This week, Otis Rush celebrates his 80th birthday and although a stroke has kept him from performing for many years, his influence on American music continues unabated.
Whether it's Joe Bonamassa, Gary Clark Jr., or a teenage blues phenom we have yet to hear, every great guitarist who finds their voice in the blues will at one time or another bump against the colossal sound of Otis Rush. Rush's incredible chops, searing tone, and impassioned voice brought a whole new attitude to Chicago blues in the late 50s and he did it all on his Cherry Red Epiphone Riviera (Rush was left handed and played with the lighter strings on top). If you want to know who Mike Bloomfield, Mick Taylor, and Eric Clapton were thinking of when they made their first records, the simple answer is Otis Rush. (You can probably put Paul McCartney in that club as well judging by his solos on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "Taxman.")
For evidence of Mr. Rush's serious skills, check out this priceless film of him shot during the 1966 American Folk Blues Festival. From 1962 until 1971, the American Folk Blues Festival introduced dozens of the most important and rarely celebrated American blues artists to audiences in the UK and Europe. These films are a treasure.
As for the music, check out Rush's early recordings for Cobra Records for an eye-opening introduction. (You may never listen to Eric Clapton quite the same way again). Right Place, Wrong Time
is another highlight from the 70s recorded when Rush's voice and chops were red hot. He was rarely off the road in those days. All of Rush's work for the Delmark label are worth having, too but especially check out So Many Roads
recorded live in Japan. It's one of Mark Knopfler's favorites and Mr. K knows a great deal about killer tone himself. Long live Otis Rush!