Shuggie Otis is a man out of time. That's not to say the former guitar prodigy will be leaving the earth any time soon. But his most creative work wasn't noticed by many for decades after its early 70s release. His sparsely attended show at the National last night seemed to be another example of his extraordinary talent and its modest appeal.
Otis, 59, glided on stage in a white fedora and dark shades, but wasn't too cool to engage the audience at length before getting into his first song, “Special,” from his latest release “Wings of Love.”
"United States, right?” he says after jokingly asking his keyboard player what city they were visiting. “I'm from the south, too. South Los Angeles!”
The son of the late R&B band leader Johnny Otis gave the crowd what they wanted, songs from “Inspiration Information” and “Freedom Flight,” his seminal albums released in the 1970s that sparked his resurgence years later. While his soulful falsetto has been supplanted by a bluesman's growl, Shuggie can still play like he used to, whether he was kneeling, laying down or standing over his instrument tapping the strings with his shoes.
Returning to the stage for an encore, Otis joked about his age, telling the audience he was only 23.
"Speaking of 23,” he says before diving into his best-known song “Strawberry Letter #23.” Written when was 16, the tune is notable for becoming a hit when it was re-recorded by the Brothers Johnson -- later used in the Quentin Tarantino film, "Jackie Brown" -- and for it's astounding guitar solo. After successfully approximating his teenage prowess, Otis ended the song. He could have left the stage for good at that point, and it still would've been a great night. But he and the band he calls “Shuggie Otis Rite” saved a blistering version of “Ice Cold Daydream” for the finale.
John Murry, accompanied by a keyboardist, opened the show with a low-energy set of folk songs that won over most of the small crowd.
"Aht Uh Mi Hed"
"Tryin' to Get Close"
"Me and My Woman"
"Picture of Love"
"Wings of Love
"Doin' What's Right"
"Ice Cold Day Dream"