One of Frank Zappa’s personal heroes, name-checked in the famous “Freak Out” list of his formative influences (“These People Have Contributed Materially In Many Ways To Make Our Music What It Is. Please Do Not Hold It Against Them”) is the legendary R&B singer, bandleader, promoter and DJ, Johnny Otis. As most Zappaphiles are also aware, Zappa copied the “Imperial”-style mustache Otis sported, a crucial bit of iconic borrowing that!
At one point during the recording sessions for Zappa’s 1969 solo album Hot Rats, Zappa called the bandleader, then doing a popular R&B radio show on KPPC in Pasadena, for some help in tracking down violinist Don “Sugarcane” Harris, who was then, it was discovered, currently sitting in the county jail (apparently Zappa bailed him out). Zappa invited Otis to the sessions in Hollywood and he brought along his musical protege son, Shuggie, who had been playing with his father’s band since he was twelve.
Otis the younger, credited incorrectly as “Shuggy” on Hot Rats, played bass on “Peaches en Regalia,” one of Zappa’s most famous numbers and on November 2nd, 1970 the two brought out their acoustic guitars for a delicious nine-minute-long jam session on-air during “The Johnny Otis Show.” There was also a blues jam with Ray Agee during that same radio show.
Shuggie Otis would later turn down an offer to join the Rolling Stones. His new album, Wings of Love, has recently come out and the seldom-seen Otis is currently touring the world in support of the slow-baked long-player that has some songs dating as far back as 1975.