wax Poetics

Prodigal Sun

Shuggie Otis shines light on dark days

published online
Originally published in Issue 31, 2008
By Ronnie Reese

Photo courtesy of the Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images.
Photo courtesy of the Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images.

Shuggie Otis doesn’t care. And I don’t mean “doesn’t care” as in a lack of regard, because Shuggie is one of the most devoted and sincere artists I have ever encountered. In a career that has afforded me the opportunity to sit and share words with inmates, mayors, congressmen, physicians, Grammy Award winners, Christians, and Scientologists, just knowing the man is an honor. This is a sentiment also felt by his longtime friend, George Johnson of the Brothers Johnson, who scored a smash hit with a cover of “Strawberry Letter 23” from Shuggie’s Freedom Flight (Epic; 1971). It was Johnson’s brother Louis who had originally used the song in his wedding.

But to know Shuggie Otis is to occasionally find yourself frustrated at what can only be termed as “Shuggie being Shuggie.” In conversations I’ve had with journalism colleagues and industry contacts since starting this interview, some alluded to his lack of mental stability. Having worked closely with Shuggie over the past year, I can say with conviction that while he will test your nerve, he is hardly unstable. There is a difference. 

“I don’t do many interviews,” Johnson says by phone from his home in Altadena, California, “but I’m talking to you because of Shuggie,” who refers to the elder Johnson sibling as his own big brother. “Some of my best times, recently, have been taking my axe and going over to his house and just breaking out in the living room and playing. I will always be there for him—for anything.”

And the respect that Shuggie is given, he reciprocates. He does care—about family, about friends, about his music, and about his newest endeavor as a film buff and budding screenwriter. What he doesn’t care about are the expectations that have been placed on him since his emergence as a guitar prodigy. The son of famed musician, songwriter, bandleader, and R&B impresario Johnny Otis, Shuggie signed to Epic Records as a precocious fifteen-year-old with no idea what the “business” of show business would bring. Shuggie has always been a live-in-the-moment kind of cat, reared for success by his legendary father, which ultimately worked both for and against him throughout his career, giving him some measure of protection, but also making him a bit ill-prepared for creative independence.

“You know, the way I feel, man,” Shuggie explained to me last September, “I’m fifty-three. I know that with my stuff, it’s been years since it came out, and a lot of people who weren’t even born when I made the stuff are digging it and sending me emails praising me. But I lost interest, you know, and had some personal problems, so I decided to leave it alone for a while, because I’ve done that before. It wasn’t so bad, actually, being out of the business over the years.”

But it was bad, because we as fans—including George Johnson, Larry Graham, DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight, Mos Def, Raphael Saadiq, Dave Chappelle, and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson—were left without the gift of Shuggie’s talent for over thirty years. But again, Shuggie doesn’t care. And it isn’t selfishness, but simply a matter of Shuggie doing what feels right to Shuggie for his own spiritual health and personal well-being. He is a man very much about mood, and emotion, with a sensitivity that runs deeper than that of  many of his peers. “Just hang in there with me,” he often tells me. So I do. And I sometimes wonder if we fans are the ones who are selfish for wishing we had more of the man than we were given.

“I respect Shuggie like I respect Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix,” says George Johnson. “But to me, Shuggie was more musical than Hendrix, and Shuggie’s got things that Sly doesn’t have. Even though Sly’s got that pop ability, Shuggie has that Beatles and Bob Dylan kind of pop and R&B songwriting. He was before his time—he was Prince before Prince.”

Before Prince and after Hendrix, working in a decade that saw the rise of Stevie Wonder and the descent of Sly Stone, both of whom shared a DIY ethic that Shuggie sought to emulate with his singular vision on 1974’s Inspiration Information. But he was neither Wonder nor Stewart, and while Inspiration Information is held in tremendous regard today, at the time of its release, it wasn’t marketed as strongly as projects from some of Shuggie’s labelmates, and both he and his father were dropped from Epic Records. 

