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Shuggie Otis Biography

Home > Music > O > Otis, Shuggie > Biography

Birth Name: Johnny Alexander Veliotes
Born: 1953/11/30
Birth Place: Los Angeles, California, United States
Years Active: 1965–present
Genres: R&B, Soul, Rock, Blues, Funk

Shuggie Otis was born Johnny Alexander Veliotes, Jr., November 30, 1953 in Los Angeles, California and is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. Otis was born into a musical environment with his father being a pioneering R&B musician and famed bandleader, Johnny Otis.

Shuggie Otis began playing guitar when he was 2 years old and by the time he was 12 he was performing with his father's band. Heavily influenced in his formative years by jazz and R&B musicians within his father’s circle, Otis began to move towards popular music such as Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix, and Arthur Lee in his late teens. Otis’ debut album, “Here Comes Shuggie Otis” arrived in 1969 via Epic Records, featuring musical guests such as Johnny Otis, Leon Haywood, Al McKibbon and Wilton Felder.

The success of Otis’ debut caught the attention of world renown artists, including B. B. King, Frank Zappa – whom he played with on Zappa’s 1969 album “Hot Rats” – Etta James, Eddie Vinson, Richard Berry, Louis Jordan, and Bobby 'Blue' Bland. However, it would be Otis’ second album, “Freedom Flight” in 1971 that would catapult Otis to international recognition and stardom. The album spurred the hit “Strawberry Letter 2, ” which caught the attention of Brothers Johnson guitarist George Johnson, who then played it for producer Quincy Jones. They covered the song and it instantly became a smash hit. Even though Otis played most of his own parts in the studio, the lineup on this album was quite extensive, including keyboardist George Duke and Aynsley Dunbar of Frank Zappa, Journey and Whitesnake fame.

In 1974, Otis released “Inspiration Information,” his third and final album for Epic Records. The album had taken almost three years to finish. All the songs were written and arranged by Otis himself, who played almost exclusively every instrument on the album (except for horns and various stringed instruments). However, despite its long-awaited impact, “Inspiration Information” had but one single (the title track) reach the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart.

After the album's release, Otis was approached by Billy Preston on behalf of The Rolling Stones, asking him to join the band for their upcoming world tour. He declined the offer, along with the chance to work with Quincy Jones in helping produce Otis's next album. After a series of similar refusals, Otis gained the reputation of “taking his time,” and his recording contract with Epic Records was nullified. Otis's only credited works throughout the mid-1970s were done as a session musician for his father's recording projects.

“Inspiration Information” gained a huge cult following during the 1990s with the emergence of rare groove and acid jazz. It was lauded by such musicians as Prince and Lenny Kravitz. Due in part to this regained interest the album was re-released in April 2001, by David Byrne's independent label Luaka Bop Records.

2013 saw Otis enter a deal with Sony Music Entertainment and the release of the double album, “Inspiration Information / Wings Of Love,” a re-release of the 1974 album, “Inspiration/Information,” with several bonus tracks and previously unreleased material. 2013 also saw Otis embark on an international tour with his band, Shuggie Otis Rite.