April 29, 1935 – September 29, 2018
Otis Rush, one of the pioneering guitarists of the Chicago blues scene, died Saturday September 29 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.”
Otis Rush was born in 1935 in Philadelphia, Mississippi, one of the most racially mixed towns in the Delta. In Rush’s youth the population of Philadelphia was almost equally divided between whites, blacks and Choctaw Indians. As a consequence, Philadelphia was also one of the most racist towns in Mississippi, a hotbed of Klan activity and, of course, site of the 1964 murders of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner. In 1980, Reagan picked the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia as the locale to give his first post-convention speech, an attack on the federal government that launched his own race-baiting “Southern Strategy.” J.L. Chestnut, one of two black people in the huge audience, recalled Ronald Reagan shouting that “‘the South will rise again and this time remain master of everybody and everything within its dominion.’ The square came to life, the Klu (sic) Kluxers were shouting, jeering and in obvious ecstasy. God bless America.”
Like many black youths in the Delta, Otis sat near the radio every day at 12:15, tuning in to KFFA, broadcast out of Helena, Arkansas, for the King Biscuit Time show, hosted by Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Lockwood, Jr. For half an hour Williamson and Lockwood played live in the studio, often featuring other rising stars of the blues, such as B.B. King, James Cotton and Pinetop Perkins (who was an original member of the studio band, called the King Biscuit Entertainers.) Otis decided he wanted to be a blues player. He began playing the blues harp at the age of six and later his father rigged him a makeshift one-string guitar out of a broom handle and baling wire.
Rush’s father was a sharecropper, toiling in the parched red clay soils of eastern Mississippi. But mechanization was slowly drawing this brutal way of life to a close. In 1948, Rush’s father moved the family (there were 8 Rush children) to Chicago. At the age of 14, Otis began working 12-hour days in the stockyards. At night he played the blues with two other young stockyard workers, Mike Netton, a drummer, and “Poor Bob” Woodfork, a guitar player recently migrated up from Arkansas. The band began to get some paying gigs in some of the new clubs springing up on Roosevelt Avenue. One night when Rush was 18, Willie Dixon walked into the Alibi club on the West Side of town. Dixon, one of the true geniuses of American music, had just left Chess Records in a bitter dispute over royalties. The great bassist and arranger had taken a job with the new Cobra Records, a small Chicago label run by a TV repairman. Dixon was enthralled by Rush’s uniquely expressive, almost tortured guitar-style and signed him on the spot.
In the studio, Dixon, the real architect of the Chicago Blues sound, assembled a small talented R&B combo to back Rush, featuring Shakey Horton on harmonica, Harold Ashby on tenor, veteran drummer Odie Payne, Little Brother Montgomery hammering the piano and Dixon himself on stand-up bass. The first song Rush recorded was Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You, Baby.” Dixon said he wrote the song about an obsessive relationship Rush was having with a woman at the time. Dixon wanted to provoke an emotional response from the singer and he got one. “I Can’t Quit You, Baby” opens with a chilling falsetto scream, then Rush launches into a staccato guitar attack unlike anything heard before it. Led Zeppelin (and dozens of other bands) would cover Rush’s version of the song but never capture the excrutiating fervency of the original. The recording was released in the summer of 1956 as Cobra’s first single. The song hit number 6 on the Billboard R&B charts.
Over the next two years Rush and Dixon would release eight more records, each of them dazzlingly original. The sound was aggressive and confident, like the hard-charging jump blues “Violent Love,” where Rush’s slashing guitar chords seem to be engaged in a romantic combat with the horns. Rush’s own composition, “Checking on My Baby,” is an eerie, minor key blues that sweats sexual paranoia. This is not the blues of despondency and despair, but of defiance and, at times, rage. It’s music with an edge, sharpened by the metallic sounds of urban streets, of steel mills, jail cells and rail yards.
Despite hit singles from Rush, Magic Sam, Ike Turner and the Rhythm Kings and the young Buddy Guy (who Rush discovered at “Battle of the Blues” show at the famous Blue Flame Club), Cobra Records went bankrupt in 1958. Rush followed Willie Dixon back to Chess Records. This was the beginning of Rush’s seemingly endless professional odyssey, from label to label. Even with Dixon back in his slot as artistic director at Chess, Rush’s relationship with the label proved a disappointment. In two years, Rush recorded eight songs for Chess, but management only released one single, the brilliant “So Many Roads, So Many Trains,” featuring one of Rush’s most vicious guitar solos.
