The Mystery of Shuggie Otis

Where has the singer-songwriter been?

"I was very depressed during the making of that album. I started out happy in '72 when I started cutting the tracks, but when I started getting into it, my personal life started to get really dark," Otis says, looking down. "I got through that album, let's just put it that way. I was determined."

He still is. Lesser men give up the ghost, get a job, or self-destruct. Shuggie Otis survived, even if he bears some scars and eccentricities. Preternaturally gifted, when he was dropped from his label he trusted the divinity of his talent. In addition to turning down the Stones, he rejected sideman offers from Spirit and Blood Sweat & Tears because he assumed a label with money eventually would swoop in and re-anoint him. And that's exactly what happened. Kind of.

Otis became an indieground legend with David Byrne's Luaka Bop reissue of Inspiration Information in 2001; this latest Epic iteration figures to introduce him to the Spotify set. His new disc of songs is suffused with enough flashes of genius to further burnish the legacy, and a world tour is planned for this spring. But even if his comeback disintegrates tomorrow, Otis insists he'll never stop making music.

Mystery man: Shuggie Otis
Mystery man: Shuggie Otis

"I always wanted another record deal. I never ran from the music," he says, making rare square eye contact. "Rolling Stone magazine said I retired at 22. That pissed me off when I read that. I couldn't believe it. I said, 'Who is writing this and why?' Is it my fault that I retired because I can't get a record deal? I will never retire. Put that down. I'm never retiring. I'm a musician, and musicians can't retire."

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