Long a shadowy figure, Shuggie Otis had become known more for his absence than for psychedelic soul successes like 1974′s Inspiration Information and writing songs like Brothers Johnson’s No. 5 1977 hit “Strawberry Letter 23″ — that is, until he suddenly reemerged last year.
Discovered by Al Kooper, Otis had appeared on his 1969 album Kooper Session, while issuing two albums of his own. But the subsequent Inspiration Information had taken three years to make, an eternity back then, and when Otis seemed ready to take a similar amount of time to record a follow up, he lost his label deal and subsequently all but vanished. Other than having done some sessions work for Johnny Otis, his famous father, the younger Otis might have been lost to history but for a reevaluation of his work during the 1990s acid-jazz boom. Since, this long out-of-print 1974 album has been widely sampled by everyone from Beyonce’ to OutKast and the Digable Planets.
This served to draw Otis out of his lengthy retirement, beginning with a European tour in late 2012, and continuing now with the release of a deluxe reissue of Inspiration Information as well as a newly constructed collection of 14 heretofore-unheard live and studio tracks recorded between 1975 and 2000. (Otis’ tour continues into the spring, with dates in North America this month.) Due April 16, 2013 from Epic and Legacy, these two reissues represent both a great opportunity for reevaluation and of rediscovery.
Inspiration Information, in this new light, begins to sound like a deeply underrated companion piece to justly revered contemporary albums like Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Going On and Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions. But at the same time, there are whispers of what came next — in particular on Wings of Love, which gives listeners a vista into just what Otis had been up to in the wake of Inspiration Information — while also highlighting his next-gen influence on figures like Michael Jackson (in particular, it seems, on his beatbox groover “Tryin’ to Get Close to You”) and Prince (on the nervy, stripped down “Black Belt Sheriff”). The epic title track then completes the circle started with Inspiration Information — part torrential Hendrix, part spacious Sly groove.