A Night in San Francisco

I’ve had some uninterrupted time lately.  Nobody pulling my chain, no projects, just slack time to do what I want.  Tonight I went back to an old Van Morrison album ( Jesus – 25 years back).  Pulled down my best bottle of Pisco, turned the volume most of the way UP and Listened to the ‘live’ double album which I haven’t sat through completely in maybe, ten years … Wow, what an album … Maybe the best ‘Live’ album and surely the best ‘Live’ Van Morrison album out there…  Take a couple of hours, sip something good and listen all the way through…  truly amazing musicians playing together.
rōbert

Overlaid on the song titles on the back of this live double CD are the words ballads, blues, soul and funk & jazz. Conspicuously absent are rock & roll. That’s probably a deliberate omission of a style that, in Van Morrison’s eyes, has become corrupted by commercialism and compromised by an ignorance of its own roots. Morrison seeks to redress that imbalance on A Night in San Francisco with a jaw-dropping performance. It furthers a process of re-engagement on Morrison’s part — begun with Too Long in Exile — that finds him grounding his spiritual questing in earthier stuff. A Night in San Francisco is the culmination of a career’s worth of soul-searching that finds Morrison’s eyes turned toward heaven and his feet planted firmly on the ground.

Another key facet of this performance is the sense of community fostered from the stage by Morrison, whose temperament heretofore (apart from his music) hasn’t exactly been endearing. An array of guest artists — most notably John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells and Jimmy Witherspoon — is warmly welcomed by Morrison in duets that result not in hysterical one-upmanship but in revealing give-and-take. He is generous also with his superb cast of musicians, giving them room to breathe and letting them coalesce around him, anchored by guitarist Ronnie Johnson and organist Georgie Fame. Morrison addresses the audience with surprising gusto, identifying band members after solos, heartily disbursing thank-you’s and gamely attempting between-song patter.

5 Things We Learned From Paul Butterfield Doc ‘Horn From the Heart’ ~ RollingStone

From cutting his teeth in the Chicago blues scene to nabbing one of Dylan’s best sidemen, our takeaways from new doc on legendary bandleader

Paul Butterfield

Bandleader/blues legend Paul Butterfield, the subject of music documentary ‘Horn From the Heart: The Paul Butterfield Story.’

Kathy Butterfield

During the blues revival and rediscovery of the Sixties, few dominated like Paul Butterfield, the hard-puffing, hard-living harmonica player and band leader. Assertive and experimental Butterfield Blues Band albums like 1966’s East-West, featuring equally manic and inspired guitarist Mike Bloomfield, were essential college-dorm listening. And during the following decade, Butterfield’s mighty harmonica powered a version of “Mystery Train” at the Band’s Last Waltz concert and movie.

These days, over three decades after his death, Butterfield is largely known only to blues cognoscenti — a situation that could hopefully be rectified by director John Anderson’s documentary Horn From the Heart: The Paul Butterfield Story, which opens at select theaters around the country on Oct. 17th. The movie includes interviews with friends and fellow musicians like Bonnie Raitt, Todd Rundgren, Paul Shaffer, Al Kooper and the late B.B. King, and traces Butterfield’s story from blues-loving Chicago kid to his groundbreaking work and his subsequent health and addiction issues. (He died from an overdose of substances, including heroin and alcohol, in 1987 at 44.)

Even for those who know his best work, from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band to his overlooked 1970s group Better Days, Horn From the Heart is an enlightening look at an under-documented musician. Here are five things we learned along the way.

Forget any clichés you have about harmonica playing.
As seen in clip after clip, even during the difficult final decade of his life, Butterfield didn’t just play the harp; he shredded it. The documentary elucidates the difference between his aggro style and those of harp legends like Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson and Junior Parker. One reason: Butterfield played the harmonica upside down, possibly because he was left-handed. Whatever the reason, his style wasn’t just motorized; he seemed to throw himself onto — and into — the instrument, blasting out single notes over chords and making for a pained, expressive wail all his own.

