Shuggie Otis (born Johnny Alexander Veliotes; November 30, 1953) is an American R&B, soul, rock, blues, and funk singer-songwriter, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist. His composition "Strawberry Letter 23", recorded by The Brothers Johnson, topped the Billboard R&B chart and reached the top five of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1977. His 1975 single "Inspiration Information" reached number fifty-six on the R&B chart.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Otis is the son of rhythm and blues pioneer, musician, bandleader, and impresario Johnny Otis and wife Phyllis. The name 'Shuggie' (short for "sugar", according to his mother) was coined by Phyllis when he was a newborn. Otis began playing guitar at age two and performing professionally with his father's band at the age of twelve, often disguising himself with dark glasses and a false moustache so that he could play in after-hours nightclubs.
Otis, primarily known as a guitarist, also sings and plays piano, organ, drums, and bass. While growing up with and being heavily influenced by countless legendary blues, jazz, and R&B musicians in his father Johnny's immediate circle, Otis began to also gravitate towards the popular music of his generation such as Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix, and Arthur Lee of the band Love. In 1969, Al Kooper asked Otis to be the featured guest on the second installment of the "Super Session" album series which had previously included Stephen Stills and Mike Bloomfield. Kooper and the then-fifteen-year-old Otis recorded "Kooper Session" over one weekend in New York. Immediately returning to Los Angeles, Otis, along with his father and singer Delmar 'Mighty Mouth' Evans on the album "Cold Shot", released in 1969 on the Los Angeles-based Kent label. Another oddly obscure album this three-man team recorded was the extremely rare and risque "Snatch & The Poontangs".
Otis then released his first solo album later that year entitled "Here Comes Shuggie Otis" on Epic Records. Countless musicians were his guests on this debut attempt, including Johnny, Leon Haywood, Al McKibbon, Wilton Felder, and many others. This further established his reputation and catapulted his fame into the attention of B. B. King, who was quoted in a 1970 issue of Guitar Player magazine admitting Otis was "his favorite new guitarist". Some of the artists Otis performed and recorded with during that time include Frank Zappa (having played electric bass on "Peaches en Regalia" on the album "Hot Rats"), Etta James, Eddie Vinson, Richard Berry, Louis Jordan, and Bobby 'Blue' Bland, among many others.
The album Otis received the most notoriety for was his second Epic Records release in 1971 entitled "Freedom Flight", which featured his famous hit "Strawberry Letter 23". Both the album and single reached the Billboard Top 200 and caught the attention of Brothers Johnson guitarist George Johnson, who then played it for music producer Quincy Jones. They covered the song and it instantly became a smash hit. Even though Otis played most of his own parts in the studio, the lineup on this album was quite extensive, including George Duke and Aynsley Dunbar of Journey and Whitesnake fame.
In 1974, Otis released "Inspiration Information". The album had taken almost three years to finish. All the songs were written and arranged by Otis himself, who played almost exclusively every musical instrument on the album (except for the horns and various stringed instruments). However, despite its long-awaited impact, "Inspiration Information" had but one single (the title track) reach the Billboard Top 200. After the album's release, Otis was approached by Billy Preston on behalf of The Rolling Stones, asking him to join the band for their upcoming world tour. He declined the offer, along with the chance to work with Quincy Jones in helping produce Otis's next album. After a series of similar refusals, Otis gained the reputation of 'taking his time', and his recording contract with Epic Records was nullified. During this time, Otis became much more noticeably private as he and his first wife Judith Peters (aka Miss Mercy of Frank Zappa's infamous all-girl group, the GTO's) had a son, Johnny III, who now goes by his middle name, Lucky. Otis' only credited works throughout the mid-1970s were done as a session musician for his father's recording projects. A few years later, Otis and Judith divorced. He then remarried Lillian Wilson, daughter of famed trumpeter bandleader and Latin jazz pioneer Gerald Wilson. They had a son Eric, whom Lillian named after her father Gerald's close friend and bandmate Eric Dolphy. Both Lucky Otis and Eric Otis are professional musicians and producers in their own right.
Otis' 1974 album, "Inspiration Information" was re-released on April 3, 2001, by David Byrne's independent label, Luaka Bop Records. This CD re-issue includes all 9 original album tracks plus four songs taken from Otis' 1971 album "Freedom Flight" and features new cover art, liner notes, and exclusive never-seen-before photos.
Otis is featured in every one of his father Johnny's books, as well as "Alligator Records Presents West Coast Blues", issued in August 1998.
Recently, Otis was heard in an exclusive radio interview claiming his extremely long-awaited fifth album (as yet untitled) will be released sometime in 2011 on his own recording label.
Here are some selections from his discography
1215 Slow Goonbash Blues-w/ Al Kooper-Super Session 1969
Aht Uh Mi Hed.-from 'Inspiration Information' 1974
Bootie Cooler-from 'Here comes Shuggie Otis' 1970
Bury My Body-w/ Al Kooper-Super Session 1969
Country Girl-w/ Johnny Otis-from "In Session: Great Rhythm and Blues 2002
Double Or Nothing-w/ Al Kooper-Super Session 1969
Freedom Flight-from 'Freedon flight' 1971
Funky Thithee-from 'Here comes Shuggie Otis' 1970
Gospel Groove-from 'Here comes Shuggie Otis' 1970
Happy House-from 'Inspiration Information' 1974
Hurricane-from 'Here comes Shuggie Otis' 1970
I'm The Midnight Creeper-from "In Session: Great Rhythm and Blues 2002
Ice Cold Daydream-from 'Freedon flight' 1971
Information Blues-w/ Roy Milton-from "In Session: Great Rhythm and Blues 2002
Inspiration Information-from 'Inspiration Information' 1974
Island Letter-from 'Inspiration Information' 1974
Jennie Lee-from 'Here comes Shuggie Otis' 1970
Knowing (That You Want Him)-from 'Here comes Shuggie Otis' 1970
Me and My Woman-from 'Freedon flight' 1971
Not Available-from 'Inspiration Information' 1974
One Room Country Shack-w/ Al Kooper-Super Session 1969
Oxford Gray-from 'Here comes Shuggie Otis' 1970
Purple-from 'Freedon flight' 1971
Rainy Day-from 'Inspiration Information' 1974
Shuggie's Boogie-from 'Here comes Shuggie Otis' 1970
Shuggie's Shuffle-w/ Al Kooper-Super Session 1969
Signifyin' Monkey 1&2-Snatch & The Poontangs 1968
Someone's Always Singing-from 'Freedon flight' 1971
Sparkle City-from 'Inspiration Information' 1974
Strawberry Letter 23-from 'Freedon flight' 1971
Sweet Thang-from 'Freedon flight' 1971
Texas Hop-w/ Pee Wee Crayton-from "In Session: Great Rhythm and Blues 2002
The Hawks-from 'Here comes Shuggie Otis' 1970
XL-30-from 'Inspiration Information' 1974