IN MEMORIAM: Otis Rush // Joe Masteroff
Otis Rush Jr. (April 29, 1935 – September 29, 2018) was an American blues guitarist and singer-songwriter. His distinctive guitar style featured a slow-burning sound and long bent notes. With qualities similar to the styles of other 1950s artists Magic Sam and Buddy Guy, his sound became known as West Side Chicago blues and was an influence on many musicians, including Michael Bloomfield, Peter Green and Eric Clapton.
Rush was left-handed and strummed with his left hand while fretting with his right. His guitars, however, were strung with the low E string at the bottom, in reverse or upside-down to typical guitarists. He often played with the little finger of his pick hand curled under the low E for positioning. It is widely believed that this contributed to his distinctive sound. He had a wide-ranging, powerful tenor voice.
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Rush died on September 29, 2018, from complications of a stroke. His death was announced on his website by his wife Masaki.
Gregg Parker, CEO and a founder of the Chicago Blues Museum said of Rush: “He was one of the last great blues guitar heroes. He was an electric god”. Writing in The New York Times, Bill Friskics-Warren said, “A richly emotive singer and a guitarist of great skill and imagination, Mr. Rush was in the vanguard of a small circle of late-1950s innovators, including Buddy Guy and Magic Sam, whose music, steeped in R&B, heralded a new era for Chicago blues.”
Photo: Otis Rush performing at Notodden Bluesfestival, Norway, in 1997.
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Masteroff was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Louis Masteroff from Korsun, Russia (now Ukraine) and to the former Rose Pogost from Kishinev, Russia. He graduated from Temple University and served with the United States Air Force during World War II. He studied with the American Theatre Wing from 1949-1951 and began his career as an actor, making his Broadway debut in The Prescott Proposals in 1953.
Following a national tour, Masteroff’s first play, The Warm Peninsula, opened on Broadway at the Hayes Theater in January 1959 with Julie Harris, June Havoc, Farley Granger, and Larry Hagman in the lead roles.
In 1963 he wrote the book for the Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Bock musical She Loves Me, which garnered him a Tony Award nomination for Best Author of a Musical. The musical, directed by Hal Prince, ran on Broadway for 301 performances.
Three years later, when Hal Prince gained control of the rights to John Van Druten’s play I Am a Camera and The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood, he discarded the book for a musical adaptation already written by Sandy Wilson and hired Masteroff to fashion his own. With lyrics and music by Kander and Ebb, Cabaret opened on Broadway in November 1966 and ran for 1,165 regular performances, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical.
Masteroff’s next and final Broadway project, 70, Girls, 70 was less successful, closing one month after it opened in April 1971. The music and lyrics were by Kander and Ebb.
Masteroff wrote the libretto for an operatic adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms. He wrote the book and lyrics for the musicals Six Wives (Off-Broadway, 1992) and Paramour, the latter based on Jean Anouilh’s The Waltz of the Toreadors (Old Globe Theater, San Diego, 1998).