Otis Rush is best known as one of the founders of the West Side Sound of Chicago. Born in Philadelphia, Mississippi, on April 29, 1934, Rush began playing the guitar when he was eight. His search for employment led him to Chicago in 1949, where he would drive horse-drawn coal wagons and work in factories during the day. His nights however, were dedicated to checking out the blues clubs, and when he first saw Muddy Waters’ electrifying performance on stage, he made up his mind to pursue a full-time career in music. Rigorous practice sessions followed, and right from his very first gigs, Rush was heralded as an emerging artist to watch out for. His powerful tenor voice could produce many ranges, and his dramatic use of falsetto, the electric bass, and left-handed string bending, led to unique sounds that came to be known as the “West Side style”. Every night he would enthrall listeners with his imaginative sounds, and his audience would include everyone from well-known bluesmen and peers to the younger upcoming lot. Emerging guitarists started measuring themselves against the standards set by Rush, and still do so. Some leading musicians who were influenced by Rush include Freddie King, Tyrone Davis, Luther Allison, Santana, Mike Bloomfield, Johnny Winter, Jeff Beck, Peter Green and Stevie Ray Vaughn. On his part, Rush was an avid learner and was always looking for ways to perfect his already perfect craft. A huge fan of Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery, Rush often incorporated their riffs when playing his guitar.
Rush had recorded and released eight singles under the Cobra Records banner, which were “I Can't Quit You Baby”, “My Love Will Never Die”, “Groaning The Blues”, “Jump Sister Bessie”, “She's A Good 'Un”, “Checking On My Baby”, “Double Trouble” and “All Your Love”. All the Cobra recordings were later put together on Otis Rush, 1956-1958: His Cobra Recordings, and All Music Guide had called this compilation “milestone recordings in the history of the blues and an essential part of anyone's collection”. In 1959 Cobra Records went bankrupt and Rush shifted to Chess Records and recorded a total of eight tracks. He also recorded for Duke Records and Vanguard in the years that followed. Rush was a huge success at the San Francisco Blues Festival in 1985, and his album Tops is arguably one of the best live blues albums released. His 1998 album “Any Place I'm Goin'” earned him the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album in 1999. In 2006, Blues Express Records had released Live and From San Francisco, featuring Rush’s live recording from 1999.
Unfortunately for Rush, missed opportunities and bad record deals seemed to follow him around, and many believe that he should have been given as much recognition as his longtime friend Buddy Guy. Bill Dahl had once written in the San Francisco Chronicle, “If there were any justice, guitarist Otis Rush would occupy the same exalted position as his longtime friend Buddy Guy”. Robert Palmer had said in Deep Blues that Rush's passion for the blues can only be matched by a handful of musicians. “I had heard bluesmen play and sing with comparable intensity and technique, but Otis Rush had something else--an ear for the finest pitch shadings and the ability to execute them on the guitar, not as mere effects but as meaningful components in a personal vocabulary, a musical language. He was playing the deep blues”. Rush had a stroke in 2004 and has not performed since.