Caught the recent Shuggie Otis show a few weeks back, The Phoenix in Toronto. And I’m glad I did, I knew I was going to watch an old cat, but the dude shows up with his brother and son and all his shit was produced back in the day by his dad. So cool. Cool is what I thought he sounded like the first time I heard him. Probably never would have heard of Shuggie if it wasn’t for the internets and torrents. There are some major pluses to digital music and stumbling on this guy was one of them for sure. So the recent show obviously obligated me to give this one a spin, Freedom Flight.
This is one hep record for sure. I usually throw it on whenever someone requests “you pick” and its funk/soul blues rock melodies will always get approving nods. I’ve got two copies of this one; a second US pressing and the semi-recent Sony 180g reissue. Gonna spin the vintage platter. A bit of noise here and there, but this record’s as old as me so I won’t fuss.
Artist: Shuggie Otis
Title: Freedom Flight
Year: I’m going to guess 1973…original pressing was ’71.
Catalog: E 30752
Notes: The covers got a bit of ring wear and fuzzed up sides. A slight seam split on the bottom, but the spine is the cleanest of the 3 and legible. The record labels are orange Epic so definitely not original pressing but definitely a second. Both sides have minor visible marks with the first side looking cleanest, a solid VG+ record. The original sleeve with some kind of “Epic Times” newsletter is in great condition.
Side 1 – PAL 30752 1-C
Side 2 – PBL 30752 1-C
Pressing Plant: ?
Sipped on something special tonight. Polished off a bottle of some west highland single malt which my wife graciously gave me this past Christmas. According to the label, Oban used vintages 14 years or older. There’s an immediate nose when you uncork this mofo, even with only 3-4 inches left in the bottle! The only thing better is its taste. Honey on your tongue. I try and hold the sip on my tongue for a whole minute in a miserly fashion, trying to extract every last second of pleasure before a smooth finish delivers the enjoyable burn. I don’t think I can wait till Christmas for my next bottle of Oban.
Ice Cold opens up the first side in full funk mode. So fucking pleasing to the ears…ear sex. The record stays nice and quiet, letting the center vocals and right chimes come through nice and clear. As expected the guitar is front and center, with the drums behind Shuggie. I get lost in the song’s goodness and don’t notice until Strawberry Letter 23 begins. Another great opening full of shit going on…Shuggie’s credited with all the instruments on this one, a One Man Fucking Band he is! The bells (sleigh bells?), organ, bass…this song’s a real treat. A little knob twisting at the end is making everything go psychedelic. I’m tripping out! The song ends and I get the first taste of surface noise (focused in the right speaker) between tracks.
Sweet Thang unveils a meandering guitar riff with the surface noise still evident. The song flows into a blues jam and the noise dies off. This jam is slow and twisty with the solos crystal clear and intoxicating. Dunbar (Ansley not Sly) on the skins btw. Me And My Woman starts with Shuggie harvesting a funk bass line, blues guitar and a jazz piano, all the while porn guitar music streaming out of the right speaker. For the uninitiated, this is Muther Effing Fusion. The right channel noise returns as the song dies and into the start of Someone’s Always Singing. SAS has a nice balanced mix, Shuggie and the backup vocals centered with his guitar coming out of the left speaker. The background solos sound great, as does Sly and Shuggie’s solos. I close my eyes for Shuggie’s last solo as the song ends with some flute.
This side has a bit of surface noise, bearable but of course showed up during the quiet moments. Side two only has two songs. Purple is another pure blues number, with incredibly phat bass and a snare that draws you to the Shuggie solos. Supe shows up with a harmonica solo and this shit’s just oozing cool. So cool in fact that Shuggie drops a bass solo. Wicked! Not a short one either! Next up is a Shuggie guitar solo that’s marked with a bit of surface noise. This one’s over 60 seconds and finishes with a cool drum roll.
The last song is the title track, Freedom Flight. The song starts with chimes battling surface noise on the right speaker. Shuggie’s guitars comes in and the song has an almost “new world” feel to it. It’s a quiet song at the moment and the right channel noise is starting to irritate. There’s cool shit coming from every direction…sax, chimes (metal & wood I believe), bass, cymbals…sounds like a band warming up. I’m wondering where this sonic wonderland is heading. Dunbar finally starts something on his kit and the rest of the instruments fall into line. There’s a crazy phat bass mixed into this tune and the sax solo sounds like spiritual jazz at times. Next it’s Shuggie’s turn to solo his guitar over a floor of sound. The solo is more doodling then playing, but it fits just right within the song’s atmosphere. The song enters a quiet passage and the record holds up, which is good cuz there’s some crazy psychedelic shit going on when the oboe takes off. The solo ends and the jam returns with a bass line leading. I sit here motionless and slack jawed for a good 30+ seconds, mesmerized by the sound.
That was fun. I’m usually playing this one for folks and rarely get to sit back and critically listen. Five stars. I really should play the 180g reissue right after for a shot out. Not today, but let it be said that I’ve conducted some quasi-shootouts between the ’73 and recent pressing and the differences were minute. Don’t hesitate to grab the reissue! I’m good unless a Yellow Epic label falls into my lap.
Oban, how I love thee. If you’re looking to impress me on my next visit (or just burying relatives), have some on hand.
The Fine Print:
This was not a review of the aforementioned vinyl LP or alcoholic drink, but a personal reflection on my experience of listening and imbibing. Such factors such as vinyl condition, pressing, intoxication, room size, rig, stylus wear and mastering may result in a different listening experience.