Category Archives: Local Radio

The Inspiration Information of Shuggie at the Turning of the Millennium: Andre’s Outlook

Shuggie

Looking back on when the century and also the millennium turned,the year 2000 was felt very much like a huge temporal pain reliever for me. No Y2K,could buy anything in a record store without being constantly questioned as to the “credibility of my musical tastes and overall? The futurist mentality that most science fiction/Star Trek admirers such as myself had been pining for seemed to at last be on the horizon. One memory was on a dark,snowy January first playing the O’Jay’s song “The Year 2000” in my room and having similar thoughts as to what Eddie Levert was singing about-all that wonder and promise. It would be sometime towards the middle of this year that another millennial milestones of my musical development occurred: my own introduction to Shuggie Otis’s Inspiration Information.

First of all I wanted to say that during the 2000/2001 period? I wouldn’t have sought out Shuggie Otis on my own because I still couldn’t stand the blues. It had nothing to do with tuning into any cliches of self pitying lyrics or anything. It was more a cultural misunderstanding of intent. Growing up in 1990’s central/Northern Maine? All any music lover would hear was how much the blues was part of every popular music. Outside the Top 10 radio? Most non commercial radio at the time was obsessed with the blues. And with such a sense of seriousness. From what I saw? No one ever danced or clapped their hands to chase their blues away. Just listened,frowned and sometimes even drank a lot. Because those were not qualities I felt boded well with music,itself a motivating factor in life? I did flatly reject any connection that the music (which I loved with my heart and soul) and it’s connection with the blues.

So on one warm and welcoming day in the summer of 2001? My father and I were about to go for a cruise to take in the beauty of nature. As well as some always vital father/son bonding time. On our way we stopped at Bull Moose records,the local music store chain in the state of Maine,and my father came out very excited. He had a CD in his hand with this bright orange 70’s art deco style about it. He told me that Talking Heads’ David Byrne had declared this album the big unsung 70’s masterpiece and re-released it on his Luaka Bop record label. The album of course was Inspiration Information by this man I vaguely knew about named Shuggie Otis. When I asked my father who he was,he told me Shuggie was the son of the blues icon Johnny Otis.

What was I hearing here? Johnny Otis? The BLUES? Well I actually recalling rolling my eyes and tisking lightly to myself. Had a feeling of “here we go-someone trying to up-sell me on the blues again. Like it’s the only music in the world”. It was likely I wanted to hear a Stevie Wonder,Curtis Mayfield or Miles Davis record I’d bought with me at that time. It was my dad’s car of course,and I wanted to understand why he’d be so gleeful about this music. So my father put the record in the CD player of our used 1992 Toyota Corolla. The first thing that came out of the speaker was this beautiful swell of male falsetto vocal parts-harmonizing with each other over an upbeat wah wah bass/guitar and a sunny organ solo.

By the time the sweetly monotone voice of Shuggie himself came in with the lyrics “we had a rainy day/I’m in a sneak back situation/Here’s a pencil pad/I’m gonna spread some information/You, making me happier/Now I am snappier, while I’m with you”?How was this music blues? The only blues I’d heard thus far related mainly to unemployment,romantic distress and death. I wasn’t hearing any of that with Shuggie Otis. There was this realization I was indeed hearing that meaningful,bright funk/soul music I loved. But it was a totally different sound on that level. Through “Island Letter”,”Aht Uh Mi Hed”,”Happy House” and this amazing percussive instrumental called “XL-30” that I asked my father to repeat over and over again that afternoon? There was a hollow,dreamy sound about this album that I’d really never heard before.

My father told me Shuggie played almost all the instruments on the album the way Prince did. Later on as I listened and read the liner notes? It came to me where I’d seen Shuggie’s name before. During that era I was deeply into the music of the Brothers Johnson. Even more so when I fully realized their involvement with two musical icons in my life: Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson. One of their biggest songs “Strawberry Letter#23” was originally written and recorded by Shuggie Otis in 1971 for his Freedom Flight album. After hearing the album itself and the bonus songs on that CD? I was truly shocked. By no definition I’d ever dealt with was this the blues that I had been hearing. Shuggie’s music helped me see the depth and complexity of the blues. This music was reflective,thoughtful,poetic and very tender.

