ACL Live Shot: Shuggie Otis

Three need-to-knows about the South Central R&B legend

Shuggie Otis at ACL Fest, 10.6.13
Shuggie Otis at ACL Fest, 10.6.13
photo by Sandy Carson

He walked onstage in a well-tailored, elegant black suit, oversized shades, and slicked-back hair, looking like he could be Prince’s father. Once he strapped on his black Les Paul and began leading his equally dapper band through its opening changes, you realized 59-year-old Shuggie Otis is truly the bridge between Prince and Sly Stone.

Scion of the founding West Coast R&B dynasty going back to his father, classic Forties/Fifties bandleader Johnny Otis, Shuggie’s Sunday set demonstrated many amazing qualities. For one, how to preside over an audience while rooted to one spot and just wailing. This is how enormous the man’s stage presence is: He does not have to move a muscle, fingers and vocal chords aside.

Secondly, this man and his music can make every butt in a dwindling house shake unfettered, yet he and his songs remain unruffled. Shuggie’s sounds are definitely the smoothest to ever have a South Central address.

Third, Otis’ guitar work draws a direct line to the second word in the phrase “rhythm & blues.” He not only knows his Hendrix, he knows his B.B. King. How the man can cut like he does and still retain a mellow tone on his instrument is a true mystery.

Then he uncorks his hands-down masterpiece, “Strawberry Letter 23,” and it’s orgasmic. Most performing songwriters would kill to have such a career-defining classic. Otis knows this, and he respects it, but he hasn’t peaked yet. What a blessing to come to him with this knowledge.

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