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Otis Rush, Chicago Blues Guitarist, Dies at 84

Few seminal rock guitarists of the '60s didn't acknowledge their debt. Led Zeppelin covered an early Rush hit. Much later, Stevie Ray Vaughn named his band after another of his singles.

Otis Rush, a legendary Chicago blues guitarist and singer whose work influenced the likes of ed Zeppelin, Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton, has died. He was 84.

Rush’s manager Rick Bates confirmed his death to the Associated Press. He said it was as a result of complications from a 2003 stroke.

Although not as well-known outside the blues community as B.B. King, Rush was ranked by many as right up there with King as a force in shaping the style of the great rock electric guitarists of the ’60s, including Jimmy Page, Michael Bloomfield and Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green. Pure blues players like Buddy Guy revered him, and Stevie Ray Vaughn named his band Double Trouble after one of Rush’s late 1950s hits. Led Zeppelin revered him enough to cover one of Rush’s signature hits, his version of the Willie Dixon-penned “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” on their 1969 debut album.

His prowess wasn’t strictly limited to being a guitar hero. “Otis had that voice, too — I mean, just a powerful voice,” Clapton said.

He won a Grammy in 1999 for traditional blues recording for his final album, “Any Place I’m Going,” and he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1984. Rolling Stone once placed him at No. 53 on a list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

Rush, who began playing guitar when he moved to Chicago from Philadelphia, Miss., found fame in 1956 with his first single for Cobra Records, “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” which reached No. 6 on the Billboard R&B charts. He was instrumental in establishing the trademark Chicago “West Side Sound,” which brought the more modern sensibilities of jazz to traditional blues.

“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.

Rush was well-known for wearing a cowboy hat when he performed, and in his early days, he sometimes played his guitar upside down. Notably, Rush was left-handed, using his right hand to fret. His guitars were strung in reverse, with the low E on the bottom.

He is survived by his wife, Masaki Rush, eight children, and numerous grand- and great grandchildren.

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