The AST Interview with Bobby Rush

bobbyrushby Sean Jewell::

One thing I’m discovering as I speak to blues men is that you don’t get to interview them so much as you get to sit and listen to their stories. Older blues men like Bobby Rush are well aware of their contributions to blues, soul, and rock & roll. Bobby Rush has been interviewed countless times in his decades long career, and our talk careens from music, to life lessons, to recording, to re-kindled memories. Thoughts come in a crash like a locomotive jumped track. You don’t dare get in the way, you stand aside, watch, listen, and wonder about all the things that had to go right in the universe for you to be present.

Bobby Rush is a blues journeyman who came up in Mississippi and Chicago during a time when black men were both fighting to survive without civil rights, and pioneering the sound of American music the world would come to love. Bobby’s talent and tenacity (and his ability to preach, I’m sure) put him in a position shoulder to shoulder with blues giants from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago. There aren’t many men left like Bobby–people with connections to both the home of the blues, Clarksdale, Mississippi, and the testing ground of the blues, Chicago, Illinois. If you can name a blues town: Pine Bluff, Eudora, Chicago, Clarksdale, Bobby played there with the best back in the day. His history winds through the South and the Midwest just like the Mississippi River, tangled and long. He counts people like B.B. King, Ray Charles, Boyd Gilmore, Elmore James, and Ike Tuner among his peers. He can recall names, dates, addresses, and how much he got paid for a gig all the way back to the 1940s.

The verve of a performer isn’t just something Bobby Rush has on stage, it’s ever present. I meet him at The Triple Door in Seattle, and according to him I’m late, so our greeting begins with a ‘man, where the hell you been?’ as if I’ve kept him waiting the last 60 years. Bobby takes some time to graciously greet everyone who arrived before me: old friends from Mississippi, B.B. King’s god daughter, and old fans. He knows their names, about their families, about their hometowns. When we talk Bobby gives each question a moment of deep thought punctuated by hand claps, and knee slaps. We laugh a lot, one time he even punches my knee. It’s easy to get to know him.

It’s also easy to tell that, at 82, Bobby is only interested in the truth. Even with all my research I find details I gained from the internet to be wrong, and no subject is off the table. I know when I’m wrong nearly as soon as I speak because Bobby Rush furrows his brow, and takes a sip of his drink, then gives me stories and facts I wouldn’t even think to ask. From big issues like racism in music, to the music industry today, to small details like who played in whose band, Bobby does not hold back. I’ve transcribed the whole of our one hour talk, I encourage you to read the whole thing, or dive in anywhere, in just about every sentence Bobby Rush is preaching the gospel from the bandstand.

Thanks for taking the time, it’s really important to us to be able to talk to you after everything you’ve done the last 60 years.

Sixty-two years (laughs).

Give me a little history; you’re from Homer, Louisiana?

Uh, yeah, north of Homer, really, it’s not Haynesville or Homer it’s Colquit, otherwise –“the country.”

I left in 1947, went to Pinebluff, Arkansas with my father who was a pastor, a preacher in church, and a farmer. In the early ’50s I moved to Chicago. I stayed in Chicago 48 years. I moved from Chicago back to Mississippi, which is where my grandparents are from –the Jackson / Vicksburg area. I came there because I wanted to find the roots of my people. I was told to never come back to Mississippi because my great grandmother was a slave in the house of a white man (or maybe an Indian, whatever) a guy called Van Spivey. He had six kids by his wife and five kids by my great-grandmother. So he had other kids and the older kids by his wife, when the half-brother was 19 he stole all his sisters and brothers from his daddy and mother and moved them to Eudora, Arkansas, and hid ’em in a barn, where they raised themselves, as little bitty kids, because his daddy (my great-grandaddy, a white man) was on his dyin’ bed. My great-grandaddy wanted to divide the land among all his children, but the half-brother didn’t want to divide the land to the black children, his sisters and brothers. So for 80 years my family said never go back to Mississippi, because someone will be looking to harm us, but we found out almost 100 years later great-grandaddy wasn’t looking to harm us, he wanted to divide land between all his children.

