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Feeling The Blues

| April 28, 2006

“He’s so good, man.” – Muddy Waters talking about Otis Rush in Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues.

Otis Rush And Friends: Live At Montreux 1986 (Eagle) is the CD/DVD release of the year. Twenty years ago Rush was at the height of his powers, as he re-emerged from a brief hiatus to tear up concert stages around the world. At his first Montreux Jazz Festival appearance in 1986, Rush appeared confident, in command, and ready to throw down some blues with friends Eric Clapton and Luther Allison. Rush chose to bring along The Professor’s Blues Revue, a local band of seasoned musicians with whom he played the clubs in Chicago.

Otis Rush And Friends is seamlessly edited on both CD and DVD. Even though it was recorded 20 years ago, the film’s immediacy makes it look like a recent event. Montreux founder Claude Nobs introduces Rush, who walks on stage the cool, red-hot bluesman in a cream-colored suit with a matching cowboy hat, black shirt, and red Gibson ES-345 Stereo guitar. Image is not often something that is discussed in blues circles, but Rush is definitely the godfather of the blues in this one. An immediate trendsetter, he was admired by his peers when he came out in the ’50s as much for the way he looked and the cars he drove as for his soulful voice and innovative playing.

The DVD features 13 songs; Rush and the band do eight numbers before Clapton and Allison join in. The show begins with Earl Hooker’s instrumental “I Wonder Why (Will My Woman Be Home Tonight),” featuring an extended solo, where the guitar is doing all the “talking” for him. He moves to the uptempo “Lonely Man” with his soulful, impassioned shout (“Come on baby, every, every, every day now”) and then onto “Gambler’s Blues,” where he mostly sings, leaving guitarist Anthony Palmer to punctuate the vocals with some soulful, West-Side fills. The band grooves behind him on Albert King’s “Natural Ball,” which is followed by Rush’s moving signature tune, “Right Place, Wrong Time.” The guitarist shares the spotlight on an uptempo “Mean Old World” with solos by Eddie Lusk and Palmer. Next up is “You Don’t Love Me,” and then it’s time for Rush to introduce his friends.

Rush saves his famed Cobra sides for Clapton, who guests on “Double Trouble” and “All Your Love (I Miss Loving).” These songs, along with “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” were released in the mid ’50s and influenced a generation of British and American musicians. The two guitar giants trade licks and generously defer to one another on both vocals and solos. Clapton remains at stage left, in deference to his idol. His playing however, is full of fiery intensity as he matches Rush note for note, eyes closed, head thrown back. Allison, who opened the show, joins the band for an ad-libbed version of “Every Day I Have The Blues,” amping up the intensity to near fever pitch. Rush closes this magical night with Percy Mayfield’s “If I Had Any Sense I’d Go Back Home.”

A TRIBUTE: The Chicago blues community lost two of its treasured musicians in March, bassists Willie Kent and Willie “Vamp” Samuels. Bandleader Kent was 70-years old when he died March 2nd after a long battle with cancer. Kent was the leader of Willie Kent And The Gents, an ubiquitous presence on the Chicago scene with regular gigs at B.L.U.E.S and Blue Chicago. Kent’s funeral was standing-room only; it seemed the entire blues community came out to pay tribute. Kent was one of the most genuine people out here. With his large, hooded eyes, and high cheekbones, he could look intimidating on the bandstand, until something caught his fancy and he would smile that warm, all-knowing grin. Musicians and friends paid tribute to Kent in various ways. Billy Branch played harmonica; Deitra Farr and Bonnie Lee spoke lovingly and with humor about Kent; Barry Dolins, from the Mayor’s Office Of Special Events, read a message from Mayor Daley; and Otis Clay sang a moving rendition of “When The Gates Swing Open.” Koko Taylor‘s Celebrity Aid Foundation set up a $500 scholarship fund in Kent’s name, and guitarist Charlie Love spoke movingly about how Kent influenced him to become a musician. Kent was one of the last practitioners of electrified Delta blues, and will be missed.

Willie “Vamp” Samuels was 45 when he died March 26th. Vamp was a veteran musician who played blues, gospel, and R&B and played with Junior Wells, Rush, Bernard Allison, Lurrie Bell, and most recently was the bassist and musical director for the Matthew Skoller Band. Vamp was an outgoing person who had a kind word for everyone. Many of his fellow musicians were on hand to pay tribute to him but sadly, the pastor did not allow time for friends and family to make remarks. Those of us who wanted to speak will keep those cherished thoughts and memories of Vamp close to our hearts. The ceremony was accompanied by some straightahead jazz and moving gospel. Vamp leaves behind his wife, Gloria, and four children.

– Beverly Zeldin-Palmer

Category: Monthly, Sweet Home

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