Feeling abused by Chess, Rush bolted in search of another label. He cut one hard rocking single, “Homework,” (later covered by Fleetwood Mac and J. Geils) for Duke Records and that was it for six very lean years. Rush hit the club circuit, performing two and three times a night, often in different venues. In those days Rush tended to close with one of his fiercest compositions, “Double Trouble”, a tormented minor key blues about a man who has lost his job and his lover. Rush plays the song with a nerve-racking intensity:
I lay awake at nights, false love, just so troubled
It’s hard to keep a job, laid off, having double trouble
Hey hey, yeah, they say you can make it if you try
Yes some of this generation is millionaires
It’s hard for me to keep decent clothes to wear
Otis Rush is the Thelonious Monk of the electric guitar: an uncompromising and eccentric genius who redefined the possibilities of his instrument. His playing is beautifully idiosyncratic. There is an existential quality to Rush’s solos, there are spaces in his runs, decision spaces, where notes are bent and left hanging in a state of suspension, before snapping back in an unnerving coherence. At his best, Rush’s playing conveys a gamut of emotions, often in a single song, from dread and anxiety to manic ecstasy. In a live setting, Rush’s playing could be erratic, one false note from collapse. That’s a huge part of his ingenuity, of course, his aptitude for sustaining such an acute intensity in his playing night after night. In those bleak years in the mid-1960s, when everyone had left him for dead, Otis Rush became a master of the hardboiled blues.
Door To Door
02. Bad Luck 3:01
03. So Close 2:46
04. Howlin' For My Darling 3:03
05. I Can't Stop 2:13
06. Won't Be Hangin' Around 2:54
07. I'm Satisfied 2:20
08. All Your Love 2:54
09. You Know My Love 2:40
10. Merry Way 2:52
11. Wild Woman 2:38
12. Murder 2:55
13. So Many Roads 3:10
14. California Blues 2:47
Original US LP released in 1969 on Chess Records. Cat: CH1538.
Although Albert King is pictured on the front cover and has the lion's share of tracks on this excellent compilation, six of the fourteen tracks come from Rush's shortlived tenure with the label and are some of his very best. Chronologically, these are his next recordings after the Cobra sides and they carry a lot of the emotional wallop of those tracks, albeit with much loftier production values with much of it recorded in early stereo. Oddly enough, some of the material ("All Your Love," "I'm Satisfied [Keep on Loving Me Baby]") were remakes albeit great ones of tunes that Cobra had already released as singles! But Rush's performance of "So Many Roads" (featuring one of the greatest slow blues guitar solos of all time) should not be missed at any cost.
Albert King performs on eight of its 14 cuts, three from Parrot (recorded in Chicago in 1953) and the rest from St. Louis, 1961. The changes rung in King’s voice and guitar between those two sessions are merely miraculous. For Parrot, King’s singing was light and uninteresting, and the guitar sounds like somebody else was playing — one of those standard, characterless blues guitarists. (Only Johnny Jones on piano makes the three cuts worth listening to more than once.) Then you get to 1961, and damned if it ain’t A. King after all — mellow yet forced-out vocal, his straight-arrow guitar splitting the bulls-eye every time. Two songs are absolute sapphires: “Wild Woman,” with King’s fingers and vocal chords in a lively duet; and a get-it-on, can’t-sit-down, Howlin’ Wolf-Willie Dixon rocker, “Howlin’ for My Darling,” complete with trumpet, saxes, and staccato beat.
Otis Rush, another steel-string southpaw, handles the remaining numbers. Not so much on guitar, Rush makes it all the way to the top of the basis of his vocalizing, which manages to be strangled and painful, precise and lovely all at once. (He was overwhelmed and badly obscured by the poor Bloomfield-Gravenites production on his recent Cotillion album.) Rush recorded mostly for Cobra between 1956-1958, but he also cut several sides for Chess in 1960, six of them reissued or released for the first time on Door to Door. The two that matter most: “All Your Love,” a remake of his earlier Cobra hit — city blues with solid Latin rhythm from Willie Dixon and Odie Payne — and the all-time classic, “So Many Roads.” Along with “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” that superb number guarantees Rush immortality; the band is completely together, and Rush literally chokes with emotion — but beautifully!
