Otis Rush, Seminal Chicago Blues Guitarist, Dead at 84 ~ RollingStone

Key architect of ‘West Side Sound’ died from complications related to a stroke

American blues musician Otis Rush plays guitar during a performance at the 12th Annual Chicago Blues Festival on Grant Park's Petrillo Music Shell stage, Chicago, Illinois, June 3, 1995. (Photo by Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images)

Otis Rush, the legendary Chicago blues guitarist, has died from complications due to a stroke at the age of 84.

Getty Images/Jack Vartoogian

Otis Rush, one of the pioneering guitarists of the Chicago blues scene, died Saturday from complications from a stroke he suffered in 2003. He was 84.

Rush’s wife, Masaki Rush, confirmed her husband’s death on his website. A note read, “Known as a key architect of the Chicago ‘West Side Sound’ Rush exemplified the modernized minor key urban blues style with his slashing, amplified jazz-influenced guitar playing, high-strained passionate vocals and backing by a full horn section. Rush’s first recording in 1956 on Cobra Records ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ reached Number on the Billboard R&B Charts and catapulted him to international acclaim. He went on to record a catalog of music that contains many songs that are now considered blues classics.”

Rush became a staple of the Chicago scene in the late Fifties and early Sixties, partnering first with Cobra Records, which was also home to artists like Magic Sam and Buddy Guy. Their take on the blues would prove to be a revelation for a generation of artists to follow, while Rush would become a totem for countless rock guitarists (he was placed at Number 53 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists). Notably, Rush’s signature style – long, dramatically bent notes – was in part a product of his unique playing approach: A left-handed guitarist who played his guitar upside-down, placing the low E string at the bottom and the high E string on top.

In 1968, Mike Bloomfield summed up Rush’s influence, tellingRolling Stone that in Chicago, “the rules had been laid down” for young, white blues bands: “You had to be as good as Otis Rush.”

Rush was born in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1935 and began teaching himself the guitar at age eight. He moved to Chicago in 1949 and was inspired to pursue music full time after seeing Muddy Waters live. In 1956, Rush released his first, and most successful single on Cobra, “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” Along with its chart success, Led Zeppelin famously covered the cut on their 1969 debut.

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During his Cobra years, Rush recorded with a revolving cast of musicians that included Ike Turner, Big Walter Horton, Little Walter and Little Brother Montgomery. His output also featured classic cuts such as “My Love Will Never Die,” “All Your Love (I Miss Loving)”(later covered by John Mayall) and “Double Trouble” (Stevie Ray Vaughn later named his band after that track).

After Cobra went bankrupt, Rush released a pair of singles on Chess before moving to Duke Records in the early-Sixties. But it wasn’t until 1969 that Rush released what was essentially his first album, Mourning In the Morning, which he recorded at the legendary FAME Studios with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.

Rush continued to tour and record during the Sixties and Seventies, though seemed perpetually dogged by label issues. For instance, Capitol Records refused to release his acclaimed LP Right Place, Wrong Time, and it wasn’t until 1976 – five years after it was recorded – that Bullfrog Records finally put it out.

In 1994, Rush released Ain’t Enough Comin’ In, which at the time marked his first record in 16 years. Two years later, his album, Any Place I’m Goin’ won him the Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album. Though that LP would be his last full-length studio effort, Rush contributed to various tribute albums and remained a regular live performer until health issues forced him off the road.



Otis Rush, Chicago Blues Legend, Dies At 84 ~ NPR

Updated at 3:45 p.m. ET


Blues legend Otis Rush, whose unique style of soloing and powerful tenor voice helped shape the Chicago blues sound and deeply influenced a generation of blues and rock musicians, died Saturday of complications from a stroke he suffered in 2003. He was 84 years old.

Rush perhaps wasn’t as widely known as B.B. King or Albert King. But his guitar and vocal work had a huge impact on guitar legends including Buddy Guy, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn, who named his band after Rush’s late 1950s hit “Double Trouble.”

“The stuff I grew up on was all on the Cobra (Records), you know. You know ‘Double Trouble’ and ‘I Can’t Quit You, Baby,'” Clapton said after a 2014 interview. He said he puts Rush in the same category as other pioneering blues greats who shaped his own blues playing.

“At the time that I was growing up, there was a handful of people who’d made that kind of mark: Freddie King. Buddy Guy. B.B. King. Otis Rush. Magic Sam. So Otis: Fantastic. Great player,” Clapton said.

Born in Philadelphia, Mississippi, Otis Rush moved to Chicago in the late 1940s and quickly began to make a name for himself playing in South and West side clubs. He helped define a distinctive West Side Chicago sound that had a more fluid, jazzy style than the raw playing of the South Side.

Rush played left handed with his guitars strung with the low E string at the bottom and the high E on top. He’d sometimes put his little finger under the low E which helped him bend notes in ways few other blues men did.

“He got the sound that nobody else got,” Clapton told NPR. “And there was something about that upside down style of playing like Stevie Ray has – or had. You can’t do that if you’re right handed. You can’t make the guitar do the things that they were able to do. And Otis had that voice, too. I mean, just a powerful voice.”

Fellow Chicago blues great Buddy Guy credits Rush with giving him his start.

“This young man told me he said ‘Buddy come up, I don’t know who you are, come on up and play some blues.’ And that was a long time ago, and I never will forget him for giving me that shot” Guy said at a 1990 concert with Rush.

But Rush never became as famous or well-known as Guy. “He preferred to go out and play and go back and sleep in his own bed,” Rush’s longtime manager, Rick Bates, told the Associated Press. “He was not a show business guy.”

Rush once told an interviewer he regretted “not being a great big star.”

But he influenced a generation of blues and rock greats and was certainly a big star to blues fans.

He won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Recording in 1999 for “Any Place I’m Going,” and he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1984.

One of Rush’s hits was “I Can’t Quit You, Baby,” written by his friend and fellow blues great Willie Dixon. It reached number six on the Billboard R&B chart in 1956.

It was covered by many, including Led Zeppelin on their hugely influential 1969 debut album. Zeppelin’s interpretation of a blues classic introduced Rush’s sound to a new generation of rock ears.

Otis Rush continued to play and tour throughout the 1990s and into early 2000. But he suffered a serious stroke in 2003 and never took the stage again.


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