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Issue 1084

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Shuggie Otis: Jazz Café, London 21/11/12

Shuggie Otis: Jazz Café, London 21/11/12 @bluesandsoul.com
Shuggie Otis: Jazz Café, London 21/11/12 @bluesandsoul.com Shuggie Otis: Jazz Café, London 21/11/12

Expectations were on at all time high! Yes a living legend was about
to hit the stage at the Jazz Café, which by the way, was heaving! Shuggie Otis was in town to christen his new found interest in performing live, which coming from this elusive reclusive artist, came as quite a surprise I can tell you! But first brothers & sisters let's recap on Shuggie's history for a minute.

Otis grew up from an early age playing the Blues. He used to don a false moustache and dark glasses to look older than his tender 14 years, so he could accompany his dad Johnny to gigs. His empathy with blues and his startling debut album (produced by Al Kooper), coupled with his astonishing guitar playing shocked many critics, but his recognised body of work is "Freedom Flight," from which came "Strawberry Letter 23," which became a hit for the Bros Johnson with its sampling - it also drove many songs by modern hip-hop and R&B artists. Otis is a true visionary, compared at the age of 15 with Hendrix and the great kings of blues guitar. A young phenomenon who went on to make another expansive genre defying and deeply influential album namely, "Inspiration information" - hailed as a masterpiece now, but at the time it heralded the end of his relationship with Epic records. Both records crafted as a one man band virtually surpassed Sly Stone and predated Prince by nearly half a decade!

The signs looked good as his band took the stage and performed a few perfunctory tunes to get us all in the mood...  And after 10 minutes or so, It was time for the master to take the stage and really let rip - well that's what we thought!

Shuggie, looking nervous and got off to an inauspicious start. The nerves got the better of him and he just couldn't find his groove - then woe upon woes, his amp packed up! Oh dear! Was it going to be one of those nights? I remember seeing Bo Diddley once break a string in the first number and after changing it, it broke again!

Fortunately the gods were with the man and a trusty fender twin amp
was on hand. So what's a man meant to do? He was in danger of losing the crowd for Christ's sake! Fortunately he burst in to a sweltering blues ballad and showed what a true master he is of the guitar. Yes three chords and the truth were saving the night! Shuggie showed us exactly why he's one of BB King's faves, the reason being he puts a hell of a lot of soul in his playing!

Ecstatic crowd reactions were reserved for the information inspiration
tracks that Shuggie dutifully and deftly interpreted live, whilst clutching
his beautiful Gibson guitar as if his life depended on it! Otis transformed the Camden stage into a psychedelic haze of
soulfulness and "Sparkle city" was a particular highlight, as well as
the title track and "Aht Uh Mi" - all faithfully played.

His band too, were exceptional, all seasoned pros and bang on it especially the ever propulsive, ahead of the beat magic, of drummer Marvin Smitty Smith and the funkified bass player whose name I didn't catch. So,thankfully, out of the jaws of defeat Shuggie along with his dreamy vocals left us anticipating his hit "Strawberry Letter 23" till last. A genius who struggled on the night but came through in the end and made us and himself proud! Look out for his double album of old and new stuff next spring - It should be fascinating!
Words Emrys Baird

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

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