Otis Rush

By Obrecht, Jas | Guitar Player, November 1993 | Go to article overview

Otis Rush


Obrecht, Jas, Guitar Player


Between 1956 and '58, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, and Buddy Guy stormed Chicago's blues scene, moaning and screaming on a tough series of Cobra singles. Each guitarist was gifted with a distinctive touch and tone, and the primal music they created became known as the "West Side sound." Sam never made it through the '60s, while Budd Guy and Otis Rush struggled for decades to release an album that truly represents their talents. Otis thought he came close with 1971's Right Place, Wrong Time, but the aptly titled Capitol album was withheld from release for several years. For a while afterwards, Otis quit the business.

During the '90s Buddy Guy finally struck pay dirt with Damn Right, I've Got the Blues and Feels Like Rain, and now Otis Rush is ready to follow suit. Ain't Enough Comin' In, his forthcoming release on This Way Up Records, features the same production team and core musicians as Feels Like Rain. But unlike Buddy's album, with its airwaves-approved duets with Bonnie Raitt, Paul Rodgers, John Mayall, and Travis Tritt, Otis is cast as a man alone with the blues. His powerful, big-vibrato playing moves with a confidence and elasticity second to none, while his fever-and-chills vocals travel from passionate pleas to gritty soul and sanctified screams. It's the album we've long been waiting for.

We want to call our story "Right Place, Right Time," since your new album is so strong.

Sure thing! Well, thank you. Thank you. [Laughs.] I'll let you be the judge. I don't know too much. I just appreciate your sayin' what you're sayin'.

Plus all your Cobra material has recently come out in a box set ...

Yeah, yeah. I heard about it. Look like it's open season on me. Everybody is releasing my old records.

Are you getting royalties?

Well, some of 'em. And some of 'em, no.

You're credited with starting the so-called West Side sound.

I've heard it, among me and some others. I don't even know what they're talkin' about.

It's used to describe your music, Buddy Guy's, Magic Sam's ...

Well, I was playin' before Buddy and Magic Sam. Buddy, the first time he went onstage was on my show. He came by to sit in.

And you played on his first records.

Yeah, and I got Magic Sam on the Cobra label. Magic Sam was a nice guy, man. Him and Buddy - they both nice guys. Buddy and Sam played different, but both of 'em was tough, man.

Did you do much playing together offstage?

No, we didn't jam together that way. It was just whenever we see each other, we'd go up and play. Sam and I used to hang out together, you know. We was playin' at 4:00 [A.M.], and they got off at 2:00, and they would come by. We'd all sit around and drink and play music. I had my band, and sometime I'd go by to listen to them play, and sit in. So we knew each other for a long time. Sam had a special sound, but believe me, I don't know how he got that.

He had more reverb ...

He liked gimmicks. He was messin' around with them gimmicks too - him and Earl Hooker.

Earl had a wah-wah early on.

Right.

Did you ever want to go that route?

Yeah. I didn't have the money to buy one at that time when they come out. I never did get one until a few years ago.

Were Telecasters and Stratocasters hard to get during the '50s?

Now, I don't really know about the Telecaster, but I knew it played good. Yeah, it does. It was hard to get a guitar because we was so poor, man, but I had scuffled and got enough money to buy me one. Everybody bought Fenders and Fender Bassmans. The first one Magic Sam had was a Telecaster, and then he bought a Stratocaster.

What was he like offstage?

Sam was sort of a lively guy. He wasn't quiet - he was just lively! [Laughs.] He might walk up and say, "President, you got a bug on your head!" President, "Where?" "It's me!" [Laughs.] That's the kind of guy he were!

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