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An interview with Bobby Rush - 56th Annual GRAMMY Award nominee

Bobby Rush
Bobby Rush
Francoise Digel

Imagine attending an awards ceremony, the excitement level is usually always high. But, one could say the excitement level gets cranked up to eleven out of a maximum of ten for Music's Biggest Night...the GRAMMY Awards. And, probably so much more if you are a GRAMMY Award nominee! What must it feel like? What does it take to get into that position in the first place?

Bobby Rush Down In Louisiana Album Cover
Bobby Rush

Emmett Ellis, Jr., known as Bobby Rush, is a living musical legend, a musical pioneer, a musician, guitarist, singer, songwriter, who, along with the peers of his day, has had a direct influence on many of the popular artists of the generations that have followed. He has a unique view of musical history, not simply because he has lived it, but because he has provided significant musical contributions through his artistic integrity and remarkable talent. His music and lyrics come together and are brought to life by his passion, desire, love and complete dedication for his craft. He is an artist who continually strives to better himself; raising the bar ever higher after he has already set it. Bobby Rush continues to be a masterful purveyor of the Blues and his latest release entitled, Down In Louisiana received a GRAMMY Award nomination in the Best Blues Album category for the upcoming 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards.

I recently had the honor and privilege of chatting briefly with GRAMMY Award nominee Bobby Rush, via telephone, leading up to his participation in the 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, January 26th, 2014, and live performance at Americana's Pre-GRAMMY Salute & Tribute to The Everly Brothers: Remembering the late Phil Everly at the Troubadour in Los Angeles on Saturday, January 25th, 2014.

William Kelly Milionis: Hey Bobby, thank you so very much for this interview opportunity. It is truly an honor and privilege to chat with you.
Bobby Rush: I appreciate you, brother.

Kelly: Congratulations on your recent GRAMMY Award nomination for Down In Louisiana for Best Blues Album...
Bobby Rush: Well, thank you very much. I have another category with the Blues Foundation Blues Awards in Memphis where I am Artist of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the year. But this GRAMMY just came to me. I am just so happy and so blessed to be up for this award. Even if I do not win the GRAMMY, just being a nominee is a winner for Bobby Rush. We're hoping for the GRAMMY. We're praying for it.

Kelly: I'm wishing you all the best with your GRAMMY Award nomination...definitely well deserved. This is your second GRAMMY Award nomination...
Bobby Rush: Thank you. Yes, second nomination. I was nominated many years ago for Hoochie Man but never won it. When I was doing this record [Down In Louisiana] the GRAMMY was never in my mind. I was just wanting to do good music, do what I love and just take myself as an entertainer and artist so it just came out this way. I am so happy and so blessed. It gives me thrills to be back in the business again at my age. I'm just blessed to have this opportunity.

Kelly: How did you find out that you received a GRAMMY Award nomination?
Bobby Rush: Well, I found out through the many people texting me, saying Bobby Rush we found out you have a good chance to be in the running this time. I kind of take it for granted when a couple people text me and then the next couple weeks later says Bobby Rush you've been accepted and you've been nominated...and I said what? And, I couldn't believe it myself. I got to take it from people inside the business saying, did you know? I said, no I didn't know. Someone just pinch me and told me it's not so now and it is true that I am. I was jumping and running around the refrigerator, drinking Kool-Aid and knocking over things, eating popcorn and whatever; just like a child in a candy store, you know. [chuckling]

Kelly: that's great! [chuckling] You are an historical figure, a musical legend, and a musical pioneer. The music you continue to release shows your love for what you do and your passion for your craft. I had the opportunity to speak with Paul Brown [Producer, Engineer and 56th Annual GRAMMY Award nominee for Down In Louisiana, Best Blues Album] regarding your collaboration.
Bobby Rush: Yeah, Paul has been an inspiration to me and a spiritual guide. He's someone who understood what I wanted, in the direction I was going in, because I wanted a white audience but I did not want to cross out my black audience trying to reach the white audience. This is really not about a black or white issue, it's just about the music. People accept me for being who I am and doing what I do. And, I'm so blessed to have that. Paul was a great person who understood what I was shooting for. He helped me and guided me. Being a white guy, I figured if I got Paul on my side and he loves it, then most likely the listeners I am shooting for will like it also. He understands my music and my spirit.

