When you’ve played with Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Jimmy Reed, you must be on to something. When you’ve had a multi-generational career in music, spanning blues, soul and funk, that’s something else.
Bobby’s incredible half century of recorded music is ready to be devoured by those who’ve never tasted and those who want another helping on Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History of Bobby Rush, set for release on November 27 from Omnivore Recordings.
Nearly 100 tracks from the three-time Grammy nominee’s storied career are finally collected in this unprecedented set. Including his Checker, Galaxy, and Jewel sides through Philadelphia International, Malaco/Waldoxy, LaJam, and Urgent cuts, as well as material from his own Deep Rush label, Chicken Heads tells the story of Bobby Rush: unfiltered, unedited and unbelievable. With almost five hours of music on four CDs, Chicken Heads traces his career from 1964’s “Someday” through the title track, from 1979 collaborations with Gamble & Huff to tracks from 2004’s FolkFunk.
The 32-page, full-color booklet is filled with photos, ephemera, liner notes from Bill Dahl and testimonials from friends and fans including Mavis Staples, Keb’ Mo’, Elvin Bishop, Denise LaSalle, Leon Huff, Al Bell, and many more. With mastering and restoration by Grammy winner Michael Graves, Bobby’s vintage recordings have never sounded better.
Born in Homer, La. in 1933, Rush cut his musical teeth in the Pine Bluff, Ark. area with the likes of Elmore James and Big Moose Walker. A move to Chicago in the 1950s put him in the company of Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed, and led to sessions at the city’s Chess Records. 1971’s “Chicken Heads” proved his breakthrough, notching #34 on the Billboard R&B chart. He since recorded for a variety of labels and relocated in the 1980s to the Deep South, where he became one of the kings of the Chitlin’ Circuit. His crossover began largely in the early 2000s when he was included in the Martin Scorese-produced, Clint Eastwood-directed The Blues documentary for PBS. Since then, he’s received three Grammy nominations and 41 Blues Music Award nominations (of which he’s won ten, including 2015’s award for B.B. King Entertainer of the Year). He performed with Dan Aykroyd and the Roots on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon in 2014, and appeared in the documentary film Take Me to the River, pairing blues and soul legends with young artists. At the age of 80, he still performs more than 200 shows all over the world.
Rolling Stone magazine calls Bobby Rush “The King of the Chitlin’ Circuit” for his constant touring and vibrant live show on a circuit that has been home to Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, James Brown, and other black entertainers.
Mavis Staples attests, “He’s been a longtime friend, an honorable man, and my father loved him. He’s a joyful, happy person, and that rubs off on you when you run into him — you can’t help but feel good when you’re around Bobby. He’s always been respectful of me and my sisters, and he was like a son to Pops. I’m a big fan.”
According to Rush, “It’s very exciting. Truly I feel honored that someone would think enough of me to do this. The record side of it is the glory side of me and that’s the side that I want people to know and I’m grateful for that. I’m happy that someone thought before I leave this land to tell my story. I’m proud of it and flattered about it. I want the world to know that this is my first time and I want to say it for people to be enthused about me. I’m not enthused about all of the songs because at the time I didn’t think they were all good. But after you become a ‘legend,’ you look back and it all looks good. There are things you had in the can you didn’t want to put out, and then you get asked what you have in the can that’s never been heard to put it out.”
As annotator Dahl comments at the opening of his essay: “Blues never get funkier than when Bobby Rush swaggers up to the mic and lets fly with his homespun truisms. He’s always in motion, always smiling, always on fire as his skintight band cooks up irresistible elastic grooves behind him.”
So, prepare to get funky with Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History of Bobby Rush on CD and on tour!