To his white children?

Well, yeah, all the children including the kids he had with the black lady, which was my great grand-mamma

That’s interesting.

Yeah, so I’m back in Mississippi. I’m the only of the great grandchildren to move back there.

So, thank you for sharing that, I’m interested in what that area was like in the ’40s. I understand when you were young you were in a band with Elmore James?

[stern look, slow sip of apple juice]

No. I wadn’t with Elmore James band, Elmore James was in my band. Truth.

Oh!? What was that band called?

Bobby Rush and the Four Jivers.

Get out.

I had the group called Bobby Rush and the Four Jivers, first it was three guys –how I got this job, Elmore James liked this girl, there was a man in Chicago I knew in 1951 or 1952 his name was Lee Robinzine. He was datin’ a girl in Belzoni, Mississippi. She owns a funeral home in Belzoni and Clarksdale, where I had been going back and forth. Ike Turner lived in Clarksdale, I was a friend of Ike Turner, this was before he was with Tina, of course. So I was a friend of Ike goin’ back and forth and that’s how I met Elmore James. But I met him because Boyd Gilmore, his first cousin was playin’ with me. So I got this job in Pine Bluff, Arkansas at The Jackrabbit. So I had John “Big Moose” Walker, and uh…Pinetop Perkins, and that was the band. I had Robert Plunkett on drums, all dead and gone now. That’s how I met Ike Turner was because of Boyd Gilmore, his first cousin, and Boyd said he taught Elmore how to play slide. When I talked to Elmore about it he said ‘yeah, he taught me’, and Boyd could play the slide.

But I wanted to hire Elmore James to work for me at the Jackrabbit Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. I was makin $7/night as a bandleader, and paying the band $4.50. Elmore James said he wanted $50 for three days! Three days! Fifty dollars! I couldn’t pay him, I said I’ll give you $35 for three days, $12.50 a night, roughly. He said ‘nah, I can’t wait for that.’ By that time Lee Robinzine was getting married to this girl with the funeral home and he had been takin’ me to my gigs in a limousine, which was a hearse. I made him stop two blocks from the club because I didn’t want nobody seein’ me getting outta this hearse. [laughs] One day I said Elmore, I really need you to go to Pine Bluff, the man there said ‘I’ll give you $35 for Elmore James.’ I told Elmore I’d give him $30. He said ‘nah, can’t do it, gotta have $35’.

Tough customer.

Yeah, tough customer, I’m trying to make money with Elmore, though. So then a lady walks by, and Elmore says ‘wow! Who is that lady there?’ Well, my friend Lee, he was engaged to this girl, I know both of them, Ida who owns the funeral homes, and Lee Robinzine. Elmore said ‘man, what I wouldn’t do for that, I’d do anything for that!’ I walked away I said, ‘what’d you say Elmore?’ he said ‘I’d do anything for that.’ I said ‘maybe I can fix that up for you…’ He said ‘you can? I’ll play for you for free if you can.’

So I go tell Lee, her boyfriend –and this is dirty, this dirty—so I says ‘well, uh, what are you doin’ this week?’ He said ‘I’m not doin’ nothing this week’ I said ‘will you drive me to my gig?’ he said ‘I’ll drive you to your gig.’ So he drove me in the limo. In the meantime I introduce Elmore to Lee’s gonna-be-wife. So Elmore stayed that weekend, while Lee, the gonna-be-husband drove me to the gig. Dirty, I know.

Bobby, wow, you’re a player.

So every other weekend Elmore James played free for me [laughs]. I can’t swear what they done! I don’t believe he done anything but held her hand. [laughs]

Well, we’re gonna set that one straight in writing. Thanks for that history.

[Still laughing] Yeah, well, I needed Elmore James to play. But every other week he played three days for me, so we got to be pretty decent friends, because you know thirty dollars then a lot of money. My first gig when I went to Illinois workin’ at the Argot, the man would pay us $4.50 and give us as many sandwiches as we want. So the four of us would get eight hamburgers. You eat one and sell the others for a dollar. I got so good he’d give us 12 hamburgers and I’d eat two and sell the rest. So now I’m makin $12/night. I was workin’it. Man, c’mon!