Kelly: The relationship you have with Paul is really cool, special and unique. You both inspire others with your collaborations but are also inspired by each other...and it shows. Great producers and engineers are able to pull out or capture the best performance from an artist at that given time...
Bobby Rush: but not only just that, Paul knows what he is doing but he is willing to change things that I'm not comfortable with and still hold the direction that we're trying to reach. So many times, so many artists and so many producers get together and when one producer sees it one way and the artist sees it another way they'll never compromise with what each other sees. In this situation, he understands me and I understand him and we're both headed for the same direction, although we may have two different ways of getting it. But the bottom line is getting a good product by getting a story told and don't let the music overshadow the story. Make sure the story is saying what we want it to say, in the direction we want to go, and he is good for that.

Kelly: It truly shows in the final both inspire each other.
Bobby Rush: I think that the friendship comes out in this record too that Paul and I bring together. I think when you do anything, it's just like a marriage. If the friendship ain't there, then it won't last. The friendship and the respect is there.

Kelly: There is a natural progression from Show You A Good Time to Down In Louisiana. Did you recognize that growth?
Bobby Rush: Well, I can tell you that we grew in the knowledge of where we wanted to go. I don't know whether it is right to say that it's a better album or not, but it's definitely stronger in direction. We planned our direction. We stuck with our boundaries of where we were going and left it there. We were hoping we would land more in a direction of where we were going which is more towards Americana radio play. And when we are doing records, when you're doing any records, you got to think about airplay first. Always you got to think about a good song. You got to think about this good song, is it gonna get airplay? Is it gonna get airplay so people know you wrote this good song? So you got to think about this and two or three other different things. I gotta think about the song, the content of it. I gotta think about is it commercial enough for the radio to play it. I gotta think about is it gonna be black radio play or is it gonna be a white radio play and all that in between. So there is a lot that I have to think about.

Kelly: With all of that in mind, how is your songwriting process changed writing by yourself or collaborating with Paul Brown?
Bobby Rush: Well, I think my writing ability has grown, and has probably been that way for some time. Now, I think what happened to me musically is my writing ability and what I write about is also said in the music. Because you can write about one thing and your music is saying something else. There is no marriage with that. Now I have learned a lot how to make the music marriage with the story that I tell. You can't sing about Jesus On The Mainline and playing a B.B. King solo. You know what I'm talking about, that just doesn't work. You have to do it in your own way and in your own direction. But you have to make sure that the music can marriage with the story and it lines up together and that is what we tried to do with this. When you say Down In Louisiana, you're talking about really where Bobby Rush comes from. I'm from Louisiana and it's my roots, and it's the story, and it's not only just down in Louisiana but wherever Louisiana is. It's back to the basics, it's back to where we come from and that's where we gotta go because even the rappers who sampled everything they could sample, if they don't create something new you won't have anything to sample. So I'm back at the creative standpoint from which I came from Down In Louisiana and back to the roots.

Kelly: When did you first play the guitar or an instrument that was similar to the guitar?
Bobby Rush: Well, all of my life, but I didn't play for a long, long time because I wanted to be like Jackie Wilson who walks on the stage with his coat behind his back and want to be the pretty boy. So, I kind of laid it back behind me for a while. As the older I got, the more I recognized that what I do as an instrument player is a benefit and an advantage to me. I didn't realize that as a younger man. So now I realize that. I'm from Louisiana, so is Buddy Guy. B.B. King came from Mississippi, I lived in Mississippi. Chuck Berry is from the hills in Missouri and we're talking about Little Richard. I was thinking about these guys because they are in my category, my age bracket. I came up with these guys and I tip my hat off to B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and guys like that. They all influenced me in some way or another. I will never forget these guys and what they taught me about looking at them through their careers and looking at them through the shadow mirror to see what they were doing so I would find out what not to do. And, I strive hard to make sure I do what needs to be done. I don't strive on what to do, I strive on what not to do. So, I'm trying my best to find out what I don't need to do and don't do that.

Kelly: That's wonderful advice. Those are wise words.
Bobby Rush: Well, I think that all of the kids, the younger kids throughout the country, in the colleges and the high schools and what have you, they're interested in Bobby Rush and I thank God for that. And, I just want to thank all of the voters and everybody who had anything to do with thinking I would be a part of this. I want to thank them in advance for what they said about me and what they did about me for their vote, just for the thought of Bobby Rush and knowing what I do for a living and that is play the Blues.

