Irony is a part of life. Though the music business may at times have nothing to do with “real” life, irony is a part of the biz. Just ask singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Shuggie Otis. Shuggie Otis, for those not familiar with him through David Byrne’s heroic disinterment of his 1974 album, Inspiration Information or through his authorship of the wonderful Strawberry Letter 23 – is the son of legendary R ‘n’ B bandleader Johnny Otis. A musical prodigy he was playing with his father by the time he was 13 and from the word go displayed an uncanny mastery of the blues guitar.
He wrote “Strawberry Letter 23,” a gold single for the Brothers Johnson that went to number one R&B and number five pop in spring 1977. George Johnson was dating one of Otis’ cousins who gave him a copy of Otis’ 1971 Epic LP, Freedom Flight. Immediately, Johnson liked “Ice Cold Daydream” and “Strawberry Letter 23.” The duo recommended it to their producer, Quincy Jones, and recorded a cover version that sticks pretty close to Otis’ original version of “Strawberry Letter 23.” By the time “Strawberry Letter 23” was a million-seller, Otis had been dropped from Epic three years earlier. The 24-year-old guitar virtuoso was sure he would get a new record deal. Ironically, the record executives would be impressed that he wrote a million-selling song, but they weren’t interested in anything else he’d done. Disillusioned, Otis dropped out of the music business before returning to it in the late ‘80s, playing with his father, Johnny Otis’ band. Later the axiom “good things come to those who wait” took effect. Spurred by sales and critical kudos of reissues of his 1974 Epic LP, Inspiration Information, from Sony Music Special Projects and David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label, Otis performed “Strawberry Letter 23” on May 2001 appearances on Conan O’Brien and David Letterman.
Though in recent years he has chosen to remain out of the spotlight, he continues to be revered through musical circles, as evidenced by his 2009 performance with Mos Def in LA (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdalGmtuiYg). Feb 2013 see the re-release of Inspiration Information via Sony distribution, complete as a double album package with a set of sought after unreleased masters.