Especially in Chicago, the blues were bigger — and drew more inter-racial crowds — than you may remember.
As recalled by singer and cohort Nick Gravenites, Chicago was home to an astounding number of blues bars — between 50 and 70 — when the two musicians were starting out. Butterfield himself was raised in Hyde Park, a neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side that had been predominately white but was racially integrated during his formative years. One of his early gigs was playing a dance party, and we see both white and African-American kids doing the Twist, of all moves, to the blues. That legacy wasn’t only heard in Butterfield’s genre of choice but even his band, whose members were both white (Bloomfield, guitarist Elvin Bishop and keyboardist Mark Naftalin) and African-American (drummer Sam Lay, bassist Jerome Arnold) at a time when that was rarely seen. In the movie, Lay also recounts that Butterfield offered him $20 a night — a big bump up from the $7 nightly Lay was getting backing Howlin’ Wolf.

Bloomfield turned down Bob Dylan to hook up with Butterfield.
One of the top-gun guitarists of the era, Bloomfield was something of an American Eric Clapton. In 1965, played on Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited; he was also in Bob’s band at that infamous Newport Folk Festival electric show. When Dylan offered him a regular spot in his group, though, Bloomfield declined — and went with Butterfield instead. “I just want to play the blues,” he told Kooper. The guitarist probably lost out on a sizable paycheck, but the clips of him and Butterfield going head to head —Bloomfield’s hands swarming over the fretboard, matching the bandleader’s harp frenzy — confirm he made the right decision, even if left the band not long after.

Butterfield played Woodstock.

Since one Butterfield Blues Band track appears on the original Woodstock triple LP, this shouldn’t be a complete surprise. But since the band wasn’t included in the movie, it’s still startling to be reminded that they were indeed there, ripping it up with a lineup that included saxophonist David Sanborn.

Butterfield really did live the blues.
As shown in the doc, Butterfield’s high school yearbook sported one of the most poignant inscriptions you’ll ever read: “I think I am better than the people who are trying to reform me.” Yet he struggled with reforming himself. Raitt admits she had a crush on him, and for a brief period he seemed to lead a cozy, domestic life with his wife and young son in Woodstock. But Butterfield’s hellraiser side was always lurking. Even after he was diagnosed with peritonitis, an inflammation connected to the abdomen, he didn’t always take care of himself; Shaffer, who played on his final album in 1984, recalls him eating “the worst fried peppers” despite his stomach problems. Nor did return to a clean and sober lifestyle after his health problems intensified. (This writer had a particularly petrifying experience with the musician a few years before his death, when an initially friendly Butterfield agreed to an interview, disappeared into his dressing room at New York’s Lone Star Café for a lengthy period and re-reemerged as an entirely different, paranoid and irate person.) White blues players were sometimes accused of being dilettantes, but that charge could never apply to Butterfield, who lived it as he sang and played it.

MacArthur Fellow Vijay Gupta On Making Music Accessible For All

Vijay Gupta’s life work has been to make music accessible to all.

That passion caught the attention of others and earlier this month the Los Angeles Philharmonic violinist was awarded a 2018 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship — also known as the genius grant.

This means that Gupta and the other 24 winners of this year’s award have “all shown creativity, potential for future achievements — and the likelihood that $625,000, meted out over five years, will help them complete their grand designs,” as NPR’s Colin Dwyer reports.

Gupta grew up in an immigrant family after his parents came to the U.S. from West Bengal in India.

“My mom was married to my dad when she was 17. My dad was 23 and when he came here, he was actually undocumented. He worked in kitchens and worked baggage claim at JFK and somehow music was their refuge,” Gupta says.

Growing up, music constantly played in his house, he says.

“There was devotional Hindu spiritual music or Bengali folk music,” Gupta says. “Music was that place of respite, but it was also a place of service.”

The notion of music as a place of service stuck with him, and when Gupta was 19, he moved to Los Angeles after securing a spot in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. That’s when he says he saw Skid Row for the first time.