Kelly: You moved from Louisiana, to Arkansas, then to Chicago, Illinois...
Bobby Rush: Ah, yeah! Let me tell you a little story. I was born in Louisiana but I left in 1947. I went to Pine Bluff, Arkansas with my father who was a Minister or Pastor of a church for many, many years and then I moved to Chicago. When I got to Chicago, Muddy Waters was there, John Lee Hooker was there, Jimmy Reeves was there, Little Walter was there, Willie Dixon was there, Moms Mabley came and then in 1956 or 1957 Buddy Guy came, and then Howlin' Wolf came and on and on and on. I was there when most of these guys weren't there and before they got there. Now, I think that Chuck Berry and I are the only ones left out of those Chess recording days. So I'm just so thankful that this came at this time in my life. When I'm talking to you about award or nomination, hopefully we get a GRAMMY! I'm just high; just up high on cloud nine. Let me say to you on a personal gesture, let me thank you for what you have done, what you're doing, what you plan to do because what you write about me or say about me are what people perceive me to be whether it is good or bad. Thank you for telling the truth about me because the truth is that "I'm a music lover; I'm a Blues singer; I love what I am doing; I like what I'm doing; and, I love what I'm getting!"

Kelly: You are too kind. I thank you for that. I am a fan first and I hope you can understand that. And, it's just such an honor, a privilege and a thrill for me to chat with you.
Bobby Rush: You got it, you got it brother.

Kelly: You have performed in may venues throughout your storied career, what was your favorite while in Chicago?
Bobby Rush: Oh, god, I guess probably one of my most favorite would probably be Theresa's Lounge. The Checkerboard was one of my favorites too, the Checkerboard Lounge. I love Buddy Guy's Legends. I have not worked much at the Legends. I love Buddy and I love the Legends. I like him as a businessman and I respect Buddy what he stands for and what he stood for. I don't talk to Buddy as much as I desire to talk with him but I don't think he knows the love that I have for him. Same thing with B.B. King. I don't think B.B. King really understands the love that I have for him and respect that I have for him because he opened so many doors. I just love the man. I love Buddy Guy, Little Richard, Chuck Berry. They don't know what they have did for me, for my soul.

Kelly: You have also opened many doors for those that have come after you and that speaks of your talent, your historical significance, and what you bring out in your music...
Bobby Rush: Well, you know, I'm hopefully at that point that I know what I'm doing so people can get into me. I know it was just some years ago someone told me that ZZ Top got a record called Gotta Be Funky, it was one of my songs. I don't think he really knew it was one of my songs that they were doing from the bandstand. I was flattered when I heard they were doing one of Bobby Rush's songs. I don't know, but somewhere in their show they were doing it so that made me feel good. Young people are always saying to me Bobby Rush, I like what you're doing. My daddy used to play your record in my house, that's why I'm playing the Blues now. Oh god, you know how it is they make a big deal...make me feel old for one thing! [laughing] I'm so thankful on the other hand.

Kelly: You've recently been recording with Paul Brown in Nashville, Tennessee at his Ocean Soul Recording Studio. Is there a favorite Chicago recording studio from back in the day?
Bobby Rush: No, I used several studios in Chicago. There was Chess, I had to use ABC Columbus Records, recorded in many of them, Calvin Carter with Vee-Jay Records. I recorded in a lot of places in Chicago back in the day.

Kelly: You will be performing live at Americana's Pre-GRAMMY Salute & Tribute to The Everly Brothers: Remembering the late Phil Everly at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. What song will you perform?
Bobby Rush: On Saturday night, I'm gonna do Gone, Gone, Gone. I'm gonna do a solo thing with my guitar and myself and I'm gonna do a piece of the song saluting Phil Everly, Gone, Gone, Gone. I really love the Everly Brothers.

Kelly: You have performed many live shows in many different venues. How was it being a part of Amanda Gresham's Delta Music Experience the last few years...
Bobby Rush: Oh man, that's been wonderful! Last year we did New Orleans, we did about eight different stops crossing from Memphis to New Orleans and it was just a wonderful experience, just a wonderful, wonderful thing. I just love Amanda! She has great ideas about what she wants to do. As a matter of fact, she will be at the GRAMMYs where I am; with me. She is just a wonderful lady, she's just a wonderful lady. It's a good thing she is doing, the Delta Music Experience. It's about the music, it's about the Delta, it's about the older guys who came up before me, and myself, as I'm an old man who's just playing what I do and where I come from.