So when you went to Illinois you ended up neighbors with Muddy Waters?

Yeah, well, we weren’t neighbors. I lived on the West Side. Muddy lived on 35th & Indiana, which was fifteen, twenty minutes away, you know, not neighbors but I could go there. I was neighbors to Little Walter. I lived on 1220 North Troy, he lived on 1220 North Albany, which was two streets back to back. I could walk out my back door and speak to him. We lived that close together.

Did you guys hang out together?

Yeah, hang out together, lie together, did other things together. He’d tell his wife he was goin’ to Bobby Rush’s house and he wouldn’t be goin’ there so his wife would see my wife and say ‘hey, where’s Bobby Rush at, I thought he was with Walter?’ and we’d get in trouble. I’d lie on him, he’d lie on me, but we was good friends.

I had so many good times, I guess when you talk about the good and bad the good overtakes the bad, but I remember Little Walter got me a job at a place called Skins where we played behind a curtain for a white audience. They wanted to hear our music but they didn’t want to see our face.

Really?

Oh god yeah.

I never heard of that.

Yeah, but that was a gig, and it paid more money than most gigs, and when you’re makin’ more money than you’ve ever seen in your life you seem to sweep a lot of things under the rug. Plus, it was fun to me, as a young country boy sittin’ in the back behind a curtain. You’d play music for people that didn’t want to see your face but we’d sneak girls back there in the back and we’d be playin’ behind the curtain. In them days entertainers dressed well, but in this club you didn’t have to dress well. It was like a choir, like just putting a robe on, you don’t know what’s behind the robe. We were behind the curtain, so we didn’t care how we dressed or what we looked like behind the curtain. We just had fun among ourselves.

I got so good that the guy would let me take a bow once a night. He’d say ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, you’ve been entertained by Bobby Rush and his Four Jivers’ and I would take a bow, and they’d close the curtain right back up in two seconds. Until one night someone saw the band, and that was a conflict. Then they had to put the band behind another curtain so when I did take a bow they’d only see me.

People were strange back then.

Well, you know it was one of them situations. It was fun, a lot of those things shouldn’t have been happenin’ but we lived, you know. And the more things change the more they remain the same.

You think so?

Yeah. You know there’s a few things I’m still disgusted by. One thing I’m disgusted by is when black guys record things because they think white people will like it, or you know recording things because they think it’s what black people will like. I record what I feel because it’s not a black and white issue with me. I didn’t come up from that ring. I’m a southern boy come up from the country. But I didn’t know anything about prejudice thing when I was a child. If you look at me, my videos, you’ll notice I don’t have any chips on my shoulder about nothing or nobody because I didn’t know anything about nothing but what I did. I worked in a cotton field, choppin’ and pickin’ cotton sun up to sundown, for my father. Nobody else. I didn’t have to go to work for nobody else. I worked all day long, for my dad.

Was it shocking to you when you moved to the city?

Yeah, that was shocking, but I guess that’s why I didn’t mind working behind the curtain because I didn’t know anything about black and white issues. If they didn’t want to see me fine. You know? There was some guys who knew why, and it bothered them but I didn’t know the reasons why. I didn’t come up in that. I remember from Kewanee, Illinois, that’s where my wife came from I believe there was like 18 or 19 black people in that town. So with no black people in town, my boy started school when he was 6 or 7 years old my wife asked him ‘Son, how many white kids in your class?’ he said ‘Three of us’. [Laughs] Kids don’t know anything about black and white issues. At that time there was maybe three or four black kids in the whole school, and my wife knew about black and white issues, but I didn’t. In my school there was no white kids in school, so I didn’t know nothing about no issues. Everything I came from was black: school, church, I had no issues.

Did you realize that blues music, funk, r&b, were a huge part of desegregation and protest in the ’60s?