“I was overwhelmed with this community of people in walking distance of one of the greatest concert halls in the world … who experience chronic homelessness,” he says. “Many of whom are poor people of color, many of whom have a diagnosed form of mental illness.”

It was around that time when Gupta says he met Nathaniel Ayers, once a promising violinist and student at the Julliard School, but who dropped out because of his struggle with mental illness.

When he joined the orchestra, Gupta says he became part of a group of people who had previously known about Nathaniel and who were working with him.

“Very early on it became clear that Nathaniel deserved to be on any concert hall stage in the world, but because he had a mental illness, because he was homeless and undoubtedly because he was black he was a man despite his talent who had lived in the second street tunnel in downtown L.A. for 20 years,” Gupta says.

After meeting Ayers, Gupta went on to found the Street Symphony — a group of musicians that performs in shelters, clinics and jails. Gupta says creating the group was about trying to meet other people who were like Ayers.

“It was our audiences in these spaces who would raise their hands and say ‘Well what was the composer feeling when they wrote that because I heard this.’ And then they would tell us a story or anecdote of their life that exactly reflected where the composer or where we as performers exactly were in our emotional life,” Gupta says. “So this was actually one of the most astute and emphatic and engaged audiences that we’d encountered in our lives.”

Gupta wants to continue bringing music to those who might not otherwise have access to it, and he says he also wants to tell their stories.

“We all have a story and every person deserves access to tell that story. When we listen to someone’s story with reverence and respect, their life matters. Their neighborhood matters. Their histories matter,” he says.

Gupta says he also sees his role as a truth teller. And that’s a role, he says, that might require “some really hard conversations.”

