Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Brothers Johnson: Strawberry Letter 23

Today’s TV Thursday cut has been featured in at least one commercial – Kellogg’s Special K Red Berries back in 2002; however, I seem to remember it being used more recently for another ad. The Brothers Johnson covered a song that was released six years previously by its author Shuggie Otis, the son of Johnny Otis of “Willie and the Hand Jive” fame, and created a funk classic. 

Guitarist George Johnson was dating one Shuggie’s cousins when he became aware of the original version of this song. He and his bass playing brother Louis decided to record it and it became a smash hit single from their second LP “Right on Time.” The Brothers Johnson version is funkier than the original and it peaked at #5 on the Hot 100 and was a number one hit on the R&B chart.

The original commercial release of the 12-inch dance version came in red vinyl and the sleeves had the pungent smell of strawberries – at least in the earlier releases of the disc. I didn’t buy one then, but I remember pondering the possibility at Gee Bees in the now defunct Eastland Mall in my hometown; however, being a college student on limited funds, I opted for a copy of “The Worst of the Jefferson Airplane” with the original designer cover that RCA had began to replace a few years earlier.

Sad to say, I didn’t get the strawberry scented version on red vinyl. By the way, the killer guitar which mimics the original by Shuggie Otis was supplied by jazz and studio great Lee Ritenour.

Shuggie Otis Original from 1971

Shuggie Otis recorded “Strawberry Letter 23” for his 1971 second LP “Freedom Flight.” The album featured a stellar line-up that included Otis on guitar, bass, and organ; his father on drums, percussion, and piano; Wilton Felder on bass; George Duke on keys; and Ansley Dunbar and Mike Kowalski on drums.

It is said that Shuggie’s girlfriend sent him letters on strawberry scented stationery. The song mentions Strawberry Letter 22 – with the implied hope of a letter numbered 23. I love the tape flanging effect on the original version.

Special K Commercial

To avoid paying royalties to A&M for the original recording, a sound alike was created by session musicians for this commercial.

Tomorrow we celebrate with post number 800.

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