Recently I debated with myself whether to bring this up here. But about seven years later? I was playing a beat up CD of this album I’d gotten later from the Bull Moose free bin with my fiancee while driving through town during a visit to see his family. Upon hearing “Aht Uh Mi Hed”? He remarked how much he enjoyed the way Shuggie used organ in his music. Such an instrumentally inclined remark from a fellow Generation X’er was very much unknown to me even by that time. It was only a year ago that I ended up with the album again-released with Shuggie’s newest set of unreleased material called Wings Of Love. After playing it in the car? Even my musically persnickety mother fell under the spell Shuggie Otis set with Inspiration Information. Although he absent mindedly remarked just last week that she thought “XL-30” sounded like something from the score of the film Napoleon Dynamite? Even her respect for Shuggie’s musicality remains undiminished.

Part of my overall respect for Shuggie Otis also came from how his music helped me to better appreciate session musicians and the vital role they play in many a musical masterpiece. I was aware of his session playing for his father Johnny. But not necessarily in how his playing helped to revitalize the careers of Etta James,Louis Jordan and Bobby Blue Bland and “Louie Louie” composer Richard Berry. Growing up I’d tended to view musicians who played out front in bands as being the most musically important-either as soloists or as members of bands. Though already very aware and involved with listening to The Crusaders by this time? My admiration for the non session/solo music of people such as Greg Phillinganes, Paulinho Da Costa, Bernard Wright,Weldon Irvine and bands such as Stuff began to grow and increase follwing my exposure to Shuggie.

As for my father,the man who originally introduced me to Shuggie Otis? He is still broadening my appreciation of the man to this very day. Only earlier today,when discussing this blog with him,did he discuss Shuggie’s involvement with Frank Zappa. Shuggie in fact played electric bass on Zappa’s iconic instrumental “Peaches en Regalia” from his 1969 album Hot Rats. My dad is a long time admirer of Zappa,who was an individual who often elevated musicians considered to be sidemen into positions of prominence. One such musician was the violinist Don Sugarcane Harris. It was mentioned by my father this afternoon that he first heard about Shuggie Otis via his session playing on Harris’s 1970 LP release Sugarcane. So when Luaka Pop reissued the Inspiration Information album on CD? My father,being unfamiliar with Shuggie’s solo music,was very eager to hear it. So as I was writing my own story about this man and his album? My father was telling me about the first time he heard of Shuggie Otis.

One of the reasons I still find this album to be some of the most beautiful funk ever recorded is association. When I first heard it? That magical 21’st century had arrived. The future that everyone had been dreaming about in the century before had at last arrived. And considering the dark days of the post 9/11 world would arrive in only a seasons time? This introduction to Shuggie Otis to my life always reminds me of the importance of maintaining dreamy optimism. Especially in the hardest of times. Also,with some later help from Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary? Hearing Shuggie Otis completely altered my perception of the blues. He really put a sunshine funk filter inside of his musicality. And it helped me realize that broadness of the soul/funk/jazz/blues musical spectrum-outside of any locally based misconceptions. As Branford Marsalis said of blues music itself? To this very day,whenever I hear Shuggie Otis’s Inspiration Information,it makes me smile.

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Filed under 1970's, 1990s, Funk, Local Radio, Maine, Psychedelia, Radio, Shuggie Otis, Soul

The Maine DJ & Radio Scene: Half There And Half Square?

wkit                  As with just about any young person growing up in anywhere America during the 1980’s,I’d have to count myself as part of the last American generation whose musical interests were deeply affected by the radio. As maudlin and funereal as that might sound,it was something of a necessity in New England. Even than most commercial radio stations were very limited in their approach. Being someone interested in the music of the funk/soul/R&B/jazz spectrum? The only musical outlet local radio in my area offered this would’ve been through either European new wave era groups and soloists having soul/funk oriented hits such as Duran Duran’s “Notorious” but also with the big hits of artists such as Michael Jackson,Prince and Whitney Houston. In terms of the black population/DJ culture of the area? There was absolutely no DJ culture in that regard. And as far as the black population? I assumed it was only my mother. And that wasn’t an entirely inaccurate outlook either. One thing Bangor Maine did have at that time was Stephen King.