“What I want to focus on doing in the next five years is to open the pathways to beginning those conversations and to pay attention to the fragility and pain and vulnerability that exists with every single one of us, even in those often across the aisle who are not willing to engage” he says.

~~~  LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW  ~~~

See John Prine’s Performance of ‘Summer’s End’ on ‘Austin City Limits’ ~ RollingStone

Forty years ago, John Prine made his Austin City Limits debut in the venerable music series’ third season. Prine has since returned to the ACL stage several times and will do so again this weekend, performing a mix of classic material and new songs from his most recent album, The Tree of Forgiveness.

An emotional highlight of the singer-songwriter’s 2018 LP is “Summer’s End,” a bittersweet tune that comes to terms not with the change of seasons, but with grief, loss and alienation. Those themes are beautifully brought to life in the track’s heart-tugging video yet need only Prine’s sage vocal delivery, on full display in the clip above, to convey their gravitas with compassion and warmth.

Also featured during Prine’s upcoming Austin City Limits appearance is a performance of his enduring “Angel From Montgomery.” Prine dedicates this latest rendition to Bonnie Raitt, whose 1974 version of the song elevated the profiles of both artists. In 2002, the pair performed the song together on the long-running music series. Other Prine chestnuts, including “Lake Marie” and “Everything Is Cool,” are featured in the episode or will be available as web exclusives.

It’s been a week of milestones for Prine as he celebrated his 72nd birthday on Wednesday and also found his name on the list for 2019’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees. On October 19th he’ll be joined by Bob Weir, Lee Ann Womack, Lucinda Williams and more for “Across the Great Divide,” a landmark concert event at L.A.’s Ace Theatre benefiting both the Americana Music Association and the Blues Foundation. Prine’s current tour runs throughout the remainder of 2018 and in early 2019 he’s set to travel to Australia and New Zealand for a series of concert dates. Tyler Childers, who will be featured on those Down Under dates, joins Prine as a special guest during this weekend’s upcoming ACL episode.

The Harlem Jazz Club Where the Spirit of Billie Holiday Lives On ~ NYT

Minton’s Playhouse, the birthplace of bebop, still rules over 118th Street.

Billie Holiday at Minton’s Playhouse, 1953Credit© Herman Leonard Photography LLC

By Reggie Nadelson

 

In this series for T, the author Reggie Nadelson revisits New York institutions that have defined cool for decades, from time-honored restaurants to unsung dives.

Taking our orders at Minton’s Playhouse, the Harlem jazz club, our French waiter, improbably named Karl Smith, says that when he got to New York, he was determined “to do something very American.” For a Frenchman, nothing could be more American than jazz music and Harlem, and Karl smiles as he looks over at the bandstand where the musicians are tuning up. Then he darts away to get our drinks.

Minton’s! I might have come uptown by subway, but it feels like a kind of time travel. It’s an almost impossibly legendary name. Opened by the saxophone player Henry Minton in 1938, as part of the Cecil Hotel — now its sister restaurant — on 118th Street, this is where bebop (call it modern jazz) was born and the musical world swung off its axis.

The exterior of Minton’s Playhouse, photographed in 2018. Credit Nina Westervelt

In the early 1940s, a few young guys — Thelonious Monk, Charlie Christian, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker among them — invented the new music. Dissonant, complex, impossible to play, bebop was seductive and gorgeous in a cerebral way, and it defined cool. America had entered World War II; musicians were drafted, the big bands decimated; with the country in a somber mood, swing music and the Harlem ballrooms, famous for their wild Lindy-hoppers, were out of fashion. Bebop, this new, modern jazz, was for small clubs like Minton’s where nobody danced, and customers paid serious attention to the music, as they might to Bach. Bebop was about jam sessions and improvisation, and you never knew who would show up at Minton’s; the musicians — Charles Mingus, Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Lester Young — were the celebrities.

 

Thelonious Monk, Howard McGhee, Roy Eldridge, and Teddy Hill outside Minton’s Playhouse, New York, circa Sept. 1947Credit William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

Outside near the entrance, the iconic pink neon sign. Inside, the long narrow room with the bar at the front, where the bartender is shaking cocktails for a few early customers. The club’s walls are painted burnt orange, the rows of plush velvet chairs and banquettes are a yellowish gold, the tables are draped with white linen and subtle lighting gilds the whole place. There are no windows, but you don’t need a view to listen to great music.

Some couples, a few families, have trickled in. Our waiter delivers our drinks, including a “Monk’s Dream” for me. I’m wondering if I want a “Kind of Blue” appetizer, though I’m not sure I see Miles Davis — who played at Minton’s when he was very young — as a mussels-in-white-wine kind of guy; he was always more Beluga caviar.

 

Tonight is a regular Sunday set called “Sax Meets Singer,” led by the sax player Christopher McBride, who is chatting to his musicians on the bandstand.

“Everyone I love in jazz is dead,” says my companion, looking from the picture of Dizzy to the young McBride and bearing down on a fat burger. He changes his tune when McBride rips into a Sonny Rollins original, spilling choruses from his alto. “My God,” he says, putting the burger down, “This guy’s the real thing.”

~~~  READ MORE JAZZ  ~~~

Marty Balin, founder of 1960s group Jefferson Airplane, dies at 76

Jefferson Airplane in 1968. From left, Marty Balin, Grace Slick, Spencer Dryden, Paul Kantner, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady. (AP)
September 29 at 10:19 AM

Marty Balin, a patron of the 1960s “San Francisco Sound” both as founder and lead singer of Jefferson Airplane and co-owner of the club where the Airplane and other bands performed, died Sept. 27 in Tampa. He was 76.

He died while en route to a hospital, spokesman Ryan Romenesko said. The cause of death was not immediately available. Mr. Balin, who underwent emergency heart surgery in 2016, sued a New York hospital earlier this year, saying a tracheotomy he had at the time paralyzed a vocal cord and caused other damage.

The dark-eyed, baby-faced Mr. Balin was an ex-folk musician who formed the Airplane in 1965 and within two years was at the heart of a nationwide wave that briefly rivaled the Beatles’ influence and even helped inspire the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album.

The Airplane was the breakout act among such San Francisco-based artists as the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, many of whom played early shows at the Matrix, a ballroom Mr. Balin helped run and for which the Airplane served as house band.

The San Francisco Sound was a psychedelic blend of blues, folk, rock and jazz and was the musical expression of the emerging hippie lifestyle.

