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Shuggie Otis and his three-piece band drew a near-full house at Stickyz Wednesday night — a mixed crowd of those who could recall when Otis was being heralded as America’s next top guitarist and those who likely heard him first through his being sampled by the likes of Beyonce and J Dilla.
Sporting a moustache and a small grey-flecked afro, and dressed in a dark, double-breasted duster over a white dress shirt buttoned to the top, Otis resembled a member of Prince’s Revolution, and delivered mostly blues with Hendrixian overtones. Keyboardist Ed Roth was given many moments to shine, with all of it held down by bassist Paul Lamb – who rarely took his eyes off Shuggie — and Shuggie’s brother Nick Otis, who with his beard and hat closely resembles the Otises’ father, Johnny.
“Sweet Thang,” from Shuggie Otis’s second album, 1971’s Freedom Flight, drew cheers of crowd recognition, but such moments were rare in a set that strongly emphasized the “B” in R&B. An unaware passerby could easily think it all just another blues jam — until Otis offers a glimpse of what fueled all the decades-ago hype as he expertly unleashes another tightly-coiled cascade of blue notes. But no “Inspiration Information,” no “Aht Uh Mi Hed,” no “Rainy Day” — seemingly burdened with heavy musical expectations all his life, maybe Shuggie just wants to be a fun blues guy?
“Strawberry Letter 23,” with its lifting riff so ubiquitous it’s probably on doorbells, was the first song after the break. But by that time, most of the fans alive when it was on the radio in 1977 had gone home. The encore — “23” and the extended jam that followed – tantalized. But it tantalized for what could have been as much as its actual merits – making the night a perfect microcosm of the career of Shuggie Otis.