Bobby Rush

November 19, 2019


Rush won Grammy for previous album, Porcupine Meat, in 2017. He appears in movie Dolemite Is My Name with Eddie Murphy, now in theaters and on Netflix.


JACKSON, Miss., — Sitting on Top of the Blues, the current album from Mississippi blues legend Bobby Rush, has been nominated for a Grammy®Award for Best Traditional Blues Album. The 62nd Annual Grammy Awards show will take place in Los Angeles on January 26, 2020.


After decades of tearing up the chitlin’ circuit on a nightly basis with his sweaty, no-holds-barred funkfests, Rush has thoroughly broken through to the mainstream. He won a long-overdue 2017 Grammy for his spectacular album Porcupine Meat and consistently tours the globe as a headliner. His brand-new album Sitting on Top of the Blues on his own Deep Rush imprint (distributed by Thirty Tigers) further spread the news that this revered legend, well past 80 years of age even if his stratospheric energy level belies the calendar, is bigger and badder and bolder than ever.


According to Rush, “Sitting on Top of the Bluesgives me the reason to be on top of the blues. I almost was on top of the blues when I wrote these songs, but getting nominated for another Grammy, I really feel like I’m sitting on top of the blues. I’m grateful to all the voters that had the desire to vote for me.” 


It’s a doubly big season for Rush, who makes a cameo appearance in the movie Dolemite Is My Name, starring Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, and Keegan-Michael Key, now in theaters and on Netflix.


“I’m on a high and will never forget how Eddie Murphy embraced me on the set of Dolemite Is My Name,” says the bluesman.“I won’t forget how director Craig Brewer called me for the role. I’m so thankful to both of them. They gave me another life from this experience. It was very exciting to me to see my scene with Eddie on the big screen at the premiere. I never thought I’d have the chance to be in a scene with Eddie Murphy. I was very satisfied with my performance, and hope he was, too.”


There’s something for everyone on the Grammy-nominated Sitting on Top of the Blues — from the boisterous R&B-laced opener “Hey Hey Bobby Rush” and the cooking “Good Stuff” to the sexy “Slow Motion” and a stripped-down “Recipe for Love” that features Bobby and his co-producer Vasti Jackson supplying all the accompaniment necessary with their interlocking guitars. Rush wails on pungent harmonica throughout the set, his vocals as sly and sensuous as ever while elastic grooves simmer and surge behind him. Rush has been a master storyteller for decades, and the songs on this disc follow in that tradition. The album debuted at #1 on the Living Bluesradio chart and on three Billboardcharts including Top 5 on Billboard Blues. 


Never one to rest on his considerable laurels, Bobby’s not about to start now. “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,” he says. “I’m considered the king of the chitlin’ circuit. I’m crossing over now, but I haven’t crossed out. And I think the music itself says that about me.”


The master chef stirring that sizzling soup was born Emmett Ellis, Jr. outside Homer, La. His daddy was a preacher and knew enough about a harmonica to pass along a few riffs to his progeny, who twanged a diddley bow before picking up a guitar around age 11. The senior Ellis relocated his family to Pine Bluff, Arkansas in 1948. When young Bobby went professional as a blues musician, he changed his moniker so as to not disrespect his devout dad.


Bobby Rush was born.


He played with Delta blues guitarists Boyd Gilmore and Elmore James in Arkansas during the early ’50s before migrating to Chicago. There he assembled a band with an equally young Freddie King on guitar (Luther Allison came into the combo later). Rush gigged around the West Side and in the southern suburbs of the Windy City, but it took until 1964 for him to debut on record with the tough downbeat blues “Someday” for the Jerry-O logo. He encored with “You’re the One for Me” for the Palos imprint, a single so obscure that a copy couldn’t be located for inclusion on Omnivore Recordings’ award-winning four-CD box set Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History of Bobby Rush, which spanned his entire career to that point.


Bobby was not one to be dissuaded. His “Sock Boo Ga Loo” on the tiny Starville label was picked up by Chess Records in 1967, propelling the singer into the big leagues of R&B. “Gotta Have Money,” his funk-drenched ’68 single for ABC, and the Sonny Thompson-produced “Wake Up” the next year for Salem Records showed Rush had what it took and then some (another of his Salem sides, the rousing “Just Be Yourself,” was recently featured in a memorable TV commercial for Bonobos, a clothing manufacturer).


In 1971, Bobby broke through on the national charts with the lowdown funk grinder “Chicken Heads” for Galaxy Records. “That was the first big record I ever had,” notes Rush. The song has since been featured in the film Black Snake Moan, HBO’s Ballers, and various TV commercials. Calvin Carter, the producer of “Chicken Heads,” put out Rush’s ’72 follow-up “Gotta Be Funky” on his own On Top logo and then sold Bobby’s contract to Stan Lewis’ Jewel Records in Shreveport, La. Lewis issued several Rush singles before Bobby made the major label leap in 1974 with “Get Out of Here” for Warner Bros.


The sparkling album Rush Hour for Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International empire should have made Bobby a huge star in 1979 but didn’t receive its proper praise until the 2000s, when Rolling Stone recognized it as one of the best blues albums of the ’70s. An encore LP was summarily shelved, and before long Rush moved back south to Jackson, Mississippi, where his legion of fans eagerly embraced him. The lascivious “Sue” didn’t chart for him in 1983 on the LaJam imprint, but it blasted out of countless ghetto jukeboxes and sold over a million records.


His reputation for spectacular live performances growing exponentially as he did a minimum of 200 shows a year, Bobby built a vaunted reputation on the chitlin’ circuit and cut a series of memorable albums for Urgent!, Waldoxy, and his own Deep Rush Records. His mainstream recognition campaign commenced when he earned his first Grammy nomination for his 2000 album Hoochie Man, followed by an appearance in the Martin Scorsese-produced 2003 PBS docu-series The Blueswith his own segment in the episode “The Road to Memphis.”


To date Bobby has earned 12 Blues Music Awards and 48 nominations, including the prestigious B.B. King Entertainer of the Year Award and Album of the Year. In addition to his appearance in Dolemite Is My Name, Rush co-starred in the 2014 documentary Take Me to the River alongside Terrence Howard, Snoop Dogg, and Mavis Staples. That same year, Bobby joined Dan Aykroyd on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon to perform two songs, marking his first late-night television appearance.

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