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Bobby Rush Brings Wit and Wisdom to The Blues Break, Along with His Harp and Guitar

Bill Steber

Bobby Rush is one of the last of the blues titans, especially from the Chicago scene of Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Jimmy Reed and Buddy Guy. (Buddy is 83. Bobby is 86.)

He was born in Louisiana. He grew up in Arkansas. He learned from Elmore James and Big Moose Walker. He was a kid when he started playing in joints, and he wore a fake mustache to get in. He came to Chicago in 1953. One of his earliest songs, “Chicken Heads” in 1971, was a hit and eventual gold record.

He’s recorded dozens of singles and albums through the years, all while he’s been traveling the world — including being the first blues artist to tour China. Bobby was featured in The Road to Memphis, a documentary produced by Martin Scorsese that paralleled Bobby’s musical life alongside Roscoe Gordon and B.B. King. Porcupine Meat, his 2016 album, won a Grammy for Best Blues Album. His new album, Sitting on Top of the Blues, is another of his best, highlighted by his witty naughtiness and deep soulfulness.

Bobby brought his abundant spirit to Newark after playing a recent gig at The Cutting Room. We talked and laughed. Bobby played guitar and harmonica, sang “Chicken Heads” and other favorite songs, including some from the new album.

“This,” I told Bobby, “was one of my favorite encounters ever in the blues show.” 

“I knew I was gonna have a good time,” he replied. “You’re old.”

Here is “Chicken Heads,” live in the WBGO performance studio: 

Videography: Chris Tobin

Audio Mix and Video edit: Corey Goldberg

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Michael Bourne, who died on August 21, 2022, was a presence on the air at WBGO between the end of 1984 and the start of 2022 when he retired from full-time hosting duty. He is the host of the Singers Unlimited Podcast by WBGO Studios. Previously, he hosted the popular Singers Unlimited (1985-2022). He also hosted the equally popular Blues Break for several years. Michael is a senior contributor to Down Beat, with the magazine since 1969. Doctor Bourne earned a PhD in Theatre from Indiana University -- which comes in handy when he's a theatre critic for the WBGO Journal.