By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
There's an old adage of the music industry: Good music sells itself; build it and they will come. Of course, the whole notion of underground or alternative music markets rests on the fact that this flimsy A&R man's pitch is complete horseshit. Artworks of the highest caliber consistently--some might argue exclusively--fall through the cracks and fail to reach the broad audiences they deserve. Sometimes even an authentic classic or two finds its way into history's dustbin.
Example: When Shuggie Otis released his Inspiration Information stillborn in 1974, there was no viable network of niche markets below the Top 40 that might make up for the pop world's initial indifference to it. David Byrne figures there is now, so he's releasing it for the first time on CD through his Luaka Bop label, under the subtitle World Psychedelic Classics 2: California Soul. And the lofty title isn't hyperbole.
Shuggie grew up as the boy wonder multi-instrumentalist son of West Coast blues giant Johnny Otis. He played on Frank Zappa's solo debut Hot Rats when he was 16 and turned down the opportunity to join the Stones as Mick Taylor's replacement. But these facts are incidental to what he accomplished on Inspiration Information. Shuggie arguably sketched out his own genre definition, melding the cosmic blues of Hendrix, the silky funk nastiness of Johnny Guitar Watson and the pop songwriting forte of Sly Stone into an acid-dipped soul sound unto itself. His playing of all instruments predicted Prince and his use of the first commercially available drum machine, the Rhythm King (which he overhead Sly using through the walls of Columbia's Los Angeles studio), and suggested the funky applications of technology that Soulsonic Force picked up on with "Planet Rock." Hip-hop and techno followed suit.
The title track opens the nine songs of Inspiration Information, and four cuts from his previous album, Freedom Flight, are also offered here, including "Strawberry Letter 23," which the Brothers Johnson covered to platinum success. This dreamy ode to all things shiny and smile-inducing is balanced on a snappy percussive undercarriage and Shuggie's tastefully understated guitar virtuosity. "Happy House" stirs up feelings of childhood innocence with sparkly organ work similar to Morris Day and The Time's "Ice Cream Castles." Yes indeed, this is a psychedelic classic the world is now ready to hear.