“After my father told me we had been dropped from the label, he was looking depressed, and I said, ‘We’ll get a deal in two weeks—next week, we’ll get a deal,’ ” Shuggie recalls. “That’s been thirtysomething years!

“But you know what? It was a blessing in disguise, because I had some of the best times of my life after that time, and I’m starting to come up again. I’ve had some downers in my life, and not just because of the music business. But am I going to let this get me all the way? No. My life is worth more, and I’m going to get back into it.”

Just hang in there with him. 

I respect Shuggie like I respect Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix. George Johnson
Johnny Otis onstage with his young son Shuggie Otis on the drums, 1957. Photo via Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images.
Johnny Otis onstage with his young son Shuggie Otis on the drums, 1957. Photo via Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images.

How did you get the name “Shuggie”?

When I came home as a baby, my mother and her girlfriends started saying, “Oh, sugar, sugar,” and all that kind of stuff, because they loved me so much, I guess. [laughs] Between my mother and her friends, it kind of turned into “Shuggie,” but no one knew how to spell it at first. Finally, my father tried spelling it, and that was me—that’s all I knew before I went to school. But when I went to school, I wanted to be “Johnny” because that’s my real name. 

You were born John Otis?

I’m actually born Johnny Alexander Veliotes. That’s my father’s name. He had to use that one for legal reasons when he went into politics, but everybody knew him as Johnny Otis, so he didn’t win. But everything was cool. He got out of that and went back into music, which is where I thought he needed to be. He’s a very talented guy. 

When did you get your first real “break”?

What happened was, Frank Zappa called my father. He was a big fan of my dad’s, and used to come out to El Monte Legion Stadium all the time and check us out. Zappa talked to a guy—one of the Bihari brothers—over at this company called Cadet Records, which was in Los Angeles. The Bihari brothers ran a very famous company in RPM Records and also owned Kent Records, which was where we ended up. Frank Zappa told these guys, “Johnny Otis has got this group that’s playing out there in Santa Ana every night and doing after-hours gigs in Montebello on the weekends. And his son is in the group, and he’s only thirteen, wearing dark glasses and getting away with playing these clubs. But he can play!” So the Bihari brothers said to my father, “Hey, let’s do an album.” So we did an album—Cold Shot—which came out on Kent Records.

You were only thirteen then? 

I was probably about fourteen when we did Cold Shot. Pete Welding, a very famous critic, did a rave review on us for Down Beat that went worldwide. All of a sudden, everybody who was a musician—famous or not—who read that article knew who we were and were starting to buy the record. We had a single that was a hit in L.A. and some other cities called “Country Girl,” but it wasn’t like it was a smash album. It was an underground hit. Back in those days, that was something to be proud of. And it still is, really, when you think about it, because it wasn’t just Top 40, you know? 

When does Al Kooper come in?

Al Kooper came in when we signed to Columbia after the success of Cold Shot. We were approached by several labels, and two of them happened to be Columbia and RCA. We went with Columbia. 

There was a music-industry convention out in Century City, L.A., at this big hotel and convention center. So we went out there, and they had a show. And at the end of the show, they said for all the new acts that were signed to a label to stand up. I remember standing up and thinking, “This is really cool.” I was on a big label, but I was so young—like, fifteen, sixteen. Anyway, the show’s over, and I come out and see in the distance—not too far, about twenty feet away—Al Kooper is there with this girl. And all of a sudden, he comes over: “Aren’t you Shuggie Otis?” He said a few words about how he loved the Cold Shot album and how outrageous it was. Then he flipped around and said he wanted me to come to New York and do an album with him and Mike Bloomfield. But Mike Bloomfield never showed up, so we just did it ourselves. Al Kooper said it was going to be called Super Session 2, since he had already done a previous album with Stephen Stills and Mike Bloomfield. When the album came to the house, I thought it was going to be SUPER Session, but it was called KOOPER Session—Al Kooper Introduces Shuggie Otis

Photo via Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images.
Photo via Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images.

