While critics and fans have long appreciated Otis Rush's role in the founding of West Side Chicago blues, fame has eluded the bluesman for most of his career.
If there were any justice, wrote Bill Dahl in the San Francisco Chronicle, guitarist Otis Rush would occupy the same exalted position ... as his longtime friend Buddy Guy. Rush first came to the public's attention when Cobra Records released I Can't Quit You Baby in 1956, introducing the minor key song with jazz flavorings onto the blues scene. But although Rush's musical career has been plagued with bad luck and record deals gone sour, he continues undaunted.
Born in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1934, Rush was one of seven children born to O.C. Rush and his wife, Julia (Boyd) Rush. He sang in the church choir and listened to the blues of Tommy McClennan and Lightnin' Hopkins. Drawn to music, he learned the guitar from his two older brothers and by listening to records, and he also played the harmonica. By 1948 Rush left Mississippi for Chicago, where he lived with his sister, attending Dunbar High School half-days and worked a variety of jobs over the next several years in Chicago's steel mills and stockyards.
Rush studied the guitar more closely after seeing Muddy Waters and Jimmie Rogers perform at local nightclubs in 1954. He bought a cheap amp, cheap guitar ... It seemed like it was dancing--when I hit a note on the guitar, the amp would bounce around. He played his first club date with Bob Jones at the Alibi and began playing full-time in 1955 at the 708 Club. At first he imitated the Muddy Waters sound, but this changed as he came under the influence of T-Bone Walker and B.B. King. Soon Rush fronted his own band under the name of Little Otis.