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‘Strawberry Letter 23’: A Brothers Johnson And Quincy Jones Masterpiece

The sibling duo liked Strawberry Letter 23 so much that one of them went down the aisle to the Shuggie Otis original.

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Strawberry Letter 23 Brothers Johnson

A song the Brothers Johnson liked so much that one of them went down the aisle to the original, struck gold in 1977. The brothers’ remake of Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter 23,“ masterfully produced by Quincy Jones, was certified gold by US body the RIAA on October 19 that year.

The equally impressive original by Otis — the son of rhythm and blues figurehead Johnny Otis — had been around for six years, originating on his 1971 album Freedom Flight. George Johnson was dating one of Shuggie’s cousins, who gave him a copy of that long player, and the idea for the cover was born.

The Billboard Book of No. 1 Rhythm & Blues Hits, by Adam White and Fred Bronson, recalls that Louis Johnson, who sadly passed away in May 2015, got married to the soundtrack of the Otis recording. Shuggie has denied that the lyric was inspired by strawberry-scented letters he supposedly received from his girlfriend of the time.

Inspiration from Shuggie

George’s lead vocal on the brothers’ version was very close to Otis’ original, and Jones conducted the masterstroke of hiring jazz-soul guitar wizard Lee Ritenour to play the complex, distinctive lead, which gives it a spacey, futuristic feel. Their cover topped the R&B chart in America for a week in August 1977, reaching No.5 pop. The album it was from, Right On Time, had gone platinum in the US in August, just as its predecessor Look Out For #1 had the year before.

Fifteen years later, Quincy returned to the song when he produced a version by the teenage R&B star of the time, Tevin Campbell, which just made it into the R&B Top 40. But for most soul fans, the Brothers Johnson interpretation takes some beating.

“Strawberry Letter 23” is on The Very Best of the Brothers Johnson, which can be bought here.

Follow uDiscover Music’s Brothers Johnson Best Of playlist.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Iola Taylor

    September 4, 2016 at 8:59 am

    I will all ways love the brothers Johnson. Rest peacefully brother Louis.

    Keep your head to the sky George. See ya soon!!

    Njehri

    • Dean Naysmith

      October 20, 2020 at 5:18 am

      That’s a great track & it inspired me to check out Shuggie Otis. I was glad I did because Shuggie had a heap of good songs. I did become a true fan of the Brothers Johnson & I bought their next 2 albums that didn’t trouble the Top 40 which was a real shame because they did some really fine songs. My favourite album of theirs is their 2nd album Right On Time.

      Every home should have at least one Brothers Johnson album & one Shuggie Otis album.

  2. Terry Tosky

    July 16, 2017 at 7:51 am

    I can’t describe it, but there is something special captured in that song. Its like each person playing on it ( and Quincy) somehow reached a point beyond the normal realm of music. It makes you feel like you’re somewhere else. Long live Brothers Johnson, long live Quincy Jones, long live Strawberry Letter.

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