Mr. Balin himself was known for his yearning tenor on the ballads “Today” and “It’s No Secret” and on the political anthem “Volunteers.” In the mid-1970s, when the Airplane regrouped as the more mainstream Jefferson Starship, Mr. Balin sang lead on such hits as “Miracles” (which he co-wrote), “With Your Love” and “Count on Me.” He later had solo success with “Hearts” and “Atlanta Lady.”


Jefferson Airplane in 1966. At top right is vocalist Grace Slick. From left are Marty Balin, Jorma Kaukonen, Paul Kantner, Spencer Dryden and Jack Casady. (AP)

The Airplane was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, but Mr. Balin would long have mixed feelings. Pride in the band’s achievements was shadowed by its eventual breakup and by Mr. Balin’s acknowledged jealousy of Grace Slick, the other lead vocalist. Slick joined the group in the fall of 1966, soon before the Airplane recorded its landmark second album, “Surrealistic Pillow.”

One of rock’s most charismatic singers and performers, Slick displaced Mr. Balin as the perceived leader, on stage and on the Airplane’s best known songs, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.”

“Every time I did something, it was always Grace Slick and the Airplane and Grace Slick and the Starship,” Mr. Balin told Relix magazine in 1993. “Even if it was my voice. I’ve even done songs of mine on my own and people come up to me and say, ‘I’m surprised you do that song. I always thought it was Grace’s.’ For a while that hurt my feelings, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Fellow Jefferson Airplane founding member Jorma Kaukonen said Friday that Balin had himself to blame at least partly for that, adding that the singer never liked to draw attention to himself.

“He was a good guy, he was a friendly guy, he just wasn’t openly gregarious,” Kaukonen said.

Mr. Balin was married twice, most recently to Susan Joy Finkelstein, and had three children.

He had been in show business well before the Airplane. Born Martin Jerel Buchwald in Cincinnati, he ended up in the Bay Area as his father, a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe, struggled to find work.

Mr. Balin was a brooding, artistic child who dropped out of San Francisco State University to pursue a career in music. He recorded a few singles with some of Phil Spector’s session musicians in the early 1960s before joining the folk group the Town Criers. During that time, he changed his last name to Balin.

Like many of his peers, he switched to electronic music after seeing the Beatles’ 1964 movie “A Hard Day’s Night.” Through the club scene, he brought in songwriter-guitarist-vocalist Paul Kantner, singer Signe Anderson (whom Slick replaced), guitarist Kaukonen, bassist Jack Casady and drummer Skip Spence, a novice given the job because he supposedly looked like a rock star. (Spence would leave after the first album and was replaced by Spencer Dryden). The name Jefferson Airplane, suggested by Kaukonen, was based in part on bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Meanwhile, Mr. Balin and a handful of business partners converted a Fillmore Street pizza place into the Matrix, which opened in August 1965. A year later, the group signed with RCA Records and released the folk-rock album “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off,” for which Mr. Balin wrote or co-wrote eight songs. The Airplane, attuned early on to the counterculture, turned out buttons and bumper stickers reading “Jefferson Airplane loves you.”

“I remember it was really pretty and beautiful for a year or two,” Mr. Balin told Relix in 1993. “And then Time magazine came out and they were interviewing me. I told the guy, ‘It’s great that you’re publicizing this beautiful-feeling scene out here,’ ” and he looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Fastest way to kill it.’ ”

Starting with “Surrealistic Pillow,” a soundtrack for many during the so-called Summer of Love of 1967, the group’s music became more experimental. By such albums as “Blows Against the Empire” (a solo effort) and “After Bathing at Baxter’s,” Kantner became the principal songwriter (and eventually Slick’s boyfriend), and Mr. Balin found himself out of place with his own band and with the rock scene overall.

He shunned hard drugs and preferred tight pop songs to long jams. The classic film “Gimme Shelter,” centered on the ill-fated Altamont concert from 1969, showed Mr. Balin getting knocked out on stage by the Hell’s Angels. By the early 1970s, he had left the Airplane.

