Otis Rush was born in Philadelphia, Mississippi, on April 29, 1934. A self taught musician, he began playing guitar at the age of 8, although his first instrument was the harmonica. Rush's remarkable vocal ability was evident early on. While still in Mississippi, he sang and sometimes played guitar in church.
Rush moved to Chicago in 1949, in order to find employment. He worked at various jobs by day, from driving a horse drawn coal wagon to working in a factory, and by night he would check out the blues clubs on the south and west sides. The first person he saw performing was Muddy Waters, who he heard on the radio down south. He was so enthralled by Muddy's performance, that he decided on the spot that being a full time musician was for him. After many hours of excruciating practice Otis was ready to hit the clubs. He played his first few gigs as a solo guitarist, but it was not long before he was able to put a band together.
Otis had an immediate impact on his peers in his initial club outings. He pioneered what critics dubbed the "West Side style", which included impassioned soul-tinged vocals, coupled with an intense, yet urbane, style of guitar playing. He often played in the minor key which imbued his songs with an atmosphere of dark and brooding emotional intensity rarely achieved in modern blues. He used falsetto to dramatic effect, and his left handed string bending allowed him to hit notes uniquely his own.
Rush was one of the first musicians to use the electric bass in his band -- until then Chicago bands used either the bass strings on a regular guitar, or the stand up bass usually played by the ubiquitous Willie Dixon. This new sound caught the imagination of both the young and established musicians who would flock to hear him play. Night after night, Otis was setting the standard for a new, more aggressive type of blues, that would influence younger musicians like Luther Allison, Freddie King, and Tyrone Davis.
Thirty years later, Otis Rush is still the standard that young musicians measure themselves against. Having influenced not only his peers in Chicago, but almost every major rock figure including Peter Green, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton in England, and Santana, Johnny Winter, Mike Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan in the U.S., Rush has continued to expand his musical horizons (a fan of both Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell, Rush incorporates their riffs into his music) and travels throughout the world. His guitar chops are constantly improving as he tries to recreate the remarkable sounds that he hears in his head, and his vocals still express the essence of what rock critic Robert Palmer calls, "deep blues".
Otis' continued excellence is captured on his first U.S. recording in seven years, called Tops, on Blind Pig Records. Recorded live at the 1985 San Francisco Blues Festival, Tops is Rush's best live album to date. It includes the classics, "Right Place Wrong Time", "Crosscut Saw", and "Keep On Lovin' Me Baby", as well as the original title track, "Tops". Tops has received widespread acclaim, with critics jubiliantly heralding Rush's return to recording.
A living legend, Rush believes that he is destined to keep on making music, in search of that perfect sound. In light of past accomplishments, Otis Rush fans both old and new are in store for the musical experience of a lifetime.