Bobby Rush goes back to basics on new album “Rawer Than Raw”

On August 28, 2020, the Grammy-winning blues icon Bobby rush will release More raw than believed, a stripped-down acoustic homage to Mississippi’s rich blues history with songs from a handful of blues greats from its homeland.

The record, on 86-year-old Deep Rush Records own label in partnership with Thirty Tigers, follows Rush’s 2019 Grammy-nominated album. Sitting on top of the blues, and his first project since his acclaimed appearance in last year’s Golden Globe-nominated Eddie Murphy’s blockbuster film Dolemite is my name.

Partly inspired by the popular Intimate Solo Concert Series, Rush has made a mainstay of his concert calendar over the years since his fully acoustic debut album (titled Raw), Rawer Than Raw highlights five Mississippi Blues Hall of Famers: l early acoustic blues greats Skip James and Robert Johnson, and Rush’s contemporaries on the 1950s and 1960s music scene, Howlin ‘Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Muddy Waters. The record features half a dozen covers of some of their best-known songs, performed in Rush’s unmistakable acoustic style, characterized by a screaming harmonica and a stomping foot to keep the beat. There are also five Rush originals – “Down in Mississippi,” “Leave me in your house,” “Sometimes I wonder,” “Let’s Make Love Again” and “Garbage Man,” all credited under his first name, Emmett Ellis. , Jr. – whose country vibe matches the songs that inspired the album.

“Although I was born in Louisiana, I am proud to call Mississippi home,” says Rush, who moved to Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1980s and traces his family ties to Magnolia State back to his Great grand-parents. “I salute the guys from Mississippi because they, to me, have stuck most to their roots. If you want to get the real deal from the blues, get it from the Mississippi bluesmen. Whether they migrated elsewhere like Chicago or Beverly Hills, if they are from Mississippi, you can hear Mississippi’s deep roots in their stories.

Long considered one of the preeminent blues storytellers, Rush has always emphasized storytelling in his music. In the ’70s,’ 80s, and ’90s, his risky, humorous chitlin shows often featured long, endless tales of romantic misadventures.

At the turn of the century, as he struggled to be accepted by the general public as one of the blues’ last ties to his golden age past, Rush began to tell different stories. His tale of a life spent playing over 200 shows a year and his appearances in documentaries like “The Road to Memphis” episode of Martin Scorsese’s The Blues (2003) and Take Me to the River (2014), have helped to catapult his star at the end of his career. Also in 2014, Bobby joined Dan Aykroyd on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to perform two songs, marking his first late-night TV appearance.

At the same time, Rush began to tell different recorded stories. In 2001, he received his first Grammy nomination for best contemporary blues album for Hoochie Man. In the years that followed, he was nominated for the Grammys four more times, including last year for Sitting on Top of the Blues, to accompany 51 Blues Music Award nominations and 13 wins. Rush won his first Grammy in 2017 for Best Traditional Blues Album for Rounder Records / Concord Music’s Porcupine Meat release, produced by Scott Billington.

Rawer Than Raw is a spiritual sequel to Rush’s original 2007 album, Raw. This album was Rush’s first acoustic effort and was a game-changer for him, showcasing a different artistic side and exposing him to new audiences. It also inspired the creation of an accompanying acoustic show, Bobby Rush: An Intimate Evening of Stories and Songs, which remains a popular draw today.

True to its name, Rawer Than Raw was made simply with performances recorded as simply as possible, just vocals, guitar, harmonica, and Rush’s feet. The album was recorded in Jackson for several years with engineer and executive producer Randy Everett, himself from Mississippi. The two focused on some of Rush’s favorite artists, selecting songs that weren’t the only ones representative of them but also matched Rush’s unmistakable acoustic style.

“I could have done so many more people, but you can only put 10, 11 songs on a CD,” said Rush, who hinted at plans to honor other artists in the same way, referring to himself. perhaps focusing on artists from other southern states. where he lived, Arkansas and Louisiana. “That doesn’t mean they’re the only people I love or respect.”

With each selection, Rush found himself covering artists with whom he had a strong personal connection.


Rush describes Nehemiah Curtis “Skip” James, of Bentonia, Mississippi, the first artist covered on Rawer Than Raw, as a father figure. James was a contemporary of Son House and Robert Johnson but largely disappeared after a historic 1931 recording session. Over 30 years later he was rediscovered by a new generation of blues fans and started over again. to perform across the country when Rush met him shortly before his death in 1969 at the age of 67.

“I was always struck by the way Skip James played and sang,” says Rush, who performs a version of perhaps James’ best-known song from the 1931 session, “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” who ‘he renamed it’ Hard Times. “” The song never knocked me down, but the direction he took it did. And the subject: “Times are tougher now than they’ve ever been.” Seems like a great song to sing today with everything going on.

Rush first met Howlin ‘Wolf – aka Chester Burnett, of little White Station, Mississippi – in 1951 in Arkansas, and six years later introduced the gritty-voiced singer to his second wife in Chicago. Wolf, who died in 1976 at the age of 65, still holds an important place for Rush as a model of a blues singer.

