Chicago Blues Legend Otis Rush
1935 – 2018
To say that Otis Rush was a tragically underrated bluesman isn’t really going far enough. His reach into the genre was immense, his recorded material an inspiration for many players in the mid-60s British blues boom. At the time, few enthusiasts realised that the opening track on John Mayall’s seminal album, was an Otis Rush original. Or that Led Zeppelin’s from their 1969 debut album was a faithful cover of Rush’s version from 1956. Furthermore, Stevie Ray Vaughan named his band after another of Otis’s tunes, from 1958, the track going on to feature heavily in Clapton’s live sets in the 1970s. And yet, Rush’s own career was one of struggle and trial.
Born in Philadelphia, Mississippi, Otis moved to Chicago in 1949 and soon came to the attention of blues legend Willie Dixon. His recording career was launched on the short-lived Cobra label and, for a while, at least, it seemed that his flame was set to burn brightly. But his career was blighted by poor luck and bad deals, and he never experienced the same public acclaim as his peers Buddy Guy or BB King.
A left-hander, Otis played ‘Albert King-style’ with his bass strings on the lower edge of the fretboard, often on flipped-over righthanded Stratocasters or Gibson semi-acoustics. His style was fiery, his phrasing away from the crowd with slow-burn solos that went on to influence players such as Clapton and Peter Green. Otis was elected to the Blues Hall Of Fame in 1984, but his career was cut short in 2003 when he suffered a stroke that robbed him of his ability to play or sing. Alas, it was complications from this medical condition that led to his death last month in September. He will be missed, of course, but his ongoing influence will be eternal for generations of blues players in years to come.