American blues musician composer and singer Bobby Rush incorporates elements of blues, rap and funk in his music. Bobby was born in 1933, and his musical career seemed as though it was meant to be, with some of the most influential musicians of the day crossing his path.
‘I was born in a place called Haynesville, Louisiana, Houma, Louisiana,’ says Bobby. ‘I left in 1947 and came to Pine Brook, Arkansas, with my father who was a minister or pastor of the church. That’s where I met Elmore James, BB King, Ray Charles, people like those. Then in 1950 I met Howlin Wolf, and Muddy Waters, Little Walter, John Lee Hooker, Fats Domino. I met all these guys, and then in 1952 I met Chuck Berry. We all went into Chicago to try to make some records, with the Willie Dixon, with the Magic Sam, Freddie King, to Luther Allison. All these guys was in Chicago.
In 1957, Buddy Guy came to Chess. In 1957, Etta James came. In 1953 Bo Diddley came, 1955, Elmore James came. And out of there, Willie Dixon, was already there. And all of these guys that I knew, there is one guy now that’s left around, and he came in 1957: that’s Buddy Guy. I believe that I’m the oldest blues singer in this category who’s around today. I’m so thankful and so blessed to have people like you to call and want to do interviews on me. It’s my first time coming to Australia out of all of these times, all of these years. I’ve been up for blues awards some 30-odd times. I won 18 or 19 times out of the 30-something. I’ve been up for a Grammy four times and won one. Here I am still in love with my music.’
Rush is a man who feels truly blessed. ‘I’m so excited about coming to Bluesfest that I might just jump off the building! How blessed could a man be! I have recorded 374 records. I’ve been a big artist into the black audience, but I never, until about 20 years ago, started crossing over to the white audience. When I crossed over to the white audience, I didn’t have to dilute or cross out the black audience. Here’s why I’m saying that to you, because I’ve heard black guys say, “I’m gonna record like this so the white people can enjoy me or accept me. I’m gonna record like this, because this is what the white people want to hear.” But I was able to record what I felt and what I wanted to, and I hoped everyone would listen to it. It’s not a black and white issue with me. It’s about the music and the love of it.’
Rush is currently collaborating with fellow Louisianan Buddy Guy.
‘I just love Buddy Guy. I love a lot of guys, but Buddy Guy just knocked me off my feet as long as I’ve been knowing Buddy Guy. Here lately we started talking and I just fell in love with his attitude, with his approach, with his life. Because he had been ripped off for the things that he had done just like I have. Although, he had the club in Chicago, Buddy Guy’s Legends, doing very well. But he went through hell and high water just like I did, just to stay surviving.
Now, Bobby Rush and Buddy Guy, or Buddy Guy, Bobby Rush, are about the oldest blues men out here, black blues men, and we want to take advantage of it. And thank God for people like you, festivals like the festival in Australia, who think enough to invite me to the festival, and I’m on cloud nine.’
Rush knew he was a musician at just seven years old. It was his dream. He started out making $12 a month then finally made it to $3 a night. Then he went to $5.50 and then $7 a night. ‘When I got to $10 a night I thought I was rich,’ he laughs.
Rush is heading to Bluesfest this year to play with his peers. It’s something he’s honoured to do. ‘I hadn’t planned to say it like this, but I’m gonna tell you that during this festival in Australia put more – another 30 years – on my life. Let me tell you why, because not only I’m playing the festival, but I’ve got Robert Plant on the show. I don’t know what night he’s got, but he’s gonna be on the same stage; Lionel Richie, and people like that, and many other people. But these two guys, especially, just being in the midst of these kind of guys, and doing it in Australia too. Gosh, I don’t know nothing else I could ask for. Thanks for having me.’
Bobby Rush is one of the featured acts at Bluesfest 2018. For more program information go to bluesfest.com.au.