New York, NY (Top40 Charts)
Twenty years in the making, Decisions, the first collaboration between blues legend Bobby
Rush and Southern California band Blinddog Smokin', featuring six-time Grammy winner Dr. John, is being rewarded with end-of-the-year music industry honors including a recent Grammy nomination in the Best Blues Album category.
Also this week, Bobby
Rush picked up four Blues Music
Awards from the Blues Foundation, including B.B. King Entertainer of the Year and Soul Blues Male Artist of the Year. Decisions secured a Best Soul Blues nod and Best Song nom for "Another Murder in New Orleans," written by Carl Gustafson and Donald Markowitz, performed by Rush and Dr. John
Gustafson, the band leader, vocalist, and harmonica player of Blinddog Smokin,' says, "I'd really like to see people in the United States take a look at [Bobby Rush and Dr. John] and see what they have before they're gone, and feel their power, feel their love . . . Who knows how long Bobby
or Mac are going to last? Now we have a chance. We have the two of them together for the first time in their careers, and they're two of the rarest characters in American music culture."
"Just to be in the running and to be involved is meaningful," says Rush on receiving his third Grammy nod. "It makes me feel like a winner already. I want to thank everyone in the category, the voters, and anyone that had anything to do with helping me get to where I am right now. I want to thank everyone from a fan standpoint and from a voter standpoint for everything they have done for Bobby
Rush. I'm happy to be an old man but this makes me feel young again."
In October, Decisions won Best Soul Blues Album at the Blues Blast Music
Awards, where Rush was also singled out with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Decisions is the first-ever teaming on record of three unlikely friends united by their love of the blues — Rush and Malcolm John "Mac" Rebennack were both born in the same town of Homer, Louisiana.
Rush, 80 years old, continues his late-career emergence from the Chitlin' Circuit underground to music mainstream. His crossover arguably began after achieving a Grammy nomination in 2000 for his album Hoochie Man, being featured in the "Road to Memphis" segment of the 2004 Martin
Scorcese documentary The Blues, and last year's Grammy-nominated record Down in Louisiana, which recently won Soul Blues Album of the Year at this year's Blues Music
Rush performed in July on The Tonight
Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
with Dan Aykroyd and The Roots, as a part of the promo for the film Get On Up. Dan Aykroyd noted, "Okay, so like James
Brown is gone, eh, and Richard Penniman a.k.a Little
Richard … he's not going to tour no more, and B.B. King is slowing down. Bobby
Rush is the last one left of that generation."
the documentary Take Me to the River came out in theaters nationwide, with a soundtrack on Stax Records/Concord Music
Group. The film is about the soul of American music and follows the recording of a new album featuring legends from Stax Records and Memphis, mentoring and passing on their musical magic to stars and artists of today. Rush co-stars alongside Terrence Howard, Snoop Dogg, the late Bobby
"Blue" Bland, Mavis Staples, Charlie Musselwhite, among others.
Rush, born Emmett Ellis, Jr., started playing music in his early teens, changing his name out of respect for his preacher father and fronting, for a time, a band that featured a young Elmore James
on guitar. In his 20s, Rush landed in the booming Chicago
blues scene where he bumped up against Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and, most notably, a back-alley neighbor, blues harmonica great Little
Walter, whose example inspired Rush to master the instrument. In the '80s Rush relocated to his current home of Jackson, Mississippi, where he embarked on the hard-touring career that has earned him the title of King of the Chitlin' Circuit.
Meanwhile, about the time Rush was making his name in Chicago, Blinddog Smokin' leader Carl Gustafson was learning the blues in, of all places, Laramie, Wyoming. He ran away from home at 16, making it as far as the railroad tracks and the Pic-A-Rib Café. Through the owner, Miss Peggy, and her son Ricky, Gustafson learned about African-American culture and through the establishment's jukebox he discovered the sounds of American blues and R&B, an experience detailed in Gustafson's 2010 memoir Ain't Just Blues, It's Showtime: Hard times, heartache, and glory along Blues Highway.
