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Shuggie Otis Concert Review (Connecting Some Dots In The Psyche Of Soul)

Shuggie Otis Concert Review (Connecting Some Dots In The Psyche Of Soul)I submit that being a music journalist might be better than being a musician. That is unless you're a musician and a music journalist. Regardless, it's all hard work. (Check John Handy, circa 1976!)

I was working with Lester Chambers at his home the afternoon of Saturday May 22, 2015. Just as I was getting ready to leave my celly rang and it was James Brown's final guitarist, Rob Watson inviting me to a gig. I had to decline with much respect and rain check for another day. I was on my way to see Shuggie Otis at the New Parish in Oakland, California.

Several generations ago, Shuggie Otis had the guitar chops of a thirty-something year old maestro, contained within a barely teenaged body. His dad, the Godfather of Rhythm and Blues, Johnny Otis, put a very young Shuggie on the bandstand when he was twelve years old. This mere monster of a lad, wearing sunglasses and an eyebrow penciled-in mustache, (to appear legal in the clubs and after hours joints they were playing in) jammed, recorded and played with a large list of greats from T-Bone Walker, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vincent and Etta James to Al Kooper and Frank Zappa, while still in his teens. The press said Shuggie Otis would be the next Jimi Hendrix. We all know now, that Jimi Hendrix had a hard time being Jimi Hendrix. That was certainly a heavy load to foist upon the shoulders of young Shuggie.

Shuggie Otis turned down offers to be in the bands of the Rolling Stones, Buddy Miles and David Bowie. He kind of went under the guitar hero radar for many years despite the lengthening of his resume and the surrealism of his saga, but let's return to the review of the recent gig at the New Parish.

A generation or so ago, the New Parish was known as Sweet Jimmie's. It was a grown folks club whose patrons at the time were the African-American urban quasi- professionals and blue collar workers who knew how to get down. When Master Ike Turner was paroled from the California Men's Colony at San Luis Obispo, he reformed his band and took up a weekly residence at Sweet Jimmie's for a short while. Sadly, just as Ike's life went up in a puff of smoke at the end, the segment of the populace that frequented places like Sweet Jimmie's has similarly since declined and disappeared into a vaporous memory.

I personally had to adjust myself to my own new perception of Oakland, oh sweet home of my youth. Some of the online reviews of the New Parish were downright scary +justments minus Bill Withers (funny, as I write this, Use Me, suddenly comes on the box at the NP.) Bear with me. Let me back it up a bit one mo' gin.

As soon as I got in line outside the New Parish, I bumped into the legendary Johnny Talbot, known as the Godfather of Oakland Funk. It is said that a young Sly Stone took many a note from the front row of many Johnny Talbot shows. From the early '60s forward, the name of his group was Johnny Talbot & De Thangs. That moniker was Funk personified when funk was still a bad word. It was with great pleasure that I invited Mr. Talbot to enjoy the show on my press comp.

When I told the management the legendary Johnny Talbot and I could use better seating than what seemed available, we were ushered into an upstairs private lounge with leather couches overlooking the stage. We were seated and proceeded to check out the opening act, The Grease Traps. They were a Funk ensemble with a horn section seamlessly covering the likes of The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band and AWB. While they pretty much played their covers note for note, Johnny Talbot thought they lacked originality and feeling (soul). A pitfall of being a cover band I guess. Until you make your own original mark, you're somewhat bound to the realm of unknown funk.

The Grease Traps, though, were well received by the mostly thirtyish and European-American SRO crowd. During the band's set and as they exited, they primed the crowd for the appearance of Shuggie Otis and his band.

The changeover was quick and painless. First drummer Nick Otis, another Johnny Otis progeny, slipped on stage and speedily attached his cymbals and foot pedal to the drum kit. I called his name and got a fast wave out of him as he disappeared behind the curtain just as a roadie looking dude came out and started tuning guitars and hooking up effects pedals. Turns out he was Production Manager and bass player, Paul Lamb.

