Interview of Bobby Rush by Monica Yasher

Posted on 5/05/2010 by Monica Yasher

The Blues Awards are tomorrow! Today we find ourselves talking with the 2009 Soul Blues Male Artist of the Year, Bobby Rush. Bobby Rush (a three syllable name) has had a tremendous year since last year’s awards. And, the accomplishments he has achieved have gone beyond blues boundaries and national boundaries. Music has taken him to the nation of China. He is inviting you to share in his mission of peace and travel with the Rush delegation to China.

More than thirty million people annually, from all over the world, visit the Badaling Great Wall in China. This year Bobby Rush will take his place besides presidents and kings, as he has been invited by China’s most important cultural organization, The China Great Wall Society, to inscribe a message of peace on a monument to be placed at the foot of the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China. This section is at the entrance of the famous “Heaven‘s Gate“.

Bobby Rush, as the US spokesperson for the Badaling Great Wall Foundation, is the only American artist to be asked to participate in this honor. This recognition was an earned one, as Bobby Rush performed an amazing show before more than forty thousand people at the foot of the Great Wall in Yulin, China, on August 26, 2007.

From September 12th to the 19th , 2010, Bobby Rush will lead a delegation to the Shanghai World Expo in Shanghai, where he will perform for the USA Pavilion. Bobby Rush will also narrate a documentary film on the evolution of American Music and it's impact on the local music scene in China to be filmed in Shanghai.

Bobby Rush is asking you to support him by sponsoring his delegation and the documentary film. He is also inviting anyone who seeks business contacts in China, especially in the areas of Entertainment, Tourism, International Business Development and manufacturing, to travel as a part of his delegation. 
For more information regarding sponsorship and to travel as part of the Rush delegation, contact Frank Beaty at 702-880-7911.

Obviously, Bobby Rush has made a great name for himself. And, I asked him, “It is my understanding that you changed your name in honor of your father?”

Bobby Rush: Yes. I had respect for my father. I’m a junior and for no other reason. It did take four or five years for this name. I first called myself Eisenhower, President Roosevelt. I wanted a big name. But when I did settle for a name, I wanted a name so everyone would call one syllable. Nobody called me Bobby. Nobody called me Rush. Everybody called me Bobby Rush. There are a lot of Bobbies. There’s a lot of Rushes. There’s only one Bobby Rush. Every time...everyone said, Hey Bobby Rush...the entire name.

Monica: You do that too. You say Bobby Rush.. Whenever you talk about respect, I read that you never leave the people behind that sustained you.

BR: No, I never would leave someone behind. What I meant on that, I had crossed over. If you look at the audience, it is predominantly white people. I have gained that audience, and they respect me and know me. I also have a black audience, that I have had for many many years, that know me also. So, I have crossed over. But, I have never crossed out.

M: Now does this take us to the Chitlin’ Circuit you speak of?

BR: That’s what I’m talking about! I’m the King of the Chitlin’ Circuit!

M: Are you the king?

BR: At least they title me, The King of the Chitlin’ Circuit. I remember when I first got this title.  Someone was interviewing me…say twenty five or thirty years ago. My Granddaughter was three or four years old, and I was babysitting her. So, I had to take her with me. My granddaughter was interrupting me as I would talk. I addressed my Grandbaby. And, she said, “Granddaddy, what do I look like?” I said, “You look like a rabbit.” She was so proud of that. I said, “Bugs Bunny“. So in the spirit of the conversation, the interviewer then looks at me and says, “Bobby Rush, are you the King of the Chitlin’ Circuit?” I said, “Yes I am. Yes I am. I am proud of that!”

When they first talked to me about the Chitlin’ Circuit, they talked down to me about it, because they thought the Chitlin Circuit was less than something else. Because of being a black entertainer, they thought the Chitlin’ Circuit was related to being black, and I was less than the white players. They thought it was a lesser place than the white clubs. I was proud to be a black man who had a black audience at this Chitlin’ Circuit.

All of us as a whole, black entertainers, came out of the Chitlin’ Circuit. Sometimes we came out of the Chitlin’ Circuit, and went to somewhere else, and forgot about the bridge that brought us across. Some of the black guys now record songs because the white people like them. But I record because it’s what everyone likes. I record good music that everyone likes. It’s not an issue of black or white.

M: I love your music.

BR: Thank you. (He smiles.)

M: I saw that you had opportunities to play with Freddie King.

