SHUGGIE OTIS-HERE COMES SHUGGIE OTIS.
SHUGGIE OTIS-HERE COMES SHUGGIE OTIS.
Shuggie Otis’ debut album Here Comes Shuggie Otis, really is a remarkable album. Why I hear you ask? Well, it’s a highly accomplished album from an artist who was just sixteen years old when he recorded Here Comes Shuggie Otis. By then, Shuggie was almost a seasoned musician, having performed professionally with his father Johnny Otis’ band since the age of twelve. To allow Shuggie to play in after-hours clubs, this meant the young Shuggie had to don a disguise. This resulted in the young Shuggie taking to the stage wearing sunglasses and a false mustache. Even at the age of twelve, Shuggie was a true multi-instrumentalist, playing piano, organ, drums and bass. Similarly, Shuggie’s musical styles ranged from R&B, soul, funk, jazz and blues. However, Here Comes Shuggie Otis wasn’t even Shuggie’s debut in a recording studio.
Before Shuggie recorded Here Comes Shuggie Otis had gotten his big break when Al Kooper asked the fifteen year old Shuggie to play on the second volume of his Super Session albums, Kooper Session. During the session, Shguggie was following in the footsteps of experienced musicians. Previously, Stephen Stills and Mike Bloomfield had played on the first album. Remarkably, Kooper Session’s was recorded in just one weekend at a studio in New York. This was Shuggie’s debut as a recording artist, albeit, as a session musician. His second recording session was not far away.
Having returned to Los Angeles Shuggie joined his father and a singer called Delmar “Mighty Mouth” Evans, to record an album entitled Cold Shot. This album was released on the Kent Records, a Los Angeles label, in 1969. Another album would follow from the trio, Snatch and the Poontangs. The next time Shuggie entered a recording studio, it would be as a sixteen year old to record Here Comes Shuggie Otis.
Joining Shuggie Otis on Here Comes Shuggie Otis, were a number of experienced and well known musicians. Johnny Otls, Shuggie’s father played piano, harpsichord, timpani, celesta and percussion, while Wilton Felder of the Jazz Crusaders played bass, Stix Cooper drums and Leon Haywood organ. Add to these players a string and horn section, and in total, it took over thirty musicians to record the ten tracks on Here Comes Shuggie Otis. On the album, Shuggie sang lead and backing vocals, whilst playing guitar, piano, organ, celesta and harpsichord. As if that isn’t impressive enough, Shuggie wrote each the ten tracks himself.
Here Comes Shuggie Otis was released in 1970 on Epic Records, the first of a trio of albums Shuggie released for Epic. Sadly, the album didn’t sell well and wasn’t a commercial success. Since then, Here Comes Shuggie Otis was spoken about in almost hushed tones, with people unable to believe such a mature album was recorded by a sixteen year old musical virtuoso. This meant the album has gained cult status among record collectors. The music on Here Comes Shuggie Otis is a fantastic fusion of soul, R&B, funk, jazz and blues, which I’ll now tell you about.
Opening Here Comes Shuggie Otis is Oxford Gray a seven minute bluesy sounding track. Straight away, you hear how accomplished a guitarist Shuggie is, as he unleashes a sizzling, searing guitar solo. Accompanied by moody sounding, ponderous drums and a loping bass, Shuggie takes centre-stage. Later, he contributes some wailing Hammond organ, while a harpsichord adds a quite different sound to the darkness of the track. Bursts of horns and sweeping strings give the track a dramatic soundtrack feel, before a slide guitar enters, while a moody sound reenters. Overall, there’s a sense of drama, darkness and foreboding on a track that’s reminiscent of Jimi Hedrix and has a late-sixties sound. However, it’s an impressive showcase for the virtuoso skills of a young Shuggie Otis.
Jennie Lee opens with dramatic quivering strings, before giving way to Shuggie’s thoughtful vocal. With guitar, flute and organ accompany the rhythm section, strings sit towards the back of the mix. Later the organ moves to the front, joining subtle horns and Shuggie’s crystalline guitar. Although only two minutes long, it’s a pensive track with a lovely, understated arrangement, very different from the opening track.
Bootie Cooler has a driving blues sound, before Johnny’s scorching guitar solo enters. The rhythm section and keyboards accompany him, before he decides to add some atmospheric Hammond organ to the arrangement. This then gives way to another guitar solo, that’s just as impressive as his previous solo. During this solo, Shuggie combines elements of rock and blues, against a driving rhythm section and reverberating keyboards. By the end of the track, you just can’t help but be impressed and won over by Shuggie’s dazzling guitar licks and sheer musical versatility.
Knowing (That You Want Him) has a real retro sound, reminding me of early to mid-sixties tracks. This doesn’t sound like a track that was recorded in 1969. With its guitars, shimmering strings and Shuggie’s soft vocal key to the track. I really like how every line Shuggie sings is punctuated by a quivering strings. That and his gentle vocal and the way the guitars sound. Later, these guitars jangle, sounding like The Byrds, adding just the finishing touch to the track. This is one of the best tracks on Here Comes Shuggie Otis.
