With his latest album, Decisions, as good as anything he’s ever produced, and his live shows still able to captivate crowds from coast to coast, blues great Bobby Rush isn’t just plugging along at 80 years old, he’s putting artists half his age to shame.
“I don’t think it’s a secret,” he laughs. “I’m just blessed. But I joke and laugh about it. I think the good looking ladies and good music keep me on top of the grains.”
Either that or good genes, considering his grandfather (who had 36 children, including seven sets of twins) lived to 108, and his father lived to 94. But whatever it is, Rush still knows how to sing the blues like no other.
“I’ve been on my game because I’m always looking to take myself to another place, another level,” he said. “It’s almost like when you’re writing. When you started writing, you didn’t write the way you do now. Look how modified things are. Now we’re on the telephone. 30 years ago we couldn’t do this and have the quality that we have now. So I’m always trying to modify the things that I do.”
The essence remains though, even as Rush adapts to the times. And while Decisions – his first record with blues / funk band Blinddog Smokin' – still has the fun party tunes the Louisiana legend is known for, he also gets serious in his collaboration with longtime friend Dr. John – “Another Murder in New Orleans.”
“It’s not just another song, it’s talking about another murder down in New Orleans,” he explains. “And not just New Orleans, but any town that you’re in, that’s your New Orleans. Somewhere down the line, we should tell what we see and don’t be ashamed or afraid about doing it, because it is our business. The police can’t correct and turn all this around by themselves. We’ve got to do it as neighbors and as friends, and as people in this world. We’ve got to start somewhere and we’ve got to put a stop to it.”
It’s strong social commentary from the Homer native, who makes it clear that while all the partying in the world is nice, there’s also a time for something more.
“There’s a time to play, a time to be serious, a time to do anything,” he said. “We must do fun things when we go out and have a party, and we can go party all week long, but come Monday morning, it’s time to go to work. That’s our job, so we can go make money for our family. So there’s time to joke, a time to play, but somewhere along the line we must be serious with our music and speak the issues and teach people about what we should and should not do. When a man makes a mistake and he knows it, he can correct himself, but when you make a mistake and you don’t know it, that’s the problem. The Bible teaches us that a man can do wrong for so long, he’ll think he’s right.”
Those are words of wisdom from someone who has earned his stripes the hard way. This isn’t a 20-year-old kid singing about lost love and things he couldn’t possibly have experienced. This is a man who is a walking history book, and when you get a chance to hear him talk or play, you should listen.
“I’ve been recording 60 years, and that’s a long time in music,” said Rush. “Night life, up all night, mishaps, no food, no place to sleep some of the time, most of the time no money. But you do it for the love of it. Don’t get me wrong, I need the money to make a living to take care of my family, but that wasn’t the first thing out of the box for me. It was the love of it, not the money.”
Is that something lost in today’s music world? You know the answer to that before Rush even opens his mouth.
“A lot of people go in there now, and the first thing they want to get is a hit record,” he said. “They get a good record and they want to buy a Greyhound bus and a limousine and have 19-20 people and bodyguards following them around, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think if you live your life upright you already got a hedge around you; you don’t need that other stuff. You should be down-to-Earth with people because if you are, they’ll protect you.”
Today, Rush will be in Brooklyn, New York to play at BAM’s Rhythm & Blues Festival. It’s a chance to see the real deal when it comes to the blues, someone who has lived everything he sings about. And even at 80, he has no desire to stop anytime soon.
“What you see is what you get, and thank God for the people who accept me for who I am and doing what I do,” he said. “I’m always striving to do everything I can while I can, because when it comes to the time when I can’t, I won’t regret what I did not do.”
“I’m like Muddy Waters. I’m an old man, but I’ve got young-fashioned ways.”
Bobby Rush plays BAM’s Rhythm & Blues Festival in Brooklyn today, July 24. For more information, click here