Af­ter years in ob­scu­rity, Shug­gie Otis is en­joy­ing a re­nais­sance. raises a cheer

Jim Car­roll

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

You must have been happy to re­alise peo­ple were still dig­ging your mu­sic even dur­ing your lengthy lay-off? It was re­as­sur­ing, it was one of the things that kept me right. I was go­ing through a slump and then I went on the in­ter­net and saw all the th­ese peo­ple giv­ing me praise. I had to turn the page be­cause I had more fans than I knew. I thought peo­ple had for­got­ten about me for years but they hadn’t. It took me a while to get my­self back to­gether and start writ­ing again and start play­ing for hours in­stead of min­utes. Now, I’m to­tally back into it with a new­found love for mu­sic. So it’s all down to the in­ter­net? The great thing about the in­ter­net is you can get that sort of pub­lic­ity all over the world. What I don’t like is the free down­load­ing bit. That’s my only gripe. There has to be a way to change that some­day. I’m not the only one. I mean, I won­der why some­one would buy mu­sic when they can down­load it for free. If I was real poor, I’d down­load ev­ery­thing for free but mu­si­cians don’t like that. There’s no telling how much money I could be mak­ing or could have made. It’s not that the com­puter is good or evil, it’s the peo­ple us­ing the com­puter. We need to in­vent a new com­puter! I try to stay away from the in­ter­net, I pre­fer old movies on the TV. You’re tour­ing at the moment. What’s the best thing about that? I’ve got the best band I’ve ever had play­ing with me. It took me a while to find them be­cause I wanted the right, ex­act peo­ple and I was very, very for­tu­nate. I feel com­fort­able on­stage with them. You need em­pa­thy, the vibe, re­spect, want­ing to play the mu­sic, be­ing se­ri­ous about it. You have to be se­ri­ous about it. You’ve played gui­tar with some leg­ends and you were even asked to join the Rolling Stones at one stage. Who stands out for you? BB King was a won­der­ful per­son. He was a nice man, very honourable and en­cour­ag­ing, no funny stuff.

One of the most mem­o­rable times was when I played with Ray Charles. We played in RPM Stu­dios, which is round the cor­ner from where I grew up. My fa­ther-in-law got me the gig. Be­fore the ses­sion, the en­gi­neer told me not to play loud be­cause Ray doesn’t like a loud gui­tar so I turn it down to one. Ray comes in, plays th­ese licks in E and looks up at me be­cause he knows I’m be­hind him so I play along. Then, an­other lick and the same thing be­fore he goes, “gui­tar player, turn up your gui­tar”. That was some­thing to re­mem­ber, Ray Charles telling me to turn my gui­tar up. You’ve a new al­bum coming out in 2013. How’s the writ­ing coming along for that? I am start­ing to write again, guess I had bad writer’s block for a while. Well, a few years (laughs). I used to put my­self down be­cause I wasn’t suc­cess­ful. Or some­body didn’t like my song straight away and I’d be a lit­tle sar­cas­tic and cut­ting, but I’m a dif­fer­ent per­son now with a dif­fer­ent out­look.

I have writ­ten some new songs which will come out next year on a new al­bum on my la­bel Shugi­terius. Writ­ing is not al­ways easy. Some­times, a song will come along and you’ll fin­ish the words and the mu­sic, the whole song, within an hour. Some­times, it could take weeks to get the whole thing right. Mu­si­cally. where are you go­ing with the new songs? Are we talk­ing Straw­berry Let­ter 23 and Aht Uh Mi Hed or some­thing dif­fer­ent? Those songs are in the past and I don’t want to try to em­u­late any­thing I’ve done be­fore. That’s not my style, I like to go for­ward, I’m not a “hey, I got a for­mula” guy. I ap­proach each song and idea dif­fer­ently. I want to start branch­ing out into dif­fer­ent styles too, go be­yond the rock and blues thing. Rock and blues are part of me, even though I want to write for or­ches­tras.

Of late, I’ve been check­ing out Beethoven. I don’t mind be­ing called old-school be­cause I’m real old school. Those clas­si­cal cats, I like De­bussy and Ravel and Han­del and Bach. And I want to get more into jazz. Rock, rhythm, blues, clas­si­cal and jazz, that’s me. ❙❙❙ Shug­gie Otis plays Whe­lan’s, Dublin, tonight and Sugar Club, Dublin, to­mor­row

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