Having emerged from a more than quarter-century hiatus with the 2013 dual release of Wings of Love, a collection of material recorded in his home studio over the years, along with a re-issue of his popular 1974 Inspiration Information album, bluesman Shuggie Otis is now out with Live in Williamsburg. This is his first live album and documents an April 19, 2013 performance at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg, part of what he was calling the “Never Ending World Domination Tour.”
The album features a dozen tunes, including nearly all the songs that had made him a name with musicians—he had been offered a guitar gig with The Rolling Stones when Mick Taylor left, not to mention praise by the likes of B. B. King, David Byrne, Prince, and Lenny Kravitz—and built him a loyal fan base in the blues community. Handling guitar and lead vocals, Shuggie is accompanied by his son Eric on second guitar and brother Nick on drums. James Manning plays bass and Russ “Swang” Stewart is on keys. There is a horn section featuring Larry Douglas on trumpet and flugelhorn, Albert Wing on tenor sax, and Michael Turre on baritone sax, flute, and piccolo.
With a smooth soulful blues vibe, he opens with “Inspiration Information” and runs through the catalogue of Otis favorites: ”Trying to Get Close to You,” “Aht Uh Mi Hed,” “Sparkle City-Miss Pretty,” and “Doin’ What’s Right.” It is a musical pageant that brings back the days of Earth, Wind and Fire and Sly and the Family Stone. My own favorites are the 11-minute slow blues rendition of “Sweetest Thang” and the jumping “Shuggie’s Boogie.” Forget the layoff, Otis can still do nice things with the guitar. They end the set with perhaps his best known piece, “Strawberry Letter 23,” made famous by the funky version of the Brothers Johnson. (There is also an album with a bonus track, but that doesn’t seem to be the one I have.)
Invigorated by the enthusiasm of the crowd, Otis and the band rise to the occasion. Live in Williamsburg is a good way for enthusiasts to pick up some of the best of the bluesman’s work.