Yeah, oh yeah. I didn’t realize it then, but I know it since then. I knew, and I know now the whole time that blues had a baby, and we named it rock ‘n’ roll. And I get people saying sometimes ‘we gotta have a blues festival but it’s 80% white people that come, why don’t black people come?’ well that’s a planned thing when you hire the musicians that work the festival. If you wanted black people to come, you’d hire Al Green, just as an example. They’ll come. But you hired people that aren’t black, and it’s all good.

It’s interesting that people don’t want to acknowledge it that far. I have to make a concerted effort to speak to female musicians and black musicians because if we don’t make an effort it will continue to be that way.

Well, what happened, it’s not all the musicians’ fault, but when black musicians don’t want to play black music, they don’t want to be themselves because black music–the blues especially–they think black music is something less than something else; something less than other music.

When you go to the festival, like I just left Norway, I heard twenty songs, 99% were white guys playin’ music, and 99% of the songs are from black artists. If white guys do it, people seem to clap and enjoy it better than when black guys do, and it’s their own culture! And they don’t even know. So we’re in a situation where black people are ashamed to do it, ashamed of their race, their color, the blues music. Then you got writers, like yourself–not you personally—but people have to write about music as what it is, music is the best thing since bubblegum. Because if you talk down on music, the black guys, especially the young black men don’t want to get involved in something that looks like it ain’t goin’ no place. You follow me? That is until the white guys start to doin’ it. See, what Elvis Presley was doin’, what Tom Jones was doin’, black folks was doin’ all their life, twistin’ their butt on the stage or whatever, I done it all my life. But when you do it, or when I do it–as a black man– then it’s “borderline” yet when the white guys do it it’s fine? If you saw my show, we got dancing girls, I’m not tryin’ to lure nobody in, we’ve got fans, this is what we do. I’m a black man who jump, play ball, shoot marble, box, run, dance, I like music, I like the blues, and I’m not ashamed of it. What you see is what you get, I’m a blues man.

That really comes through looking back through your catalog. You never shied away from the direction music was going. You always tried to make something out of it. Even in the eighties your records have synthesized drums and keyboards, and it sounds dated but it’s still a Bobby Rush statement.

I saw the change coming. All men, black or white are looking ahead for change. I saw the synth coming. It’s just like the interview we’re doing now. Twenty years ago we couldn’t do this. It wouldn’t come off as well because your little recorder wasn’t modified like it is now. What I have done is modify the blues. It’s like a toilet. When we was children, kids, we went to the toilet outside. That’s where it was, outside. Now it’s in your house. You got two bathrooms, three bathrooms, in my house I got nine, but guess what? You do the same thing in ‘em, that hadn’t changed. [Laughs] You know you changed the approach though, it looks better, but you do the same thing in ‘em. That hadn’t changed. So I was modifying things then. Radio was modified, recorders were modified, but we still speak about the same issues.

I don’t particularly endorse all rap music, but I don’t condemn it all either. I don’t like it with the guys wearing their pants down and the whole bit. But the problem with that is if you don’t talk about the whole issue. If you lift the head up, the pants’ll come with it, you know? Because the kids are writing a book, you can only write about what you know about. The kids with the rap, that’s their way of life, that’s what it is. That’s what they’re doing.

As a music writer I learned that rap is the folk music of a people.

Exactly! Exactly!

You can’t tell them that’s wrong or they shouldn’t make music that way because that’s who they are in that moment and that’s what’s beautiful about that.

A maggot is only that because of it’s environment. What do a hawk do? He catches things to eat. What he eat? What his taste buds tell him. You follow me? What do a rabbit do? Stay in the woods, in the grass. What a snake do? Swim, bite, whatever. It ain’t wrong what it do. It might be bad to be roadkill, but it’s good for the thing lookin’ for it. It’s nature, what might stink to you smell good to a buzzard.

You’ve been a blues ambassador to the world, actually…

Aw, you scarin’ me, you scarin’ me. Since the death of B.B. King I been so shaky because people say ‘well Bobby Rush, you’re the ambassador now.’ I fought it for a minute, but when I look around now, I believe I’m the oldest livin’ blues man. You have Chuck Berry, you had Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry don’t consider himself a blues man. You have Robert Cray, he’s a kid compared to me. Buddy Guy, who is younger than I am. Tell me another man 81 years old with 237 records? Show him to me. Tell me.