Kelly: So you performed on the Delta Music Experience, told your stories, and had a good time but I understand you cooked as well?
Bobby Rush: [boisterous laughing] Man, I'm a cook, man...come on! I cooked the chicken wings. I made my own sauce from scratch, the hot sauce. Man, I'm just an all-around cook, man. I had a barbeque place in Chicago for about ten to fifteen years back in the day. Hey man, I know how to BURN! [laughing]
Kelly: That's great! [laughing]
Bobby Rush: Yea, I know how to BURN man! [emphatic chuckles] I'm not just a player, man...I know how to play and cook! [more chuckles]

Kelly: What is ahead for you in 2014?
Bobby Rush: I'm going to be recording in a studio in the next few weeks. I'm going to be recording a new CD. For the next few months, I'm going to be very, very busy. I am working everywhere, Germany, Paris and Australia. I'm just working, man. I got a lot of dates I'm gonna do, but I got a lot of dates that I can't get to that they're asking me to do. I'm just a blessed man to be invited to a lot of places and do a lot of things.

Kelly: You were born Emmett Ellis, Jr.
Bobby Rush: Yes, my real name is Emmett Ellis, Jr.; E M M E T T E L L I S Jr. The only reason that I changed my name is because my father was a preacher and a pastor of a church. Being a senior, I didn't want to come up with this record being invited to the GRAMMYs and they think it was my Daddy. [laughing] You know, I was thinking about being successful years ago. Even, when I was six year old I knew what I wanted to be then, as well as I know what I wanted to be now. I always wanted to be a Blues man. And, my daddy was the biggest influence to me than anyone. He taught me everything that I knew about what I'm doing. Because coming from where I come from, you probably heard the old saying, the music, Blues music was the Devil's music, especially to a preacher but not true with my father. My father never told me to sing the blues, but he never told me not to so that's a green light. Because I believe if my father told me not to sing the blues, I would not be who I am now in the Blues scene because I don't think I would have did it. I don't think I would be up for this GRAMMY if he desired for me not to do it...but he never told me not to do it. So thank god for that. So, my father is passed and gone but if I land this GRAMMY it will be for my father.

Kelly: How sweet that would be. How did you come up with the name Bobby Rush?
Bobby Rush: I looked for a name that had one syllable and it took me about a year to find this name. Because you notice nobody ever calls me Bobby, nobody calls me Rush, everybody call me Bobby Rush. Because there are a whole lot of Bobby's and a whole lot of Rush but there ain't but one Bobby Rush. The only one! [laughing] The only one! [laughing] The only one! I heard my name when you called me and you said hey Bobby. Nobody called me hey Bobby or hey Mr. Rush, nobody calls me that...Bobby Rush. And I knew that if we had one syllable that would be a branding name, brand my music...Bobby Rush. Nobody called Ray, Ray; nobody called him Charles, just Ray Charles, you know. [chuckling]

Kelly: [chuckling] So much that you offer, so much you have given us, I appreciate this interview so very much. Congratulations again on your GRAMMY Award nomination and I wish you all the best on Music's Biggest Night, Sunday, January 26th. Good luck!
Bobby Rush: Thank you. Thank you! I appreciate you. God knows I appreciate you calling me. I appreciate the time you're giving me. I appreciate what you are saying. I appreciate what you are trying to say about me. I bless you.

*I would like to extend a big thank you to Ms. Lynn Orman Weiss of Orman Music. Her love of music and of Blues music specifically, is revealed through her passion, effortlessness and dedication to her craft, just like that of Bobby Rush through his music. She is a music preservationist and one who has provided promotion and publicity for the likes of legends David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Ella Jenkins, and Bobby Rush; escorting them during the GRAMMY Awards red carpet festivities. As she has stated, "these artists are true national treasures, unsung heroes who deserve all of the recognition while they are alive. It is such an honor to represent them." She was responsible for securing this interview.*

Tune in to the 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards live on Sunday, January 26th, 2014, at Staples Center in Los Angeles and broadcast on the CBS Television Network from 8:00-11:30pm (ET/PT).

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