Bobby Rush – Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History Of Bobby Rush
Omnivore Recordings – OVDG 147/816651015160
74 songs – 410 minutes
When B.B. King died last year, Bobby Rush became the last man standing, the final link in the chain among bluesmen born in the Mississippi basin and the historic legacy they achieved in the taverns and on the mean streets of Chicago.
While Buddy Guy, who, like Bobby, was born in Louisiana, also could lay claim to the title, Rush believes that King passed the torch to him at their last meeting, B.B.’s final performance in the Magnolia State, when he insisted Bobby share the spotlight on the show. He’s called the Jackson area home since moving back South a couple of decades ago.
Getting to the top of the heap has been a struggle, Rush states in his introduction to the extensive liner notes that accompany Chicken Heads, which are written by blues historian Bill Dahl and loaded with anecdotes that Bobby provided. While stating that times haven’t always been bad, Rush notes that he’s worked at being a better entertainer because some radio stations refused to spin his records and some festivals never booked him in favor of other artists. Today, his act still delivers a strong feel of the chitlin’ circuit, where he developed skills as a first-class showman.
Now at least 80 and possibly as old as 86 – his birthdate his under dispute — and always both a friendly man with a gift for gab and smart businessman, Bobby’s never taken himself or his music too seriously. As anyone who’s ever seen him in concert knows, he speaks directly to the people with a downhome style and songs laced with humor and sexual innuendo, both of which are on display in this collection.
Despite settling in Chicago in 1956, Rush didn’t record his first single, “Someday,” for the Jerry-O label until 1964. It features a powerful tenor sax line and kicks off disc one of this four-disc set. But he didn’t started getting attention until the release of the dance tune “Sock Boo Ga Aloo” on ABC-Paramount a couple of years later. Like all of the tunes I’ll mention in the copy that follows, it’s also included in the compilation that isn’t necessarily in historical order. It featured two of the best guitarists in the Windy City, Wayne Bennett and Luther Johnson, a stalwart in Muddy Waters’ band.
Like James Brown, always a master of funk, Bobby shoots from the hip with “Gotta Have Money,” in which he states Tyrone Davis has it and he wants it, too. It’s the first number of many in his catalog where Rush mentions himself by name. Another dance number, “Camel Walk,” came out of the same session. Next up, Rush moved to the Salem label and teamed with legendary R&B pianist Sonny Thompson, reprising Guitar Slim’s ‘50s hit, “The Things I Used To Do,” and the searing original, “Wake Up,” featuring Cash McCall on guitar.
Several more sides followed before Bobby jumped to the Sedgwick imprint in the early ‘70s, where he achieved his first national success with “Chicken Heads,” a tune that’s been covered by more than 1,000 other musicians, as well as “Bowlegged Woman, Knock-Kneed Man.” Sedgwick sold Rush’s contract to the Jewel Label, based in Shreveport, La., in 1973, where he produced several numbers, including “She’s A Good ‘Un,” which wasn’t released until a couple of decades after he parted company.
Bobby’s next home, Warner Brothers, moved him to the big time with the release of “Get Out Of Here” and “She Put The Whammy On Me,” which was released by London in 1976. Disc three begins with a few cuts from Rush’s stint at Philadelphia International, where he worked with legendary producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff for “Hen Pecked,” “She’s So Fine,” “Buttermilk Bottom,” “I Wanna Do The Do,” the first tune on disc two, and a cover of Jerry Butler’s “Hey Western Union Man.”
Dozens of label affiliations have followed since Bobby moved South in the early ‘80s. Among the standout numbers represented here are “Hoochie Man,” “Scootchin’,” “Undercover Lover,” “Booga Bear” and “Ride In My Automobile.” And let’s not forget some of his more recent hits, which appear on disc four: “Night Fishin’,” “I Got 3 Problems,” “Blind Snake,” “Push And Pull” and “Another Murder In New Orleans,” recorded with Blind Dog Smokin’ and Dr. John.
About the only thing you don’t get here is the full effect of the bottom-heavy dancers Bobby exhibits during his live show. Bobby Rush is a national treasure for every man, and this collection captures him at his best. The music remains as timeless as he is and definitely worth the price of admission.