Bobby Rush Remembers Blues Legend Elmore James

Happy birthday to blues slide guitar legend Elmore James, born January 27, 1918, and who died May 24, 1963.

Bobby Rush, a fellow blues icon, knew James personally and talked about James’ amorous side in this previously unpublished excerpt from our September interview with Rush:

What was Elmore James like?

Oh, you would ask me that. Really (laughs). I shouldn’t say this. In 1951 or 52, I came back to Canton, Mississippi from Chicago. So there was a lady in Canton and her dad and mother owned a funeral home. She was about 18, 19, 20-year-old girl, had big hips and big legs. She was a good-looking lady. I was a good friend of hers. She had a boyfriend that she was going to marry and I knew him from Chicago. So he was my friend and she was my friend. He would take me to my gig sometimes on the weekend, when he didn’t have a funeral. He would take me in the hearse. And I wouldn’t let him take me to the club; I had him stop two blocks from the club because I didn’t want [anybody] to see me getting out of this hearse, you know?

So this particular weekend. Elmore didn’t have a gig. I asked him to work for me. He said ‘I’ll go, but I’ve got to have $5 a night,’ which was $15: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I said, ‘Elmore James, I have to give you $5 for the first two nights, but Sunday night, I can’t give but $3.’ But he said he had to have $5 a night. You have to understand this is 1950-something. Elmore James wanted $5 and I couldn’t give him but $3. But then he saw that woman and said, ‘Wow. Bobby Rush! Who is that woman there?’ He said, ‘Man, I’d do anything just to…’ You know. Just to lay with her. He said ‘I’d do anything just to be with her one night.’ I said, ‘Man maybe I can fix this up for you.’ He said, ‘I’ll play for you [for] free to talk to that woman.’ So here I am now going to my friend to find out what he was doing, to get him to go with me so Elmore James could stay with his old lady, so he could play for me for free. Why did you ask me this? That’s a dirty trick! (laughs). Now I got Elmore James to play with me free because I got him a favor with my friends. And they were both my friends! That wasn’t good on my part, man.

Think about being able to book Elmore James for less than many people pay for coffee!

Steven Ovadia

Steven Ovadia interviews blues artists about their songwriting process for Working Mojo.

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