Saturday, July 08, 2006

Soul-Blues Saturday: Folk Funk!

Bobby Rush - I Wanna Do the Do

Red Kelly's recent "The B-Side" post featuring the late Z.Z. Hill discussed the modern conundrum regarding the use of the word "blues" to describe music:

"Z.Z.'s brand of music is, I believe, misunderstood by Soul and Blues fans alike. When you say "Blues" in Mississippi it has an entirely different meaning than it does to the Stevie Ray Vaughan crowd, know what I mean? Excellent AM radio station WKXI 1400 in Jackson bills itself as 'all-blues', but that means something entirely different... [t]o me, that is what has become of "Southern Soul"... it's alive and well and living under this assumed name."

I've been wanting to write about this genre for some time, so for the next few Saturdays I will do posts featuring "soul-blues" (the term I will use to differentiate the music from what, say, Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters recorded) in an attempt to figure out what the genre actually consists of. I will examine the schism between "blues" as defined by "the Stevie Ray Vaughan crowd" and by stations like WKXI, and I will present various examples of the genre. Obviously, as a result, some newer recordings will make their way onto the page, but I hope you, the reader, will not be offended. I actually hope to add to the debate which plays out on soul Internet groups about the merits, if any, of the music, with this series. Having said all that, on to today's selection.

The legendary singer/guitarist/harmonica player Bobby Rush is probably the very first soul-blues artist, having crafted a mixture of soul, blues and funk that he called "folk funk." The slinky but strange "Chicken Heads" gave Rush an R&B hit on Galaxy in 1971, but Rush's style was too idiosyncratic to keep Rush atop the charts throughout the the disco-Parliament-and-Earth, Wind & Fire '70s, although he had regional successes on labels such as Jewel (where he recorded "It's Alright," one of my favorites). Although Rush's national profile never reached the heights it did with "Chicken Heads," he persevered and is still doing his thing for appreciative fans today, with a raucous stage show featuring fat-bottomed dancing girls, Rush's good-timing style and Rush's very colorful songs. Rush has also received renewed national attention due to his appearance in the Martin Scorcese documentary The Blues.

It must've appeared strange to everyone involved that Rush would end up on Gamble and Huff's Philadelphia International imprint in the twilight of the '70s for the one-off album Rush Hour. Gamble and Huff wisely chose to let Rush work in his "folk funk" style instead of trying to shoehorn him into the Philly groove, and the overall result was very solid. "I Wanna Do the Do" was pulled from the album for single release and it scored Rush a minor R&B hit in 1979. Over a taut rhythm section, Rush borrows the lyrical premise of Willie Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle" and the chorus of Junior Parker's "Feelin' Good" to create a nice piece of late-'70s funk and drafting the blueprint for the soul-blues explosion of the '80s and '90s.

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