Otis Rush – 1956-1958, His Cobra Recordings

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by S. Victor Aaron

Left-handed Chicago electric blues guitar legend Otis Rush is a living link to a Chicago blues scene ruled by the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter in the late fifties. But the harsh reality that Rush had never quite attained the status of those icons in no way is a reflection on his talents; he is in fact an unsung legend who along with Buddy Guy helped to define that distinctive, wailing “West side” Chicago guitar sound that is widely copied by generations of followers all over the world today.

For Rush, the impact he made started almost as soon as he walked into a studio to lay down his first sides as a leader in 1956. That’s when he started a brief but very fruitful stint with fledging Cobra Records and put to wax some smoking sides that can stand alongside anything Chess Records was putting out during that time.

Rush didn’t put out a proper album until the late sixties but these seminal Cobra recordings have been collected about twenty years ago into a compilation, Otis Rush, 1956-1958: His Cobra Recordings. On it are Rush’s afflicted vocal and Willie Dixon- or Rush-penned songs which already puts these blues in the top tier category.

Rush’s groundbreaking fretwork puts it over the top.

Those urgent skittering lines, long bending notes and repeating figures are now old hat in both the rock and blues canon since the sixties. But hearing guitar riffs common on a 1966 Rolling Stones song in 1956 gives you an idea why these recordings are so celebrated today.

It all becomes apparent right from the first track, “Double Trouble,” a Rush original later covered by Eric Clapton. In this earlier form Rush drawn-out blues is punctuated by frighteningly shrill, upper-register notes.

The slow burner “I Can’t Quit You Baby” became a top 10 R&B hit for Rush and a reminder of how the lines between rock ‘n roll, rhythm & blues and electric blues were still not very clearly defined back in those days. But Rush’s impassioned vocals and chords played as arpeggios put it firmly in the blues camp. A dozen years later, this song became introduced to a whole new generation of listeners via Led Zeppelin’s debut album, but nobody ever really topped Rush’s original rendition.

The spooky, calypso-driven “All Your Love (I Miss Loving)” shifts into a more rockin’ beat two-thirds in, providing the platform for some stinging leads by Rush. It’s not hard to imegine that Peter Green was inspired by this tune when he wrote “Black Magic Woman” for Fleetwood Mac.

“My Baby Is a Good ‘Un” kicks off with a knockout rock riff and some impressive chromatic fretwork on the solo break. “Groaning The Blues” is a classic slow twelve-bar blues that hearkens back to the Delta sound of Rush’s native Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Other bright spots include the tormented “Checking On My Baby,” the jumping “Sit Down” and the smooth “Violent Love.” Every song in the collection is distinct in mood and shows a different side of Rush’s guitar prowess and vocal delivery. For an odd collection of singles, it comes together for a remarkably consistent album.

Nowadays, Otis Rush is finally starting to get some long overdue recognition. This despite having been firmly established as one of the preeminent Chicago blues guitarists more than a half of a century ago. And he’s yet to have climbed down from that lofty perch. Rush is a living legend and the legend was forged with these mind-blowing sides.

Purchase: Otis Rush – 1956-1958, His Cobra Recordings

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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