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Shuggie Otis: The super-fly rocker is back after four-decade silence

Shuggie Otis

Adam Farber

In the early seventies, Shuggie Otis was the psychedelic-soul boy-wonder, with a pair of soon-to-be classic albums to his credit (Freedom Flight and Inspiration Information) and an offer to join the Rolling Stones. It all went south, though, when his label dropped him, causing him to spiral into a sort of sustained limbo. Now, with his new Wings of Love record, the super-fly singer-guitarist is back with his first album in nearly four decades and, on Sunday, the 59-year-old former prodigy makes his first Toronto

Welcome back, Shuggie Otis. Where have you been?

Well, I'd been trying to get a record deal from 1975 to 2011. I wanted to be on a major label. I started out on a major, and I guess that spoiled me, if you get my drift. In 1975, my father [the late bandleader Johnny Otis] sat me down and gave me the news that Epic had dropped me. I said: "So what. I'll get another deal in two weeks."

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Two weeks turned into nearly 40 years. What have you been doing?

My life was a happy one all those years. I wanted to play, and I did put together bands several times on my own. And I did tour with my father occasionally. People thought I'd run and hid, but that's a misconception. A friend told me that he thought I was blackballed.

You had a reputation as being difficult, and that you butted heads with Quincy Jones when he was working with you in the 1970s. True?

That might be related. As for Quincy Jones, we get along fine. I don't think he ever did anything to hurt me. Maybe I did have a bad reputation, I don't know. But I was young, not arrogant.

Why did you turned down an offer to join the Rolling Stones?

Billy Preston called me one morning. He said: "I'm here in Amsterdam, and I'm sitting with the Rolling Stones. They'd like to know if you would like to join up, because Mick Taylor is leaving." I said: "You know, Billy, I got my own band now." It was as simple as that.

You had other offers too, right?

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Yes, there was Blood, Sweat & Tears, there was Spirit, there was David Bowie, there was Buddy Miles and Billy Preston and some others. But I was doing my own thing.Conceivably, you could have done both, sideman and solo stuff.

Well, yes. I mean, if the Stones would have asked me to play on a record, rather than a tour, that would have been different. Nobody knows this, but the Rolling Stones asked me a second time. They wanted me to open up for them on a European tour. I refused that also.

Was some of the problem your drug use? Alcohol? Depression?

Yes, it was the whole bit. But I've been straight for three years now. When I stopped all that stuff, my fingers came back. Which is a blessing. I have no regrets. I'm sober now. I'm okay.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More


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