Otis Rush, the legendary Chicago blues guitarist, dead at 84

Otis Rush, who died Saturday at age 84, catapulted to fame in 1956 with his first recording of “I Can’t Quit you Baby.”


CHICAGO – Legendary Chicago blues guitarist Otis Rush, whose enthusiastic, jazz-tinged music influenced artists from Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton to the rock band Led Zeppelin, died Saturday at the age of 84, his old manager said.

Almost succumbed to complications of a stroke he suffered in 2003, manager Rick Bates said.

Born in Philadelphia, Mississippi, Rush located in Chicago as an adult and began to play in local clubs, wearing a cowboy hat and sometimes strumming on his guitar upside down for effect.

He catapulted to international fame in 1956 with his first recording on Cobra Records, “I Can’t Quit you Baby,” reached Number 6 in the Billboard R&B charts.

He was one of the most important architect of the Chicago “West Side Sound” in the 1950s and 1960s, which modernized traditional blues to the introduction of a jazzy, amplified sound.

“He was one of the last great blues guitar heroes. He was an electrical God,” said Gregg Parker, CEO and founder of the Chicago Blues Museum.

“He was one of the last great blues guitar heroes. He was an electrical God.”

– Gregg Parker, CEO and co-founder, Chicago Blues Museum

Rush like to play to live audiences, from small clubs on the West Side of Chicago to sold out audiences in Europe and Japan.

“He was the king of the hill in Chicago from the late 1950s until the 1970s and even the 80s as a live artist,” says Bates.

But he received less national and international attention than some of the other blues musicians, because he was not a great promoter.

“He preferred to go out and play and go back and sleep in his own bed,” said Bates. “He was not a show business guy.”

Rush won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Recording in 1999 for “Every Place I Go,” and he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1984.

In one of his last appearances on the stage of the Chicago Blues Festival in 2016, Rush viewed under a black Stetson hat from a wheelchair as he was honored by the city of Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune.

He is survived by his wife, Masaki Rush, eight children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, according to a family statement.

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