In a short while the rest of the band assembled on stage; Ed Roth on keyboards with Albert Wing on tenor sax and flute with the afore mentioned Nick Otis and Paul Lamb. Shuggie Otis strode from the shadowy wings in a kind of capish maxi coat, grabbed the mic and greeted us with, "How'ya doin', Oakland?" With that simple pleasantry, the crowd became his. The band launched into Trying To Get Close To You and it was on. For the next hour a hypnotic musical vibe was cast. We nodded our heads, tapped our feet and danced in and out of space. Shuggie and the band used the first number and the second, Island Letter to work out minor technical glitches. The crowd seemed not to mind or notice. Johnny Talbot honed in on the stage proceedings. When I asked him what he thought he muttered, "Man, he's like Hendrix." After further observation, Talbot also commented on the precision drumming of Nick Otis. "Nick is deep in the pocket." I concurred. If the band even sonically hinted they might go out of tempo, Nick seemed to correct it before it happened. He was like a Funk machine. Miles Davis once stated that there were few drummers in the world who could keep good, true time. For my money that night, Nick Otis would've made Miles proud.

The set list stuck mainly to songs culled from Shuggie's Inspiration Information period. That album was originally released in 1974 and has since been reissued twice! Once by David Byrne's independent label, Luaka Bop Records in 2001 and again in 2013 by Sony Legacy Recordings. The set list at the show continued with Little Miss Pretty, Sweetest Thang (not necessarily to be confused with Sweet Thang), the Blues inflected Me And My Woman, Wings Of Love, Doin' What's Right and then, the piece de resistance, Strawberry Letter 23.
Some of you Soul-Patrollers can perhaps hearken back to the classic film Soul To Soul which featured the likes of Wilson Pickett, Less McCann and Eddie Harris, The Staple Singers, Roberta Flack, Santana featuring Willie Bobo, The Voices Of East Harlem and Ike and Tina Turner. There is a segment in the film during the Ike & Tina Turner performance of I Smell Trouble that the normally staid and reserved Ike Turner takes a solo and dances, bounces, jumps and bumps all over the stage. It was like his body was responding to returning home to mother Africa.

Well, after Shuggie and the band reached dynamic center of Strawberry Letter 23, my liege Johnny Talbot suddenly reached a similar plateau. He jumped up as if with the Holy Ghost and screamed, "That's it, that's it. He's got it. He's still got the touch!" Man I thought he was going over the balcony. I looked around the crowd and they were having parallel experiences; howling, screaming, dancing, etc. Virtually everyone observing in the room was smack dab in the middle of it until the last sustained guitar chord and rim shot. The band stood and marched off stage. The crowd whistled, hooted and begged for an encore.

We didn't have to wait long. About two minutes later the band retook their positions and someone shouted, "Hand Jive." Someone else screamed, "Strawberry Letter." Then the band launched into a truly ultra psychedelized version of Ice Cold Day Dream. After one or two choruses of the lyrics the band just played as the Shuggie Otis guitar crescendoed into a pyrotechnic display of virtuosity. It was a ten minute jam out. The band again marched off the stage, seemingly still fresh as when they started. The crowd seemed spent, double orgasmed out. What a finale!

After the show as the crowd returned to normal, Johnny Talbot and I sought out Nick Otis and Paul Lamb. After congratulating them on a superfine set, we were ushered back stage and held court with Shuggie. He was gracious, kind, energetic and sober. I took a couple of flix of Shuggie Otis and Johnny Talbot and we all promised to stay in touch and said good night.

I fired up my old warhorse of a ride and partook of the three hour trip to the crib. The next day I talked to Johnny Talbot who related that his car got towed that night and he had to take a cab home and retrieve his car from the impound man. It really is hard work!

Check out Shuggie's upcoming US Dates at the following link:
http://www.shuggieotismusic.com/events

(Thanks to the folks at the New Parish in Oakland, CA).