In recent years, he released such albums as “The Greatest Love” and “Good Memories,” a retrospective of his Airplane/Starship songs. He also reunited on occasion with Casady and Kaukonen and their group Hot Tuna, bringing Signe Anderson on stage to perform the Airplane’s first single, “It’s No Secret.”

He also returned to his folk roots, appearing in clubs as part of an acoustic trio.

“The whole night is me — and if you dig it, cool,” he told Relix in 2016. “There aren’t any egos. . . . Let’s get to the music, man. That’s what I’m doing — just flying along.”

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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~~~  WATCH  ~~~

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

~~~  LISTEN TO THE STORY  ~~~

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.

 

For all the elders

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Photos by Christie Goodwin
AUGUST 27, 2018

Joan Baez watched the mayor of Charleston, S.C., work himself to the point of tears. “She is going to sing not just a song, she is going to sing … the song,” John Tecklenburg declared from a makeshift stage in a downtown park. “This is a lady who’s not just talked the talk and sang the songs of our life, but she has …” and he kept on rhapsodizing until he got out of breath. “She was there in 1963, and she is here with us today … Joan Baez!”

Baez hugged him on the way to the microphone, where she said, “I told him that was pretty good for a white guy.” At 77, she can’t help letting a little air out of most attempts to glorify her. And yet here she was, doing again what is the essence of her legend: showing up where the action is, with a song and a faith that a song can make a difference.

 

Mulford was in the audience at the rally, slightly dazzled. “I heard Joan’s voice for the first time in music class when I was 8 years old,” she told me. “I was listening to her music when I was in my 20s and picking up a guitar and deciding what I wanted to sound like. She has been one of my heroes.”

~~~  WATCH  ~~~

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‘We shall overcome’: How singer Joan Baez still fuels the resistance
Singer and activist Joan Baez opens up about the importance of music in unifying people to create social change.

Baez strapped on a borrowed guitar. Her voice, an increasingly fragile instrument, felt tight from jet lag, she told me later. In the minutes before going onstage, she had tried loosening the voice and practicing on the unfamiliar guitar, but she wasn’t satisfied. Masking her doubts behind a bright smile, she announced the song. “It’s the story of the day that the president came to try and console people,” she said. “The words were not enough. So he sang instead.”

As she fingerpicked the opening lick, I wondered how a simple song could live up to the emotions of the event — grief, loss, hope. Local performers today had brought their beats and loops, their soundtracks and videos. And here was Baez with only a guitar. She sang a little huskily at first:

A young man came to a house of prayer
They did not ask what brought him there
He was not friend, he was not kin
But they opened the door and let him in

Many in the crowd were standing, staring intently as they took in the words. After three verses came the chorus, the voice strong now:

But no words could say what must be said
For all the living and the dead
So on that day and in that place
The president sang ‘Amazing Grace’
The president sang ‘Amazing Grace’

Joan Baez backstage by her dressing room.

 

When she finished, the crowd whooped and cheered. “It really touched my heart,” said Roberta Williams, 60, a substance-abuse specialist. “It was just that effect it had — the performance, the atmosphere, the cause.” Williams was accompanied by her daughter, Kris Bennett, 24; the mother had been stunned to learn that the millennial knew who Joan Baez was.

Bennett, who works at Z93 Jamz radio in Charleston and hosts a YouTube series on local hip-hop, told me she started following Baez on Instagram when she noticed the singer being tagged in videos posted by younger activists since President Trump was elected. She sees in Baez an elder who, in contrast to some, “is like, I understand you guys, I’m willing to help.” Of Baez’s performance that day, she said: “The song was really appropriate for everything that’s happening right now. I think we’re at this point where enough is enough, and seeing someone from the civil rights movement, a white woman who actually stands, that’s a big thing.” Bennett, who is black, added: “White silence is worse than agreeing with it. If you’re not using your platform and your voice to say anything, then you’re not better than the people who are doing horrible things.”

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