Shuggie Otis

Last month, the comeback of 1970s folk singer Rodriguez reached its critical mass when the movie of his disappearance and triumphant return, Searching for Sugar Man, won Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards.

Rodriguez's return has shown how much we all love second chances, which augurs well for lost '70s singer/guitarist Shuggie Otis, whose disappearance into obscurity has parallels with Rodriguez.

''I've heard a lot about this man recently,'' 59-year-old Otis says of Rodriguez. ''I've heard of his name so much in the past three months because journalists keep asking me about him and I can't wait to hear him. I do see a comparison, from what I know, but his [story] seems even a little bit more dramatic. The fact that he seemed more content [in obscurity] is probably where the differences between us come in.''

The son of bandleader and rhythm and blues pioneer, Johnny Otis, Shuggie was signed to Epic Records at the age of 16 and released his debut album, Here Comes Shuggie Otis, in 1969. His father produced this and also 1971's Freedom Flight, but a determined Shuggie was allowed to make his third LP, 1974's Inspiration Information, on his own.

He composed and produced and played all the instruments himself (bar horns and strings, which he arranged) and Inspiration Information is a masterpiece of trippy soul, sun-dappled funk, experimental R&B and LA-inspired psychedelic rock, augmented with Otis' sweet vocals. The album, though, was almost totally ignored on release and Shuggie was dropped by his label. At 21, he was washed up.

''I don't know if it failed,'' Otis says of Inspiration Information. ''I just don't think it was commercial enough and, in fact, I didn't really want it to be.''

In the years since, the album (like Rodriguez's Cold Fact) has become revered by record collectors, crate-digging DJs, hip-hop heads and funk archivists as a forgotten classic, while its early use of drum machines and synths is considered way ahead of its time.

Otis, meanwhile, fell off the radar, playing sporadically with his father's band, but not landing another record deal. Quincy Jones had wanted to produce the follow-up to Inspiration Information and Otis was offered Mick Taylor's vacant guitar slot in the Rolling Stones, both of which he turned down.

Otis says now he battled with drugs, alcohol and depression for more than 30 years, as well as the loss of two wives - one to divorce and a second, Lillian Wilson, to an auto-immune disease in 2001. He finally got clean three years ago.

''I'd rather not say what it [the drug problem] was,'' he says, ''but let's say I had a problem. I lost my wife in 2001 and I've never told anyone this publicly, but it set me way back. It was all about getting as wasted as I could, because it was too much of a surprise and shock. But I have no cravings now whatsoever for anything and that is the miracle. I'm doing fine and I don't have to worry about that drink having to be there all of the time, because it was taking me out slowly.''

Next month, Sony will reissue Inspiration Information, with an accompanying full-length disc of unreleased music - Wings of Love - that Otis recorded between 1975 and 2000.

''There was a time when I was saying, 'Forget the whole thing, I don't even want to be in the music business any more','' Otis says. ''But now I just want to record and play music publicly for the rest of my life, if they'll have me.''

Shuggie Otis, Robert Cray and Taj Mahal play at Hamer Hall on Sunday, March 24.