T. Watts
West Coast Correspondent
www.soul-patrol.com
Bob Davis - CEO Soul-Patrol
1636-44 Route 38 #310
Lumberton, NJ 08048
609-351-0154

--Bob Davis
609-351-0154
earthjuice@prodigy.net

Co-Founder www.soul-patrol.com


Concert Review: Gino Vannelli + Special Guest Nnenna Freelon 5/9/2015 @ Keswick Theatre

Philly: Gino Vannelli + Special Guest Nnenna Freelono 5/9/2015 @ Keswick Theatre



It's manifestations are myriad and not limited by race,creed, color or ethnic background and you better believe anybody can get or say they've had the Blues at some point in their lives.

But 'Maka - no - mistaka - jaka' (as The Mighty Burner Sonny Hopson used to say) let's be clear it is a creation of the black man… black African men and women and their descendants here in America.

With this information as historical backdrop it is my distinct pleasure to speak a bit about a man whom unabashedly loves, acknowledges and respects the power of black music.

His name is Gino Vanelli and even though he's basically from Canada most importantly he's an Italian. This means he is the successor to a long line of iconic Euro "Soul" singers. He's either successor to or contemporary of Englebert Humperdinck, Tom Jones, Julio Iglesias and even Joe Cocker.

For latter day baby boomers of a certain musical temperament he was THE SHIT back in the 70's.

Yet in a strange, seemingly convoluted twist his success comes from his explorations into black music not unlike Tina Marie. In doing so he's similarly revered amongst that particular demographic.

But even stranger what would you say if I said he's basically the predecessor of the likes of Prince, Maxwell, Lenny Kravitz and maybe even Eric Benet?

Throw in some Elvis for good measure and voila! Gino Vanelli!

As an aside….it sure is funny if not weird as I go to these things and watch all the formerly hot, wild mommas and chippies making their way up the aisle with canes and walkers hobbled with arthritis and other age-related chronic debilitative ailments. His audience in a barely three quarters filled Keswick were all over fifty folks. Every one of em.

Gino himself looks fabulous!!!!!

He dyes a full head of probably white hair and slick goatee but otherwise he looks exactly the same as he ever did. The women sure think so. In fact I was sure I'd see a pair or two of panties whizzing by my head at some point. The ladies were that bawdily influenced by his oozing and ageless sexuality.

Tight black leather jeans. Just enough hairy chest exposed…you know the drill.

But one might easily forget that this man and his brothers have created and maintained a pretty consistent and thorough musical legacy which spans over forty years.

His music by his own admission is simply R&B. Based in the structures of R&B as evidenced by folks like Tom Jones, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Luther Vandross or Sting.

However the musical components are ramped up and bordering right on the edge of Fusion. There are musical heights which transcend typical male crooning and wooing.

No, this is stuff for the 'head' as we used to say.

Gino and his band of crack musicians take us on a whirling, swirling ride of thrilling highs, melodic sexily dynamic lows and oh-so-slick in-betweens.

The changes and soli sections are mind blowing because the musicians are (and have always have been) superb.

Genre defying, time-signature varying and full of the kind of Jazz-Fusion riffs one might experience at a RTF or Weather Report concert, Gino and his band are quite the spectacle indeed.

First of all I could've went home after the first tune. It was that mean.

Their opening number Love Me Tonight was played with such confidence, authority and swagger I got goosebumps. The show opener can set the tone or possibly create a foundation from which to build.

Well Love Me Tonight had all of that in spades.

And when after a slightly elongated intro Mr. Dashing Errol Flynn swashbuckles onto the stage it's all over before it even begins.

They played the HELL outta that tune.

Getting High featured some nice soli section (certain aspects of a band play a solo like passage together in unison or harmony) horn and percussion work with a surprisingly wicked timbale solo from Mr. Vanelli himself.

He adeptly straddles the thin lines which separate Soul, Funk, Jazz, Pop Smoov Jazz, Fusion and Rock with aplomb.

Living Inside Myself- a Smooth Jazz staple this is really leaning more towards anthemic rock wrapped in a crusty R&B shell. This ballad was nicely done and the synth work gave it much depth.

He recanted his Soul Train experience telling us he was only the second white act to appear on that show and it too was his TV debut. He also got a gig opening for Stevie Wonder at this very precocious time of his career.

It's funny how he was doing the Prince and Maxwell (especially) thing way before either were on our radar.