Mourning in the Morning
02. Working Man 2:25
03. You're Killing My Love 3:00
04. Feel So Bad 3:39
05. Gambler's Blues 5:39
06. Baby, I Love You 3:09
07. My Old Lady 2:11
08. My Love Will Never Die 4:33
09. Reap What You Sow 4:54
10. It Takes Time 3:26
11. Can't Wait No Longer 3:52
Baritone Saxophone – Ronald Eades
Bass – Gerry Jemmott
Drums – Roger Hawkins
Guitar – Duane Allman, Jimmy Johnson
Guitar, Vocals – Otis Rush
Keyboards – Barry Beckett, Mark Naftalin
Tenor Saxophone – Aaron Varnell, Joe Arnold
Trumpet – Gene "Bowlegs" Miller
In 1969, after nearly 14 years of constant gigging in small blues clubs and cutting scorching singles for obscure labels, songs that received limited radio play but were greedily snatched up by young white rockers desperate to learn the rudiments of the Chicago blues, it looked like Otis Rush was about to finally get his due. Rush had just been signed by the notorious Albert Grossman, then the manager of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Peter, Paul and Mary. Grossman told Rush that he had landed him a recording deal with Atlantic Records.
Rush headed down to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record one of the first sessions at the soon-to-be-famous studio out on Jackson Highway. The album, Mourning in the Morning, was produced by two other musicians from Chicago who idolized Rush, Michael Bloomberg and Nick Gravenites. Bloomfield, one of the more authentic white blues guitar-players, and Gravenites were then heading the short-lived jam band Electric Flag. Bloomfield had convinced Grossman to sign Rush, telling the portly manager that he was the Jimi Hendrix of the blues. Like Hendrix, Rush was a lefty. Unlike Hendrix, Rush usually played a left-handed guitar with the order of the strings reversed, featuring the low E string on the bottom. The Rush sound was striking lyrical and, though many tried, nearly inimitable.
The new Muscle Shoals Studio had been founded by some of the best session players in the south: keyboardist Barry Beckett, bassist David Hood, guitar player Johnny Johnson and drummer Roger Hawkins. By 1969, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm section had already backed some of the best music made by Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Picket and Etta James. Hawkins, a native of Indiana, is widely regarded as one of the sturdiest drummers in the history of rock music.
When Rush showed up in Alabama in the spring of 1969, Duane Allman greeted him at the studio and showered him with praise, telling Rush he was the equal of the immortal B. B. King. Allman ended up playing on a few tracks, including the haunting instrumental cover of Aretha’s “Baby, I Love You.”
The album met with hostile reviews. Most of the blame has to be placed on Granventes and Bloomfield, who freighted the record with six of their own songs, including two irredeemable stinkers, “Me” and “My Old Lady.” Inexplicably, the clunky “Me” opens the album, souring the entire experience. In retrospect, there’s some fine playing on the record, particularly on the devastating cover of B. B. King’s “Gambler’s Blues” and the Minister of Stroll Chuck Willis’s “Feel So Bad,” which, with Rush’s spine-tingling vibrato, lethally cuts even Elvis’s version. The problem with the album as a whole is there’s far too Bloomfield and not nearly enough Otis Rush. Rush is one of the best songwriters in the history of the blues. After all, he learned at the feet of Willie Dixon. But Bloomfield and Granventes allowed Rush to record only one of his own songs on the album, “My Love Will Never Die,” which had made a splash on the R&B charts in 1959. The record failed to capture the menacing and intense sound of Rush in a live setting—or even the Cobra singles recorded in that primitive studio where the West Side blues was born.
