Shuggie Otis: 40 Years Later, Still An 'Inspiration'

Jun 4, 2013
Originally published on June 12, 2013 11:25 am

This isn't the first time Shuggie Otis' masterpiece, Inspiration Information, has been reissued — but that's OK. It's an album that absolutely deserves to be rediscovered every decade or so.

Released nearly 40 years ago, the album became Otis' most acclaimed work, and also his last official release: Otis continued to work and play with other musicians, but a follow-up album has never materialized. In celebrating Inspiration Information's anniversary, Sony has re-released the album along with Wings of Love, a new compilation bringing together 25 years' worth of unreleased material.

Inspiration stands out because of how seamlessly it blends together different musical styles. Otis lays his light tenor vocals over not only sunshiney pop production, but also growling funk grooves — most notably, many songs carry the soft punch of early analog drum machines.

A coming-of-age album for Shuggie Otis, Inspiration was the first LP he produced without the oversight of his father, legendary R&B impresario Johnny Otis. The new reissue gives us a sneak peak into four unreleased songs from a few years earlier, where you can hear an 18-year-old Shuggie tinker with what would become the album's musical blueprint. At the very least, young Otis was a big fan of Sly & The Family Stone's pop-funk innovations.

The reissue also offers a glimpse into Shuggie Otis' unheard future. Between the mid-'70s and 2000, Otis barely released anything, yet the companion compilation, Wings of Love, contains 14 songs rescued from the vaults. Many of the songs sound unfinished and all over the place, but if nothing else, we discover that Otis could have had a successful early-'80s career recording yacht-rock tunes.

Shuggie Otis has been touring to promote the reissue, and there are always rumors that he'll jump back into the studio and produce the follow-up that fans have been waiting on. Even if that never happens, you can be sure of one thing: Somewhere down the road, Inspiration Information will rise again to beguile yet another generation of listeners.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Guitarist Shuggie Otis is back. The height of his recording career hit 40 years ago with an album called "Inspiration Information" that won critical praise and some rabid fans. He was just a teenager. And while he has continued to work and play with other musicians since then, a follow-up album of his own never materialized.

Now, Sony Records has re-released "Inspiration Information," along with 25 years' worth of unreleased material. Reviewer Oliver Wang has been soaking it in.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OLIVER WANG, BYLINE: This isn't the first time Shuggie Otis' masterpiece, "Inspiration Information," has been reissued, but that's OK. It's an album that absolutely deserves to be rediscovered every decade or so.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INSPIRATION INFORMATION")

SHUGGIE OTIS: (Singing) We had a rainy day. I'm in a snake back situation. Here's a pencil pad. I'm going to spread some information.

WANG: The album stands out because of how seamlessly it blends different musical styles. Otis lays his light tenor vocals over sunshiney pop production, but also growling funk grooves and most notably, many songs carry the soft punch of early analog drum machines.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AHT UH MI HED")

OTIS: (Singing) Aht uh mi hed, it's growing. Aht uh mi hed, it's glowing. Aht uh mi hed, 'cause I heard something said in a word from your voice did I hear only choice dear. Ah uh mi hed...

WANG: "Inspiration Information" was a coming-of-age album for Shuggie, the first LP he produced without the oversight of his father, legendary R&B impresario Johnny Otis. The new reissue gives us a sneak peek into four unreleased songs from a few years earlier, where you can hear an 18-year-old Shuggie tinker with what would become the album's musical blueprint. At the very least, young Otis was a big fan of Sly & the Family Stone's pop-funk innovations.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OTIS: (Singing) Girl, you want to play some magic in my brain. You want to blow it up till it turns red, then sprinkle down see the time. Let it mystify your mind. Sunshine shower, singing flowers, making love on turquoise towers. Hey, hey, hey, you know that's cool. Taking out the dream out for a walk. You just might want to take it for a block. Swoop back in a minute or a two just in time to hear the guitar move.

WANG: We also get a glimpse into Shuggie Otis' unheard future. Between the mid-'70s through 2000, Otis barely released anything, but the reissue comes with the companion compilation of 14 songs rescued from the vaults. Many of them sound unfinished and all over the place but if nothing else, we discover that Otis could have had a successful early '80s career recording yacht-rock tunes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WANG: Shuggie Otis has been touring to promote the reissue, and there are always rumors that he'll jump back into the studio and produce that follow-up that fans have been waiting on. Even if that never happens, you can be sure of one thing: somewhere down the road, "Inspiration Information" will rise again to beguile yet another generation of listeners.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: Our reviewer, Oliver Wang, is an associate professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach and writes the audio blog, Soul Sides.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.