Santa Rosa - spirited, witty, hook laden and clever. Full of drama and crescendos and decrescendos and swells which always add a sense of suspense to the proceedings.


Conto - sung in Italian and written by Gino this tune was done acoustically with only a spare piano accompaniment. He nails it. Period. Great exploration of his singing which is fairly basic but his delivery and energy give him all he needs to put it across.

For Your Love - another Smooth Jazz staple. Probably one of the more anticipated ones of the night….but not not as highly anticipated as…..

Brother To Brother - so remember what I said about the introductory tune?

Good thing I didn't leave because this was that times infinity. A complete free swim for the band and they didn't disappoint.

Funk Fusion at it's very finest.

You close as good or better than you open.

it doesn't get any better than that.

Hire A Band
Peace
LP



--Bob Davis
609-351-0154
earthjuice@prodigy.net

Co-Founder www.soul-patrol.com


Quickie Album Review: Shuggie Otis "Inspiration Information/Wings Of Love"

Inspiration Information/Wings Of LoveQuickie Album Review: Shuggie Otis "Inspiration Information/Wings Of Love"
Funk/Soul/Blues/Jazz/Pop/Electronica/Peace & Love

This review is also posted on the Soul-Patrol website: http://www.soul-patrol.com/funk/shuggie.htm


This is a GREAT album. I have been waiting for this album to appear since the mid 1970's. It's the best album I have heard so far in 2013.

The original "Inspiration Information" has actually been a key influencing factor in my thought processes and behavior since I first listened to it in 1974. Since that time I have probably listened to it more than any other single album I have ever owned, with the possible exception of Miles Davis "On The Corner." To this day, people who know me well (including "Mrs. Earthjuice") are quite literally sick of me talking about "Inspiration Information." I consider it one of the defining pieces of pure artistry that I have ever encountered in my life and I return to it over and over again when I feel lost. It helps me to "re-calibrate," in almost a religious way. (how's that for obsessive behavior.....LOL)

And it's not because of the music itself.
It is also about the persona of Shuggie Otis himself, his artistic genius, his relative youth at the time and how his "lost potential" seems to be a metaphor for other "geniuses" that I knew growing up. I want for Shuggie Otis (and all of the other young geniuses, that I have known in my life) to live up to their potential to change the world for the better.

The album is an impressive 2 disc set:

Disc 1 - Contains the original 9 tracks from the "Inspiration Information," the "genreless acid drenched one man band album" which consists of all "genres" that have memorized me for the better part of the past 35 years and is literally the "Rosetta stone" for late 20th century Black music. It also contains 4 "bonus" tracks that apparently were considered for the original album, but didn't make the cut.

Disc 2 - Contains a collection of songs that Shuggie Otis recorded between the mid 1970's - 2000's that have never been released before.

Great liner notes, rare photos, & more

DISC 1 - INSPIRATION INFORMATION - BONUS TRACKS

I am not going to review the original "Inspiration Information." I have reviewed it many times and I don't want to repeat myself. If you have any interest whatsoever in the human condition of 20th century earthlings, IMHO you should own this album.

Here are some quickie reviews of the 4 bonus tracks:

10. "Miss Pretty" (Recorded in 1971)
Sounds like: Sounds like: Early 70's Pop/Funk - Sly Stoneesque

11. "Magic" (Recorded in 1971)
Sounds like: Sounds like: Early 70's Pop/Funk - Sly Stoneesque

12. "Things We Like To Do" (Recorded in 1977)
Sounds like: Sounds like: Late 60's Pop/Soul/Jazz - Chicago/Blood Sweat & Tearsesque (Sans Horns)

13. "Castle Top Jam" (Recorded in 1971)
Sounds like: Sounds like: Late 60's Acid drenched Blues/Funk/Rock - Sly Stone/Steve Miller Bandesque