In the wake of the dismal reviews, sales of “Mourning in the Morning” floundered and executives at Atlantic suddenly terminated Rush’s contract. Rush, who has battled depression his entire life, returned to Chicago, distraught and angry. As Eric Clapton, Dave Mason and Peter Green were ripping off his licks for hit singles, Rush was back on the West Side, playing bars and blues joints for cash and tips and making the occasional festival appearance, often backed by an inept band of hastily assembled local musicians.
Screamin' And Cryin'
01. Looking Back 5:20
02. You Gonna Need Me 7:49
03. It's My Own Fault 7:11
04. I Can't Quit You Baby 5:34
05. Every Day I Have The Blues 5:52
06. A Beautiful Memory 7:50
Bass Guitar – James Green
Drums – Bob Plunkett
Guitar – Jimmy Dawkins
Guitar, Vocals – Otis Rush
Organ – Jerome Van Jones
Piano – Jerome Van Jones (tracks: B1), Sunnyland Slim (tracks: A1), Willie Mabon
Recorded on November 26th 1974 at Barclay Studio.
Otis Rush's crunching guitar and vocals were never more emphatic than during the '70s when it seemed that he would actually find the pop attention and mass stardom he deserved. These mid-'70s tracks were originally cut for the Black and Blue label, with Rush playing grinding, relentless riffs and creating waves of sonic brilliance through creatively repeated motifs, jagged notes, and sustained lines and licks, while hollering, screaming, moaning, and wailing. Jimmy Dawkins, an outstanding lead artist in his own right, has also long been one of Chicago's great rhythm artists and shows it by adding plenty of tinkling, crackling figures and lines in the backgrounds. While not as consistently riveting as his live Evidence date, this one is also a valuable Rush document.
02. All Your Love
03. Will My Woman Be Home Tonight?
04. Everyday I Have The Blues
05. Lookin' Back
06. Gambler's Blues
07. Three Times A Fool
08. So Many Roads
09. I Can't Quit You Baby
Otis Rush - vocals, guitar
Jimmy Johnson - guitar
Sylvester Boines - bass
Tyrone Century - drums
Recorded: July 20 & 29, 1975
This is definitely one for any blues collection, especially if you like Chicago blues from the westside. I'm not sure I agree with the comment about Otis's timing, he sounds pretty good to my ears. The band gets to work after the opening instrumental, and Otis begins to open it up....this was a great band, having Jimmy Johnson( love the Barroom Preacher ) with him is pretty cool! But it's all about that voice, I can't hear him sing " All Your Love( I Miss Loving ) " too many times and it's wonderful here, and he just kills " Gambler Blues ", stinging guitar with his big vibrato and endless TONE!!! There's not, in my opinion, a lot of great Otis Rush albums, but this IS one of the great ones....
Cold Day In Hell
02. You're Breaking My Heart 8:00
03. Midnight Special 4:26
04. Society Woman 6:32
05. Mean Old World 3:43
06. All You Love I Miss Loving / Jam 6:32
07. Cold Day In Hell 6:19
08. Motoring Along 3:08
Baritone Saxophone – Chuck Smith
Bass – Bob Strokes (tracks: A1, A3, A4, B1), James Green (tracks: A2, B2, B3, B4)
Guitar – Bob Levis (tracks: A2, B2, B3, B4), Mighty Joe Young (tracks: A1, A3, A4, B1)
Organ, Piano – Big Moose Walker
Saxophone [Tenor] – Abb Locke
Vocals, Guitar – Otis Rush
Recorded At – Sound Studios, Chicago. April 29 & May 29, 1975
Guts. That's what this record is all about: Otis Rush's days in hell, and the tentative joys of returning above ground. Everything about Otis Rush says guts: his squeezing, piercing guitar, his raw-boned, blood-tinged vocals, his lyrics, full of a profound sense of the trips men and women lay on each other - and most of all, his courage to open up from the inside and let all this out in his music. Original 1975 recording with Abb Locke, Big Moose, Mighty Joe Young and others.
