Otis Rush – The Unlucky Lefty of the Chicago Blues Scene

Despite influencing blues-rock legends in waiting like Eric Clapton and Michael Bloomfield, Otis Rush hasn’t gotten the accolades and success many other ‘50s-‘60s Chicago blues mainstays have.  That hasn’t made him any less influential, though.  He recorded some definite blues classics in the ‘50s, such as “I Can’t Quit You, Baby” and “Double Trouble”, and is still known for his vibrato-rich left-handed guitar playing style and his passionate vocal work.  Unfortunately, he has occasionally been known as a difficult person to work with, and bad luck seems to follow him in his numerous jumps from label to label. 

Unlike other Mississippi Delta-born bluesmen who moved to Chicago as adults, Otis Rush (b. April 29, 1935) arrived in Chicago at the age of 13, in 1948.  As a young man, Rush was a regular in Chicago’s South Side and West Side blues clubs, and after being discovered by Willie Dixon, he signed with Cobra Records in 1956.  This is where he recorded the two aforementioned classics, songs that reached the Top 10 of Billboard’s R&B charts and more or less guaranteed the young bluesman stardom outside of the Windy City.  Cobra would fold in 1959, but Rush wasn’t without a label for long.  In 1960, he signed with Chess Records, where he recorded eight songs, including another all-time favorite, “So Many Roads, So Many Trains.”

Following those eight tracks with Chess, Rush bounced from label to label for the rest of the ‘60s.  By 1971, he was on a major label (Capitol), where he recorded the prophetically-titled album Right Place, Wrong Time.  Capitol would ignore the record completely, and it would be four years before the album finally surfaced, this time on an independent Japanese label, P-Vine.    After a few live albums on even more record labels, Rush would stop recording and touring for a few years.

Rush seemed to be on the comeback trail in 1986, recording an album on Rooster Blues with some esteemed session musicians.  Unfortunately, Rush would abandon the project in the middle of recording sessions,  apparently unsatisfied with how the amplifiers made his guitar sound.  The project would be scrapped, and it would be eight years before Rush would finally record a studio album again.  The result was another aptly-titled release, Ain’t Enough Comin’ In, an album which received critical acclaim despite purely consisting of cover material.  This was followed in 1998 by Any Place I’m Goin’, an album that won the Best Traditional Blues Album Grammy the year after.

Bad luck continued to stand in Rush’s way despite the success of his last two albums.  In 2004, Rush was forced into retirement from live performances after suffering a stroke.  And it’s been 14 years since Any Place I’m Goin’, and still no new studio releases.  It’s been a quiet 21st century for Otis Rush, but it is every blues fan’s hope that the venerable southpaw would return with a vengeance, hopefully without the bad luck that h







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