“He was one of those guys who did what he did, and no matter how it came out, that’s how it went,” Rush recalls. “He had this thing where he didn’t care what other people thought. What you see is what you get. It is also my attitude.

Rush holds Wolf in such high regard that he has honored him as the only artist to be honored with two tracks on Rawer Than Raw: the first is Rush’s version of what could be Wolf’s signature song. , the vampire has a “Smokestack Lightning” chord, the roots of which can be traced back to when Wolf played with fellow Mississippi greats Charley Patton. For the second, Rush chose the relatively obscure 1961 B-side “Shake It for Me” (originally “Shake for Me,” recorded by Howlin ‘Wolf and written by Willie Dixon), which is probably best known for having inspired some of the lyrics. in “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin eight years later.

Unlike Wolf, Rush admired Muddy Waters for the tunes he assumed – his eye-catching clothes and attention to presentation. Rush met Waters (born McKinley Morganfield, probably in Rolling Fork, Mississippi) around the same time he met Wolf, in Chicago during a memorable time, where he also met Jimmy Reed, Ike Turner, eventually. Buddy Guy and Etta James. One of Waters’ big chess hits that year was “Honey Bee, Sail On,” which Rush performs here, though her performance owes something to an earlier treatment of the song by folk singer Leadbelly – titled “Sail On, Little Girl” – recorded by folklorist Alan Lomax in 1935

The third artist covered in Rush’s early Mississippi Delta debut is harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson II, – aka Alex Miller, of Tutwiler, Mississippi – who was a frequent collaborator of Rush’s first mentor and sometimes employee, the Great slide guitarist Elmore James. Rush performs Williamson’s oft-repeated 1955 hit “Don’t Start Me Talkin ‘,” a favorite of rock groups like the New York Dolls, Doobie Brothers and Bob Dylan.

Elmore James, who Rush first met in 1947 as a minor with a fake mustache trying to squeeze his way into Arkansas juke joints to play, is in Rawer Than Raw’s final selection. “Dust My Broom”, one of the most famous songs by one of the most famous of all bluesmen (and Mississippians), Robert Johnson, born in Hazelhurst, would have been a no-brainer on an album honoring the blues artists of the Mississippi. But the inclusion of the song is as much a tribute to the man who taught it – James, born in Richland, Mississippi, who performed with Johnson before his death in 1938 and had his own 1951 success with Williamson. on the harp.


Bobby Rush was born Emmett Ellis, Jr. outside of Homer, Louisiana, in 1933. He played a diddley bow before picking up a guitar around the age of 11, and his preacher father knew enough. on a harmonica to transmit some riffs to its offspring. The family moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in 1948.

While still a teenager, Rush grew into a professional blues musician, adopting his stage name so as not to disrespect his devoted father. He played with Elmore James in Arkansas in the late 1940s and early 1950s before moving to Chicago. There he formed a band with an equally young Freddie King on guitar (Luther Allison entered the combo later). Rush performed on the West Side and in the southern suburbs of Windy City, but it wasn’t until 1964 that he made his recording debut on the label Jerry-O’s small debut album.

In 1971, Rush broke into the national charts with the funk grinder “Chicken Heads” for Galaxy Records. The song has since become one of Rush’s flagship songs, lending its title to his 2015 career-spanning retrospective. In recent years, the song has been featured in Samuel L. Jackson’s Black Snake Moan and HBO’s Ballers series.

Rush Hour, an album for Kenny Gamble and Philadelphia International Records by Leon Huff in 1979, should have made Bobby a huge star but only received his due in the 2000s, when Rolling Stone recognized him as one of the best blues albums of the ’70s. An encore LP was summarily shelved, and before long Rush returned south to Jackson, Mississippi, which was quickly becoming the last bastion of Southern soul-blues. In 1983, the lascivious “Sue” on the LaJam imprint sold over a million records.

During this time, Rush cemented his reputation as a legend of the chitlin circuit, performing at least 200 shows a year. He recorded a series of memorable albums for Urgent !, Waldoxy and his own Deep Rush Records.

During the new millennium, Rush managed to gain recognition at the end of his career. He got his first Grammy nomination for his album Hoochie Man in 2000. He was nominated again in 2014 for Down in Louisiana and again in 2015 for Decisions before winning his first Grammy in 2017 for Porcupine Meat. Also in 2015, Omnivore Recordings released the 4-CD, 74-song set, Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History of Bobby Rush, which won a Blues Music Award for Best Historical Release.

Bobby’s performance itinerary has encompassed some of the world’s greatest music festivals, from the Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis to the Byron Bay Bluesfest in Australia, countless European engagements, the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan and, closer from home, Bonnaroo and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Rush was the first bluesman to perform on the Great Wall of China, attracting an audience of over 40,000 and earning him the title of “Chinese Blues Ambassador”.

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