Like he had discovered you? 

Yeah, I guess. But it was funny. One day, my father was talking about how he was credited with having discovered Jackie Wilson, Little Esther [Phillips], Johnny Ace. But then he said, “You know who really discovered them? Their mother.” [laughs]

That album was an Al Kooper project? Because I often see it credited to you, but it was indeed Al’s session? 

Oh yeah, he flew me to New York, and we went and did the album in two days. My father was with me, and his manager, Hal Zeiger, and my little brother. 

So Here Comes Shuggie Otis is your first album proper?

Yeah, after Al Kooper “discovered” me. [laughs] But me and Al are cool. We don’t know each other that well. We never hung out or anything. It was just business. We actually did a gig together at Lingerie in Hollywood that was kind of crazy, and that’s about all I want to say about it. [laughs] It gets a little involved

I can imagine.

It was cool. The first set was cool. The second set, I got sick and couldn’t make it to the stage, and I think he got kind of pissed. I had gone with my buddy to the liquor store, and I was already drinking beer but said, “Let’s get some gin.” Next thing I knew, I was in the back of the club dry-heaving. I couldn’t get onstage. Eric Clapton was supposed to show up. He didn’t show up, but I heard this guitar and thought, “Man, that sounds like Eric Clapton.” And I’m down on the ground! [laughs] The guys are with me, they’re trying to help me up, but I couldn’t get up for thirty minutes. That gin hit me, and it was too much. As much as I drank back then, that combination didn’t go well that night, especially with what I had for lunch, which was lobster or something. 

So anyway, I said, “Damn, that sounds like Eric Clapton.” [It] turns out to be Al Kooper—he was playing his ass off that night. I finally felt okay and they walked me up to the stage. I get onstage, get my guitar, and they’re playing the last number. I could just feel that Al was pissed. So I strapped on the guitar and played the last number and that was it. I went to ask for my money, and Al muttered something and didn’t even look at me. It was something sarcastic, so I said, “Well, fuck you.” I went home, and I called him. He said, “Hello,” then he noticed it was me, and he hung up. [laughs] He eventually sent me a check for way less than I was supposed to get. I was kind of pissed off about that, but I don’t have any kind of grudge against Al Kooper. He helped my career out a whole bunch. 

You mentioned Eric Clapton—who were some other guitarists you admired?

Jimi Hendrix is my number one—one of my number ones. T-Bone Walker, I got to be friends with, and you couldn’t meet a nicer person. B. B. King is another hero of mine. I think Otis Rush is one of the greats and has really been underrated. Buddy Guy has got some good stuff too. Son House, I have to admit, is one of my most favorites. Robert Johnson, of course, and Skip James, Charley Patton. There are a lot of obscure guys. I wish I knew their names so that I could tell you. Like, for instance, L.T.D., this group back in the ’70s, they had an extraordinary guitar player. I don’t know what other word to use, but he throws down. And in that song, “Love Ballad,” I’ve never heard anything so perfect. That cat is bad. If you can find his name, put it down there. 

I’m actually looking through some records for his name right now. It’s John McGhee. 

Okay, yeah! Put his name down there. Their singer [Jeffrey Osborne] was one of my favorite all-time singers too. And there’s an old Bobby “Blue” Bland song—“I Pity the Fool”—whoever plays the solo in that [Wayne Bennett], it’s a masterpiece. He’s another one of those cats that people don’t know who the hell he is, but you know his sound in that song. Jimmy Nolen also, who played on “Willie and the Hand Jive” with my father, he’s another great. He went on to play with James Brown.

What was it like having your father—Johnny Otis—there for you pretty much every step of the way?

It probably spoiled me a little bit, now that I think about it. A lot of people didn’t have that blanket of protection, and as I got older, I wanted to break away from it, but he has kind of a domineering personality. And then it would turn into a kind of an altercation type of thing—an anger thing. I didn’t even know teen angst existed! [laughs] But that happens when a kid gets to a certain age. I have two sons of my own, so I know. But, man, it was great to have him there. I look back and think that if I didn’t have him, there’s a whole lot that I wouldn’t know. 

