Blues guitarist Otis Rush, architect of Chicago’s ‘West Side Sound,’ dies at 84

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Otis Rush was a key architect of the Chicago “West Side Sound” in the 1950s and 1960s. | Chicago Sun-Times

CHICAGO — Legendary Chicago blues guitarist Otis Rush, whose passionate, jazz-tinged music influenced artists from Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton to the rock band Led Zeppelin, died Saturday at the age of 84, his longtime manager said.

Rush succumbed to complications from a stroke he suffered in 2003, manager Rick Bates said.

Born in Philadelphia, Mississippi, Rush settled in Chicago as an adult and began playing the local clubs, wearing a cowboy hat and sometimes strumming his guitar upside down for effect.

He catapulted to international fame in 1956 with his first recording on Cobra Records of “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” which reached No. 6 on the Billboard R&B charts.

He was a key architect of the Chicago “West Side Sound” in the 1950s and 1960s, which modernized traditional blues to introduce more of a jazzy, amplified sound.

“He was one of the last great blues guitar heroes. He was an electric God,” said Gregg Parker, CEO and a founder of the Chicago Blues Museum.

Rush loved to play to live audiences, from small clubs on the West Side of Chicago to sold out venues in Europe and Japan.

“He was king of the hill in Chicago from the late 1950s into the 1970s and even the 80s as a live artist,” said Bates.

But he got less national and international attention than some other blues musicians because he wasn’t a big promoter.

“He preferred to go out and play and go back and sleep in his own bed,” said Bates. “He was not a show business guy.”

Rush won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Recording in 1999 for “Any Place I’m Going,” and he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1984.

In one of his final appearances on stage at the Chicago Blues Festival in 2016, Rush watched beneath a black Stetson hat from a wheelchair as he was honored by the city of Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune.

He is survived by his wife Masaki Rush, eight children and numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren, according to a family statement.

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