Born Emmet Ellis, Jr. in Homer, Louisiana, he adopted the stage name Bobby Rush out of respect for his father, a pastor. According to Rush, his parents never talked about the blues being the devils music. My daddy never told me to sing the blues, but he also didnt tell me to not sing the blues. I took that as a green light.
Rush built his first guitar when he was a youngster. I didnt know where to buy one, even if I had the money. I was a country boy, he says. After seeing a picture of a guitar in a magazine, he decided to make one by attaching the top wire of a broom to a wall and fretting it with a bottle. He also got some harmonica lessons from his father He eventually acquired a real guitar, and started playing in juke joints as a teenager, when his family briefly relocated to Little Rock, Arkansas. The fake moustache Rush wore made club owners believe he was old enough to gain entry into their establishments. While he was living in Little Rock, Rushs band, which featured Elmore James, had a residency at a nightspot called Jackrabbit.
During the mid-1950s, Rush relocated to Chicago to pursue his musical career and make a better life for himself. It was there that he started to work with Earl Hooker, Luther Allison, and Freddie King. sat in with many of his musical heroes, such as Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Willie Dixon,and Little Walter. Rush eventually began leading his own band in the 1960s. He also started to craft his own distinct style of funky blues, and recorded a succession of singles for a various small labels. It wasnt until the early 1970s that Rush finally scored a hit with Chicken Heads. More recordings followed, including an album for Kenny Gamble and Leon Huffs Philadelphia International Label.
Rush relocated one final time to Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1980s. He was tired of the cold up north, and he realized that setting up his base of operations directly in the center of the South would make it easier to perform in nearby cities on weekends. More indie label recordings followed. Songs like Sue, A Man Can Give (But He Sure Cant Take It), Whats Good For The Goose Is Good For The Gander Too, and I Aint Studdin You became regional jukebox favorites in juke joints throughout the region, and many of those songs are still fan favorites that are an integral part of his live repertoire.
Since 2003, Rush has self-released the majority of his work (including the critically acclaimed Folk Funk album) on his Deep Rush label, but recently, he came to the realization that having a bigger record company behind him would be beneficial. I outgrew myself, said Rush. I need someone to help in doing the things I cant do. When you are wearing all the hats, you cant be everywhere at once.
Enter esteemed producer and two-time Grammy winner Scott Billington, Rounder Records longtime VP of A&R. Billington first met Rush at a Recording Academy meeting 25 years ago, and they became fast friends. He has wanted to work with Rush ever since. He is the most vital bluesman of his generation, said Billington. He continues, There are many people who still dont know Bobby Rush, even though he is a hero in the parallel universe of the Chitlin Circuitfans stop him on the street in Memphis and Helena and Little Rock.