The first Otis Rush album I know of bootlegged his 45rpm singles’ noisy originals from Cobra, the tiny Chicago label. The enthusiast-producer of the amateur 99-copy limited edition said that it was the only accessible issued recording of the brilliant blues guitarist and singer to be had. Buyers didn’t appreciate the disc’s vile hum mixed with the almost impossible-to-hear music and surface noises. Those who didn’t demand their money back were a shade galled when all the same music appeared without the extraneous din on a Blue Horizon label album just months later. These days the same music circulates, among other places, on eBay, in the European “Blues Collection” series.
The long-time obscurity and peripheral public standing of blues musicians is demonstrated by the curiosity that All Your Love I Miss Loving: Live at the Wise Fools Pub, Chicago has been inaccessible for twice as long as the rare Cobra recordings. Its superiority to almost everything else in Rush’s discography, bar the Cobras (which are a wholly different proposition), should be emphasised. I have memories of mild disgust at the sight of Rush in concert dating too far back, wearing his trademark hat and guitar, while some young white guys made almost all the music. Rush was just a figurehead, suggesting that his physical presence was worth something utterly magical.
Na! It wasn’t for “magic” of any such spurious sort that I’d have liked to hear Rush then as I can now on this recording. It’s the simple fact that he was both as technically accomplished a modern blues guitarist as any of the young white guys, and — forgetting any completely indefinable “magic” — he’d grown up with a native-speaker kind of command. The communications, which hardly make the schoolbook, were there before he developed the virtuosity, and even versatility, which started coming into blues guitar playing somewhere in the 1940s, influenced by jazz and by development of electric guitar as a different instrument. Somewhere along the line, the divergence between obviously Mississippi blues techniques and electric blues techniques and devices widened. It further opened with sophistications like T-Bone Walker’s, developed in regional musical cultures where more conventional or European-schooled jazz musicians weren’t unusual playing companions. Walker and B.B. King are hard to imagine in a Chicagoan context of basically Mississippi or Memphis country blues plugged into amplifiers. In the 1950s, neither Buddy Guy nor Rush were out of place in that context, and in 1976 Rush still had a strong Chicago accent, even when echoing aspects of Walker, or of Lonnie Johnson (who was born in 1889 and had a pre-jazz and almost non-jazz guitar technique before he had to add blues to his repertoire).
“Please Love Me” is based on an Elmore James riff, which goes back to Robert Johnson’s slide guitar, adapted with lessons probably from Walker. “You’re Breaking My Heart” comes from B.B. King, but is still more individually distinctive than, say, Albert or Freddie King or others who fell more into a King style. “All Your Love” was recorded for Cobra and is plain Otis Rush but with more room to expand. On “Will My Woman Be Home Tonight” there is more note-bending than in the King school, an approach which also distinguished the late Luther Allison. “Mean Old World” is a Walker number with a long prelude, but again the performance is transmuted into distinctive Rush. I suppose this is indeed an important recording as well as distinctive. The whole thing owes much to being a live set without the time restrictions of the Cobras, whose inclusion of piano was a link to the older Chicago blues. Also a factor was only working with musicians he’d played with on a regular basis: Bob Levis on rhythm guitar, Bob Stroger bass, Jesse Green drums.
Lonnie Johnson seems to be a reference on “High Society” (not the New Orleans jazz warhorse!), and “Gambler’s Blues” is a real guitar workout. On both, Rush has two extended solos and builds amazing tension. “Feel so Bad” takes up the familiar motif of Little Walter’s “My Babe”, but with considerable extension. An interesting aspect of the “Sweet Little Angel” performance, a number associated with several musicians, not least the slide guitar of Robert Nighthawk, is the motive power of guitar and bass. George Russell applied the same thing in some advanced, complex jazz performances thereafter.
Rush was never a jazz guitarist, and for all that you might compare some of his work here with that of Carlos Santana, as creative performance on electric guitar, he was quite distinct from rock. There’s a mellowness always building excitement, rather than any hurrying into it by way of shortcuts or quick effects. The Jimmy Smith-credited composition “Motoring Along” is the instrumental closer, and this is as close to a jazz performance of blues as possible, while still allowing Rush to remain securely classified as a bluesman. It just isn’t rock; it swings mightily. There’s nothing harsh — and there never was anything harsh in the younger Rush’s performances. Even the loud singing was a moderated bellowing without hoarseness. The old-fashioned musical virtues are clear as he builds “Motoring Along” into a climax by repeating a riff. I don’t know the Smith composition, but that closing riff is identifiable as Thelonious Monk’s “Green Chimneys”.
This is a fascinating set because of its various subtleties, and All Your Love I Miss Loving: Live at the Wise Fools Pub, Chicago will sit beside my CD of the earliest Otis Rush recordings in my music library.