Otis Rush, ladies and gentlemen.
One of the biggest influences on
modern blues and rock guitar, and a guy
I’ve been trying my darndest to copy ever
since I heard him do “Feel So Bad” at age
13. He was a huge influence on me, and an
often-tapped source by other not-quite-asinfluential-
as-Kid-Andersen guitarists, such
as Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.
I jest, of course, but you can trace a direct
line from Otis’ style to Clapton, Page, Peter
Green, and Mick Taylor, who then influenced
Eddie Van Halen. The line continues
on from EVH to any number of unnamed
dudes with spiky haircuts decked out in Ed
Hardy and posing next to Britney Aquafina
or Clay Lambert in today’s “music scene.”
Meanwhile, Rush is still living the bluesman’s
fate by being grossly unrecognized
by the masses and looking back on a career
of constant bum deals and unfortunate
circumstances. If you’re any kind of man or
woman, and you haven’t already, buy all of
his CDs right now! This column will still
be here when you log out from Amazon.
Many blues fans swear by his earliest
recordings on the Cobra label and he also
put out great stuff on Chess (and Checker).
Rush was featured on a very nice set on
Vanguard’s Chicago: The Blues Today series,
and all that stuff is classic must-have,
required listening. But my favorite recordings
are the 1968 LP he did for Atlantic,
called Mourning in the Morning, and Right
Place, Wrong Time, which he cut in 1971
and was released in 1975.
By that point in his career, he had
switched from a Strat to an Epiphone
Riviera with mini humbuckers, and in
my opinion, that’s when he really found
his sound—at least the sound I’ve been
searching for most of my adult (if I may
call it that) life. Of course, his Strat tone
on the Cobra stuff is classic, and Ike
Turner plays a bunch of badass guitar on
those records as well, but I’m a Gibson guy
at heart and the Epi is basically the same
thing and just really does it for me.
The wonderful thing about his tone on
the Atlantic album is that not only does
his guitar amp sound amazing, you can
also hear the acoustic tone of his guitar
bleeding through his red-lining vocal mic,
which adds just a whole ’nother dimension
of sonic goodness to the stew. I’ve
bought many a guitar and amp searching
for Otis’ tone, but ultimately, it’s in your
fingers. The most important and unique
aspect of his sound cannot be taught in
this lesson—I’m talking about his vibrato
and his touch. That will take you a
lifetime to assimilate, and if you’re looking
for money and chicks, you might want to
think about law school instead.
However, I’m going to show you some of
his “secrets,” and try to avoid the most-often
heard licks he pioneered, as you’ve heard them
already a gazillion times on the records of Eric
Clapton, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd.
I don’t want to infringe on anyone’s
copyrights here, so let’s say this example
of a turnaround (over the V-IV-I progression)
in Fig. 1 is from a song I call “Feel
Like Crap,” from an imaginary album I call
Sorrow at Sunrise. This one took me about
eight years to get it to where I’m pretty
cool with how I sound doing it, and I still
can’t touch the master.
The key to getting the vibrato on the
highest note is that it’s fairly fast, fairly
wide, and somehow kind of relaxed in it’s
attack, but not relaxed in intensity. Also try
to catch the 3rd string very softly, so that
the V note rings and wavers along, but it
shouldn’t be anywhere near as present as
the I note. It’s subtle shading.
This next tip pretty much applies to all
bends: Get all the way up there! People who
bend notes that don’t quite make it all the
way up (unless you’re a master of intentional
microtonality like Buddy Guy, Muddy
Waters, or Mike Bloomfield) are at great risk
of getting punched before too long if I’m in
the room and in the mood. Take that to heart!
Nothing annoys a person with a musical ear
more than some dude making his “blues face”
with a bent note that’s just a few cents flat.
Hell, if you want to make your note jump
out, do like Albert King and actually go a
little bit sharp. This sound is especially effective
on the 1st string and can make the note
jump out favorably. Whatever you do, do it
strategically, with conviction, and with a painful
memory in the back of your mind!
Remember Yoda’s words : There is no
try. Do or do not.
Fig. 2 is a great way to start a slow
blues solo in G. Hit that high G with all
you’ve got, again with the subtle shading
of the 3rd string in there, and wait for
the panties to come flying your way, or if
you’re in front of a blues crowd, the 2XL
bowling shirts. The timing of this lick is
pretty rubato (non-existent), except the
last note should definitely be somewhere
close to the downbeat of the I chord.
Yet another turnaround. Let’s say Fig. 3
was used as the intro for the imaginary track
“Government Handout Sad Music” from an
album we’ll call Not For Pleasure by the artist
we’ll call Jiffy “Speedy Digits” Dumplings.
This lick borrows heavily from Albert King,
as Otis often would, but in true blues genius
fashion, he adds some twists of his own,
which, once you get this stuff down, you
ought to do for your own damn self! Lastly,
Otis is the king of minor blues, you might
recognize Fig. 4 from a tune I’ll call “The
Total Sum of Your Affection.”
Until next time, my friends, may the
Force be with you!
Currently the guitarist for Rick Estrin & the
Nightcats, Kid Andersen has recorded and
performed with Charlie Musselwhite, Elvin
Bishop, and many other blues legends.
Originally from Norway, Andersen is now based
in San Jose, California, with the immigration
status of “Alien of Extraordinary Ability.” For
more information, visit rickestrin.com