85-Year-Old Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reflects on His Legacy & Grammy Victory

Bill Steber
Bobby Rush

Making new albums is hardly a new experience for Bobby Rush; The 85-year-old blues legend has nearly 400 recordings to his name after all. But following up a Grammy Award -- for 2016's Porcupine Meat -- is a first for Rush as he prepares for the Aug. 16 release of Sitting On Top of the Blues, whose "Get Out of Here (Dog Named Bo)" is premiering below.

"Well, it gave me a lot of confidence," Rush tells Billboard about recording the new set, which will come out on his own Deep Rush label, via Thirty Tigers. "It also puts a lot of work on you because you’ve got to outdo yourself. All those kinds of things put pressure on you. But it makes you feel good and gives you something to work for and is a challenge for your brain and mind."

Though Porcupine Meat producer Scott Billington stayed involved on Sitting on Top of the Blues, Rush worked primarily with Vasti Jackson, who played all the instruments besides Rush's guitar parts this time around. Rush set out to "do some of the same kinds of things" as he did on Porcupine Meat, but he says the crossover audience that album drew made gave him a different perspective for the new albums.

"Back when I had a 95 percent black audience I would talk about things they could relate to in the ghetto and on the chitlin' circuit," Rush notes. "I've got a different kind of audience now. Now I've got some B.B. King fans, some Buddy Guy fans. I've got to think about what they listen to, what they expect from me as a blues man, and I've got to take that crossover with them." The difference is stylistic as well as lyrical, he adds. "Most of those guys weren’t funky," Rush explains. "They were blues players -- great blues players. But I'm coming with the funk thing, like James Brown, but singing the blues with the funk and that energy. I think the last person who did something like that was Louis Jordan, in my era, and he was more of a swing guy."

"Get Out of Here (Dog Named Bo)" hails from a, well, funky occasion in Rush's life, when he was courting a woman in his native Mississippi whose father rejected the relationship. "He didn't want her to marry me because I didn't have a real job." The couple actually tried to elope but the wedding was aborted when her family arrived to break it up. "Her father wasn't really angry with me, but he didn't want me to marry his daughter 'cause he thought I wasn't good enough," Rush recalls. "We went our separate ways. I think later on he probably regretted it, but it was too late."

Rush will, of course, be on the road both before and after Sitting on Top of the Blues' release. Besides making his own music, he says his mission these days is to maintain the legacy of the music and his forebears -- from Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon to B.B. King, who asked Rush to guest with him at his final concert in Mississippi in 2014. "I feel like I'm in this place now where I'm the oldest blues singer in this category; Henry Gray is still around, but he doesn't have as many records out," Rush says. "So I'm the old man around here -- and I'm so thankful. I'm so blessed to be in the business so long and maintaining it."