sods (and often stunning) bonus disc of unreleased recordings. Supporting this release at the Phoenix, Otis soared past decades of cult status with a slick revue for the sold-out crowd, but the sad truth is that this set was mediocre at best. Starting off strong with a series of choice cuts from his 1970s and '80s catalogue, things soon dissolved into an onslaught of solos and generic blues jams, coming across like an evening with the SNL house band. The inevitable encore of "Strawberry Letter 23" was a moment of zen, but some long-lost albums are better left on the turntable.