Right Place, Wrong Time
01. Tore Up 3:17
02. Right Place, Wrong Time 5:24
03. Easy Go 4:41
04. Three Times A Fool 3:11
05. Rainy Night In Georgia 3:55
06. Natural Ball 3:30
07. I Wonder Why 4:41
08. Your Turn To Cry 3:35
09. Lonely Man 2:50
10. Take A Look Behind 5:40
Alto Saxophone – Hart McNee
Bass Guitar – Doug Killmer, John Kahn
Drums – Bob Jones
Organ – Ira Kamin
Piano – Mark Naftalin
Rhythm Guitar – Fred Burton
Tenor Saxophone – Ron Stallings
Trumpet – John Wilmeth
Vocals, Guitar – Otis Rush
Recorded at Wally Heider's Studio, San Francisco, February 1971.
This recording session was not released until five years after it was done. One can imagine the tapes practically smoldering in their cases, the music is so hot. Sorry, there is nothing "wrong" about this blues album at all. Otis Rush was a great blues expander, a man whose guitar playing was in every molecule pure blues. On his solos on this album he strips the idea of the blues down to very simple gestures (i.e., a bent string, but bent in such a subtle way that the seasoned blues listener will be surprised). As a performer he opens up the blues form with his chord progressions and use of horn sections, the latter instrumentation again added in a wonderfully spare manner, bringing to mind a master painter working certain parts of a canvas in order to bring in more light. Blues fans who get tired of the same old song structures, riff, and rhythms should be delighted with most of Rush's output, and this one is among his best. Sometimes all he does to make a song sound unlike any blues one has ever heard is just a small thing -- a chord moving up when one expects it go down, for example. The production is particularly skilled, and the fact that Capitol Records turned this session down after originally producing it can only be reasonably accepted when combined with other decisions this label has made, such as turning down the Doors because singer Jim Morrison had "no charisma." This record doesn't mess around at all. The first track takes off like the man they fire out of a cannon at the end of a circus, a perceived climax swaggeringly representing just the beginning, after all. Some of the finest tracks are the ones that go longer than five minutes, allowing the players room to stretch. And that means more of Rush's great guitar playing, of course. For the final track he leaves the blues behind completely for a moving cover version of "Rainy Night in Georgia" by Tony Joe White.
In late December of 1970, Rush got a call from Grossman, the man whom Dylan described as looking just like Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon, telling the bluesman not to despair for he, Albert the Great, had just secured a five album deal for Rush with that titanic label on Hollywood and Vine, Capitol Records.
So in February of 1971 Rush flew to San Francisco to record the songs for the ill-fated album Right Place, Wrong Time. This time Rush co-produced the project with Gravenites and exerted himself in the roster of songs. The band featured some of the Bay Area’s best blues musicians, including guitarist Fred Burton, bass player Doug Killmer and piano player Mark Naftalin. Rush opens up red hot with a lacerating version of his pal Ike Turner’s “Tore Up,” where Rush seems to vent a decade’s worth of frustration with two brutal solos. The album also includes a chilling, heart-rending cover of Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night in Georgia,” where Rush replaces his normal falsetto with a deep soulful voice like a gritty Otis Redding.
But the real gems of the album are Rush’s own compositions, including the brooding, shuffling title cut, which is a blues but perhaps unlike any blues you’ve every heard before, a song that bleeds bitter irony: The album closes with the harrowing “Take a Look Behind,” where Rush demonstrates how absolutely he absorbed the B. B. King style and then ripped it up, transforming King’s bright, single-string runs into dark and ferocious riffs, each note stabbing like a stiletto at the vital chords of life.
Oh, yeah, looking back over our slate
I can see love turn to hate
But if I only had the chance
I say if I only had the chance
I’d never make the same mistake again
There’s not a misfire on the entire record. Each song, each solo is flawlessly constructed. The record was a masterpiece in an era awash with mediocre imitators of the Chicago blues style that Rush and his buddy Magic Sam Maghett on the West Side had perfected. By 1971, it was too late for Magic Sam, who was shockingly felled by a heart attack in 1969 at the age of 32, but it seemed certain that Rush, and by extension the West Side Blues, was at last going to enjoy the acclaim and perhaps even riches he deserved.
Then inexplicably the executives at Capitol, never the brightest bunch on the block, shelved the album, burying the landmark tapes deep in their vaults. Why did Capitol unjustly sabotage the legendary Otis Rush? One theory holds that the company was run by reactionary suits with little appreciation for musical innovation. This was, after all, the label that tried to kill off the Beatles in their infancy (see Dave Marsh’s merciless skewering of Capitol executives in The Beatles Second Album) and turned their collective nose up at the Doors because they thought Jim Morrison “lacked charisma.” The Lizard King may have yearned in vain for an adequate singing voice but nearly every pore in his body suppurated an evil kind of charisma.
