“The music that you listen to becomes the soundtrack of your life…it becomes
the background track of your existence.”– Michael Bloomfield, Blues Guitarist
The music that I continue to listen to most consistently is the Blues. It is a broad ranging soundtrack to my own existence and a major part of the musical history of America. Recently, Politichicks posted a tribute written by me about recently deceased Bluesman Otis Rush titled, So Many Roads: Otis Rush (1935-2018).
As detailed in the article, Otis Rush was a great influence on my own music and the music of many other musicians. Equally, on the occasion of our meeting in June of 1996, I found him to be a great human being and well worthy of the title of hero.
I am blessed with a wide range of readers for the articles I write for Politichicks. From patriots to musicians to many young readers. Because of my passion for the subject matter, I was greatly pleased with the response to the Otis Rush article. Many of my readers were not that familiar with the music of Otis Rush and asked for suggestions of which albums of Otis’s to add to their collection. The following is a list of eight essential works of Otis Rush you may wish to consider adding to your collection:
Otis Rush, I Can’t Quit You Baby: The Cobra Sessions 1956-1958 (P-Vine, 2003)
This is the CD version of a Japanese import, two vinyl album version of this work that I purchased in the 1980’s. It has all the tracks of the aforementioned record. As I have written before, Otis was only about twenty one years old we he started to record for Cobra. There is a spookiness and a vast amount of maturity in many of the performances featured on this album. There are seminal songs such as “Double Trouble, Groaning the Blues, I Can’t Quit You Baby, My Love Will Never Die and It Takes Time,” among many classics. Blues Poet, Musician and Producer, Willie Dixon oversaw many of these sessions. Blues Guitar legends, Ike Turner and Louis Meyers, lend their formidable talents to this album. A must have for any serious Otis Rush collection.
Albert King and Otis Rush: Door to Door (Universal UK, 1990)
A very interesting album and one well worth seeking out. Despite the title, Albert King and Otis Rush do not actually play together. These are recordings that King and Rush did when they both briefly recorded for the Chess label, circa 1960. Guitarists and Blues fans hear both the establishment of Albert King’s highly influential guitar style and a continuance of the intensity of Otis Rush’s Cobra recordings. Of particular note, for Rush, on this album is the classic song, “So Many Roads, So Many Trains to Ride.”
Mourning in the Morning (Collectibles 2006)
A CD version of an album I brought originally for a $1.99 at a Zayre’s Department Store during my High School years in Norfolk, VA. It was the first Otis Rush album in my collection and the version I got was a French issue. This album was originally released in August 1969 on the Cotillion label, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. It was produced by Electric Flag alumni Nick Gravenites and Michael Bloomfield, who also wrote a great many of the songs on this album. Sometime I need to write about the legendary guitarist, Michael Bloomfield. He changed the course of American Blues and Rock guitar. Chicago native Bloomfield once said in an interview that to compete in the Chicago Blues bars you “had to be good as Otis Rush.” This album was recorded at Rick Hall’s Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
I wrote extensively about Rick Hall in the January 2018 Politichicks article, Muscle Shoals Musician/Producer Rick: Sorrow into Transcendence. The backing musicians included Rick Hall’s famous studio musicians The Swampers and Muscle Shoals Session Man, Duane Allman.
At the time “Mourning in the Morning” was released it was universally panned by “music critics” because Bloomfield and Gravenites melded Rush’s Deep Blues with Muscle Shoals Southern Soul. I think it was a successful collaboration. It has become a cult favorite and remains one of my favorite works by Otis Rush. I rarely pay attention to critics as I have never seen a music critic play guitar like Otis Rush. Key tracks on this album are the songs “Me, It Takes Time and Your Killing My Love.” Every track is stunning, and it should have been more broadly appreciated and promoted.
Right Place, Wrong Time (Bullfrog, 1976)
This album was originally recorded for Capitol Records in 1971. Yet, after it was completed, Capitol declined to release it. A totally incomprehensible decision on their part. It was finally released in 1976 after Otis purchased the master and released it on the small Bullfrog label. Very much a masterpiece of an album, with the return of Nick Gravenites in the producer’s chair as a co-Producer alongside of Otis. I thought Otis’s talents as a guitarist, singer and songwriter were shown to great dramatic effect here. Only four of the ten songs were written by Otis, but they were classics. In particular, the title track and “Take a Look Behind” belong in the pantheon of classic Blues songs.
Cold Day in Hell (Delmark, 1975)
I call this Otis Rush’s “primal scream” album. There are points where the album seems uneven, but some of the material is absolutely riveting. The mid-1970’s were a frustrating period for Otis. That frustration is perfectly expressed on the title track where Otis sings,
“All the world won’t come to an end
It’ll be a cold day in hell before I give my heart again”
Still a very worthwhile album, produced by Steve Tomashefsky.
So Many Roads (Delmark, 1978)
My favorite of several notable live performance recordings of Otis Rush. Recorded originally on July 20 and 29th, 1975 before an incredibly enthusiastic audience in Tokyo, Japan, Otis is in excellent form backed by a sterling, four piece Chicago Blues Band. Backing Otis on guitar is another Chicago Blues guitar legend, Jimmy Johnson. This album was also produced by Steve Tomashefsky.
Ain’t Enough Coming In (Mercury, 1994)
A true classic of an album and another favorite of mine. Here Otis is teamed with the very sympathetic Producer/Guitarist John Porter. Combined with great material, very apt musicians, including Porter himself on guitar, and the appropriate production, this is a standout of a record. There are many choice covers like Albert King’s, “Don’t Burn Down the Bridge and Percy Mayfield’s My Jug and I.” Though there are only a few Otis Rush originals, the title track is one of Otis’s greatest. Nominated for a Grammy and it should have won.
Any Place I’m Going (House of Blues, 1998)
For his last, full length studio album, Otis switched to the House of Blues label. Here Otis co-produced a fine record with legendary Memphis Producer Willie Mitchell. Many of the tracks had that Mitchell Memphis sound. The title track was a radical departure leaning towards the musical form of Reggae and was one of two Otis originals. Like Ain’t Enough Coming In, there is an emphasis on choice covers. This album won the best Traditional Blues Grammy at the 1999 awards ceremony.
Ultimately, as I have written previously, every album recorded by Otis Rush has the flame of genius attached to it. Of course, because of my own identification and study of particular songs, some albums have a very personal resonance to my own experience.
The history of the Blues and it’s musicians and singers is part of the history of America. In addition, the music of the Blues is a living history that continues to impact the soundtrack of the world and inspire new generations of musicians and listeners. The music of Otis Rush, because of it’s varied components, demonstrates just how broad and rich the Blues can be. The art of Otis Rush is music for the ages.