On August 28, 2020, Grammy-winning Blues Hall of Famer Bobby Rush will release Rawer Than Raw, a stripped down, acoustic tribute to some of the legendary artists from his adopted home state of Mississippi.
The record, on the 86-year-old’s own Deep Rush Records label in partnership with Thirty Tigers, is a follow-up to Rush’s Grammy-nominated 2019 album Sitting on Top of the Blues, and his first project since his acclaimed cameo in last year’s Golden Globe-nominated Eddie Murphy film hit Dolemite Is My Name.
“Although I was born in Louisiana, I’m proud to call Mississippi home,” says Rush, who moved to Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1980s and traces his family connections to the Magnolia State back to his great grandparents. “I’m saluting Mississippi guys because they, to me, stayed truest to their roots. If you want to get the real deal of the blues, get it from the bluesmen who are from Mississippi. Whether they migrated somewhere else like Chicago or Beverly Hills, if they are from Mississippi you can hear the deep roots of Mississippi in their stories.”
Rawer Than Raw is partly inspired by the popular series of intimate solo concerts Rush has made a mainstay of his concert calendar in the years since his first all-acoustic album (titled Raw). It’s simply Bobby’s voice, his guitar, harmonica, and feet sharing a few covers from some of his favorite Mississippi friends. There are a few Bobby Rush originals as well, all credited under his given name, Emmett Ellis, Jr. — whose country vibe matches the songs that inspired the album.
One of those original songs is “Down in Mississippi.” ““I really wrote this song about 10-15 years ago, but I just recorded for this album a few years back,” Rush told us. “Out of all the places that people try to have a different approach with the blues, Mississippi is the one who stayed true to the blues line. When you hear a guy from Mississippi sing the blues, it sounds like it’s 1919. ‘Down in Mississippi’, where they still play the blues.”
“Down in Mississippi” video produced by Edge of Infinity Media and directed by Eric Walker.
Long considered one of the blues’ preeminent raconteurs, Rush has always placed a premium on stories in his music. In the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, his risqué, humor-filled chitlin’ circuit shows often featured long, drawn out narratives of romantic misadventures.
In the new century, as he made a bid for mainstream acceptance as one of the blues’ last connections to its golden age past, Rush began to tell different stories; his tale-spinning of a life spent playing 200-plus shows a year.
Bobby’s performance itinerary has encompassed some of the biggest music festivals around the world, from Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis to Byron Bay Bluesfest in Australia, countless European engagements, the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, and closer to home, Bonnaroo and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Rush was the first bluesman to perform at the Great Wall of China, attracting an audience of more than 40,000 and earning him the title of “China’s Ambassador of the Blues.”
But as this album, and this song both attest, Rush’ heart is “Down in Mississippi.”
*Feature image Kim Welsh