Bobby Rush is more than a living legend. He is a living miracle. At 85 years old he not only continues to tour but still has the dancing moves that would make Mick Jagger, his junior by ten years or more, envious. Bobby’s statement to this writer is one of the best musician quotes heard, “I’m the only one who crossed over but didn’t cross out.” In other words, he’s managed to develop an Americana and mainstream audience through his association with Thirty Tigers and promoters while retaining his chitlin’ circuit audience. This is Rush’s follow-up to his 2017 Grammy winning Porcupine Meat, electing to go on his own Deep Rush label with trusted cohorts and a reduced role for the former’s producer, Scott Billington. The main captain this time is the multi-talented, versatile co-producer Vasti Jackson on Sitting on Top of the Blues, an appropriate title given Rush’s still growing stature.
Rush is not only charismatic. He is a joy to talk to one-on-one. Here’s another of his memorable quotes, “I’m probably the only artist who has sold close to a million records from the trunk of my car.” While that may sound a bit on the egotistical side, Rush is humble at heart, saying this about the current project, “I’m sitting on top of the blues. I’m a bluesman who’s sitting on the top of my game, proud of what I do and proud of who I and thankful for people accepting me for what I am and who I am. I’m happy about what I’m doing and still enthused about what I’m doing. An I think we’ve got some good songs.”
What separates Rush from others is his rather unique blending of blues, soul, and funk. It’s a signature sound he’s been developing and refining since the early ‘70s, even though he started well before then. Of course, his suggestive, sexy live shows are both legendary and maybe even a bit polarizing from some blues purists, but his twelve BMAs attest the fact that he is more than a songwriter or musician. Bobby Rush is a first class entertainer. His Grammy was long overdue. Rush says, “I think I’m getting more acclaim because I’m working harder, and when people tell me I can’t do something, that’s the wrong thing to tell Bobby Rush.”
Given the major label, guests and just hints of slick here and there, as fantastic as the Grammy winner was, this effort is a more authentic depiction of Bobby Rush. From the R&B-styled “Hey Hey Bobby Rush” through the salacious “Good Stuff” and “Slow Motion” to the dual guitars with he and Jackson in “Recipe for Love,” and dance tunes like “Shake Til’ You Get Enough,” this encompasses the various Rush styles. He sometimes takes a break from his stage show to just sit with a guitar, sing solo and tell stories. He’s a vastly underrated harmonica player. Zac Harmon once remarked that Rush walked into the studio, knowing he had a vocal and harmonica part and did them both in one take. Most would do them in separate takes, multiple times.
Rush acknowledges that his style pulls from several sources. After all, this is a man that played with Elmore James and was once a bandleader for Freddie King. He cites his major influence as his daddy, a preacher and follows with Louis Jordan and Little Walter for the harmonica and songwriting. He also points out close friends, the late Bobby Bland and B.B. King. He includes Junior Parker and then says, “I guess you can find about 20 guys that I like, and when you hear my music, you can hear a little of this, a little of that, a little up, a little down. You put ‘em all in a bowl and stir ‘em up, you get a Bobby Rush.”
If you enjoyed Porcupine Meat, or for whatever reason have not been acquainted with Bobby Rush’s music, either way you’ll enjoy this one. Dig into his history, videos or whatever’s your fancy. This album is the essence of who he is – defying age, defying norms, and still gaining new fans.
Photo by Bill Steber