It had been twenty-years since Bobby Rush had performed in Tucson. Bobby Rush made up for lost time when the eighty-three year-old and his review played at the Rialto Theatre on January 28, 2016.
Mr. Rush started entertaining in the late 1940s after he formed a friendship with Elmore James in 1946. He later moved to Chicago in 1953 where he met his neighbor Muddy Waters and started working for Jimmy Reed. His contemporaries included James Brown, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, B.B. King, Chuck Berry and Ray Charles. Most of them have passed on now, but Bobby Rush is not only alive and well, he still is one of the most magnetic entertainers on the planet!
This was an evening of extremes. On one end of the spectrum was the show opener, Roman Barten-Sherman & The Interstellar Blues Orchestra, ages 12 and fifteen respectively. On the other end, is Bobby Rush, 83 years young. Child prodigy, Roman Barten-Sherman, started playing and singing the blues at the age of seven. Now at the age of twelve, he has released his first cd, Death of Immortality. The Interstellar Blues Orchestra consists of Rylande Dodge on drums, steel pans and bass, a one-man band. Roman’s mastery of vintage acoustic blues is phenomenal. His voice is not mature yet, but his knowledge and obsession with blues is captivating. You will probably be hearing much more from this young man in the future!
Bobby Rush has written most of his material for many years. Mr. Rush has been dubbed the ”King of the Chittlin’ Circuit” (referring to the network of clubs, theaters, halls and juke joints that first sprang up in the early 20th century that catered to black audiences in the old days of segregation.) His unique shows incorporate his music, dancing and comic delivery. He introduced himself as the son of a small town minister. “I have 247 records.” His songs tell the stories of growing up poor (had to use the outdoor toilet), love and losing love, cheating and being cheated on, and being a “sex maniac.” Whatever the subject, Bobby’s songs are real and gritty yet humorous at the same time. Someone in the audience yelled out, “You’re the real deal.” Bobby responded, “I don’t know about the real, but I’m a deal!”
Rush is a master mouth-harpist and he ‘dressed up’ many of the songs with his great harp playing. He rapped and scatted on “That Thang.” Bobby may be one of the first rappers. Another Rush “innovation” has been crossing traditional blues with funk. It is still the blues, but it makes the music “booty-shaking.”
A highlight of the show was Bobby doing his Michael Jackson and Elvis impressions, shaky leg and all.
Mr. Rush expressed his gratitude regarding the change he has seen since 1951 when he was in working in Chicago. People wanted to hear his music but they did not want to see his face. Times have changed and he is thankful for the acceptance of him for who he is. He is free with no one to tell him what to do. He owns his record company and calls his own shots. Buddy Guy is the only contemporary friend left, that almost makes him the last of his kind.
The show was one of the most entertaining shows I have experienced in some time. The band with Miss Loretta were the best. Bobby Rush may have been just a little raunchy, but not nearly as raunchy as Etta James in her prime. Mr. Rush’s goal was to make everyone in the crowd feel good and be a part of the show. The crowd was left wishing that Bobby Rush will not wait another 20 years before Tucson sees him again!
For a complete set list, click here.