Less charitably it might be speculated that Capitol executives, who presided over a predominantly white roster of talent, were innately suspicious of the blues and, more pointedly, black culture itself. Recall that Jimi Hendrix’s blistering song “Red House” was cut from the North American release of Are You Experienced? because the big shots at Track Records contended that “Americans don’t like the blues.” Perhaps Capitol executives felt that Rush’s album was too black, too raw, too plaintively urgent. Perhaps they felt that such a record, about as far as you can get from Pet Sounds, would never sell to white audiences conditioned by the homogenized and anemic blues of Clapton or the ponderous thrashings of Led Zeppelin, whose early recordings ruthlessly pillaged the songbooks of Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and Rush.
A frustrated and justifiably embittered Otis Rush had to battle the label for five years just to liberate his own tapes. Finally he had to buy them back. The album was released in 1976 on the tiny Bullfrog label. Sales were bleak. It did win a Grammy nomination in the category of “traditional” blues–a bizarre accolade to say the least, because even today, forty years later, the smoldering music captured on Right Place, Wrong Time screams its unyielding modernity, its intense relevance to life on the unforgiving streets of America.
02. Little Red Rooster
03. Whole Lot Of Lovin'
04. It's Got To Be Some Changes Made
05. You've Been An Angel
06. You Don't Have To Go
07. Troubles Troubles
08. I Miss You So
09. Hold Your Train
10. Same Old Blues
Bass – Bob Strokes
Drums – Jessie Lawis
Guitar – Bob Levis, Otis Rush
Producer – Sam Charters
Vocals – Jessie Lawis (tracks: B5), Otis Rush
Recorded at October 15 and 16, 1977.
Troubles, Troubles was originally recorded for Sonet, but is probably better known through its re-release as Lost in the Blues by Alligator. Lost in the Blues was justifiably criticized because of the decision to have Lucky Peterson overdub a bunch of keyboards in order to give it a more "contemporary" (read: more "Alligator") sound. This release is of the original album (with a couple bonus alternate takes) without all the overdubbing, and is a vast improvement over the Alligator version. But how does it stand as an Otis Rush album? It's a very good set -- perhaps "comfortable" says it best -- recorded with Rush's longstanding band of Bob Levis on rhythm guitar, Bob Stroger on bass, and Jesse Lewis Green on drums (despite what the package says). Recorded during an afternoon at a Stockholm studio while on tour, the band is tight and Rush's guitar and vocals are both in fine form, but the set seems to be lacking the fire that makes Otis Rush such a riveting performer when he's on his game. It's not really that he's going through the motions, because there is some passion to the performances. They just seem, well, comfortable, offering what's expected but little more on this set of covers (with none of Rush's signature tunes). Maybe it was the afternoon recording time, maybe it was the lack of an audience, but Rush just doesn't take it up to the next level the way he's able to. That's really the story of his recording career in microcosm. Considering his very inconsistent discography, you can put this one in the "good" column, but there are several Otis Rush albums you should own before this one.
Live In Europe
01. Cut You Loose 5:35
02. All Your Love I Miss Loving 6:45
03. You're Breaking My Heart 8:07
04. Crosscut Saw 4:40
05. I Can't Quit You Baby 4:40
06. I'm Tore Up 5:08
07. Looking Back 5:17
01. Cut You Loose 6:09
02. All Your Love 6:59
03. You're Breaking My Heart 8:25
04. I Wonder Why 8:43
05. Feel So Bad 5:13
06. Society Woman / Love Is Just A Gamble 7:40
07. Crosscut Saw 4:59
08. I Can't Quit You Baby 4:55
09. I'm Tore Up 5:25
10. Looking Back 5:38
Bass Guitar – Bob Stroger
Drums – Jesse Green
Guitar, Vocals – Otis Rush
Rhythm Guitar – Bob Levis
Recorded live in Nancy on October 9, 1977
Otis Rush is the star-crossed guitar god, always in the right place at the wrong time. Close but no rock star.