I can’t name one off hand.

Now you may have a few musicians around who are around–get this straight I don’t want people mad at this article—they’re all good. But see, an arm is an arm, a leg is a leg, a head is a head, you can live without an arm, but you can’t live without the head. A horse is a horse and a cow is a cow, one give milk, one pull a wagon, it’s all important, not as important as the other. Deacon is a deacon, preacher is a preacher, pastor is a pastor, you only have one preacher in the church. Momma and Daddy can make a child, but don’t matter if the child is 40 years old he still got a father. Someone has to take those things. I know one thing as long as we on this earth there’s always gonna be something we need from others. All I need is you, I need the fans, I need the opportunity, and the strength of a god who gives me the gift to do it. But I also want him to keep me enthused in doin’ it. Because if I’m enthused in doin’ it, I can survive. A man can live a long time without water, or food, but he can’t live long without hope, I’m still at hope.

You know, going back listening to your stuff got me wondering if there was ever a time where you thought about not doing it?

Oh yeah! Man! As happy as I am now, there’ve been some sad times in my life. Some times when I said ‘What’s the use? Nobody understands what I’m doin!’ God bless me. From 1951 til now my goal was this: I was gonna write songs until I found a good writer, I was gonna produce my records until I found someone to produce me. I was gonna promote myself til I found an agent, and manage myself til I found a manager. 40 years later I haven’t found him. I have become the best writer and manager there ever was. B.B. King came to me one day said “Bobby Rush I like what you doin’, will you produce a record on me?” I said “Me? You askin’ me to do a record on you?’ He said ‘you’re the best.’

I went to Calvin Carter with VeeJay records in 1968. I had been recording independently. I said I got a song called “Chick Head.” He laughed at me. You got to understand, in 1968 you talk about “Chick Head,” that was real rap! He laughed at me. He had a partner with him was a Jehovah’s Witness preacher. He was laughing, he told his friend ‘This man got the nerve. Tell him the name of your song.’ I said ‘Chick Head.’ He said, oh, he’s from down south, black folks can’t get the good part of the chicken so they eat the chicken heads.’ He thought that’s where I was comin’ from with that. So I said ‘Oh yeah, Chicken Heads.’ He said ‘Well, we’ll need a B-side, what you got for that?’ I said ‘A song called “Mary Jane.”‘ He said ‘Oh I had a girl done me wrong too.’ [laughs], cause he’s square, he don’t know what I’m talkin about you know!?

So “Chick Head,” and “Mary Jane,” he said ‘Play a little for me.’ I picked up my guitar and I played “Daddy told me on his dyin’ bed, give up your heart but don’t lose your head, you came along girl, and what did I do, I lost my heart and my head went too” which had nothing to do with no chicken, but it went over their heads. So, I tried to get a deal. I paid for this record to be recorded and went to the Disc Jockey convention. So Calvin Carter, and this Jehovah’s Witness Leo Austelle was his name, they put me in a room right next to James Brown’s suite. I go over to say hi to James Brown, I’m a bit older than him but he knows I’m tryin’ to come up, get a deal. Fantasy Records comes up to listen to my record and Betty Everett’s record. Since I paid for the session, and paid for my room Calvin Carter and these people didn’t have any money, and they were usin’ me to get into the situation to make the deal. I’m sittin’ in the back of this big room where the lights are off with my guitar. I don’t know these people, I know James Brown, but everyone is talkin’ about the Disc Jockey convention. They listen to Betty Everett, and don’t say nothing about my record. So Calvin Carter says ‘how do you like that?’, they say they like it just fine. Then Calvin Carter leaves and the two white guys are by themselves and they say, well, we don’t really like that enough. They say ‘What about that other boy, Robert or Bobby or something?’ So Calvin comes back in the room, they say ‘Calvin, we gonna get back to you about the Betty Everett record. Say, what about that other boy, the long haired one, what’s his name?’ Calvin says ‘Yeah, Bobby Rush. He’s off messin’ around somewhere.’ So I sit back in this room and they say put the record on and go find him. Soon as he puts it on the man goes ‘Wow, what is this?!’ They say ‘Go find him, go find him!’ So he jumps up and turns the light on to look for my number and there I am sittin’ in the back of the room. Now everyone’s embarrassed, they don’t know what to say to me now. So they made a deal right then for $50,000 which I got $500 of. I got no money, really, but I made a deal. I had records ever since then, that put me in. I’m still independent though, I never had no one to fight for me, but that put me in the know how.

