Bobby Rush – Rawer Than Raw
Deep Rush Records – 2020
11 tracks; 45 minutes
Although now well into his 80’s, ‘King of the Chitlin’ Circuit’ Bobby Rush slows little sign of slowing down, this release following soon after last year’s Sitting On Top Of The Blues though it is far more closely tied in style to 2007’s Raw, a solo disc which was Bobby’s initial acoustic foray. Raw was an all-original set but this one mixes Bobby’s songs (some reprized from earlier, electric, discs) with a few of his influences, all drawn from the Mississippi Delta tradition. Although born in Louisiana, Bobby can trace his family roots to Mississippi and has lived in Jackson, MS since the 1980’s. He was fortunate to meet all of the bluesmen covered here, becoming friends with some, sharing stages with others. When you realize that the musicians concerned are Skip James, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Muddy Waters and Elmore James you start to understand why Bobby wanted to release this tribute to these masters of the blues and massive influences on his career. The tracks were recorded over a number of years in Jackson with producer and engineer Randy Everett, so very much a labor of love.
This is purely Bobby Rush – vocal, guitar, harp and foot stomp. The format is to intersperse Bobby’s originals with the covers (or should we call them ‘tributes’?), the album opening with the sprightly “Down In Mississippi” which celebrates visiting the Magnolia State: “I went down to Mississippi, sure had a wonderful time, I got high down there, high as a Georgia kite.” Bobby met Skip James when Skip was ‘rediscovered’ in the 60’s and plays a respectfully slow version of “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” (here entitled “Hard Times”) which Skip originally recorded during the Great Depression in 1931, yet it sounds very relevant for our current, troubled times. “Let Me In Your House” is one of those originals which Bobby plays with a knowing wink as he attempts to persuade the girl to let him in: “If I can’t sleep in your bed, let me sleep on your floor. If I walk in my sleep, you’re the only one who’ll ever know. If I can’t be your full-time lover, let me be your part-time man.”
Howlin’ Wolf was a huge influence on Bobby who admired his individuality and determination to do what he wanted, regardless of what others thought: Bobby says he feels the same! Bobby holds Wolf in such high esteem that he covers two of his successes, “Smokestack Lightning” and “Shake It For Me”, Willie Dixon’s song recorded as a B-side by Wolf in 1961 but perhaps best known for ‘influencing’ Led Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love”. Bobby plays some excellent harp on “Sometimes I Wonder”, a gentle reflection on the ageing process that acts almost like a mid-album interlude.
Bobby met SBW II (Rice Miller) when he was working with Elmore James in 1947. “Don’t Start Me To Talkin’” became a hit in 1957 and Bobby gives the familiar song a lively reading. Bobby’s “Let’s Make Love Again” does what the title suggest, the song sharing some of the lyrics of “Statesboro’ Blues” and sets the scene nicely for Muddy Waters’ “Honey Bee, Sail On” which is played in a very laid-back style, just guitar and an almost imperceptible foot stomp. Bobby knew Muddy from his time in Chicago and in the sleeve notes confesses that “I really wanted to be like Howlin’ Wolf. I wanted to dress like Muddy Waters. I wanted the showmanship like Wolf. Muddy Waters was a clean, sharp dresser, with a suit and tie on every day.” He certainly has done both of his great influences justice here.
We then get one of Bobby’s funniest songs (and still very much part of his stage act), “Garbage Man” – “of all the men my woman could have left me for, she left me for the garbage man. Every time I see a garbage can, I think of her and the garbage man all the time.” As Bobby says at the end of the song, “and that’s the blues for you”! To conclude the album Bobby covers “Dust My Broom” which could be interpreted as a tribute to its composer Robert Johnson, but Bobby never knew RJ, so his version references Elmore James’ famous version. Bobby met Elmore in 1947 when he was sneaking into clubs under age with a fake mustache!
In the liner notes Bobby is at pains to stress that these are not the only Mississippi musicians he would like to cover and regrets that there was no room for Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Son House and BB King. Maybe a second volume is called for, Bobby! Meanwhile enjoy this fine album of authentic Delta blues played by the one and only Bobby Rush.