Another Way To Spell It
"Bowlegged Woman, Knock-Kneed Man" Pt 1 (Bobby Rush/Calvin Carter)
Bobby Rush, Jewel 834, 1972
Shakin' in the car, and the car won't go. That's the way you spell Chicago.
Knife and a fork and a plate of greens. That's the way you spell New Orleans. –Bobby Rush
I admit that I was late to the Bobby Rush party; and I’m still learning about him. I actually only took note when I started seeing him perform live at various shows in Memphis and New Orleans over the last five or six years. He’s interesting to me because he’s got a strong funk quotient to much of his material, going back into the late 1960s as I’ve discovered, and is a shining example of a performer and songwriter who has no problem crossing over the fuzzy boundaries between blues, soul and funk. Lately, he’s been calling what he does “Folkfunk”; and I guess that’s as good a term as any. When in doubt, create your own category! A lot of his material is mildly salacious and, on stage, he and his band (including several ample, intensely booty-shaking female singer/dancers), do a winking, humorously hokey get-down act that has served them well on the Chitlin’ Circuit for decades; but it can leave many an urban white audience slack-jawed and dumfounded. So it goes. . . .
When I first found and heard this record, I thought it might have been recorded and produced at Shreveport’s Sound City studios, where many Jewel sides were done, using the funky house band there that was also know as the African Music Machine. But, as I researched it, I learned that Rush was still recording in Chicago in 1971, when this side was made. And I could find nothing much out about the backing band. I decided to post it here anyway due to the New Orleans reference, it’s raw, low-down groove, and the fact that Bobby Rush has some Louisiana roots. I don’t know where he assimilated his funk sensibility; but it has been a strong component of his music over the last 40 years.
Born Emmet Ellis, Jr., the son of a preacher, and partially raised near the North Louisiana town of Homer, not far from the Arkansas line (or from Percy Mayfield’s hometown of Minden, LA), he took up harmonica and guitar early in life. In 1948, when he was 12, his family moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas; and by the early 1950s the teenager was already singing and performing in roadhouses, influenced and inspired by cats such as Louis Jordan, Muddy Waters, and Fats Domino. The legendary Elmore James even played in his band for a short stint back then. By 1956, Ellis had changed is name to Bobby Rush, so as not to have his father’s sanctified name sullied by the devil’s music, and moved to Chicago. There he formed a band that both Freddie King and Luther Allison passed through early on.
By the 1960s, Rush was a regularly working live performer, cutting a few obscure tunes along the way. His records did not sell until he did “Sock Boogaloo” b/w “Much Too Much”* for Checker in 1967. The former song did well enough locally that he got two more great boogaloo sides, “Gotta Have Money”** b/w “Camel Walk”** onto a 1968 ABC single, and then had a few more James Brown-influenced releases on Salem** the next year; but none of those went anywhere. His luck changed in 1971 with his classic, “Chicken Heads” b/w “Mary Jane”**, cut with producer Calvin Carter in Chicago and released on Galaxy. The greasy funk work-out charted and sold well; but, Rush and Carter could only get two other singles, “Gotta Be Funky” b/w “Gotta Find You Girl” and the two-sided “Bowlegged Woman” released on Carter’s On Top label. At a commercial impasse, Rush was released to the Jewel*** label in Shreveport, which re-issued our feature, “Bowlegged Woman, Knock-Kneed Man”, in 1972.
Obviously, Rush had a well-established funky thang goin’ on by then. But it did not connect with the public again until late that decade. After several more singles for Jewel didn’t pop, he left the label in 1974 and subsequently recorded one-off 45s for Warner Brothers and London mid-decade. His star rose again when he hooked up with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International label, recording another funk-infused hit, “I Wanna Do The Do” in 1979. The label also released a fine LP, Rush Hour, on him; but there were no follow-up hits.
By the 1980s, Bobby Rush had re-located to Jackson, Mississippi to reduce his travel time on the club circuit, and began releasing records on LaJam and Urgent. As the century turned, he put out a number of popular CDs for Waldoxy and his own Deep Rush label. Often called a blues artist, Bobby Rush’s music doesn’t fall simply into one category; but, if you are a funk fan (why else are you here?), there are more great grooves to be found in his catalogue. And that’s how I spell HOTG.
* Hear it at the Soul Club (listed by artist's first name)
** Hear these at Funk 45.
*** Forgot to mention that BR's Jewel material was comped on the Fuel 2000 CD, Bobby Rush - Aboslutely the Best.
What a Rush