It’s workin’ though, you’ve been nominated for Grammys.

That’s right, and how many guys have 200 some records will come to work in a club this size? Fine club, but most guys in my category won’t do it. I don’t have the big management team around me, I’m just a common boy, though, so that’s fine. I just do what I do. When I get on the bandstand I tell the story.

And you do tell a pretty good story.
I’m blessed.

Is that all it is?

Well, yeah, let me say, at this part of our conversation I want to thank you for interviewing me. I want to thank you for letting me be myself in the interview. Because there’s too many times we, as a race, can’t do or say the things we want to say and do. There’s not many free entertainers that can speak freely on the issues that I speak about and stand flat-footed doin’ it because they got record companies and management and they have to be careful about what they say and do. I don’t have nothing to worry about by my conscience and god for treatin’ a man the way I want to be treated.

Well it’s amazing for me to get to learn from you and be in your presence. The truth is what matters. We all like to tell a story properly. I appreciate you laying it out.

Thanks for listening to me talk. I talk a lot, not to disrespect you, but to let you know enough about what I am as a man. This ain’t just another trip for me. I want people to know now what I am. I wanna leave in this land that I must do all I can, while I can. I know there’ll come a time when I cannot do, and that I’ll regret what I did not do. So many times as a man–especially as a black man—I haven’t been able to speak these issues. Because people that speak the way I speak got killed for what I talk about.

That’s true. People died so we could have this conversation.
Right.

Who has had the most lasting impact out of the people you’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with. What are the things that stand out the most that they told you?

Three or four people. B.B. King impressed me by standing still for all them years. He died the King of the blues. I don’t believe he did it intentionally, I believe he did it because he couldn’t do nothing else. Because he didn’t try to change from playing the blues, to get radio play, or when disco came in he wasn’t tryin to keep up with the Jones’. I believe he did it because he couldn’t do anything else, but look how god blessed him for standing still. Most guys when things rough, they’ll move to things, another train. They’ll try to find another way to get hit records, or another way to do what he did. That impressed me.

Ray Charles impressed me. In 1963 we were playing New York City. I had a band, we could play the top 40, I could play my song, your song, anybody’s song, and I would change it up. Ray Charles came up to me one day and said ‘Bobby Rush, why you changing your show?’ I said because I been here 4 or 5 days. He said ‘Son, if you been here four or five days, and you’re sure it’s workin’ don’t change your show, change your town, you been here too long. When something is workin, it works, don’t change your show, move to someplace else.’ Since that time, whatever you see is what you get. If I go on the stage with my guitar by myself, I put on the same talk as I would with ten peoples on the stage. If you like it you like it, if you don’t, you don’t. I don’t expect everybody to like me, but I expect them to respect me if I do it well. If I do it well they’ll say ‘I don’t like it, but damn he’s good.’

Louis Jordan impressed me as a writer. Little Walter impressed me as a harp player because he was so swift with what he was doin. Junior Parker impressed me with a harp because he was so dynamic in the things that he played. Sonny Boy Williamson, I respected him, I didn’t love him, but I loved the way he sang his songs. Muddy Waters, I loved the way he dressed and the person he was on the bandstand. Howlin’ Wolf I loved the way his throat was gravelly and he’d howl. Louis Jordan is a writer to me, he wrote about things I relate to, the cow, the dog, the monkeys, the bears, the fish house, and fish fry and those kinds of things. When you listen to my songs you find all of these elements in a big bowl. Piece of this and piece of that you stir em up good, you catch a Bobby Rush. That’s what you find, so many bits and pieces from different artists. When those young guys like Prince and them come along, I like em just fine, but they’re just doin’ what I do, grabbing bits and pieces of what they like from someone else like I do. There’s nothing new under the sun. I’m a blues singer, I’m religious studied, I’m not a religion nut but I read the bible because it’s a roadmap to me, of things I should not do because what I can do will take care of itself.

