Bobby Rush’s Blues

Bobby Rush, “Sitting on top of the Blues.” © photo by Bill Steber

88 blazing years a badass, bluesman Bobby Rush brings his spectacularly unadorned brand of the blues to Jazz Alley February 1st and 2nd. He was kind enough to take some email questions.

Seattle Star: What are your favorite memories and stories of playing Seattle before?

Bobby Rush: There’s a club in Seattle, I believe it’s called The Triple Door. It was good. I’ve always wanted to play that area. Bo Diddley used to play that area and tell me about it. It was too far from where I played a lot in the South or the Chicago region. I didn’t have a lot to put with it, to make it route and work. I couldn’t fly then like I can now.

I’ve always loved that area. I’ve connected with my friends Amanda Gresham & Barbara Gresham who run the United By Music in that region, helping autistic young adults through music. It was always a rewarding experience. Seattle has always felt very warm to me.

Seattle Star: What are your best, worst, and oddest stories of playing blues all over the world?

Bobby Rush: The worst was Rock Island/Davenport area where they didn’t pay. The audience was there but the money didn’t come. It was good to draw people, but the worst thing was not getting paid.

One of the hard things was the draw 50-60 years ago in the Des Moines, IA area. It was away from any place. I couldn’t get any grip there. I that time there wasn’t that many black people playing in Davenport or Des Moines. It was myself and Ike Turner.

One of the biggest festivals I did for the first time was over 100,000 people in Amsterdam. I thought I was in heaven. I never thought I’d work in front of that many people. Next to that would be my experience in Beijing, China and performing at the Great Wall of China.

For Black festivals, one of the biggest events I worked was roughly 100,000 people plus or minus in Greenville, Mississippi in the 1970s.

Rawer than raw. Bobby Rush plays the harp and guitar. Photo © James Patterson.

Seattle Star: You’ve been playing the blues most of your life. How has your understanding of the blues grown and changed along the way?

Bobby Rush: I understood it from a little kid, 8-9 years old. It hasn’t changed in that I sing not as a serious matter, but a jokey way. I sing about the garbage man run off with your woman. You feel bad when anyone runs off with your woman, but you don’t feel as bad when it’s the garbage man.

Seattle Star: You’re the son of a preacher man.  How did gospel influence your blues music?

Bobby Rush: I don’t think it influenced my music, but it strengthened me. My Daddy being a preacher, [he] never told me to sing the blues, but he also never told me not to sing the blues. I grew up in a time where people perceived the blues as devil’s music; not all people, but a lot of folks.  

Seattle Star: How do the blues scenes overseas–Europe, Japan, etc.–compare and contrast to the scene in the States?

Bobby Rush: I’ve found that I can tell that the fans respond in a different way to the blues than fans in the United States, but no matter what way they respond, they are equally as enthusiastic and passionate about the blues.

If it wasn’t for the overseas, I don’t know what myself and bluesmen like me would do. If it weren’t for overseas people who like the music and white people who like the music, I don’t know what we would do. I do frown that I don’t get the same opportunities white men & women get to sing the blues, but if they didn’t I don’t think it would be as relevant as a genre as it is now.

Seattle Star: Where did you record Sitting on Top of the Blues, and what are your favorite stories of recording it?

Bobby Rush: I recorded a lot of it in Louisiana, where I was born, and some parts were laid down in Memphis, Atlanta, and throughout Mississippi where I currently live and call home.

Getting the songs together was my favorite part of recording it. It was a challenge for me because I wanted to do something the old guys had done in their day, but I wanted to modify it.

A song from that album that I do a lot still is “Get Out Of Here (Dog Named Bo)”. There was a guy named Mr. Adam when I was a teenager, with a beautiful daughter. He wasn’t fond of me because being a blues singer wasn’t a real job. He wanted to tell me to get out of here, but he knew I was a decent guy because of my family, personality, and where I come from. He didn’t want me to marry his daughter, so he wanted to sic the dog on me.

Seattle Star: What are the greatest joys and tribulations of running your own record label?

Bobby Rush: Man, I guess being free. Being able to put on the record what I want to put on them. That’s the freedom. Then again, I’m still tied down to program directors. I still have to deal with Black programming. They play certain records and certain ones they don’t play. I watch what they play. So I make a record that they will play. I listen to what WDIA in Memphis is playing just before I record to see what gets you in for airplay. The good is the freedom. The bad is I’m still catering to folks, outside of what I may want to lay down at that moment.

© photo by Bill Steber

Seattle Star: Your autobiography came out last year.  What were the easiest, hardest, and most challenging things about switching from music to the written word?

Bobby Rush: The hardest thing was finding the kind of thing that soothes the ear of peoples like yourself and those that will potentially buy my book when I’m on tour. So I had to think about the book differently than I think about records. I have to think about where I work on tour, who is my fan, and where can I sell it to.

Over the last 15 years I’ve crossed over to the White audience, and now I can plan to sell my book to them. Over 20 years ago, it was the Chitlin’ Circuit Black audience that I would be solely focused on for selling the book.

My story is one of surviving the rat race and sliding through the crack. Regardless of how dim things looked for me and people like myself, my story shows you can make it if you try. I’ve had a lot of valleys, but I’ve had a lot of hills too. The valleys were my low points. Anytime I go through a valley, someone or something comes along to life to take me to the hill. One example was my Manager Jeff DeLia, came to me at a valley point, and helped bring me to the hills, as well as [helping me] continuing to crossover and not cross out.

I’ve had a lot of loss, tragedy, and heartache in my life, but I persist through the Blues. I don’t say it to get sympathy but to hopefully inspire the readers. If I can make it as a country boy, uneducated bluesman, and Black on top of that, you can too.

Seattle Star: What’s in your plans for the future, after this tour?

Bobby Rush: I got some writing to finish up with myself and my colleague. I’ve got some friends of mines inside the business I want to record with. I won’t name names. Those are my plans now. However, for those who don’t know I just had a single come out a new version of my record “Chicken Heads” by my good friend Buddy Guy and featuring yours truly. The full EP comes out via online platforms next month on February 18 with additional versions of my song by Gov’t Mule, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, and a new version by me. 

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