In 1964, Gustafson started his first band, a James
Brown-inspired 13-piece revue called Ali Baba & the Thieves. In 1993 he founded Blinddog Smokin', which has become a force on the blues scene, playing 200-320 dates a year at juke joints, clubs, and festivals around the world, including the Snowy Range Music
Festival (which Gustafson directs) in Laramie, and the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas, where in 1995 he met Bobby
"Bobby was performing, and I was just mesmerized with his show," Gustafson recalls. "I met him afterwards, and it's a weird thing: we just had a connection and struck up a friendship. We started calling each other and checking in on each other, and over the years started touring together. One thing led to another, and we just got this strong bond between us."
Nineteen years later that friendship finally spilled over into the recording studio, with Gustafson and his band — including drummer "Chicago
" Chuck Gullens, bassist Roland "Junior Bacon" Pritzker, keyboardist/vocalist Mo Beeks, guitarist Chalo Ortiz, and backing vocalists Chris White (nephew of folk singer Josh White) and Gustafson's wife Linda
— backing Rush on ten songs plus a bonus song on Decisions.
The leadoff track, "Another Murder in New Orleans," paired Rush with another longtime friend, New Orleans music legend Dr. John. Two of the most colorful figures in the blues, Rush and Dr. John
— whose real name is Malcolm John "Mac" Rebennack Jr. — have known each other for more than 50 years, first meeting as young men in their 20s on the early 1960s R&B circuit and remaining good friends ever since.
"When they're telling stories it's hilarious because they're talking about bluesmen so ugly they had to turn their backs to the audience to play guitar," says Gustafson, a mutual friend of both men. "And in some cases running from the same women."
Despite their decades-long relationship, Rush and Dr. John
had never recorded together until "Another Murder in New Orleans." Written by Gustafson and Decisions producer Donald Markowitz (an Oscar, Golden Globe, and Grammy winner for the Dirty Dancing soundtrack smash "I've Had the Time of My Life"), the song addresses in graphic terms the street violence that has ravaged that city post-Hurricane Katrina, offering a message for change. The track was cut in New Orleans in 2012 around Mardi Gras. The setting inspired Gustafson to ask if Rush's old friend might want to guest on the song, which the 74-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer eagerly did.
"We come up as kids together, man, but I never even thought about recording together before," says Rush. "How great is it that this late in the game we can do something together while we can still talk about it and smile about it and laugh about it? It came to pass, and I'm so proud I did this with Dr. John."
"Another Murder in New Orleans" and Rush's morals-seeking title track "Decisions" are the rare serious notes on an otherwise light-hearted blues romp that is rooted in Rush and Gustafson's friendship. Other songs include the autobiographical "Bobby Rush's Bus," about the singer's constantly-moving tour vehicle, "Funky Old Man," the rap-flavored "Dr. Rush," the acoustic jam "Too Much Weekend," and "Skinny Little
Women," which tackles an issue Rush has been preoccupied with for some time.
"Little bitty woman why you always in the mirror talking 'bout how good you look/You ought to be doing like that fat woman in the kitchen seeing 'bout how good you cook," sings Rush, who had one of his biggest successes in the '90s with the album Lovin' a Big Fat Woman. "It's a joke-y thing. But if you notice that little skinny ladies all the time they look cute and good and smell good and look good. All that's good but the big lady has got somebody, too. She needs some lovin', too."
Rush continues to perform more than 200 concerts a year and into 2015 will do so in support of the latest Grammy nominated album Decisions, see his upcoming announced dates below. On the horizon, be on the lookout for a definitive anthology of Bobby
BOBBY RUSH on tour:
December 19 - JACKSON, MS - Christmas Party
December 20 - MEMPHIS, TN - Minglewood Hall
December 23 - NEW ORLEANS, LA - Loyola University Hospital Holiday Party
December 27 - LULA, MS - Isle of Capri Casino
January 10 - TALLAHASSEE, FL - BCC January 17 - Robinsonville, MS - Sam's Town Casino
January 18 - 25 - Blues Cruise from Ft. Lauderdale, FL
March 13 - DETRTOIT, MI - Detroit
March 14 - MERRILVILLE, IN (CHICAGO metro) - The Blues is Alright Tour
April 17 - CHICAGO, IL - Buddy
April 16 - JACKSON, MI - UAW Hall (7pm & 10pm)
April 25 - SARASOTA, FL - SunCoast Blues Festival
10-12 - Las Vegas, NV - Big Blues Bender (specific date TBA)