RIP Otis Rush
Written By Patrick Ortiz
Unfortunately, we have had to mourn many legendary musicians in the past few years which is never easy, and there are very few blues musicians from the quintessential period left. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to yet another pivotal blues mastermind this past Sunday. Otis Rush passed away at the age of 83 due to complications caused by a stroke he had several years before. To some people he was just another blues musician, but to many, “He was one of the last great blues guitar heroes. He was an electric god.” His inspiration can be heard far and wide throughout the blues community and his songs continue to be covered to this day.
In honor of Otis Rush, we are going to uncover some facts about his life and career that you may not know. Let’s get to it!
1). Chicago Bound
Like many of his cohorts back in the day, Otis Rush Jr. was born in a very small town in Mississippi before relocating to the blues mecca of Chicago around 1949. Also, the undeniable blues master for most of the players like Rush back then was Muddy Waters who had the most profound influence over Rush and his career path. Rush would go one to be a principle Chicago bluesman, tied to “West Side Chicago Blues” and shepherding the next generation of blues enthusiasts.
When asked to name a legendary or influential blues guitarist or singer, names like the three Kings (Albert, Freddie, and B.B.), Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, or even Hendrix will undoubtedly come up; but Otis Rush’s name will probably be unknown to most people. Rush was one of those musicians who may not have been directly in the limelight, but he made a statement with every note he played. In music, there is something for everyone and one person’s take may not strike the masses. With that being said, Otis Rush still had profound influence on a heap of notable players like Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Page, and even Buddy Guy who once said, “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.”
3). “I Can’t Quit You Baby”
Although he recorded several albums throughout his career with multiple high-quality labels, Otis Rush only had a few breakout, chart-topping hits. His most popular song was the Willie Dixon tune “I Can’t quit You Baby” which Rush recorded in 1956. It was released through Cobra Records and reached the number 6 spot on Billboard’s R&B chart in 1956. As I mentioned above, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page loved Rush’s music and guitar style. This prompted Zeppelin to add their version of the song on their debut album Led Zeppelin.
4). Unorthodox Style
Otis Rush played a few models of guitars, but he is most commonly seen with some sort of Gibson hollow body in his hands, usually a 355 or 345. He was a southpaw player, meaning his left hand was on the frets and his right did the strumming. Instead of buying a left-handed guitar, mostly because they were virtually nonexistent back then, Rush played a right-handed model upside down. If you listen to his intense soloing style, this did not seem to slow him down at all.
5). Double Trouble
If you don’t believe me about how inspirational Otis Rush was to future generations of blues badasses, just look at the Texas guitar slinger Stevie Ray Vaughan; he named his backup band after a 1958 Otis Rush original tune called “Double Trouble.” The song was actually covered by a whose who list of blues artists including Eric Clapton, Paul Butterfield, and John Mayall and the Blues Breakers (with Peter Green on guitar).
6). Final Album
Otis Rush did not win a great deal of awards, but he definitely ended his recording career on a high note. He was nominated for a Grammy Award four times and won in 1999 for his album Any Place I’m Going. This album marked what would be his final studio recording and is still regarded as one of his best ever and a sold blues album all around.
Unfortunately, Otis Rush suffered from a debilitating stroke in 2003 that kept him out of commission for some time and but a drastic halt on not only his music career but made everyday life significantly more complicated. Even 15 years later, complications from this initial stroke are what led to his passing.
RIP Otis Rush!