Remembering Guitarist Otis Rush Guitarist Otis Rush helped shape the Chicago blues sound, and deeply influenced a generation of musicians including Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy. He died on Saturday at the age of 84.
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Remembering Guitarist Otis Rush

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Remembering Guitarist Otis Rush

Remembering Guitarist Otis Rush

Remembering Guitarist Otis Rush

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Guitarist Otis Rush helped shape the Chicago blues sound, and deeply influenced a generation of musicians including Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy. He died on Saturday at the age of 84.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Blues great Otis Rush, who helped shape the Chicago blues sound, has died. The guitarist's unique style of soloing and his powerful tenor voice deeply influenced a generation of blues and rock musicians, like Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and the band Led Zeppelin. Rush died yesterday of complications from a stroke he suffered more than a decade ago. He was 84 years old. NPR's Eric Westervelt has this appreciation.

(SOUNDBITE OF OTIS RUSH SONG, "DOUBLE TROUBLE")

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: He wasn't as widely known as B.B. King or Buddy Guy, but to blues fans and scores of musicians, Otis Rush was powerful, unique and hugely influential.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOUBLE TROUBLE")

OTIS RUSH: (Singing) I lay awake at night (unintelligible), just so troubled. It's hard to keep a job, laid off them, having double trouble. But hey, hey, yeah, they say you can make it if you try. Yeah, some of this generation is millionaires. It's hard for me to keep these clothes to wear

WESTERVELT: Rush's work in the late 1950s for Cobra Records included the song "Double Trouble," which Stevie Ray Vaughan took for the name of his band and Eric Clapton covered on many albums.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOUBLE TROUBLE")

RUSH: (Singing) You laughed at me walking, baby, when I had no place to go. Bad luck and trouble's taken me. I have no money to show.

ERIC CLAPTON: The stuff I grew up on was all on the Cobra - you know? - "Double Trouble" and "I Can't Quit You Baby."

WESTERVELT: That's Eric Clapton. He told me that he puts Rush in the same category as the other blues greats who shaped his own blues playing.

CLAPTON: At the time that I was growing up, there was a handful of people that had made that kind of mark - Freddie King, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Magic Sam - you know? - Otis, these players. Otis was, to me, fantastic, great player.

(SOUNDBITE OF OTIS RUSH SONG, "ALL YOUR LOVE (I MISS LOVING)")

WESTERVELT: A fellow Chicago blues great, Buddy Guy, at a 1990 show, credited Rush with giving him his start.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BUDDY GUY: This young man told me, say, Buddy, come up. I don't know who you are, but come on to the stage and play some blues. And that's a long time ago. And I never will forget him for giving me that shot. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Otis Rush.

(CHEERING)

WESTERVELT: Born in Philadelphia, Miss., Otis Rush moved to Chicago in the late 1940s and quickly began to make a name for himself, playing in South and West Side clubs. He helped define a distinctive West Side Chicago sound that had a little more fluid jazzy style than the raw playing on the South Side.

(SOUNDBITE OF OTIS RUSH AND ERIC CLAPTON PERFORMANCE OF OTIS RUSH'S "CROSSCUT SAW")

WESTERVELT: Rush played left-handed guitar strung upside down, with a low E string at the bottom. He'd sometimes put his little finger under the low E, which helped him bend notes in ways few other bluesman did.

(SOUNDBITE OF OTIS RUSH SONG, "SO MANY ROADS, SO MANY TRAINS")

CLAPTON: He got the sound that nobody else got.

WESTERVELT: Again, Eric Clapton.

CLAPTON: There was something about that upside-down style of playing, like Stevie Ray has - or had. And 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF OTIS RUSH SONG, "IT'S MY OWN FAULT")

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

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I CAN'T QUIT YOU BABY")

RUSH: (Singing) Well, I can't quit you, baby, but I've got to put you down for awhile. Well, you know I can't quit you, baby, but I've got to put you down for awhile. Yes, you messed up my happy home, baby. You made me mistreat my only child.

WESTERVELT: Rush was the first to record the tune "I Can't Quit You Baby" written by his friend and fellow blues great Willie Dixon. It reached No. 6 on the Billboard R&B chart.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I CAN'T QUIT YOU BABY")

RUSH: (Singing) Yes, you know I love you baby. My love for you I could never hide. Oh, you know I love you baby. Ooh, my love for you I never hide.

WESTERVELT: "I Can't Quit You Baby" was covered by Led Zeppelin on their hugely influential 1969 debut album. Zeppelin's interpretation introduced Rush's sound to a whole new generation of rock ears.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I CAN'T QUIT YOU BABY")

ROBERT PLANT: (Singing) You built my hopes so high. Baby, you let me down so low.

WESTERVELT: Otis Rush continued to play and tour throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. But he suffered a serious stroke in 2003 and never took the stage again.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News.

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