Otis Rush's place in the blues universe is secure. He is one of the greats. Any serious student of the blues would agree with that. There are a lot of great guitarists, great bluesmen, and great singers. Historians can make an argument there are a lot of other names that come ahead of him in terms of historical significance, commercial success, and overall influence. For me, Rush is a personal favorite.
My love for his music has caused me a fair amount of frustration. So many of his albums are out of print and so many ham-fisted compilations have been released that studying his career and his music is no easy task. There have been some improvements in that respect in the past year, however. His 1969 Atlantic Records album, Mourning in the Morning, has been re-released (but not before I bought the original pressing on eBay for a premium). The Sonet Blues Story release is delivering an unmolested version of his Troubles, Troubles album and another live album, from San Francisco, is slated to be released later this year. Add to that list the recently released Otis Rush & Friends – Live at Montreux 1986 set. This is about as much as any fan can hope for as advancing age and deteriorating health will likely keep Rush out of the recording studio.
Rush's discography is littered with live albums. Live albums probably outnumber his studio albums and tend to have a number of songs repeated among them. That makes it difficult for any one of them to stand above the others. Fans will want to devour them because he is a great performer and his average nights are worth hearing and with so many of his albums out of print, readily available music is welcome.
There are two features distinguishing this release from other live sets in his discography. The Montreux set is being released on CD (nine songs) and DVD (13 songs). Film footage of the man in concert is pretty rare. Having the opportunity to see a professional grade performance of one of the legends is exciting and informative.
His stage presence is different from a lot of other guitar greats. The way he straps the guitar is unique. Many guitarists string their instruments low. Rush has his high, the neck pointing up. It also appears to be strapped tightly against his chest. It does not look comfortable to me but his playing always looks effortless. In addition, most frontmen/guitarists stand behind their microphone while singing and will back away from it and move about the stage while soloing to whatever degree they feel comfortable. Rush takes the mic from the stand and will walk the stage while singing and replaces the mic when it is time for him to fire off a lead.
The other distinguishing aspect of this release is the guest appearance of Eric Clapton and Luther Allison. Clapton apparently played a major role in helping get Rush on the bill in the first place. The moments with both (and later all three) legendary guitarists on stage are what make this set worth hearing and watching. The enthusiasm Luther Allison brings to the stage can be heard and seen. It is these moments that set it apart from Rush's other live albums because unfortunately the rest of the performances are not stellar.
For the Montreux set, he was teamed with Professor Eddie Lusk's band. They are probably an excellent backing band but it was pretty clear they had not rehearsed with him. The pace is at times sluggish and some mistakes can be heard. It would have been better had they had more rehearsal time or if he had been able to play with his regular band.
Aside from the mistakes, there are not many performances on Montreux you would take over those heard on So Many Roads – Live or All Your Love I Miss Loving – Live at Wise Fools Pub. "Gambler's Blues" is a good example. It's a BB King song he first recorded on Mourning and he performed it live nearly every time he played. This rendition is strong but does not best his other live versions. The synth solo on "Natural Ball" is so painfully '80s it mars an otherwise solid performance of a blues standard. The sound quality on Montreux is excellent and the DTS mix on the DVD is outstanding. It is a shame the professional recording job did not capture a greater performance.
Otis Rush fans will probably find something to like about the set and Clapton enthusiasts will likely enjoy seeing their hero jam with one of his.