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1970s R&B Man Shuggie Otis Is Ready for His "Sneak Back"

"It's like I fell in love with music all over again."

| Mon Jan. 21, 2013 7:06 AM EST

MJ: I realized while listening to Inspiration Information that it is your first album without a single blues track on it, and maybe that was part of coming into your own music?

SO: Yeah, you're right. I love the blues, don't get me wrong. I'm not so much into doing traditional blues anymore except for in person. I find writing much more interesting outside a traditional style. I like to explore.

MJ: Do you start with bits of music, or a lyric?

SO: It goes both ways. Sometimes I'll hear some music in my head or I'll go to the piano and mess around and come up with a tune, or be on the guitar and come up with some chords—or I'll come up with lines, or just some words, or just a sentence. It could be the title of a song. I do that all the time. I write titles of songs a lot. And sometimes I'll end up writing a song that I don't have a title for and I'll say, "Oh, this goes with that title." For instance in the song "Inspiration Information," you don't hear me say that anywhere. That just came to me one day. I don't know why. And it became the name of the album.

"I didn't quit, I was out there trying to get record deals...Big ones, little ones, name a record company and I went there."

MJ: I've got the lyrics here. It says, "Here's a pencil pad, I'm going to spread some information."

SO: Yeah.

MJ: So, uh, what's a "snake-back situation"?

SO: [Laughs.] A sneak-back situation! That's a good one.

MJ: Wait, it's "sneak back"? That means a lot of people, including myself and Sharon Jones, who covered your song in 2009, got the opening lyrics wrong: "He had a rainy day, I'm in a snake-back situation."

SO: Yeah. I'm in a sneak-back situation now. I mean I'm not sneaking back, I'm starting back, you know? Wait, my manager is correcting me, I'm storming back. I got a second wind. It's like I fell in love with music all over again. And I never stopped. You know, there was this article that came out in Rolling Stone—I was 22 at the time—that said, "Shuggie Otis retired at the age of 22." And I said, "Who the hell wrote this and where did they get this nonsense from?" It's just strange. I went to my father one day and asked, "I wonder why he said that?" And he said, "Well, you did kind of quit." Even he thought that. I said "I didn't quit, I was out there trying to get record deals." I'm not lying; I've got witnesses. Big ones, little ones, name a record company and I went there, more than once! I went to so many record companies it's not even funny.

Portrait of the artist. Jacob Blickenstaff


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