Last week Otis Rush, one of the legendary figures of Chicago blues, died. Not as well know as guitarists such as Muddy Waters and BB King, he was nevertheless probably more influential, especially on rock guitarists from Eric Clapton to Jimmy Page.
Chicago blues came out of the Great Migration, when African Americans from the South moved to Northern cities. Through that migration, the Delta blues, which had originated in Mississippi in the 1920s and 30s, gave way, from the 1940s onward, to the harder, electrified urban sound of Chicago. ‘Chicago blues’, as Bruce Iglauer, founder of the Chicago-based Alligator Records, put it, ‘is the music of the industrial city’.
Born in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1935, Otis Rush moved to Chicago in the late 1940s. Together with guitarists such as Buddy Guy and Magic Sam, Rush helped define a distinctive ‘West Side sound’, both more fluid and more spiky than the rawer sound of the South Side, where the original blues clubs had sprung up.
So, as a tribute to Otis Rush, here is a tribute to Chicago blues, with some of my favourite tracks, beginning and ending, of course, with Otis Rush himself.
Otis Rush, Sweet Little Angel
Howlin’ Wolf, Smokestack Lightning
Muddy Waters, I Feel Like Going Home
Willie Dixon, I Can’t Quit You Baby
JB Lenoir, Alabama Blues
Little Walter, My Babe