I was just kind of playing on the drums as a kid, and I wasn’t really great musically. But I hung around my dad a lot, and he had the radio show, TV show, he’d play every week, and was a man of the city with the R&B thing going on. If I didn’t have him, I probably wouldn’t have been noticed, because he pushed me out there—he encouraged me. Him and my mother always encouraged my music. He took me to my lessons to learn how to write music. I actually had guitar lessons after I taught myself how to play. I taught myself how to play, and a year later, I learned how to write guitar music. I’m not a sight reader. That’s why I was never able to read music in the studio. I’m not a great sight reader, but I can write anything. And I learned how to write with my hands, not with a computer. Back in those days, computers weren’t that popular. They weren’t even on sale yet. [laughs]

Inspiration Information was the first project for you creatively independent of your father, but your star didn’t really take off after that. 

By the time Inspiration Information came out—it came out in ’74—everybody was getting more pop. It was more of a pop feel all around—a cleaner feel—and I was into experimenting, leaving mistakes in because they sounded good, all that kind of stuff. I was into experimenting with sound. I wanted to go back to the ’60s, I guess, when they used to allow it! [laughs] They don’t allow that on records now. It’s got to have the same sound, and everybody sounds alike. Man, forget it.

Were you still working on Inspiration Information when the Rolling Stones offered you a gig? 

Well, I was still doing gigs with my father then, off and on, with my own band and with his. I can’t remember if I was in the middle of finishing the album or if I had finished it or what. They auditioned me, and I jammed with them, but I didn’t know any of their songs. Even though I remembered them, and I dug their music, all of these groups came to me and figured I’d be into them like I am now, or [that] I was putting on old records and sitting around trying to learn some licks. But it wasn’t like that. I was more into myself. I was more into the music I was hearing coming out of my head and into my hands—coming through me. 

So I got a call from Amsterdam, and it was Billy Preston on the phone. He was a mutual friend of me and the Stones. He said, “Hey, man, I’m sitting here with the Stones right now, and they want you to join the group.” I didn’t think twice. I didn’t say no, like, “Are you kidding me?” I didn’t say it like that. I was a big fan of the Stones back then…the Beatles, too. But when the Stones came out, I liked the Stones better than the Beatles. But I was into a whole bunch of stuff. I told him I had my own group now, and I was doing my own thing. I didn’t want to be with the Rolling Stones. I couldn’t see myself as a Rolling Stone. [laughs] I actually had my own gig that night with my own group. I was never really one to be a sideman. I always wanted to be on my own. Even when I was with my dad’s band, the one thing in the back of my mind was that one day I would have a band of my own. And I eventually did—and I eventually will again, as the bus turns my way, you know? 

So I told Billy, “I got my own thing going on now, and I’m going to have to say no.” He sounded a little let down, but said good luck with the group and everything, and that was pretty much how it went.

And this is 1974?

It probably was around that time, yeah.

Because joining the Rolling Stones in 1974 is much different than joining the Rolling Stones in 1964, you know?

[laughs] I would imagine so. Actually, I don’t even know how to imagine. I’m not going to try and be one of the people taking the place of Brian Jones.

And if you had joined in ’74, would you have even made it to now?

There’s the thing. When you think about what would have happened to the body—or your mind—where would you be? 

In the liner notes for the Inspiration Information reissue, it says that album and 1971’s Freedom Flight “floored Sly Stone.” Was that something you heard first-hand? 

I never heard that Sly was a fan of my work—never in my life. But I’m a big fan of his work. He’s another one of my number ones. Maybe he heard something that I did and really liked it. We used to record at the same studio—Columbia Studios on Sunset Boulevard. The Johnny Otis Show, or me, we’d be in one studio, and he’d be in another, or maybe Johnny Mathis would be in another studio, or maybe Andy Williams or Arthur Lee and Love… 

Love was a great band.

