I like Shuggie Otis, but missed the London leg of his come-back tour. He is an excellent blues guitar player and was a rare talent. As a teenager, he had begun recording with his father Johnny. He made some good albums when he was with Columbia/Epic in 1969 and 1970 – ‘Al Kooper Introduces Shuggie Otis’ and ‘Â Here Comes Shuggie Otis’Â as well as ‘Freedom Flight’ and tracks with his dad – as well as appearing on Frank Zappa’s seminal ‘Hot Rats’ album. (Try ‘Shuggie Otis Plays The Blues’ on Sony/Legacy). He evenÂ turned down a chance to replace Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones.
A gig report in the months UK Uncut magazine gives his London Jazz Cafe mixed reports citing ‘technical problems’ causing delays and hitches. By the sound of things, the situation in at his Los Angeles show was dogged by the same problems andÂ wasn’t much better. The Los Angeles Magazine described the show thus: “The 59-year-old Otis â€“ dressed like a badass toreador in black boots, tight black pants, white blouse, and black satin vest â€“ and his seven piece band took the stage more than a half hour late, it took another 15 minutes to fix problems with the AC chord and guitar amp (he blew upÂ twoÂ of them) before the music lurched to a wobbly start. When Otis finally stepped up to the mic to sing the first lines of ‘Inspiration Information’ from his 1972 cult classic of the same name, there was no sound on the vocal mic.
The crowd was deferential and endlessly forgiving, shouting out encouragement to a performer who looked increasingly befuddled and embarrassed. A blast of errant feedback from his shiny new Gibson guitar brought hopeful applause, and things settled a bit for ‘Aht Uh Mi Hed’. The song showcased (briefly, tantalizingly) Otisâ€™s supple, almost jazzy guitar lines as they contrasted with the aggressive, horn-heavy groove of the band. Then, everything fell apart with woodwind playerÂ Michael TurreÂ marking time with a flute solo not heard since the hanging-terrarium 1970s. Otis kept flashing stone-faced glares at the sound peeps while the cheers of the crowd, which steadily thinned over the ragged 90 minute set to only the hardcore faithful and looky-loos, made him crack a tight smile.
The band played the Johnny Otis classic showstopper ‘All Night Long’ which Los Angeles Magazine described as “the kind of boilerplate blues jam that Otisâ€™s father used to oversee back in the days of Central Avenue and the Club Alabam. The only problem was, it looked like one of the roadies had jumped on stage to showcase some Hendrix-meets-Van Halen fretboard wanking while Otis stood off to the side in a secondary role, trying to salvage the unsalvageable”.
Well, never mind, I have added a video of Shuggie and the band playing a gig in Paris on the European leg of the tour.
Line up:Â Larry Douglas, trumpet; Â Michael Turre, sax & flute; Albert Wing, sax; Nick Smith, keyboards; Â Marvin Smith, drums;Â James Manning, bass.