DISC 2 - WINGS OF LOVE

This is what I have been waiting for all of these years. This is an album that is filled with GREAT music, never before heard. These songs have little if anything to do with the original "Inspiration Information" album. A half dozen or so of these songs ("Special," "Tryin' To Get Close To You," "Doin' What's Right," "Wings Of Love," "Don't You Run Away," "Fireball of Love," "Fawn," "Destination You!") would have been hit records, had they been released on major labels during the period when they were recorded. Listening to these songs today, make the original "Inspiration Information" seem like just what it was. An experimental album constructed by a "genius mad scientist," simply because he could. This collection of previously unheard songs sound like they come from someone who now has totally perfected the whole "one man band" thing, is ready to unleash all of that knowledge into the commercial marketplace. Why Shuggie was never given the opportunity to release these songs to the public, continues to be a mystery and open to lots of speculation. However I'm glad to finally be able to hear them today.

As you look at my quickie reviews of these songs below, pay close attention to the dates they were recorded and the music I am suggesting a similarity with. In many cases, Shuggie is actually "channeling" these artists long before we ever heard of them!! In other cases you can certainly hear who some of his influences were. If you like the artists that I am making the comparisons with, then you will also like "Wings of Love."

1. "Intro"
Sounds like: 4 second of 'audience sounds" from a live show
(a waste of space)

2. "Special" (Recorded in 1980)
Sounds like: Mid 80's Pop/Funk - Princesque

3. "Give Me Something Good" (Recorded in 1977)
Sounds like: Mid 90's - Early 2000's Neo Soul - D'Angeloesque

4. "Tryin' To Get Close To You" (Recorded in 1976)
Sounds like: Late 70's Pop/Funk - Brothers Johnsonesque

5. "Walkin' Down The Country" (Recorded in 1977)
Sounds like: 1960's Pop Ballad - Johnnie Mathisesque

6. "Doin' What's Right" (Recorded in 1975)
Sounds like: Mid 70's Social Message - MFSB/O'Jays/Gamble & Huffesque

7. "Wings Of Love" (Recorded in 1990)
Sounds like: Reflective Slow Jam - Rick James/Urban Rapsodyesque

8. Give Me A Chance (Recorded in 1987)
Mid 80's eMpTVyish Power Pop Ballad - Luther Vandross/Phil Collinseque

9. "Don't You Run Away" (Recorded in 1987)
Sounds like: Mid 90's - Early 2000's Neo Soul - D'Angeloesque

10. "Fireball of Love" (Recorded in 1977)
Sounds like: Mid 70's Stone Cold Monster Phunk - Billy Preston/Prince/Eddie Hazel/Johnny Guitar Watson/Graham Central Stationesque

11. "Fawn" (Recorded in 1977)
Sounds like: Monster Wett Dreamy 1970's Slow Jam - Delfonics/Stylistics/Blue Magic/Denise Williams/Laura Nyroesque

12. "If You'd Be Mine" (Recorded in 1987)
Sounds like: Mid 80's eMpTVyish Power Pop Ballad - Luther Vandross/Phil Collinseque

13. "Black Belt Sheriff" (Recorded in 2000)
Sounds like: Live Acoustic Blues/Folk Cut

14. "Destination You!" (Recorded in 1975)
Sounds like: Early 70's Pop/Funk - Sly Stoneesque

I have listened to this album 3 times, since it arrived in my mailbox and each time I discover more and more to like about it. So I'll leave it here for now, simply because I am positive that I will be writing about it again. It is by far the best album I have heard in 2013.

PS - If you would like to compare the "Wings of Love" album to a modern day artist, check out an artist named "SonnyBoy" His music is also "genreless," yet also encompasses all "genres" at the same time.

--Bob Davis
609-351-0154
earthjuice@prodigy.net

Co-Founder www.soul-patrol.com


If you have a news item, update, review, commentary, etc that you would like to submit to the Soul-Patrol Newsletter, please send them via email for consideration to:

earthjuice@prodigy.net


Hopefully you enjoyed this edition of the Soul-Patrol Newsletter.
We will be back soon with the next edition, with email alerts for local events, Soul-Patrol website updates/chat sessions or breaking news in between, as required.

If you have any comments, questions, etc feel free to drop me an email and let me know what's on your mind.
Bob Davis
earthjuice@prodigy.net

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