I talk a lot, but I get hurt too, I get kicked down, because I’m not smart… but I’m smart enough to know I don’t know nothing. Soon as a man starts tellin you what he knows he won’t be talkin long, because that man don’t know nothing.

It’s obvious that you’re a journeyman at this. You write, you produce, you’ve uncovered all these things and put together a career.

Thank you for sayin that, I think now if I live to see a few more years people in the audience are gonna realize where I stand, because I stood still. That’s what B.B. King left an impression on me, because I couldn’t go no place else, I had no place to go. I didn’t have no record deal, but I got to play what I wanted. If I’d a had a record deal they would’ve been able to tell me what to play, and that’s not wrong of them to do that, but I had a mind of my own. I know what I should or should not do, I didn’t have to be wrong, or right, it was my idea.

Which brings me to my last question. We still call it the music industry, but there really isn’t a music industry today. Still, there’s a lot of young people coming up who want to play, but when it’s not really a career, and there’s no money in it, with so many obstacles, with people telling them not to do this, do you have any suggestions or advice for them? Is there something you can share that you learned?

Yes. I never had a manager until recently, because I was unmanageable, I suppose. I never found a writer to write for me because I never met someone who could do it to my satisfaction. I think record companies didn’t want to make records about what I was talkin about, because if Bobby Rush survives it pulls the cover off, and the real blues men stand up. Because if someone is controlling you then you don’t have control, I have control of what I make, but I still can’t get it played on the radio. Heres why: because now you have a black man who has a record, and the black people like it, but there’s no black radio stations to play it. When a show does pick it up it’s a blues show that plays on a Saturday for a couple hours a week. Now, I got the hardest record on the whole blues show, but that’s only getting 3 hours out of 40, and one or two plays a week. If I don’t sell records, no one will record it, not even a black record company can make money on black music. So now they get the white guy to do black music because they can play it three times as much as when a black boy plays it. So now the record companies can profit from it. We’re back at the black and white issue. Do I have to get Elton John to cut a record for the white people to know who I am? That’d be OK, that’d make some money. Here’s the thing though, I wish more black artists would sit down and work together. Like Buddy Guy. I respect him, he’s got a good business, a good club, steady blues man, good entertainer, but we –as a whole—don’t reach out to each other enough. I didn’t play his club for the money. I played there because Buddy said to me one time ‘All these guys come through here that know me, what they want is to rip me off, they want a good price’. I played for Buddy cheaper than I play for most people, because it ain’t about money. It’s about he and I. We came up together. Through the rough. Two men should get together, and before I leave this land I want to work with Buddy because I respect him and what he’s stood for. Now he may not be able to do this for me, but I can do it for him because I’m independent.

You’re the free-est blues man in America.

I love Buddy, I love Robert Cray, but I can’t call them, I have to call their people. If you look me up you get my phone number. Ain’t nobody like that.

Well, that’s why I like to interview people.

Writing about people and meeting people are two different things. Your’re a young man, and I’m so happy to see young people into the music. I saw older guys talkin about how white people took the music from them. Well, we gave it up. I’m not saying everything was right about how it went down, but if it weren’t for white musicians and their fans, I’m not sure were black music would be. What I wish is that when the music was made people would credit where it comes from, so the originators are credited and people know where it’s comin from. I just thank god that we got clubs like this. We got white guys out here playin the blues (points to opening act) they’re playing Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Robert Johnson, but still it’s about the blues, about black culture, and they’re keepin’ that alive. I was overseas and heard the blues, I’m just worried that people don’t know where it comes from.

Bobby Rush is on tour now!