Smokestack Lightnin' Home Page -- The Blues Profile Page
Shuggie Otis (born Johnny Alexander Veliotes, Jr.; November 30, 1953) is an American singer-songwriter, recording artist, and multi-instrumentalist.
Otis' composition "Strawberry Letter 23" (as recorded by The Brothers Johnson) topped the Billboard R&B chart and reached #5 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1977. He also achieved commercial success with his 1974 single "Inspiration Information" (from the album of the same name), reaching #56 on the R&B chart.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Otis is the son of rhythm and blues pioneer, musician, bandleader, and impresario Johnny Otis and wife Phyllis. The name "Shuggie" (short for "sugar", according to his mother) was coined by Phyllis when he was a newborn. Otis began playing guitar when he was two years old and performing professionally with his father's band at the age of twelve, often disguising himself with dark glasses and a false mustache so that he could play with his father's band in after-hours nightclubs.
Otis, primarily known as a guitarist, also sings and plays a multitude of other instruments. While growing up with and being heavily influenced by many blues, jazz and R&B musicians in his father Johnny's immediate circle, Otis began to gravitate towards the popular music of his generation such as Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix, and Arthur Lee of the band Love. In 1969, Al Kooper asked Otis to be the featured guest on the second installment (Kooper Session) of the Super Session album series that had previously included Stephen Stills and Mike Bloomfield. Kooper and the then-fifteen-year-old Otis recorded the whole album over one weekend in New York. Immediately returning to Los Angeles, Otis, along with his father and singer Delmar "Mighty Mouth" Evans, performed on the album Cold Shot, released in 1969 on the Los Angeles-based Kent label. Another obscure album this three-man team recorded was the extremely rare and risque Snatch & The Poontangs, on which Otis recorded tracks under the pseudonym "Prince Wunnerful".
Otis then released his first solo album later that year entitled Here Comes Shuggie Otis on Epic Records. Countless musicians were his guests on that debut attempt, including Johnny, Leon Haywood, Al McKibbon, Wilton Felder. This further established his reputation and catapulted him to the attention of B. B. King, who was quoted in a 1970 issue of Guitar Player magazine saying Otis was "his favorite new guitarist". Some of the artists Otis performed and recorded with during that time include Frank Zappa (having played electric bass on "Peaches en Regalia" on the 1969 album Hot Rats), Etta James, Eddie Vinson, Richard Berry, Louis Jordan, and Bobby 'Blue' Bland, among many others.
The album Otis received the most notoriety for was his second Epic Records release in 1971, Freedom Flight, which featured his hit "Strawberry Letter 23". Both the album and single reached the Billboard Top 200 and the Billboard Hot 100, respectively and caught the attention of Brothers Johnson guitarist George Johnson, who then played it for producer Quincy Jones. They covered the song and it instantly became a smash hit. Even though Otis played most of his own parts in the studio, the lineup on this album was quite extensive, including keyboardist George Duke and Aynsley Dunbar of Frank Zappa, Journey, and Whitesnake fame.
In 1974, Otis released Inspiration Information, his third and final album for Epic Records. The album had taken almost three years to finish. All the songs were written and arranged by Otis himself, who played almost exclusively every musical instrument on the album (except for horns and various stringed instruments). However, despite its long-awaited impact, Inspiration Information had but one single (the title track) reach the Billboard Hot 100. After the album's release, Otis was approached by Billy Preston on behalf of The Rolling Stones, asking him to join the band for their upcoming world tour. He declined the offer, along with the chance to work with Quincy Jones in helping produce Otis's next album. After a series of similar refusals, Otis gained the reputation of "taking his time", and his recording contract with Epic Records was nullified. Otis's only credited works throughout the mid-1970s were done as a session musician for his father's recording projects.
Inspiration Information gained a huge cult following during the 1990s with the emergence of rare groove and acid jazz. It was lauded by such musicians as Prince and Lenny Kravitz. Due in part to this regained interest, the album was re-released on April 3, 2001, by David Byrne's independent label Luaka Bop Records. This CD re-issue includes all nine original album tracks plus four songs taken from Otis' 1971 album Freedom Flight, and features new cover art, liner notes, and exclusive never-seen-before photos.
Otis is featured in every one of his father Johnny's books, as well as Alligator Records Presents West Coast Blues, issued in August 1998.
Otis and Sony Music Entertainment made a deal for a double CD which was released on April 20, 2013. It is a re-release of Inspiration/Information. Added to the album is several bonus tracks, including an accompanying album entitled Wings of Love. Wings of Love is an album of previously unreleased material, all of which was written from 1975 to the present, including live material from some of his rare performances. It will be available on Shugiterius records (Shuggie's new company) and Sony records, through Sony Music Entertainment.
Otis and a band entitled Shuggie Otis Rite toured internationally in 2013 in support of the release, including Australia, Japan, the U.S., Ireland and the U.K. Their performances earned rave reviews from critics.
Little is known of Otis' private affairs, as he is considered by most who know him to have always been somewhat reclusive. While still a teenager, he had a son with Judith Peters, Johnny III (who goes by Lucky). A few years later, he then married Lillian Wilson, daughter of trumpeter, bandleader, and Latin jazz pioneer Gerald Wilson, and they (Shuggie and Lillian, a/k/a Teri) had a son, Eric (whom Lillian named after her father Gerald's close friend and band mate Eric Dolphy). In spring 1991, Otis Sr. and his family relocated to Sonoma County. Since moving back to Southern California in 2006, Otis has made but a handful of sporadic public appearances.
Both of Shuggie's sons, Lucky Otis and Eric Otis, who are also musicians and based in the Los Angeles area, are producing their own music as well, As of 2012, Shuggie has formed a new band and is currently on the Never Ending World Wide Tour, that began November 2012 in Europe.