Like most people I came across this superlative American guitarist in a roundabout way - via The Brothers Johnson and their huge Funk/Soul hit of 1977 "Strawberry Letter No. 23" (which Shuggie Otis wrote). That SH original came off his lesser seen "Freedom Flight" album from 1971. This new mini box set is the first time that three of his fabulous (and rare) Seventies LPs have been brought together in one place - and at a more than reasonable price too.
It breaks down as follows - released Monday 9 January 2012 in the UK and Europe (17 January 2012 in the USA) - "Original Album Classics" by SHUGGIE OTIS is a 3CD mini box set on Sony/Epic 88691901782 (Barcode 886919017823) and contains the following three albums in single 5" card repro sleeves:
"Here Comes Shuggie Otis" - released February 1970 on Epic Records BN 26511 in the USA and April 1970 in the UK on CBS Records S 63996 (36:21 minutes) 1. Oxford Gray 2. Jennie Lee 3. Bootie Cooler 4. Knowing (That You Want Him) 5. Funky Thithee 6. Shuggie's Boogie 7. Hurricane 8. Gospel Groove 9. Baby, I Needed You
"Freedom Flight" - released September 1971 in the USA on Epic Records E 30752 [produced by Johnny Otis - it had no UK release] (38:30 minutes) 1. Ice Cold Daydream 2. Strawberry Letter 23 3. Sweet Thang 4. Me And My Woman 5. Someone Always Singing 6. Purple 7. Freedom Flight
"Inspiration Information" - released March 1975 in the USA on Epic Records KE 33059 [it had no UK release] (32:27 minutes) 1. Inspiration / Information 2. Island Letter 3. Sparkle City 4. Aht Uh Mi Hed 5. Happy House 6. Rainy Day 7. XL-30 8. Pling! 9. Not Available
It doesn't say who remastered these albums or where, but the sound quality is wonderful (probably the 2001 versions). The debut is a little hissy in places as are the beat boxes used as percussion on the 3rd LP "Inspiration Information" (sounds like the back beat used on the Timmy Thomas classic "Why Can't We Live Together"), but other than that it all sounds so much better than other releases I have of the same material. The bass in particular is so sweet and by the time you get to the improved production qualities of the second and third LPs - the audio quality is great. And as with all of these "Original Classic Albums" 3/5 CD mini box sets, the lyrics and recording details are downloadable from Sony's website [...]
The music - releasing his US debut album in late 1969 at only 17 years of age - "Kooper Session - Al Kooper Introduces Shuggie Otis" made everyone sit up and take notice (see separate review). His follow up debut 'solo' album "Here Comes Shuggie Otis" (which is the first disc to be featured here) is the stuff of legend - the very definition of 'lost classic' and 'cool album you must hear before you die'. It opens with two different types of instrumental - "Oxford Gray" is very Sixties Fleetwood Mac with a clavinet thrown in while the fantastic soulful organ shuffle of "Bootie Cooler" regularly brings customers to our counter asking after the 'cool' tune that's playing. Then it changes again into Mamas & Papas sixties pop with "Knowing (That You Want Him)". Then another fantastically cool and funky instrumental - the not-so-subtly titled "Funky Thithee" which shows his great guitar chops against the backdrop of a chugging beat. He name-checks his blues heroes at the beginning of "Shuggie's Blues" as he just plays around - it then goes into an organ-shuffle and boogie - great stuff. The slow blues of "Gospel Groove" is another that brings the punters up to ask - who the Hell is this! It ends with Albert King type tracks "Baby, I Needed You" and "The Hawks". Listed at £35 for an original copy of the British vinyl (if you can find one) - you can hear why this gem is so sought after. The LP actually troubled the US album charts for 2 weeks in March 1970 at a lowly placing of 199.
His 2nd solo LP "Freedom Flight" is the one that will interest Soul Boys who like their Blues and Rock with a slightly trippy even spacey feel. It has only 7 tracks because its title song is a 13-minute instrumental that sounds like Jazz meets Blues meets Mellow meets Santana - it's 'so' good. "Purple" is a very B.B. King number, while it gets a little Stax funky with the superb "Sweet Thang" which opens the album. "Me And My Woman" is a Gene Barge song once covered by Albert King - and of course there's the brilliant "Strawberry Letter 23" (lyrics above) that still sounds effortlessly cool to this day. In fact "Freedom Flight" was a huge leap forward from the first album and featured high-profile guests included Jazz fusionist George Duke, the drummer Aynsley Dunbar, his dad Johnny Otis and Wilton Felder of The Crusaders.
His 3rd solo LP "Inspiration Information" saw him take a leap into a Jazz/Soul unknown - and is beloved by rare groove aficionados everywhere (it's name-checked by Prince as a fave). It opens with the jaunty title track that sounds so catchy. "Sparkle City" uses a simple guitar flick as its basis for about half of its duration - it's a little Boz Scaggs meets the Average White Band - while "Happy House" is Todd Rundgren circa "Something/Anything?" with its spacey feel and layered vocals. The beautiful instrumental "Rainy Day" features a slow drum shuffle and strings - it sounds like some cool film outtake. It ends on "Not Available" - another superb guitar instrumental. Bluntly it's easy to hear why this album was reissued in 2001 on David Byrne's Luaka Bop label and why it still turns up on reissue vinyl all the time in the West End of London - its just so bloody good and chockers with usable funky acid-jazz tunes.
Niggles - as I mentioned above - his first LP was "Kooper Session..." on Epic and combining that with the rare "Cuttin' Up" album by The Johnny Otis Show (which featured Shuggie) - this could have been a gobsmacking 5CD mini box set, but that would probably have been cost prohibitive. Other than that - like the dinky 3CD Fleetwood Mac box in this series - this is a peach of a release and finally makes music available to the masses that should be heard by the same.
To sum up - part Blues, part Soul, Rock, Acid House and Soulful - Shuggie Otis' music has always been hard to pigeonhole and all the better for it. It's even rumoured he has a long-awaited new album due this year (2012). So - if you haven't heard his catalogue before, I urge you to take on a chance on this. It's a genuine voyage of discovery - especially if you like your Blues, R'n'B and Soul poison with a slightly spacey tint.
Fabarooney people. And even though it's only early January 2012 - this is already a 'reissue of the year' for me.
PS: see also separate reviews for two other CDs worth checking out - "Kooper Session: Al Kooper Introduces Shuggie Otis" and "Shuggie's Boogie: Shuggie Otis Plays The Blues"
PPS: there's a full list of over 145 x "Original Album Classics" 5 & 3CD mini box sets in the 'comment' section attached to this review up to January 2012