Plays Guitar Left Handed Upside/Down.
One of the great post-war bluesmen and a key instigator of Chicago’s West Side blues sound, Otis Rush has established a solid legacy of intensely emotional blues. The clear and rapid vibrato that he musters on one or several notes simultaneously, is but one of the patented sounds he has developed from his upside-down playing. Making his guitar cry and throb while he pleads with his voice has given Rush’s music a heartfelt urgency that is all his own. Both his heart-rending vocal delivery and his melodic guitar work have been a major inspiration to generations of blues and rock artists alike, among them Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Duane Allman, Mick Taylor, Peter Green, John Mayall, Carlos Santana, Robben Ford, and many others.
As essential to modern blues as he is, Otis Rush has enjoyed deplorably inconsistent commercial success. His journey has been fraught with bouts of poor luck and troubled times. The millstone of obstructive contracts, the dishonesty or inattention of corporate minders all conspired to turn Otis Rush’s career into a seesaw, jagged with bum breaks and lousy deals. Still, Rush has played on and, ultimately, prevailed. Not only have there been some fine recordings over the years, but by the late 1990s widespread recognition seemed to finally catch up with this compelling artist in the form of a Grammy Award and a couple of successful studio albums.
Notwithstanding the darker years, from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, when his reputation as a cantankerous man compounded his business woes, Rush has come to view his ups and downs with humor and humility. He sees a fair share of good fortune in his life; he loves playing the blues and blesses every day that enables him to do so.
Arguably, Otis Rush’s guitar technique derives some of its unique power from the upside-down stringing – for example, his trademark vibrato. But his hot-blooded guitar style does not hinge on tricks, licks or repetitive phrases, as are used by many other blues players. Instead, Rush uses his guitar as an extension of his voice – a many-colored instrument that conjures emotions from deep within. Melodic in a way that evokes R&B, occasionally exploratory in a jazz-like sense, and unbound by formulaic blues phraseology, Rush’s guitar style evokes feelings with palpable, intelligible nuances.
At his best, Otis Rush has the uncanny ability to amaze. Through his singing and guitar playing, emotion and music are one, and the experience is spine-tingling. Even if he had never recorded again, almost all his Cobra songs – his first! – are unmitigated gems. Celebrated and often copied, they define not only an era of the blues, but also an artist’s unqualified passion and talent. Over decades of travails, Rush has managed to produce other compelling records and stands today as one of the definitive bluesmen of the last sixty years. Seeing him perform in the 1950s and 1960s might have brought tears to your eyes, but it is a blessing that Otis Rush is still performing today.
© LFV / John Engel all rights reserved.
Read all about Otis Rush's tumultuous life and amazing music in John Engel's Uncommon Sound book.