Otis Rush, influential Chicago Blues guitarist, dies at 84

Otis Rush, photographed circa 1960

Otis Rush, photographed circa 1960

(Image: © Tom Copi / Getty)

Otis Rush, pioneering Chicago blues guitarist, died last Saturday, confirmed his wife Masaki Rush, in a statement on his website.

“Known as a key architect of the Chicago ‘West Side Sound’," the note reads, "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.”

Rush died of complications related to a stroke he suffered in 2003.

He was born in Mississippi, but moved to Chicago at the end of the 1940s, quickly establishing himself as a draw on the burgeoning South and West wide club scene. 

Left-handed, his distinctive style was developed playing a right-hand guitar flipped over, with the strings in reverse order, starting with his low E at the bottom.

Speaking to NPR, Eric Clapton, who was among many players influenced by Rush, said "He got the sound that nobody else got, and there was something about that upside down style of playing like Stevie Ray has - or had. You can't do that if you're right handed. You can't make the guitar do the things that they were able to do. 

"And Otis had that voice, too. I mean, just a powerful voice."

"At the time that I was growing up, there was a handful of people who'd made that kind of mark: Freddie King. Buddy Guy. B.B. King. Otis Rush. Magic Sam. So Otis: Fantastic. Great player," Clapton concluded.

In 1999, Rush received a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Recording for Any Place I'm Going, and in 1984 he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame.

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