471px-Stephen_King,_Comicon

King and his wife Tabitha own the Zone Corporation-a  part of which is the rock radio station WKIT,which was  founded in 1979.. This is one of the few radio stations that  still has a live local announcer in the studio 24 hours a day,  however on the weekends they carry some  syndicated programming.  After the turn of the  millennium,WKIT also adapted to the digital age by  streaming their programming on the internet via the official  station website. Their personalities include the “Rock and Roll Morning  Show” hosts Bobby Russell and Mark “The Shark” Young,  midday host Jason “Rock Dog” Roberts, afternoon host  Scotty Moore, evening host Dave Isaac, overnight host Rob  Greene, and news anchor Paul Allen. As time has marched on  however, WKIT has oriented itself more and more towards  the oldies based format in their playlists. King has openly  voiced his views on the continuation of live radio DJ’s and their place in promoting music-which I feel is extremely laudable. However their format does seem to be mainly based in the “classic rock” music of their particular generation. Of course soul/R&B/funk is almost totally excluded. Some of the people involved in the station (King himself may or may not have been excluded from this) very likely supported the racist and homophobic “disco sucks” attitude of the early 80’s. And much 70’s/80’s era soul,funk and R&B has been seen only under that moniker. Even so,there is always a place for the blues on WKIT-both old and new. So that door is at least halfway open.

WERU Logo 2012 - PMS 286 Blue

 On May 1’st,1988 WERU FM first began broadcasting out of one area of an old hen house located in Orland-not too far from its base town of the fairly large coastal town of Blue Hill. Folk icon Paul Stookey was a major benefactor of this major breakthrough in non commercial,independent radio  in the state of Maine. In 1997 the station moved it’s operations from the hen house to a more traditional facility in the same town but directly on U.S Route 1-linking the state to traffic from across the country. Every Thursday at 2-4PM the station carries the X-Large Soul Show. This showcases primarily new and often independent music from soul,R&B and blues acts-with some lesser known oldies thrown in for good measure. The one difficulty WERU has it that,to this day it still operates at an effective radiated power of 11,500 watts. In a state consisting of huge amounts of undeveloped rural land connected by conflicting signals from other radio and TV transmitter,sub stations and cellular phone towers,WERU can be somewhat difficult to receive on both its translators. Especially if one happens to be in transit in their vehicle between one town/city or another.

WMEB

WMEB,91.9 FM actually began its life 50 years ago this month as a strictly on campus collage radio specifically for the University Of Maine in the town of Orono. Becoming primarily known as a progressive rock/AOR oriented radio format during the 1970’s,WMEB spent the next three decades developing a strong and diverse format somewhat similar to WERU and some of the collage stations out of Maine’s larger towns and cities such as Portland,Waterville and its capitol Augusta. For a long time they specialized in playing vinyl records. And a good part of my vinyl collection came from a giveaway they presented to the public of their entire vinyl record catalog in 1994 when they were ceasing use of this format.  This alternative oriented format began to strongly embrace DJ culture during the early years of the millennium. It was here I met Nigel Hall-than a DJ with his own funk/soul/jazz show on WMEB moonlighting with the local band Funkizon,now a moderately successful session musician who was a member of Soulive for a time. It was through Nigel’s influence that my interest in the jazz end of funk music expanded so greatly of course. Though the years since have found WMEB specializing more and more on the popular Maine Black Bears collage ice hockey radio coverage,a possible local jazz/funk underground was beginning to spring from this station in 2003-2004; the earliest years of Nigel’s show when he even managed to secure on air interviews with musicians Jan Hammer and George Duke-the latter of which I had the privilege of participating in.

While a long time DJ at the local public radio station one Rich Tozier has maintained his Friday Night Jazz show,though I believe now airing on Sundays,Tozier is very proudly an acoustic jazz traditionalist who excludes anything fusion and jazz/funk oriented from his playlist due to his own lack of interest-focusing instead on replaying the music of be-bop era jazz icons.  A good deal of the stations I talked about here,however do not attract a very wide audience of listeners. And are generally dependent on local benefactors and fund drives to stay financially afloat. Generally it is the commercial country music stations that tend to draw the widest audience where I live. In a way the DJ/radio scene in Maine has been,and continues to be rather based on its demographic. Being that even today over half of the landmass of the United States of America is still very rural it is primarily the homegrown musical variations on  folk,country and blues musics that continue to be the driving force of local radio in places such as Northeastern Maine.  While these music’s certainly have their value,people moved musically by music within more of the jazz/soul/funk spectrum face many challenges in either being a radio listener or even one of the endangered species of DJ being in such an area. Often I ask myself: it is a challenge worth facing? Or has its time come to pass? Perhaps that question is more important than it’s answer.

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Filed under Community Radio, DJ's, Funk, Jazz, Local Radio, Maine, Radio