Man, Arthur Lee is like my big brother—or he was. Maybe he still is. I don’t know. Me and Arthur is a whole ’nother story. I cussed him out a couple of times. That’s how close we were. It was just like a brotherly thing. 

But I saw Sly a few times. We never met. We saw each other walking through the halls and whatnot. He was doing these tape loops way before anybody. They said he was bringing every machine in the whole studio and recording drum tracks on all the machines that he could find and fit in one room. He would record four bars of a drum track, take all the tapes and splice them together, and make a three-minute song out of the drum tracks. He was so ahead of his time with it. 

Photo via Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images.
Photo via Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images.
I know there are some things I can do that I haven’t heard anybody else do. Shuggie Otis

When did the rhythm box come into play for you?

I’d walk down the street sometimes to Wallichs Music City—this music store on the corner of Sunset and Vine. I saw this box there one day—it was called a [Maestro] Rhythm King. I don’t even think I turned it on or played it. If I did, I didn’t really understand what it could do for me. I don’t even think I had heard it before. I just saw it. When I got back in the studio about a week or two later, one of the engineers told me Sly put out this record for his sister under the name Little Sister. It was called “You’re the One,” and he had another one I can’t remember…

“Somebody’s Watching You”?

Yes—“Somebody’s Watching You.” I loved them both. They came out on Stone Flower Records, because he had this deal with Atlantic. Sly’s younger sister, I can’t remember her name [Vaetta], but he’s playing everything on there. It seemed to me there was a drum machine on there, but it didn’t sound like a machine. It sounded like real drums. I found out later [that] what he did was he used the Rhythm King as a click track, which is what we all did. When I finally got one, I did the same thing. Sometimes, I’d leave the click track in, sometimes I’d take it out, and it sounds like a regular band. So on “You’re the One” and “Somebody’s Watching You,” he’s playing those little buttons on the Rhythm King. He’s got that whole thing going on like a loop. That was one thing. But he’s playing drums on “You’re the One”—if you listen to it, those are real drums. He did the drum loop too. [sings] It was funky, man, and it sounds like he’s playing with a pick on the bass, but this guy told me it was his thumb. And the sound was so cold. Those were two bad songs. I went out and bought them—I had to get them. They said Sly did everything on them.

As accomplished as you are on different instruments—guitar, organ, drums—how much of a need do you have for other musicians when you’re recording?

Well, maybe my accomplishments aren’t all they’re put up to be, as far as playing any instrument. I would say guitar is probably the closest instrument to me. In fact, without a doubt, I feel the guitar is a part of me, even though I played drums first. I can play bass. I feel very close to the bass, almost as close as I feel to guitar—or maybe just as close, because they’re very similar. When it gets to keyboards and drums, I can come up with things. And when it comes to writing music, I can come up with things. As far as being accomplished, I don’t know. I don’t even want to touch on that, really. I know that I can do certain things, and I’m just blessed with the talent. That’s one thing I can say, and I thank God for that, because I know there are some things I can do that I haven’t heard anybody else do. I have to put that down and share it. When you’re that inspired, you should want to share, because I know the feeling, man. I know the feeling of being all the way down, and I know the feeling of being all the way up. And in the middle is where you really want to be to actually have peace of mind. 

What was the transition like to Freedom Flight from Here Comes Shuggie Otis? You had a completely different vibe on your second album. 

Freedom Flight—I didn’t even come up with that idea. You know who came up with that? My father, because we had a song called “Freedom Flight,” and we didn’t have a title for the album. All of a sudden, he said “Freedom Flight,” and it fit in with the whole movement that was going on then. This was 1970 now—maybe late ’70 or early ’71. We weren’t in the ’60s anymore, but we still felt the movements going on from the ’60s—the Black Panthers, the hippies, the activists, and the political thing was going on then. So “Freedom Flight” was, like, “Wow, that’s bad.” It typified me—it was my thing. I’m a Sagittarius, so freedom flight is where it’s at—to be free at all times. 

