Moving beyond the Chitlin' Circuit 

Blues legend Bobby Rush strolls, shakes into town

Blues legend Bobby Rush strolls, shakes into town
Bobby Rush has been a Chitlin’ Circuit staple for decades. The diehard soul/blues crowd knows his name. He can play every instrument on the bandstand. This fall, he benefited from being profiled in the PBS documentary series The Blues. With a new album and DVD out on his own label, Bobby Rush will make his first Indianapolis appearance in a decade at the Slippery Noodle Inn on Dec. 2.
Rush is calling this his Crossover Tour. “It’s going to be great,” Rush told NUVO. “I’ve been ready to cross over to a new audience. I’ve been wanting to do this for many, many years. Seven years ago, the people wouldn’t accept me for who I was. Now they’re ready for me. They know that I’m not a threat. I wasn’t a threat to begin with.” The Chitlin’ Circuit is named after the clubs frequented mostly by black audiences in the South. Rush’s live shows include double entendre songs (His last three albums for Waldoxy were called One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show, Lovin’ A Big Fat Woman and Hoochie Man) and female dancers who make certain areas of J. Lo seem like Paris Hilton. Sometime during the night, don’t be surprised if Rush pulls out a pair of female underpants that would make Tom Jones blush. “Some people may get intimidated by seeing the girls twisting their butts on the stage. I’m a black entertainer and I’m a blues man. However, I want to perform for everybody. I can’t just do a show that the white audiences want or what the black audiences want. I don’t want a black or white issue. I do what I love. What you see as the blues may not be the blues to me. I will tell you this, every black man on this planet sings the blues. It may not be in English, but it’s still the blues. Even if you don’t like me, you’ll say, ‘Damn, he good.’” Rush was one of the artists profiled on the PBS documentary series The Blues in the “Road To Memphis” chapter, which also featured B.B. King and Ike Turner. “When PBS came out, they came and thought, ‘Uh oh. Here’s an old man.’ Nobody in my age bracket can bring in the young people. I was the only man still doing and I don’t plan to quit. Other than B.B. King, nobody’s on the road as much as me. I’ve had nine weeks off in 47 years,” he said. Rush’s latest album is called Undercover Lover, released on his own label, Deep Rush Visuals. This is a solid slice of soul blues, featuring Rush on vocals, guitar and harmonica. He’s also released a live CD/DVD called Ground Zero, which was recorded at the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Miss. The album features an energetic Rush singing and telling stories to the audience and to his dancers in between costume changes. If nothing else, the DVD is worth it to see Ground Zero co-owner, actor Morgan Freeman, shimmying with the dancers. “Making love is like the FBI,” Rush observed. “That’s what the meaning of Undercover Lover is. I love doing songs with two meanings. I’m in love secretly with my audience. This is probably my best album in 25 years and it’s already big. I’m gonna do well with this. This gives me the energy. It gives me the surge that I need. Ground Zero is one of the best things I ever recorded. You can put this up there with Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Prince. I can compete with all of them. You know the difference between Elton and me? I’ll play anywhere and I have. I want to do the big festivals and the arenas that Elton John plays, but I’ll also play where he won’t. Let’s see Elton John play some little ol’ funky club.” Rush said he’s recorded 241 records in his career of over 50 years (“Of course, I started recording at 6 months old.”) and that the recording/performing passion and the work go hand in hand. “They’ve been called Ghetto Records, Race Records, Chitlin’ Records, whatever they want to call them. A job is a job. The man running the peanut store thinks it’s Sears Roebuck because it’s his. There’s a lot of black men who don’t wanna be blues singers, that it’s a down stroke. It’s a part of history. Everyone should be proud of what they do. We’ve got a few young blacks coming out and continuing the blues. It’s all right if the whites play it, too. I’ll tell you this, no black man wants to be popular to white audiences and not be known by the black audiences. Most black people playing the blues at festivals and many clubs play mostly to white people. I want all colors, not just black and white, to enjoy the music.” Rush recently played on harmonica on two tracks for eclectic musician Corey Harris (also a PBS The Blues subject) and his Mississippi to Mali (Rounder) album. Rush, Harris and drummer Sam Carr (of Jelly Roll Kings fame) recorded the songs on Carr’s porch. He also plays guitar on some tracks for the upcoming Alvin Youngblood Hart album. Rush said the nod from the next generation of musicians is satisfying and that he wants to enjoy the success he has now. “There are so many great musicians who didn’t make it,” he said. “Even Robert Johnson. He was great, but he didn’t make no damn money. I don’t want to be on a stamp after I died. I want the money now. I want some things for my family and my fans now. I want to be useful. The saddest thing ever happen to me was the last time I talked to John Lee Hooker. I was real crazy about him and I told him about how he did well. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, ‘Bobby Rush, yes, I made a lot of money. But what can I do with it now? I’m getting it now when they should have been givin’ it to me earlier.’ “That got me inspired. I’m gonna go out now and do it now before I can’t do it anymore. I’m hoping the public gives this old man a shot because you know I’ll work hard for it. “Originally, I wanted to be as big as bubble gum. Now I’m the best thing since water,” he said.
Who: Bobby Rush and his band Where: The Slippery Noodle Inn, 372 S. Meridian St., 631-6974 When: Tuesday, Dec. 2 Tickets: $15 in advance, $20 at the door

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