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Bobby Rush Tames The Booty

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Last night I was idly flipping channels before hitting the sack when I came upon the third episode of Martin Scorsese’s The Blues, directed by Richard Pearce.


The Blues is a gigantic thing that most people (and most fans for that matter) never explore beyond the tourist areas populated by the national-touring giants of the trade. I personally started out with Hendrix, Stevie Ray, BB King, and Robert Johnson, and had to blaze my own path into the high weirdness from there.

My favorite blues– the realest stuff– are the performances that seem just a little tacky, and the singers who are too weird to be true. If I’m not a little repelled, yet totally drawn in, it’s probably not hitting the mark. For my recorded fix, I’m a huge fan of everything put out by the good people at Fat Possum, from the white-boy skronk of the Black Keys (hello, Akron!) to the offkey broken-down shambling of Bob Log III and Cedell Davis. I will make exceptions to this rule to include the transcendendental players like Guitar Slim or Robert Cray, who can help you achieve enlightenment with one bent note. But in general, the weirder the better.

Consequently I was a little afraid that Martin Scorsese would do to the Blues what he did to New York in 1863. That is, I was afraid he’d make it visceral, dirty, and cruel but then fuck it up by using electro-trance music and casting beautiful people. HA! Could I BE more wrong?

I flip on WGBH. The Blues. Onscreen, Bobby Rush is dressed in a red, blue, and gold silk brocade shirt and electric blue hip-huggers. His head sports jheri-curl. He is playing to a mixed-race audience in a bowling alley, and singing a song called “Pecked by the Right Hen.” The crowd is going apeshit. Bobby stalks the makeshift stage like a lion tamer, working the crowd. The crowd works back. Then the camera pans right, and we see the sight. A young woman in glasses and a simple dress has jumped onstage and is shaking her booty at the crowd, such booty-shaking as to make a Pastor recant. She shakes and shakes and shakes and shakes and shakes and it becomes clear that Bobby Rush is taming no lion… he’s only hoping to contain the booty. Bobby sings to the booty. Bobby talks to the booty. Bobby begs the booty for a little mercy. Bobby introduces the booty to the crowd, and the crowd hollers back. Bobbys’s shirt slithers and shimmers like it’s going to take a verse. All the while, this woman shakes her ass like it’s on hinges.

Bobby finishes the song, and we cut to church. Bobby Rush, in a nice brown suit with a gold tie, grinning and mouthing the pastor’s words as he sings a gospel song. Intercut a tour-bus interview in which Bobby Rush explains that the same people who are out on Saturday are in Church on Sunday, the only difference being to whom they are petitioning for salvation.

And that’s it. You better BELIEVE I’ll be tuning in for every remaining episode, and buying this set on DVD. The soundtrack? Ehhh, maybe, if I get tired of my Otha Turner bootlegs.

For me, it’s nice to sit in BB King’s Blues Club among velvet curtains, dine on a twenty-dollar steak and take in a show by the great Duke Robillard. It’s even okay to sit in a Texican joint in Marblehead, Massachusetts as the Cat Sass Blues Band pounds all the joy out of “Got My Mojo Working.” But goddamn it if the bowling alley isn’t the place to be. It’s what Greil Marcus called the “old, weird America,” and it do feel a bit like home.

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About John Owen

  • Dawn

    DAMN!!! that was a great review and recap of last night’s show.

    That ass! All I can think about are those crazy shirts, that great Jheri-curl do, and that ASS.

    And the music is great too!!!

  • Eric Olsen

    Excellent Johno! Two completely different reviews coming to the same conclusion.

    Two other things: Rush wrote the gospel song that was performed in the church – the film didn’t make that clear.

    And, Rush’s “success” (he makes a good living, has a ton of fans who see him every time they can) may be the model of the future for musicians as the recording industry transforms into something else – we don’t know what yet, but something else, and all performers are going to have to concentrate more of playing live for their bread.

  • Eric,
    “Rush’s “success” (he makes a good living, has a ton of fans who see him every time they can) may be the model of the future for musicians as the recording industry transforms into something else….”


    Which is funny, because that model is at least as old as our current major label system.

  • Eric Olsen

    Older! but there are new tools to help it along, in particular the Internet. I don’t think the Internet has much to do with Bobby, though. That guy is my new hero.

  • i was afraid of that ass.


  • Great piece, johno (your article, I mean.) Linked it on my own blog.

  • yea, gotta chime in here: that’s some swanky writin’.

  • Taloran

    “My favorite blues are the performances that seem just a little tacky, and the singers who are too weird to be true.”

    On my one and only extended visit to Chicago, my sister-in-law and best friend, who lived 4 blocks from each other and didn’t know it, took me to some cockroach infested, nasty, dark, sticky-floored blues club to see some unknown dude. Man, it was fantastic! This guy hits the stage in a tattered old sequined bright red skintight jumpsuit straight out of some nightmare, and starts warbling the most off-key, atonal, weird-lyricked stuff I’d ever heard. His voice sounded just like the sound a donkey makes when you shove a boiling potato up its ass*. I’m watching this spectacle, waiting for Buddy Guy to take the stage, and I notice…. there’s a hole in the crotch of this guy’s jumpsuit, and he seems oblivious to the fact that one of his testes is hanging out in front of the audience. So, we watch this guy (whose name I can’t remember) deliriously waving his privates in front of this crowd for the next 45 minutes.

    Buddy Guy had one of his rare off nights, so Mr. Swingindick was actually the high point of the night! Hadn’t thought of it in years! Thanks Johno!

    * My apologies to Billy Connolly, who created that line.

  • Eric Olsen

    Great story!

    The last time we were in Chicago, we went to the Underground Wonderbar or something like that, where the woman who owns it plays most of the time, and she and her band just crushed.

    I was in such a great mood and had so many vodka martinis that I attacked the poor guitarist on his break and made him talk to us until he was allowed to escape back to the stage. What a night! But then I got really sick and couldn’t go to the wedding the next day that we were in town for in the first place. Dawn was exceptionally tolerant – she gets many points for this.


    Hey Johno.
    Paul here (Keyboardist for BR)
    Printed the write up for Bobby and he really dug what you wrote. Needless to say we wer both rollin. Have you heard the new album we did?

  • Eric Olsen

    Super cool Paul, thanks for checking in, super glad Bobby dug it. We all loved that episode and think Bobby is THE stud of the Western world.

    This was a GREAT review, Johno, thanks again!

  • Paul, thanks for the kind words! The internet is a crazy place, and I never imagined in a million years that Bobby Rush would be reading the words I wrote, much less enjoying them. How fantastic.

    I haven’t heard the new record you’ve done, but you bet your ass that I’m going to now.

    Keep it between the ditches, and keep that ass on hinges.


    Hey Johno’
    The title of the ne album is “Undercover Lover” and the DVD is “Live at Ground Zero”. Living Blues just sent me a copy of thier Nov/Dec issue with killer reviews on both plus this huge Spread they did on Bobby. It was cool because I was out with Bobby when they followed us for a whole week in the ditches. Cable worth watchin I tell ya! hehe..