What’s the real story behind “Strawberry Letter 23”

I’m glad you brought that up, because somebody made up some bullshit about that. When people used to ask me this back when I wrote it, I used to do a double take, like, “What do you mean, ‘What does it mean?’?” Just listen to the words and groove to it, you know? [laughs] That’s all you have to do! There are all kinds of stupid little “meanings” out there. I don’t know who made this stuff up. It has nothing to do with a scented letter, or somebody in the Army. Someone told me it was about somebody in jail, and I was like, “What the heck are you talking about?”

Here’s what it’s about, Ronnie—it’s about a boy and a girl who are in love with each other. And they’re in a place that doesn’t seem like earth. And you hear all this crazy, psychedelic stuff, but I wasn’t even on drugs when I wrote the song. I hadn’t even experienced using LSD yet. It wasn’t a drug song. I was thinking of a Xanadu kind of a place where everything was just cool, and there are no problems at all, you know? And so you kind of have to read between the lines of what I initially thought this song to be. It’s just like a paradise where these people in love are at, and they don’t even have to be together all the time to feel their love. 

“Strawberry Letter” was that only thing I did all on my own from that album. It’s an incredible song to me now, more than it was then. Then, I was trying to write a pop song that would get on the radio, and it did. But in the back of my head, I was thinking that if I could write a song that was pop enough, that maybe I won’t hit, but somebody else would, and they’ll make it a hit. And it happened. Christmas of ’76, we find out that Quincy Jones is with the Brothers Johnson, and they’re going to do “Strawberry Letter.” We jumped and hollered. Quincy wanted to sign me at one point, but let’s get back to where you were. I don’t want to go into that.

That’s fine…go ahead. 

No, I want to go back to where you were, because I tend to miss things.

I’m keeping track of everything. Don’t worry about that.

Yeah, but I think where you were at was where I wanted to be. 

I’m not going to let you get away from Quincy, though. 

[laughs] Well, Quincy wanted to produce me, but the question in my mind the whole time was: how much freedom was he going to give me? Because I had already finished Inspiration Information and had done the whole album pretty much by myself except for the strings and the horns, and flutes and harps and whatnot, but I wrote those parts out. And I met with Quincy a couple of times, and I mentioned that, and I remember him saying, [imitating Jones] “Well, nobody can do it all by themselves.” 

[laughs] That’s hilarious—you sound just like him. 

[laughs] I guess that kind of told me something right then and there, like, “Whoa, here we go…” I always wanted to have control. Once I had complete control, why go back? But me and Quincy are cool—we’re cool as long as we don’t do business together. [laughs] 

To make a long story short, it was me who didn’t really want to do it. At one point, it was my mother who said, “Let Quincy go ahead and do the horns, and let him do the songs, and let him bring in the songwriters—let him do what he wants to do. You just sit back and let him do it, then put billboards up…” And I said, “Oh Lord.” It started to scare me. I knew they were going to pull out all the stops. He was with A&M, and all of a sudden, my shit was going to be all over the city—which I would love to have now, right? [laughs] But back then, it was scary. The scariest thing about it was that I wasn’t going to have musical control—I wasn’t going to have any artistic control. 

So, damn, if I can’t have artistic control at this very inspirational point in my life, I don’t want to do it at all. It’s just that simple. I don’t care who you are. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t on an ego trip. I just knew what I had—what I had to offer and what I wouldn’t go through. Because my father is a good producer, but he’s a pushy guy, and it’s hard sometimes working with that—very hard, sometimes. And after Dad gave me the freedom…shit, it was just me. 

You began your career as a blues player, but after your first album, you started to combine your base style with the technology that was available. And even though you were selective in using technology, that combination was still something rather unheard of back then. A lot of people have said you were ahead of your time, and it’s true. You were a visionary. 

