Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
Editor’s Note: If you want to read a straight-ahead review of Bobby Rush’s new CD, then you might want to pick up a fine publication like Blues Music Magazine or Living Blues. However, if you want to read a surrealistic gonzo take on Bobby Rush’s Porcupine Meat, filled with Chicago blues urban mythology and Southern folklore, then you came to the right place. Take it away Terry….
By Terry Abrahamson
Remember when the back-up singers, a.k.a. the guys to the right of “and the,” all wore the patent leather platform shoes the color of Chop-Chop in the old Blackhawk comics? Well, my soul is wearing them right now, slid on by Bobby Rush himself, who helped my soul to its feet, smiling “Get dancin’, Baby.” And as Bobby fired up “I Don’t Want Nobody Hangin’ Around,” my soul didn’t just float them leathers like feathers, I think I actually heard it grunt something hoarse and sweaty that ended in “y’all.”
“I Don’t Want Nobody Hangin’ Around” is only the beginning - the funk switch that jumpstarts Porcupine Meat, the new Bobby Rush CD that writers for publications with crossword puzzles in the back pages might call a “Tour de Force.” But I go to different bars than they do. When I hear that song, I don’t think in French. I think in English; specifically I think “I want to be there: at the Purse Snatchers Hall of Fame on the night they induct Bobby Rush....not for being a purse snatcher, but for giving the world the perfect purse snatching song. Because in the bars I go to, the women lean back hard in
their chairs, pressing themselves into the straps of their purses hanging from the chairbacks, so nobody is gonna grab a purse and make a run for it.
But see, one of those women is workin’ with the purse snatcher. And as Bobby Rush takes the stage, she hollars “Don’t Want Nobody Hangin’ Around!” and the band kicks into a groove that Stevie Wonder once borrowed from a Bobby Rush dream.
And as the steady roll of his Seismic Sisters has the New Madrid Fault gritting its teeth to keep Missouri from turning into a sinkhole, every lady in that room rises from her seat like they, or Bobby, hadn’t missed a single solitary beat since those nights at The Burning Spear. And 200 purses hang abandoned as a showroom full of women put out enough Elgin movement to shake the life back into that long-abandoned clocktower; and one lucky purse snatcher reaps a harvest that’d make the Stovalls drool.
The songs on Porcupine Meat are saturated with drama, humor, jealousy, anger, hope, bewilderment, despair and a Louisiana kitchen full of personality, all ground out tear by tear, scar by scar and drink by drink, never leaving a trace of premeditation.
I mean, here I am, a guy born in a four-room apartment in a 48-flat courtyard building on Chicago’s West Side being asked to appreciate why a doomed romance is like Porcupine Meat, and not only am I buying, I’m practically begging Bobby Rush to tack on the $29.95 for the extended warranty which I ain’t never gonna need because this music is built to last forever.
“Got Me Accused” starts out as a “Baby, why don’t you set that drink down and move your fine self over here by the fish tank?” thing, but is quickly revealed as either a tome to every wrongly-accused man and woman behind bars, or a shameful last-ditch effort to con a woman he doesn’t deserve into a little “mercy lovin’.” I’m hoping for the latter, but betting on the former; it gives me a reason to believe that Bobby maybe had a bigger role in that story about the guy bringing his old lady’s severed head in a bag into the Club Zanzibar than he once led me to believe.
To me, “Snake in the Grass” will always be like the Credence Clearwater song that wasn’t...just write me a prescription for whatever it’ll take to erase from my mind that image of Bobby Rush in a lumberjack shirt. Basically, it’s Bobby as the counselor of Camp Chicken Heads, with us all gathered around the campfire in some Englewood backyard as he wraps his tales of reptilian terror in what could’ve passed for King Curtis’s harp debut.
If you speed up “Funk a de Funk” and play it backwards, Bobby is actually singing “‘Break new ground’ my butt!!! The old ground is fine.” And Bobby massages it with more quivers, groans and growls than the last ride in my ’70 Malibu. And under it all, I kept hearing “Let me in, let me in, let me in!” waiting to creep out.
“Me, Myself and I” teases us with the promise of something approximating “Sybil Sings the Blues,” but never has to go further than an age-old tale of loneliness sparkling with some lyrical gems and a ripping guest shot by Joe Bonamassa. Vasti Jackson, Keb' Mo' and Dave Alvin also pop in to show - and feel - the love.
Bobby brought his acting chops along for every track on this project, and I defy DeNiro or The Rock to show the lyrics in the songs of Porcupine Meat half the feeling they get from “The King of the Chitlin’ Circuit.” Frankly, I hate that term. “King” implies he either inherited it from his father, or killed somebody to get it. How about “President of the Chitlin’ Circuit?” Like we all voted for him. That way, he could appoint Chitlin’ Court Justices.
From the opening purse snatch to the harp-driven home stretch swamp strut of “I’m Tired,” Porcupine Meat is a master storyteller’s playful and powerful demonstration of why funk and blues will always be joined at the hip, and why, in the right hands, a classic groove - like Bobby Rush himself - ain’t never gon’ get old. And that’s what Bobby Rush has to teach us all.....as he smiles to himself with the knowledge that, while he can fit each of our souls into patent leather platform shoes, only Bobby Rush
can do what Bobby Rush does.
Terry Abrahamson won a Grammy by writing songs for Muddy Waters. He helped launch George Thorogood’s career and created John Lee Hooker’s first radio commercial, which are just a few of his accomplishments. Terry also is a playwright. He and partner Derrick Procell are currently writing songs with Mud Morganfield, Nellie “Tiger” Travis, Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Eddie Shaw and Big Llou Johnson. He authored the acclaimed photography book, In The Belly of The Blues – Chicago to Boston to L.A. 1969 to 1983 -- A Memoir. For info visit: www.inthebellyoftheblues.com