*** THIS REVIEW IS FOR THE 2009 "SPV Blue Label" IMPORT VERSION ***
Like most people, I came across this superlative guitar player in a roundabout kind of a way - via The Brothers Johnson and their huge Funk/Soul hit of 1977 "Strawberry Letter No. 23" (which Otis wrote). I remember looking at the A&M Records label credit at the time and wondering, who the hell is the funky-sounding Shuggie Otis? And while this mid-priced import reissue doesn't feature Shuggie's 1971 original (it's on "Freedom Flight") - it's a truly stunning compilation of his rare and desirable funky blues output in the early Seventies. It's a bargain at twice the price. But there's a lot on here, so let's get to the details first...
Released March 2009, SPB Blue Label 306422 CD is a UK reissue of a 1994 USA Columbia "Roots N' Blues" CD compilation. It uses the same front-cover artwork and name (though this time it's in a card digipak rather than a jewel case) but has had its original quota of 12-tracks bumped up by 2 - so 13 and 14 are 'Bonus Tracks'. It breaks down as follows (65:16 minutes)
Tracks 1, 12 and 13 are from the AL KOOPER LP "Kooper Session - Al Kooper Introduces Shuggie Otis" released January 1970 in the USA on Columbia Records CS 9951 and in the UK on CBS Records S 63797
Tracks 2, 3, 4, 11 and 14 are from Shuggie Otis' debut solo album "Here Comes Shuggie Otis" released February 1970 on Columbia BN 26511 in the USA and in the UK on CBS Records S 63996
Tracks 6 and 7 are from the JOHNNY OTIS LP (credited as The Johnny Otis Show) "Cuttin' Up" released 1970 in the USA on Epic Records BN 26524. "I Can Stand To See You Die" features Shuggie Otis on Guitar, Bass, Harmonica, Organ and Piano with SUGARCANE HARRIS on solo Lead Vocals. "I Got Walkin' Blues" has the same instrumentation but features duet vocals between Johnny Otis and Sugarcane Harris.
Tracks 5, 8 and 10 are from Shuggie's 2nd solo LP "Freedom Flight" released September 1971 in the USA on Epic Records KE 30572 [produced by Johnny Otis]
Track 9 is an October 1970 recording featuring Johnny & Shuggie Otis and had remained unreleased until the 1994 "Roots N' Blues" CD compilation
Originally mastered for Columbia by Roger Lomax at Ro-Lo Studios in the USA, the sound quality is uniformly excellent and at times 'so' sweet. But it's the material that blows you away. His debut "Here Comes Shuggie Otis" is the very definition of lost classic and 'cool album' you must hear before you die.
Musically it's a little instrumental B.B. King ("Purple") meets trippy Albert King on Stax ("Sweet Thang") meets the straight-up blues workout ("12:15 Slow Goonbash Blues") - it's hugely impressive stuff and strangely diverse too. The fantastic soulful organ shuffle of "Bootie Cooler" - an instrumental I regularly put on a 70's Fest CD - always brings customers to the counter asking after the 'cool' tune that's playing. The false 78" crackle put on "Shuggie's Old Time Slide Boogie" by Al Kooper in 1970 now sounds a tad gimmicky (even if the old-time National Steel blues guitar feel of the track is great), but it's quickly sorted out by the organ-guitar driven "Shuggie's Shuffle" - great stuff.
His 'talking about his influences and past' song "Shuggie's Boogie" (lyrics above) features him name-checking every great Blues player and then imitating their licks for about two minutes before the band kicks in. The track sung by Sugarcane Harris "I Can Stand To See You Die" and the unreleased instrumental cover of "Cold Shot" are more indicative of the Fifties/Sixties Rhythm'n'Blues stuff he would play with his Dad in the mid to late Seventies. Those tracks were issued by Johnny Otis on his own US label and featured huge R'n'B and Blues stars of old (that period is covered extensively on another superb CD called "In Session" from 2002 on the Goldenlane label). "Gospel Groove" sounds like Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac on a churchy tip - a slow-paced Blues groove with organ - 'so' good. And we should make special mention of Otis' incredibly accomplished guitar playing throughout which completely belied his 20 to 21 year's old age when it was all recorded.
"Shuggie's Boogie: Shuggie Otis Plays The Blues" is the kind of superlative little reissue that might pass you by - don't let it. It's a genuine voyage of discovery for lovers of Seventies Blues - especially those who like their particular poison with a slightly soulful tint.
Recommended like a preacher feeling the groove on a Sunday morning.