Yeah, you know, I don’t know…my music’s kind of weird. The blues, though, that’s me. If I pick up the guitar, it might not always be a blues lick, but nine times out of ten, the first thing I play is going to be the blues—or something like blues—unless I’m in another mood or kind of a jazzy or experimental mood. But I’m always going to be playing blues licks throughout the whole thing.

Some of the things you mentioned to me when we first spoke were problems with your label, Epic, and some personal issues. What happened to you thirty years ago—what happened to Shuggie Otis in the mid-’70s so that we barely heard anything from you for almost three decades?

That’s a question that’s hard for me to answer, really. I guess I do have some answers. Basically, at one point, I was doing the album, I was at home, I didn’t have to go out and gig. I still lived with my parents—that’s what I meant by “home”—and I had a studio in the backyard, so you could kind of say I was very, very fortunate to be a kid, seventeen, eighteen, with a major-label deal. I didn’t know what I had. And people say, “Well, you must have had some personal problems.” Well, I did. And a lot of them I’d like to keep personal, because they’re just life. Some might say I was hanging around with the wrong crowd, but that could mean anything, right? 

Exactly—that’s very vague.

[laughs] That’s not going to hold up in court, is it? Okay. Well, it wasn’t really that at all. I was at home mostly trying to finish this damn album [Inspiration Information]. It was the first time I had ever written an album. I took two years of arranging lessons, so I knew how to write, but I had never done it for myself. And I was having personal problems in my life with girls and stuff like that. I was a father early—I had two sons—I was sharing a studio with Dad, and I wasn’t in the best state of mind, really, when I was doing Inspiration Information. “Depressed” is actually a good word, but not the kind of depression that I was going to feel later in life. It was stagnating—I felt stagnated, and I felt really depressed at the same time. I didn’t want to get out there and be a big star—a big guitar star. Not that I didn’t love guitar. The guitar is on almost every song I have. I just wanted to experiment with music. It wasn’t all bad, but it wasn’t the greatest period of my personal life. There was a lot of static and a lot of anger. I was a very cold person back then. I didn’t have it together all that much. I mean, I was cool—I wasn’t, like, all the way crazy, but I had my moments. 

It all turned out okay, but I can’t really delve into all that stuff, because I’d rather keep it to myself. I know I sound like I’m evading you, and I probably am…

You definitely are, but you’re doing okay. Do you notice how quiet I’m being so you’ll just keep talking? 

[laughs] Right, right, right. And they talked about how long I took with my album [Inspiration Information], but there was just so much going on for me at that time. All in all, it didn’t really have to take two years [to do], but I’m not trying to apologize for it at all, because I could really give a shit. If Stevie Wonder could do it and Sly Stone could do it, I thought I could do it! [laughs] That was my mind-set. I didn’t really think about it. I said, “Well, shit, everybody can take two years to do an album now.” Fuck, I was eighteen years old. I didn’t know…I didn’t know. I’m not putting myself down for anything I did. Yeah, I made mistakes. Sometimes, I thought I was being selfish. I had a group, and I had some of my best friends with me, but I wanted to do the shit by myself. It wasn’t until I got finished with that album that I brought my group into the picture. And it wasn’t anything personal against any of the guys. I thought I could get it done quicker playing [everything myself] instead of having to take the time out to teach them to play stuff that they might not even be able to play the way I wanted them to play it. So, no, I don’t want to go into personal problems. But it wasn’t really as bad as people think. 

Drag left & right to navigate channels
  • Documenting the music trailblazers, cultures and stories that shape the sounds of yesterday, today, and beyond.

  • Joining the dots.
    Groups of articles that bring stories to life.

  • Explore classic, rare, or forgotten records.
    Digging on your desktop.

  • All of our mixes, playlists, and podcasts in one place.

    powered by
  • Documenting the music trailblazers, cultures and stories that shape the sounds of yesterday, today, and beyond.