ALBUM: “Freedom Flight” by Shuggie Otis
RELEASE YEAR: 1971
LABEL: BMG Music Entertainment
BEST TRACKS: “Sweet Thang,” “Strawberry Letter 23” and “Purple”
Even though Shuggie Otis isn’t a name you probably know off the top of your head, his famous song “Strawberry Letter 23” sure is. After being covered by the Brothers Johnson in 1977, the song’s popularity skyrocketed. However, despite its success, many forget who the original artist was.
From an early age, Shuggie Otis showed incredible talent. His father, Johnny Otis, would let him perform with him at clubs when he was just a teenager. He released his first album, “Here Comes Shuggie Otis” at only 16 years old. His second album, “Freedom Flight,” which contains the original “Strawberry Letter 23,” came out only a year later.
I can’t even imagine being 17 years old and producing such a sophisticated album. If Jimi Hendrix and Prince had a lovechild, it would be Shuggie Otis. Not only did Otis have unreal chops on the guitar, but his songwriting, singing, and production skills were incredible too. “Freedom Flight” is a dream-infused journey through OG rhythm and blues.
Even though Shuggie’s claim to fame is “Strawberry Letter 23,” the rest of “Freedom Flight” is just as rich, if not more so. It starts off with the funk ballad “Ice Cold Daydream,” an upbeat, layered track with a hint of Otis’s young yet confident vocals. Where things really start to pick up is with the sultry song “Sweet Thang.” The way he layers the bluesy guitar with the piano is exquisite, creating a slow yet funky atmosphere. He twangs a similar mood in “Purple,” a fantastic instrumental. “Me and My Woman” and “One Room Country Shack” really drive home the liveliness of the blues. The second to last song, “Freedom Flight” is a jazzy, psychedelic epic that’s sure to send you into astral projection.
Though Shuggie Otis is far from being forgotten as one of the pioneers of classic R&B, he definitely deserves more recognition. “Freedom Flight” is an amazing album with unreal range.