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Bobby Rush with Mel Waiters

Friday, Oct. 5; Club 54

Like a lot of R & B men in the '70s, Bobby Rush caught a dose of the James Brown funk and fashion and never looked back. Rush (born Emmett Ellis) journeyed north from his Louisiana home, getting his start as one of the best shouters and most charismatic frontmen on the '60s Chicago blues scene. But Rush never fit into the west-side sound; he sank back into the swamps, jukes and chitlin' shacks of the south, and then added Brownian syncopation and strut to his down-home sound. If the chitlin' style ever had an apex, it was Rush, and his singles from the '70s, as hot and greasy as a soul-food kitchen, remain a salacious, if overlooked, chapter in the development of African-American music. To call "Chicken Heads," "Knock Kneed Man" and "Bow-Legged Woman" masterpieces would be silly; still, few other tracks capture the more demented aspects of '70s fricasseed funk. Rush dubbed the genre "folk funk," though that doesn't tell you much: His voice is as eerily suggestive of Sly Stone's as it is of Al Green's (another major influence), his harmonica playing plain smokes and when his band gets to the guts of a groove, they can raze an old head joint like Club 54 down to the floorboards.

This spring, Rush and his band were involved in a serious car accident in Florida, when their bus driver suffered a heart attack and slammed into a tree. Dancer/singer Latisha Brown was killed, the entire band was hospitalized and Rush himself was lucky to survive. (The band remains saddled with significant bills; if you'd like to help, make a contribution to the Blues Aid Foundation, P.O. Box 237, Helena, Arkansas, 72342.) So get on down to the north side and welcome Rush back to St. Louis.

 
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