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Otis Rush, 1934 -2018
By Jim O’neal
Perhaps the most driven, impassioned, and creatively gifted of the young singers and guitarists who became known for the West Side style of Chicago blues in the 1950s and ’60s was Otis Rush. The records he made while still in his early twenties for the Cobra label, such as I Can’t Quit You Baby, Double Trouble, and All Your Love (I Miss Loving), still stand the test of time as classics of the electric blues genre. His influence has been acknowledged by Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Carlos Santana, who have all performed onstage with him.
The Blues Foundation mourns the passing of Otis Rush who was inducted intothe Blues Hall of Fame in 1984
Rush grew up in such dire poverty in Mississippi that few listeners realized the depth of the lyrics to Double Trouble when he sang, “It’s hard to for me to find decent clothes to wear.” Born near the rural community of Neshoba on April 29, 1935 (or 1934 according to most biographies), Rush married young, sharecropped his own fields, and discovered a new path in life when his sister took him to a Muddy Waters performance in Chicago.
Rush, a self-taught guitarist who played left-handed with the guitar upside down, began performing in the Chicago clubs and soon caught the attention of Willie Dixon, who took him to Cobra and then to the Chess and Duke labels. I Can’t Quit You Baby, his first single, hit the national rhythm & blues Top Ten in 1956, but it was the only Rush record ever to do so. In light of Rush’s talent and the reputation his band held as the best in town at one time, his discography is disappointingly sparse. The frustrations of what he viewed as bad deals, suspicious offers, and mismanagement meant that studio sessions became few and far between, and many of the albums on the market now are live performances. Excellent though some of them are, they leave the listener wondering what more Rush had in him that he never let out. His last studio album, Any Place I’m Going, did, however, earn him his only Grammy.
Photo: Svein M. Agnalt
Sadly, Rush suffered a stroke in 2004 and has been unable to perform since, but was honored in 2016 by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel during the Chicago Blues Festival where June 12th was declared Otis Rush Day in Chicago.
We join the rest of the blues world in sending condolences to his family. May his spirit live on through his wonderful music.
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