Bobby Rush posts new memoir, will perform Memphis show at Levitt Shell

Bobby Rush is a big believer in the law of averages.

“I’ve lived long enough, recorded enough records and done enough good things in my life to keep good things coming back to me,” says the 80-year-old blues legend.

Over the past decade or so, Mississippi-based Rush, who has performed since his teens in the early 1950s, has enjoyed a series of late-career triumphs.

“This year will be 70 years of recording for me, I made 297 records. I’ve been in the running for a Grammy six times, I’ve won two; I’ve been up for a blues award 31 times and won 13, ”said Rush. “So I got a pretty good batting average, especially since I’m a bluesman and a black man.

Rush – who will close African American Music Appreciation Month with a sold-out show at Levitt Shell in Overton Park on July 1 – has been quarantined and ill, facing fear of COVID-19. last year, but notes that he is now in excellent health and ready to return to the stage. “I feel good, my health is good. Of course, I’m old… but it’s good to get old, ”he says. “The only reason you don’t get old is because you die young.”

This week marked another milestone for Rush as Hachette released his memoir, titled “I Ain’t Studdin ‘Ya: My American Blues Story”. The book, co-authored with Herb Powell, is something Rush has been pondering for some time.

“To the public it may seem like this is something that happened overnight, but I’ve been thinking about it for almost 20 years. Some of the people I was going to talk about in the book were still alive, so that worried me. I waited because I felt it was important for me to be able to tell the whole story and tell it as it is.

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“I Ain’t Studdin ‘Ya: My American Blues Story”

The story is that of Rush, born Emmett Ellis Jr. in little Homer, Louisiana, somewhere between 1934 and 1940 (he is still not sure of his actual date of birth). The son of a preacher, Rush worked in the cotton fields as a child and learned to choose tunes on a “diddley-bow” – a kind of homemade guitar – and hooked up to the WLAC central station in Nashville, where he listened to DJs like Bill “Hossman” Allen, shoot the latest blues, gospel and R&B sides.

The book vividly transports readers back to the youth of Deep South of Rush in the 1940s, chronicling the scarcity and racism he and his family faced. In the end, it unfolds like an epic tale across seven decades and across many cities, recounting his journey as a scrambling young musician on the “King of the Chitlin ‘Circuit” (as Rolling Stone once crowned it). The book also reveals anecdotes about music icons from Muddy Waters to James Brown, while detailing various personal tragedies, near-death experiences, and “every part of good and bad I’ve been through,” as Rush puts it. .

Veteran bluesman Bobby Rush has just released a new memoir.

“I’ve lived so much life that I felt the hardest part would be condensing it into one book,” says Rush. “There are a lot of things that I never talked about, and I talk about everything in the book. I’m talking about myself, the people I’ve been involved with and the people around me.

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Bobby Rush: From Memphis to Chicago via Jackson

Rush also recounts his first visit to Memphis and Beale Street in “I Ain’t Studdin Ya”. “I came to meet Rufus Thomas, BB King. They were like old people to me, and they were only 28 or 29 years old, ”he recalls. “I was just a teenager. I was not old enough to be in the club. So I had a mustache drawn on my face. My father being a preacher and pastor, I wasn’t supposed to be there.

“I was trying to do the hambone in the street to make money. I won four dollars and some change. It was enough money for me to get a ticket to St. Louis – East St. Louis, actually. Once there I made some more money and came to Chicago.

Rush arrived in Chicago in the early 1950s, where he would remain a staple of the club for the next three decades, until he returned south to Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1980s. As a young guitarist, Rush played and dated blues giants: Windy City legends like Willie Dixon, Little Walter and Jimmy Reed.

Rush began carving his own solo faces in the early 1960s. His voluminous catalog would span all styles of R&B over the years, from deep blues to propulsive soul to comedic funk, as he developed this which would become his sound signature and his show on stage.

Bobby Rush poses in the press room with his Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album for "Porcupine meat" at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards in 2016.

“A lot of blues guys that I respected and made up, they never changed what they were doing,” Rush says. “You see, I was aware of the time. I tried to upgrade to new things that were happening. I was either really smart or really crazy. I do not know which.

In recent years, Rush has reverted to a sort of raw and often acoustic Delta blues, which has earned him belated recognition from the music industry establishment, as he racked up several Grammy nominations and a pair of trophies for “Porcupine Meat” and “Rawer Than Raw” of 2019

He just finished another album worth material cut during the pandemic. “Yes, I recorded, I finished 12 songs,” he says. “I’m on fire about it. I have so much music in the box that I want to get out.

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Bobby Rush plays music on his porch in Jackson, Mississippi on Friday, October 30, 2020.

He’s also preparing for a return to the road, once he’s sure post-pandemic touring will be a safe proposition. “I want to see what the next 90 days will look like,” says Rush. “Yes [COVID numbers] don’t leave, so I have about 80 or 90 shows I’m going to book.

Rush reflected on a tour reunion with his ex-Chicago pal and veteran blues colleague Buddy Guy. “I hope he and I can team up now,” Rush said. “We’re talking about the last two living black bluesmen.”

Even in his’ 80s, when most artists – if they’re still around – are slowing down, Rush remains full of enthusiasm for music, for performance, and for what the future may hold.

“I don’t know what motivates me. Whatever it is, it’s a gift, ”he says. “A man can live a long time without food and water, but it is difficult to live without hope. And I still have hope. I mean, I was 80 when I won my first Grammy. The good news is that God has given me enough time on this earth to see some of these things come to pass and I am very grateful.

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