That despite his role as a principal architect of the modern Chicago blues-guitar vernacular, and a memorably emotional style of singing that echoes some of the genre's most recognizable figures.
He's in his prime on “Live in Europe." Though a terrific concert of Rush's has more recently been issued, 2006's “Live and In Concert from San Francisco" (actually a 1999 date), I've found no more complete late-period testament to both this Mississippi native's ringing vibrato-flecked improvisations and his foundation-shaking intensity as a vocalist.
Recorded live on Oct. 9, 1977 in France, the sizzling date includes Bob Levis on rhythm, Bob Stroger on bass and Jesse Green at the drums. They are particularly effective in an update of Rush's “All Your Love," a rocking little rhumba that the guitarist legendarily wrote on the way to a recording date with Ike Turner's working group.
Even this superlative concert effort, alas, took a circuitous journey, failing to see release until 15 long years later on Evidence Records.
It all should have come easier.
Rush, a native of Nesoba County, Miss., started his blues trek working for Abco Records of Chicago's West Side as its juke joints and alley ways were crackling with the new city blues of Buddy Guy, Freddie King and Magic Sam. Rush had his first hit for the Abco subsidiary Cobra, the almost-scary moan of “I Can't Quit You Baby," (embedded below; a clear inspiration for Led Zeppelin). He played with future stars like Walter Horton, Little Brother Montgomery and Willie Dixon.
Yet he saw little of the profits, reportedly because of the label-owner's heavy gambling.
Dixon, a principal architect of the Chicago sound both as a bassist and composer, then signed Rush to the legendary Chess Records. Fewer than 10 singles emerged, notably “So Many Roads, So Many Trains," but none broke nationally.
A later stop at Duke was no more successful. Five years there produced just one single, 1962's “Homework." Same with a later stop at Capitol Records—which worked out pretty well for folks like Frank Sinatra and the Beatles, but was perhaps most notable for producing an album, yes, called “Right Place, Wrong Time."
Even that one, at least initially, went unreleased. (It has subsequently appeared on a series of minor labels, and could recently be found on HighTone.) He's had false starts with the Rooster Blues, Delmark, Blind Pig and House of Blues labels, too.
You just don't get that many opportunities to hear this bitingly incisive, too-soon-forgotten performer. That's a shame.
As a singer, Otis Rush was a neat amalgamation of B.B. King ("You're Breaking My Heart," included on “Live in Europe") and Freddie King ("I'm Tore Up," written by Turner). But Rush, a lefty, boasts a musical sound all of his own, a high-lonesome cry that—since he simply flips the guitar over, without restringing it—focuses on the high strings closer to his playing hand.
And the pent-up emotion of having endured so many stops and starts gives Rush a fierce buoyancy. On “Live in Europe," he plays chorus after shattering, brilliantly constructed chorus, sometimes nearly a dozen times, unwilling to let the moment go.
In this way, “Live In Europe" proves as vibrant as it is poignant. Rush kept trying for the big comeback over the years, even earning a well-deserved Grammy award for 1998's “Any Place I'm Going" but suffered a stroke five years later.
I Can't Quit You Baby - The Cobra Sessions 1956-1958
01 I Can't Quit You Baby
02 Sit Down Baby
03 Violent Love
04 My Love Will Never Die
05 Groaning the Blues
06 If You Were Mine
07 Love that Woman
08 Jump Sister Bessie
09 Three Times a Fool
10 She's a Good 'Un
11 It Takes Time
12 Checking on My Baby
13 Double Trouble
14 Keep on Loving Me Baby
15 All Your Love
16 My Baby's a Good 'Un
Cobra Alternate Takes
17 I Can't Quit You Baby
18 I Can't Quit You Baby (take 3)
19 Sit Down Baby
20 My Love Will Never Die
21 Groaning the Blues
22 Groaning the Blues (Take 3)
23 Three Times a Fool
24 She's a Good 'Un (Take 4)
25 Keep on Loving Me Baby
26 Double Trouble
27 Double Trouble (Take 3)
Otis Rush, guitar, vocals
Shakey Horton, harmonica
Red Holloway, tenor sax
Lafayette Leake, piano
Wayne Bennett, guitar
Willie Dixon, bass
Al Duncan, drums
Little Walter, harmonica
The title says it all. This is the essential Otis Rush, the singles recorded for Eli Toscano's Cobra label between 1956 and 1958. If Rush had never recorded another note, his legendary status would remain intact based solely on these recordings. With backing from players like Willie Dixon and Little Walter, it's Rush's impassioned vocals and stinging guitar lines that make "I Can't Quit You Baby," "All Your Love (I Miss Loving)," and "Double Trouble" the classics they are. In addition to the A- and B-sides of all eight singles released by Cobra, eight alternate takes are included, four more than the Paula edition of this material released in 1991. Along with a slightly better transfer from the original tapes, this is not only one of the best places to start for someone getting interested in the blues, but a vital part of any blues collection. Outstanding.
