Consider the booty jam. A booty jam holds no allegiance to style, propriety or length. A booty jam will go wherever it must to find that booty or lament its getting away. Old school, new school, rough, smooth—the booty jam will prevail. Bobby Rush is one of the world’s foremost practitioners of the form.
Born in 1940 in Homer, Louisiana, Rush got his taste of the blues when he moved to Chicago as a teenager, evolving into the charismatic front man for bands with Freddie King and Luther Allison. But Rush’s raunchy, funky side found him back on the chitlin circuit. In 1971, Rush recorded the soul classic “Chicken Heads”, a thick stew of psychedelic funk grooves that finds Rush transfixed with what a certain girl has to offer. “When you cook that chicken, save me the head,” he sings. Rush followed that single with the even looser “Bowlegged Woman, Knock-kneed Man”, name checking New Orleans, Chicago, James Brown and whatever else he needs to filibuster that bowlegged woman’s resistance to his charms. Unrelenting, these tunes seem as endless as they are timeless.
As time rolled on, Bobby Rush tunes got longer and weirder. Take 1982’s eight-minute “Twenty Eight Days”—“too long to keep ice cream in the icebox”. It’s a classic came-home-caught-your-woman-cheatin’ staple, but Rush’s extrapolation of the scene verges on being a blues deposition. “You can’t tell me, Bobby Rush, who to give my thang to,” said woman exerts. Rush eschews the misogynistic violence toward which many a blues song entails, offering “eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, cheat on me, I’m gonna cheat on you” before devolving into a protracted sermon of “don’t misuse your woman, fella.”
Rush reeled things in a little in the ’90s to become one of the progenitors of modern blues, steering his explicit lyrics through ultra-smooth styles. “Big Fat Woman” is a little like Blowfly co-opting Al Jarreau’s band, hoping to enlist his fellow booty jam stylists Johnnie Taylor and Tyrone Davis to take “this big fat woman off his hands.”
Rush was at the top of his game when a 2001 tour bus accident claimed the life of band member Latisha Brown and sent most of his band to the hospital. Rush resumed touring only a month later. His music of the last decade runs from the rougher folk blues of Raw (2007) and Folkfunk (2004) to the satin-sheet-slick Night Fishin’ (2005) and Show You a Good Time (2011). Regardless of the style his muse adopts, the songs are still all about discovering “someone been dippin’ their dipper in my dippins” and how that “blind snake gonna crawl up your leg”. At 72, Bobby Rush hasn’t met a blues style he can’t slip right into, an entrendre he can’t double. No booty will go unsung.
Bobby Rush plays Saturday, October 29 at 6:30 p.m. on the WWOZ Stage.