BR: I didn’t play with Freddie King. Freddie King played with me! It’s a bit different! In the early 50’s, he played in my band. I signed Luther Allison and many other guys that I started off in the business. We played, jammed. Today we go to jam sessions…I would go where Howlin’ Wolf and all the guys were. Anyway, I was one of the youngest of the bunch of Howlin’ Wolfe, Muddy Waters, and Little Walter. But yet, I’m an old man, but I was younger than them. They treated me so kindly and so well. I never would hang out with them. Because I was 20, 21 years old and they were 30. That seemed old.

I remember Muddy Waters…getting invited to a birthday party…and he said, “Come by my birthday party”. I literally went by to see him and slipped out and left him, because he said, “Bobby we are going upstairs in a minute and we’re going to have the girls upstairs.“ I was interested in the girls up stairs, you see….But when I got up stairs, Monica, they were old ladies. They were like 38 years old. That was old to me and I left them! Because they were 38 years old! I look back on that now…..I wish I could have changed that! (We laughed and laughed!) To me at early 20’s, I thought that was old! Those old ladies…There was one there about 40!

M: Well thank you, Bobby Rush! (We laughed!) Thank ya’!

BR: Albert King was a gentlemen that was crazy about me. So was Ray Charles. Elmo James. I didn’t give them the time that I should have, because I was young and trying to do my own thing. But these guys loved me so well, that they would put their arms around me. I look back at what they tried to do for me. They did instill something in me.

I like so many people. I like Muddy Waters, because he dressed so well, and his stage presence was fine to me. I like Howlin’ Wolf because his throat. His voice is so different. I like the Little Walter harp playing because he was so soft with his harp playing. I like Ray Charles because he was such a good entertainer. There is a lot of things that I like about a lot of different guys. So when you hear me, you hear a lot of different guys inside of me.

M: You talked about how people nurtured you, and I see that you have your own production company.

BR: My own label.

M: How do you nurture others?

BR:  I nurture others by doing what I do and be good at what I’m doing, so they see it. Be enthused about it. Look in the mirror and talk about the things that I can not do. If you try to do the things you can not do, the things you can do will take care of itself. You can’t sing a song, of course, that is not there. You can’t run a race, if you’re not a racer. You can’t put a hundred thousand dollars into a record, if you don’t have the money. Some things you can not do. So you have to do the things that you can do. What you can do, is be good at what you can do. Be a good singer. Be a good entertainer. If you get a record deal, be the best performer of the record that you record. Because records come and go, entertainers stay there.

M: That’s true. I’ve heard that before. Let’s take this to your BB King Entertainer of the Year and your Soul Blues Male Entertainer of the Year,.

BR: Nine times.

M: There’s all these blues magazine awards. There are so many of them. Let’s talk about why? Why you? Out of all the blues artists, why you?

BR: I think…because when you see what I do on the bandstand, you will see what I do on my record. I try to record in a way that I sound the same way that I do on the stage. When you see me on stage, I sound just like my record. I know I could go and do more, those records are hard to duplicate on the stage with five or nine pieces. Sometimes those are phony recordings. It’s still good recording. But if the record is bigger than you can hire the people on stage for, you won’t sound like the record.

M: Then people are disappointed.

BR: Yes, people are disappointed.

M: How have you reinvented yourself over the years to stay the performer that you are? Where do you come up with your ideas?

BR: I really don’t know. I think from my prayer to God to keep me enthused. A man can live a long time without water or food. You can’t live very long without hope. When hope is gone, everything is gone. So as long as I’m enthused…I looked at a book when I was about five years old…and I always remembered this horse pulling this wagon with an ear of corn hanging from the front. He walked for thirty years trying to get this ear of corn, not knowing every time he moved the corn moved. So if anybody told me 50 years later, Bobby Rush, here is where you will be. If I thought every year, every day, every moment, I’ll get rich or have a big record or what have you, some of them came…some of them didn’t…but nevertheless, I was enthused. Every day by day.

M: It’s your passion.

BR: It’s my passion and I love it to the point that after 20 years someone asked me, Bobby Rush, see... you are good, and you are going to make a lot of money at this. I said, "I can make money for something I would do for free?"  I hadn’t thought about it for the money end of it, because I love music. I was doing it for the music. Now it is a little different. I want to do it for the fun.  But, it sure is nice when you get paid for it!

Shawn Kellerman is another up coming blues artist that worked with Bobby Rush, read about Shawn!
Copyright © 2010 Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.
Photograph Copyright © 2010 Maureen Ceidro. All Rights Reserved.

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

And of course, we will surprise you sometimes!

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