Shuggie Otis, who cruises into the Continental Club Friday night with Miss Trudy Lynn — yeah, you read that right — began performing with his empresario father Johnny Otis when he was 12. By the time he was 14, he’d played guitar on two somewhat famous bawdy R&B albums on Kent Records. Today at 61, with a whole new phase of his career developing, he can afford to laugh at those early recordings.
“My dad had a connection with LAFF, the company that put out all these comedy records on people like Richard Pryor and Redd Fox,” he recalls. “So Dad got the idea to do something like that.”
Now considered a collectible, Otis Sr. first self-released the album Snatch & the Poontangs as SNATCH 101, but it was later picked up and distributed by L.A. label Kent Records. The session consisted of Shuggie, his father and a recent graduate of the prison system, vocalist Delmar ‘Mighty Mouth’ Evans. What got laid down set the standard for jive-party music that would never be heard on radio in a hundred years but was popular with a certain portion of the public. This stuff doesn’t back up to James Brown or Otis Redding or Justin Wilson or Redd Foxx. It was nasty, wicked, roadhouse soul-funk greased up with abandon and sass. It was down and way beyond double-entendre dirty. Little if anything was left to the imagination.
“What people may not understand about those records is that those lyrics weren’t necessarily penned,” Otis laughs. “Delmar had recently gotten out of prison, and a lot of the material on that album was just an adaptation of all this hardcore smack talk that was being made up and sung behind bars for their own amusement mostly, you know. No one really knows who the original person who had these ideas was. But ‘Signifying Monkee’ was pure Delmar prison jive.”
In 1969, while still 14 and having just recorded an album with Bob Dylan keyboarist Al Kooper, Otis played guitar on another historic Los Angeles session with his dad and Evans that became an R&B classic, Cold Shot. Less risqué and shocking than Snatch & the Poontangs, the album featured more of Evans’s hilarious, politically incorrect one-liners delivered in a talking style over powerhouse blues vamps. It was also released on the Kent label.
“Delmar was a really talented, funny guy,” Otis recalls. “He and my dad were a scream together.”
After a while the whirlwind of the attention, praise and success in an adult world while he was still a teen had some negative effects on young Otis.
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“I was young and naive, so there were times I could be a little arrogant," he admits. "I really thought I didn’t want show biz to affect me in a bad way, but it did get to my ego and I had to correct that at some point in my life as I matured. I wasn’t always a spiritual person, but when I was in my twenties, I finally started having those kinds of introspective thoughts. I was thinking about recognition, praise and money, but I finally realized what I needed to be thinking about was how do I live my life.”
These days Otis comes off as a humble, grateful veteran of the music-business hustle.
“The way I see it, you’ve been given talent you’re supposed to share, and that’s really about as far as you should take it,” he observes. “I don’t proclaim to be anything other than what I am, but I’ve been given a gift that seems to connect me to something so much higher. I’m just a medium for the music, that’s where I am these days.”
Shuggie Otis performs tomorrow night at the Continental Club, 3700 Main, with special guests Trudy Lynn and DJ Flash Gordon Parks. Doors open at 9 p.m.