All Your Love I Miss Loving - Live At The Wise Fools Pub Chicago
01. Please Love Me 3:37
02. You're Breaking My Heart 7:42
03. All Your Love (I Miss Loving) 4:50
04. Will My Woman Be Home Tonight 4:00
05. Mean Old World 6:58
06. Woke Up This Morning 6:18
07. High Society 5:34
08. It Takes Time 3:28
09. Gambler's Blues 8:12
10. Feel So Bad 4:39
11. Sweet Little Angel 5:54
12. Motoring Along 3:22
Alto Saxophone – Chris "Barcelona Red" Mason (tracks: 8 to 12)
Bass – Bob Stroger
Drums – Jesse Green
Electric Piano – Alberto Gianquinto
Rhythm Guitar – Bob Levis
Tenor Saxophone – Rawl Hardman (tracks: 8 to 12)
Vocals, Guitar – Otis Rush
Recorded At The Wise Fools Pub, January, 1976 by Ken Rasek
Despite deservedly being one of the towering figures of Chicago blues guitar, Otis Rush's recorded output has been both intermittent and inconsistent for various reasons. After his famed Cobra and Chess sides of the '50s and very early '60s, his career trudged along in first gear but it looked like he might break through in the '70s with a handful of solid albums. For whatever reason, this was not to be and Rush virtually disappeared from the scene again until the mid-'90s (except for live albums of varying quality surfacing from time to time). All Your Love I Miss Loving: Live at the Wise Fools Pub Chicago is a recently unearthed live set from early 1976, originally recorded for Chicago's WXRT Sunday Night Unconcert series, and immediately takes its place as one of Rush's best live offerings for several reasons. First off, this was his working band of the time. Bob Levis, Bob Stroger, and Jesse Green all came on board in 1975 for Rush's Delmark debut, Cold Day in Hell, and remained until at least the end of 1977 when Live in Europe and the unfortunately overdubbed and edited Lost in the Blues were recorded. Other live albums have been marred by fair to middling pickup bands. Not only is it his working band, it's the first live Otis Rush album recorded on his own turf; Wise Fools Pub was just about the only Chicago club Rush played at regularly during this time. Excellent sound seals the deal.
The sound is great and the band is clearly on its game, and this is a gritty live performance (which is decidedly not a drawback). There are some audible clams and a bit of feedback here and there, but Rush's passionate singing and playing always carry things to the next level. Fully half the songs are longer than five minutes, giving Rush plenty of solo time. His guitar and vocals are way up front (as they should be), and the band provides perfect support. Alberto Gianquinto's electric piano is pretty low in the mix but that's probably as it should be as well, and this is quite likely the way things sounded that night in the club. For the last third of the program, the band is joined by a couple sax players who don't really add much musically, but having other musicians sit in with the band is a longstanding Chicago blues tradition and simply adds to the authenticity of this recording. Many of these tunes are Rush staples and his classics "All Your Love (I Miss Loving)" and "Gambler's Blues" are here, but he also tackles Robert Nighthawk's "Sweet Little Angel" for the first time on record. These live tracks will never take the place of his Cobra material (which should be on the shelf of everyone who claims to like the blues), but as far as the live stuff goes, All Your Love I Miss Loving: Live at the Wise Fools Pub Chicago is probably the place to start.