In a perfect world, Shuggie Otis would need no introduction. His name would be instantly recognizable, and everybody would undoubtably know his music like they know the tunes of Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder.
Maybe it’s because Shuggie is overshadowed by his father, legendary rhythm and blues pioneer Johnny Otis. Otis was not only a damn great musician, but he also introduced Big Mama Thornton, Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard, Etta James and a host of other amazing talent to the world.
Those are some big shoes to fill, and Shuggie never had an easy road to walk. His most popular song, “Strawberry Letter 23,” wasn’t even his hit; not until funk party-band The Brothers Johnson covered it in 1977. (Quentin Tarantino fans will remember this track from his 1997 film, Jackie Brown.)
“Strawberry Letter 23” is the second track off Shuggie’s second album, 1971’s Freedom Flight. Both that album and 1974’s Inspiration Information were re-released, albeit in truncated form, in 2007 on David Byrne’s record label, Luaka Bop.
After almost 35 years, the world at large finally got to hear Shuggie’s seductive sounds. His songs aren’t so much songs as they are candy-colored kaleidoscope grooves. There’s a playfulness in the instrumentation that blended sunny California psychedelia with Philly’s signature soul notes. Combine that with Shuggie’s sweet-as-sugar voice, and there’s a wholly unique sound that nobody has matched since.
Shuggie Otis is on a rare tour, and he’s stopping in Austin. He’s playing at the Continental Club, 1315 S. Congress Ave., on Saturday, July 11, with the fiery Tameca Jones. Tickets are $25, doors open at 9 p.m. For more information, visit the Continental Club website.