The last time I saw Otis Rush was the final night of the 17th Annual San Francisco
Blues Festival (1989). There was an impromptu gathering of noted blues guitarists
(Otis Rush, Ronnie Earl, Duke Robillard, other lesser-knowns) at The Sweetwater
(in Mill Valley). Word got around pretty quickly…but not quickly enough.By the time
we arrived the place was packed and the big galoot guarding the door WAS NOT
letting ANYONE in.
At the time I was the publisher of a small Bay Area blues magazine, and somehow
managed to convince the guy that I was somebody AND that Otis Rush was not
really there so much to play guitar as to be interviewed by me. It must have been a
convincing argument—whatever it was I said—because he let me in. He held my
friends ransom, at the door, but he let me in.
After fighting my way through the crowd, I discovered Otis Rush leaning back in a
stick chair, in the passage between the stage and the stairway that leads down to
the room where the infamous Tribute to Percy Mayfield pool table incident took
place. I went over to him and introduced myself. He smiled and shook my hand. He
told me he remembered me, though I was sure he didn’t. Then I pleaded with him—
as well as a man might plead with Ronnie Earl’s guitar scorching the hairs on the
back of his neck—“Can you get us into this place?”
Otis Rush studied my face for a while; he moved a toothpick from one side of his
mouth to the other, nudged the brim of his cowboy hat up a bit with one knuckle.
He smiled and motioned for me to lean in. I placed an ear within inches of his
mouth. “You’re already in,” he said.
THE LAST TIME I SAW OTIS RUSH