Photo: Facebook Bobby Rush

B.B. King is gone and the world has lost a true legend. His one string guitar solos were distinctive and just with 4 notes the listener knew he was hearing the “King of the Blues.” One of BB King’s lifelong friends was fellow bluesman and a legend in his own right, Bobby Rush. Bobby talked to rolling out about his friend and the state of the blues.

Bobby we see B.B. King slipping away and we wanted to get your thoughts on his legacy and your friendship.

We have been knowing each other for 59 years and have been friends ever since then. What he means to me as a man is more than I can explain, I have words to say.  What he means to me as a music person is so much more than that, he did some things in his day that no one has done. He comes from the cotton fields to be the king of the music industry. Whether he did what he did accidentally or whether he did it intentionally it doesn’t make it any different he is the King of the Blues.  The King of the Blues to me and to my mind and many others like myself. We can always tell that when we listen to his music and the style he plays and the fact that so many men try to emulate him. That means he was doing something right, that means he was the king.

Now when you hear a Bobby Rush, and I’ve been doing this over 60 years myself, you also hear a part of B.B. King. When you listen to people like B.B. King and people who came along in his era and even those before him and when you listen to a Bobby Rush song; you hear a little bit of Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Louis Jordan, a lot of B.B. King and a lot of this and that. But when you put it all in a bowl and you stir it up and you make a good Bobby Rush soup.

That happened to a lot of men and a lot of men imitate B.B. King with their own soup but some do not admit it. Because in that era and time you wanted to follow a successful name; to me and many others B.B. King was a successful name. If you ask him he might not say the same thing because it takes a long time to get where you are. You pay a lot of dues to sing the Blues to get where you are especially if you’re a Black man. There’s lot of dues you pay and a lot of respect you have to give B.B. King to stand the test of time. Because it was not popular when he came along to sing the Blues because it was stated to us from Black and White that it was devil music, but it was music. So B.B. King meant a lot to me because he was one of the men who never followed the trend. When disco came in he didn’t leave to cut a record to sound like someone else, he may wanted to too. No man should follow the ways of the wind. A man should follow the ways of his heart and what he knows to do. Because it’s like writing a book, you can only write about what you know about and B.B. King stood still when everybody else went this way and that way trying to follow the trend.  B.B. King stood still and was B.B. [from] the word go until now.

Do you think Blues is still an important part of our Black history? We seem to be the only people to willingly give up our legacy.

I think we give it up to the extent that because the press and media promotes white people and they want present the Blues as something less; and no one wants to follow something less. Blues has always been going places and the root of all music but no one wants to talk about that. It’s not that Blues lovers want to throw it away it’s that the media promotes it as something less than what it is.  So you get younger Black guys coming along who don’t want to be called Blues singers because Blues is something less. That’s because of the press. Thank God for rolling out for telling our story because Blues is the root of all music. Blues was not popular to do until the White guys started doing the Blues. But if was not for the White singers and White Blues fans I don’t know where Blues would be because the Blues is something that the Black guys don’t want to carry on. I can understand because the press makes us divided that’s intentional.

I remember in 1951 when I went to Chicago, I was told that I did not need to hang with Muddy Waters, I was too good for that. They wanted me to come over and cut jazz albums because that was considered more sophisticated.  But we all were Black men doing what we were doing from our heart and soul; but they (the industry) tried to separate us.  They even tried to separate my music from BB because Blues was considered less.  But know everybody wants to be with BB King now because he was the King of Blues. But who crowned him? Who gave him that title? I’ll give you three guesses and the first 2 don’t count. It was the White media. I remember when BB king couldn’t make a dollar he was still playing the same thing he was playing now.

What are your thoughts on the fact that the latest Billboard magazine list of top 10 Blues albums list only one Black band, Gary Clark Jr.?

It says one thing; Gary Clark Jr. is a blessed man. He is very talented but he is in a position where he can get counted in, he owes to his people now to take somebody in with him. I love the man, I love what he does. Now let’s talk about Bobby Rush, I crossed over but I did not cross out. You follow me? BB King defiantly crossed over to a White audience but I don’t think that he had that many young Black people especially in to what he is into. You have to be a Beyonce type of thing. But how did you hear about a Gary Clark Jr.? Three guesses and he first two don’t count.