Closing Side One of Here Comes Shuggie Otis is a track that combines funk and the blues, Funky Thithee. It’s a much quicker track, with angry horns, wailing, an atmospheric Hammond organ and a rhythm section that combine funk with blues to good affect. Later, Shuggie adds a dramatic piano solo to the track, before interspersing this with the Hammond organ and horns. By the time Shuggie lets go another searing guitar solo, the arrangement is much fuller, but not overcrowded. The result is a sizzling fusion of funk and blues music.
Shuggie’s Boogie opens Side Two of Here Comes Shuggie Otis and sees Shuggie namecheck his blues heroes, while he shoots the breeze about growing up and playing live. He intersperses this with blues lick and tricks, copying the blues greats he’s seen and heard. After this, he launches into an irresistible sounding blues boogie. With booge woogie piano, another scorching guitar solo and Hammond organ accompanying a brilliant rhythm section, a majestic slice of the finest blues unfolds. You become so caught up in the track that you forget that the guy playing guitar is just sixteen. If this was someone like Jimi Hendrix playing this, people would be in raptures over it. To say it’s brilliant bluesy boogie is no understatement. Truly, it’s the highlight of the album.
Hurricane is a driving bluesy track, with blazing horns, accompanying the rhythm section and Shuggies searing, chiming guitar solo. Here, Shuggie’s vocal is emotive, but neither as powerful, nor mature as his guitar playing. Mind you, that’s to be expected given that he was only sixteen. By the time he recorded his second album Freedom Flight and his final album for Epic Records, Inspiration Information, his voice had matured and strengthened. Here his voice can’t quite carry the lyrics and would be more suited to a stronger voice. His guitar playing more than makes up for this, and like the rest of the arrangement, is of the highest standard.
Gospel Groove is a slow, moody sounding bluesy track. Here, the rhythm section and piano provide an understated backdrop for Shuggies’ slow, searing guitar solo. Later, the piano and bass play a more prominent roll, while the drums provide the track’s heartbeat. Towards the end of the track, the arrangement grows in strength and volume, with the Hammond organ adding to the drama, while Shuggie plays the leading roll in this stunning, blues’ success.
Baby, I Needed You is another slow, guitar lead track. A chiming guitar solo opens the track, accompanied by the rhythm section and Hammond organ. Here, Shuggie’s voice is better suited to the track, but his delivery is slightly lacking, sometimes almost sounding flat. Even the arrangement isn’t up to the standard of the other tracks on the album. It’s only when Shuggie’s guitar enters that the track improves. Overall, the track has a quite disappointing sound, not up to the standard of the rest of Here Comes Shuggie Otis.
Things improve on The Hawks, the final track on Here Comes Shuggie Otis. It’s a track that demonstrates Shuggie talent as a guitarist. He dazzles his way through a track that combines the blues, R&B and jazz. This he does against a backdrop of rasping horns and a driving rhythm section. For two and a half minutes you’re mesmerized by Shuggie Otis’ flair and virtuoso skills, right up to the tracks dramatic crescendo.
Overall, Shuggie Otis’ debut album Here Comes Shuggie Otis is an accomplished and mature album. Of the ten songs, eight of them work well, with only two tracks Hurricane and Baby, I Needed You disappointing. With both of these tracks, the problem is Shuggie’s vocal. On these two tracks his voice lacks the power to the deliver the songs to their full potential. Apart from these two tracks, the other eight track are of the highest standard. During these tracks, Shuggie’s guitar playing is mesmerizing, with his guitar solos sizzling throughout the album. Given that Shuggie was only sixteen when he recorded Here Comes Shuggie Otis, this is a remarkable achievement. Truly, the word prodigy is a fitting description at this junction of his career. Sadly, after this Shuggie recorded only two further solo albums, Freedom Flight in 1971 and 1974s Inspiration Information. That means Shuggie Otis hasn’t released a solo album in thirty-eight years. One wonders how his career would’ve developed if he’d been consistently releasing albums throughout this period. Would he have become one of the biggest stars of the last forty years? Who knows, but when you listen to the music on Here Comes Shuggie Otis you realize just how incredibly talented a musician he is. If Jimi Hendrix had released some of the music on Here Comes Shuggie Otis, people would’ve been in raptures over it. However, instead, Shuggie Otis became an artist with a cult following, unknown outside of a small group of dedicated lovers of his music. Maybe the rerelease of his three solo albums as a triple-disc box set entitled Original Album Classics will allow his music to heard by a much wider audience. I sincerely hope so, given the quality of music on Here Comes Shuggie Otis, Freedom Flight and Inspiration Information. Standout Tracks: Bootie Cooler, Shuggie’s Boogie, Gospel Groove and The Hawks.
SHUGGIE OTIS-HERE COMES SHUGGIE OTIS.