Hey fellas, look
Bobby Rush brings his blues seminar on bootyology to a local stage this weekend
The bodacious and bootylicious meets down-home blues in a souled-out title match every time the dynamic entertainer Bobby Rush, his band and his lady dancers ascend the stage.
Rush, 68 and cookin’, is busting out of the chitlin circuit, where he has been so formidable for five decades, grabbing the attention of mainstream media in Martin Scorsese’s recent PBS series, The Blues. Rush was a key figure in the series’ The Road to Memphis, the Richard Pearce-directed third installment of the seven documentary films that aired nationwide last month.
When Rush, sitting in his tour bus, looks into the camera and says, “Saturday night, I want to be lifted up by my baby. Sunday morning, I want to be lifted up by Christ. No difference—no difference at all,” he succinctly sums up the not-so-secret soul of the South. It’s a truth that some artists have struggled with visibly—most noticeably Al Green and Jerry Lee Lewis. It is a truth that all blues artists have had to pay attention to. For Rush, his clarity with the notion of a naughty Saturday night and a transcendent Sunday morning is arresting—and as old as the hills.
“I’ve crossed over lately, but I didn’t cross out,” Rush said recently, by phone from his home in Jackson, Miss. “Many of my colleagues crossed over. I don’t want to lose my black audience. For instance, B.B. King: He is my friend, and I love him, but his audience is white. In this series, I am the only guy doing what I did in 1951! Most of them black guys sold out ’cause they couldn’t get gigs in the black clubs. You don’t have to like me; just respect me. If you think I do it well, say, ‘Damn, he good.’ I don’t like the idea of music for white people, music for black people.”
Rush entertains like Charles Barkley played basketball. There is glitter, grandiosity, strategy; there is way more than a wink and a nod. With Rush and his ample women, you have a master’s class in mysterious booty. Cue the nonstop soul-blues groove, the opening synth wash and fatback bass.
It is all in the tone. “This is my show,” he said. “It is a joke, but yet it is true. Let’s face the facts. Black women be shaking their butt all their life. This is what they do. If you take that away from them, you taking the blackness away.”
So, on his new CD/DVD, Live at Ground Zero (Ground Zero being actor Morgan Freeman’s club in Clarksdale, Miss.), when Rush’s ladies spend most of the show not facing the audience, he is quite happy to guide the audience in a mass appreciation of the marvelous control of the bountiful booty-shaking going on. Ditto for the cultural mores that lie underneath.
“Hey fellas, look.
“Hey fellas, look.
“Fellas, look!” Rush is mesmerized at the bent-down shimmy and jaw-dropping thrust that sweet Georgia, Shakila, Loretta and Jazzii matter-of-factly execute.
“Ladies, now let your husbands look,” Rush instructs. And then, boyish, “And while they looking at them, you look at me!” Rush is in excellent physical shape.
But there is more to this charismatic man than risqué comedy or the giant women’s panties he uses as a punch line. Absent his ladies, Rush sings a deep ballad, “Crazy ’Bout You,” and blows harp in a jumpin’ instrumental like his hero Little Walter did. “Louis Jordan was my idol, too,” Rush explained. “He was a storyteller. He would jokify. I liked Howlin’ Wolf cause of that howling thing. I liked Muddy ’cause the way he dressed. Johnny Cash—he was killer to me. I draw from all.”
Wider success to him now means being a mentor. “We do some good for the neighborhood, black or white. A good father is giving to his children, and I don’t mean just my blood. If a young white boy want to be an entertainer, look at Bobby Rush. I am in the right place spiritually,” he said, his voice conveying a smile.
“And I wanna be big as bubblegum!”