Right now White music media has been pushing White musician Joe Bonomossa as the next in line to be King of The Blues. This steps over artists such as Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal and yourself. What are your thoughts on this and the fact that Blues music counts for a $1 billion in sales and recordings?

Because we do not have enough of people like Joe to talk about what he is talking about.  We have people who think like Joe thinks but they are not putting it on paper. I don’t know Joe personally but I am hoping that he will read this interview and grab hold to Bobby Rush. I’d like to talk to him because what he stands for, writes about and does I love his thought of mind of being equal to the Blues players and Blues makers which is the Black artists.

Besides yourself, who is going to keep Blues alive now?

Well I think you’ve got Taj Mahal there, who has always kept the music alive. He has so much knowledge about what it should be not what it is. Also Keb’ Mo, Gary Clark you’ve got quite a few of young guys who are now going to b encouraged about playing the blues because publications like rolling out and people like you are going to keep it alive and talk about it being something good to do.

Even though you are in Jackson, MS you travel a lot both in the US and overseas. Where are you going next?

I’m going to the BMA awards along with Millie Jackson in, France, Germany and next China. I was one of the first Blues artists to appear in China and I have a big following in that country.

Even though you’re so busy with the music you also have a prison ministry. Please tell us a little about your work.

I’ve been doing the prison ministry for about 22 years; it’s always been something on my heart. I got into the ministry because of a school in Jackson, MS known as the “bad kids” school.  These were children who could not be controlled in the regular school system and had serious issues.  A lady came to me and asked me to talk to these children at this school. I did not like the labeling of children as bad children, too me there is no such thing as a bad child.  It is an underprivileged child, a child who does not have the proper raising of someone in the house. Sometimes it’s a case of children having children but they are still God’s children. So I got involved with the kids and also the prison system, I’ve never been to prison and I don’t plan too. I talk about biblical things, I’m not a religious nut but I am bible studied. I believe that the bible is a road map to life, to things that you should and should not do. So I believe that’s a guideline to me. I talk about mistakes because I feel that the problem is people make mistakes and do not know it. The Bible teaches us that a man will do wrong so long that he thinks he’s right. Even 9/11 someone thought they were right about that. Someone was thought they were right about what they did in Boston and Ferguson, Mo, but when you think your right and you’re wrong you can’t correct yourself. But when you know you’re wrong you can correct yourself because you know where your wrong is at.

 

You were very involved in the civil rights movement. What are your feeling about race relations today?

It let me know that everything changed but remained the same. We have opportunities now that we did not have back then in the past. There are things that Martin Luther King brought to the table that we did not have there before.  There is nothing new under the sun. What really got me is the way everybody applauded the woman who slapped her son upside the head. But this is what the media wants us to do as a people; they want to bring us down. I didn’t say she was wrong about chastising her son. So the image of this played over and over says to Black people “now not only are we going to put you in your place, but we going to have you momma put you in your place”. Do you understand me? The image was to keep you Black folk in your place. The way it was put out there was in a way that made it seem someone was trying to tell us something.  Stay in your place.

 

What would you like to say finally about B.B. King, your friend?

It’s the saddest day in my life. Let me tell you I was planning for my 82nd birthday in November and I was going to invite BB and my other friends who came up with us to the party. But when I looked around there was no one else to invite. That was a sad day and BB King was high on my list for an invitation. Because of our friendship and what he has done as a person and a friend is heart breaking to see this day. I had to go back into my hole and talk to myself because it shook me, surely as a man lives, surely as a man dies. So that tells me that Bobby Rush has got to do all he can, while he can for there will come a time when I cannot do and I will regret what I did not do. So my hat’s off to BB. If he did all he could do while he could that’s enough. Well done BB King well done. That’s my friend.

Mo Barnes

"Mo Betta" Maurice "Mo" Barnes is a graduate of Morehouse College and Political Scientist based in Atlanta. Mo is also a Blues musician.