Chicago Blues Leg­end Otis Rush

1935 – 2018

Guitarist - - The Lineup -

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.

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