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Bobby Rush On Being A 'Bluesman'


It's fun to marvel that the Rolling Stones are actually on tour again this summer, even though most of them are well into their 70s. But Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have nothing on Bobby Rush. He's produced almost 400 records. He's now 85 years old, and he still performs about 200 shows a year. A bluesman is what he calls himself.


BOBBY RUSH: (Singing) Somebody asked me where I been. Around the world, and I'm going again. Somebody asked me, what's my name? My name is Bluesman.

PFEIFFER: Bobby Rush was born in 1933 and discovered the blues while growing up in Louisiana. He later took his music to Chicago and made a career playing in clubs and recording.


RUSH: (Singing) I sing the blues, y'all, everywhere I go.

PFEIFFER: By the late 1960s, he was touring widely and eventually got several Grammy nominations. He finally won two years ago for best traditional blues album. Now he has a new recording called "Sitting On Top Of The Blues." And Bobby Rush took a break from his current tour to talk with us, stopping by Minnesota Public Radio in Duluth. Bobby, welcome to the program.

RUSH: Why, thank you very much for having me here. It's like going to heaven to be with you guys, man, you know.

PFEIFFER: (Laughing) It's good to have you.

RUSH: Well, thank you.

PFEIFFER: Bobby, I read that you partially credit your dad for getting you interested in music, but your father was a pastor, and your songs can be a little racy and risque in a sort of tame, entertaining way. So what did your dad think of your music?

RUSH: That's what you think. Now let me - my daddy didn't think that. You know, coming up, my dad, being the preacher and a pastor of a church, everybody think maybe he would say, like, don't play that kind of music 'cause it's the blues. But he never told me to sing the blues, but he never told me not to. So that was a green light to me.


RUSH: (Singing) I like the way you dance. I like the way you move. I like the way you carry yourself, girl. You're so cool. You got a sweet personality and a smile so bright, yeah. You can make a man do wrong, girl, when he won't do right. You've got the good stuff. Know you got the good stuff. You got the good stuff - wow, wow. You know you got the good stuff.

PFEIFFER: You know, you can't listen to that without wanting to move to that music.

RUSH: (Laughing) I went with my little great-grandkid - I went to school with him one day and saw a couple of the teachers were walking down the hall, and I said, wow, that look like good stuff. And then I start to writing about that, you know? Pick off the little way she walk, way she talk - sexy, that is. You know, that's the good stuff.

PFEIFFER: Do you ever find anyone objecting to your lyrics today in this very different era than when you wrote them?

RUSH: Yeah, I think people reject sometimes the way I see it and laugh about it because - but it's the truth. I laugh about things that people sometimes frown about, but life is life. You just have to make the best out of what you have and be good at what you do. That's what I try to do. I try to be good at what I do. You may not like a Bobby Rush, but I try to be so good, you can say, I don't like him, but, damn, he good.


PFEIFFER: So you loved music really early.

RUSH: I love it.

PFEIFFER: I heard a story that when you were a teenager, you would put on a fake mustache to get into local music clubs. Is that a myth?

RUSH: No, that's not a myth. I would pretend I was older, and I'd put me old cap on and put me some overalls on and paint my mustache on and go out and try to get me a little gig when I was, like, 15, 16 years old. You know, I shouldn't have been in the club, but Elmore James, Muddy Waters loved what I was doing. I guess I was good enough to impress them, you know? And I can remember so well when Buddy Guy came and what we'd done as musician, what we'd done as human beings. We can do now what we couldn't do then. But yet, a lot of things have changed, but you look around. More things have changed, more remain the same.

PFEIFFER: Bobby, your Grammy win came about 50 years into your career, half-century after starting. What did it feel like to win after so long?

RUSH: After 50 year? What it feel like? I was in heaven. I can't explain how it feel. I never thought I was going to win the Grammy because there's so much competition, so much politics, people who vote for you. But people have accepted me for who I am and what I do. So when I won this, man, I said, God, here's a dream come true. God, finally.

PFEIFFER: The Grammy you won was for your album "Porcupine Meat." Let's listen to that title cut.


RUSH: (Singing) It's like porcupine meat - too fat to eat, to lean to throw away. Oh, it's like porcupine meat - too fat to eat, too lean to throw away.

PFEIFFER: You may have been asked this a million times, but I have to ask it. Is there actually a thing such as porcupine meat?

RUSH: No, I wasn't talking about an animal at all. I was talking about being in love with someone. I know they don't love me as much as I love them, but yet, I want to leave, but I know if I leave, someone else will have a woman, and I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't. Everybody been in the business of when they love more than they're being loved.


RUSH: (Singing) In love with a woman. Y'all, she don't treat me right. But a good love make it, y'all, out of sight.

PFEIFFER: Is it still exciting to get onstage, or have you done it too many times for it to still have a thrill?

RUSH: No, I'm so blessed. I thank God every day for keeping me enthused. I'm still learning. I'm still teaching. This is a blessing. Like now, who'd ever thought Bobby Rush could be sitting here, as big as you guys are, and I'm so blessed to be here doing this with you.

PFEIFFER: That's Bobby Rush. His new album is called "Sitting On Top Of The Blues." Bobby, thank you so much again for talking with us.

RUSH: Thank you. I appreciate you. I appreciate you. I appreciate you, and I love you, and you can't do anything about it (laughter). Thank you so much for having me on.