When Cobra Records folded in 1959, A&R man Willie Dixon sailed right back to his former post at Chess Records. Two of Cobra's top young blues guitarists joined him. Southpaw Otis Rush had hit his very first time out on fledgling Cobra in '56 with Dixon's I Can't Quit You Baby (see Disc Four) and proceeded to wax a string of hair-raising Chicago blues classics (My Love Will Never Die, Double Trouble, All Your Love [I Miss Loving]) for Eli Toscano's West Side-based label prior to its untimely demise. Dixon played several roles in their stunning execution
"Willie was sort of right in the middle of everything," says Otis, whose Chess signing marked a change of heart on the label's part from when Otis was just starting out. "Chess didn't want to record me, because I sang a lot like Muddy," says Rush of his early years
Rush's first Chess session in January of 1960 produced a typically harrowing downbeat gem. With saxist Little Bobby Neely, pianist Lafayette Leake, guitarist Matt Murphy (who adds a few biting licks of his own), drummer Odie Payne, Jr., and bassist Dixon behind him, So Many Roads, So Many Trains intimidates in its fiery intensity. Rush sings it like a man possessed, his solo shrieking all over the high end of his guitar neck. So Many Roads stands with any of his Cobra sides (John Mayall's Bluesbreakers revived it in 1966 with Peter Green on lead guitar).
"Somebody gave me that song," says Rush. If the label credits can be believed, that somebody was 17-year-old Marshall Paul Chess. Listed on the 45 as Paul Marshall, he was already a familiar presence around the halls of his family label's headquarters, beginning as a mailroom worker and gofer at 13. It wasn't the first time a Chess release bore Marshall's name as official composer; Leonard's son was down as author of Harvey and The Moonglows' 1958 hit Ten Commandments Of Love and was all of 14 when he allegedly penned the same group's Penny Arcade.
Despite the unmitigated brilliance of So Many Roads and its resolutely minor-key follow-up You Know My Love (a My Love Will Never Die sequel, penned like its predecessor by Dixon), Rush's stay at Chess was brief and frustrating. "I was with Chess for about two or three years," he says. "We'd record, and they've got the record laying up on the shelf. So I wanted to get free of that."
Moving over to Don Robey's Duke Records proved even worse for Otis. His lone 1962 Chicago date for the Houston-based label produced the solitary single Homework, Dixon still at the helm. "I did a five-year contract with Duke. I got one record out of 'em," Rush laments. "That was a shame, five years. People like that was mostly tying up artists, putting 'em on the shelf. Record 'em, and just put 'em away. There wasn't no control in the music world."