The Oblivians & Bobby Rush

Our feature this week is Memphis garage rock icons The Oblivians in a blistering set in front of an enthusiastic, hometown crowd. Kicking the show off today is a solo, down-home set of story-telling and song from Bobby Rush – just Bobby and his guitar. Beale Street Caravan contributor Robert Gordon stops in to tell us more about The Hi Records Story.

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Scaring the country folks of Memphis with their brand of sleazy raunch & roll since their 1995 debut album, Soul Food, the Oblivians refuse to mold into the stereotype of three-piece ensembles sounding “wimpy” or “watered down.” Instead, the Oblivians pay tribute to the Ramones, the Sonics, and the Stooges by creating their own sound of nostalgic ’60s garage punk with their use of lo-fi equipment. Following Soul Food, the next year brought a live studio collection entitled Sympathy Sessions and their second album, Popular Favorites. Continuing on with their unorthodox lineup of two guitars and drums, the Oblivians collaborated with keyboardist Mr. Quintron on the appropriately titled Play 9 Songs with Mr. Quintron in 1997. It was the group’s last studio set, as Greg Oblivian (aka Greg Cartwright) and Jack Oblivian chose to re-form their earlier band, the Compulsive Gamblers; Sympathy for the Record Industry released an official non-Crypt best-of in 1999 called The Best of the Worst: 93-97; Melissa’s Garage Revisited followed a year later.

Many other projects followed the breakup, including the long-running Greg Oblivian-fronted band the Reigning Sound as well as work with the Detroit Cobras and with original Shangri-Las singer Mary Weiss on her late-2000s comeback album, Dangerous Game. Oblivians member Eric Friedl continued to run the increasingly successful Goner Records label and its affiliated store, working with future stars like Jay Reatard. In 2009 the Oblivians re-formed to play shows with the also reunited trash rockers the Gories, and by 2012 it was confirmed that they would be working on a new studio album. That album, Desperation, materialized in 2013 on In the Red Records.


The creator of a singular sound which he dubbed “folk-funk,” multi-instrumentalist Bobby Rush was among the most colorful characters on the contemporary chitlin circuit, honing a unique style which brought together a cracked lyrical bent with elements of blues, soul, and funk.

Born Emmit Ellis, Jr. in Homer, LA, on November 10, 1940, he and his family relocated to Chicago in 1953, where he emerged on the West Side blues circuit of the 1960s, fronting bands which included such notable alumni as Luther Allison and Freddie King. However, as Rush began to develop his own individual sound, he opted to forgo the blues market in favor of targeting the chitlin circuit, which offered a more receptive audience for his increasingly bawdy material; he notched his first hit in 1971 with his Galaxy label single “Chicken Heads,” and later scored with “Bow-Legged Woman” for Jewel. He appeared on a wide variety of labels as the decade progressed, culminating in the 1979 LP Rush Hour, produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff for their Philadelphia International imprint. During the early ’80s, Rush signed with the LaJam label, where he remained for a number of years; there his work became increasingly funky and deranged, with records like 1984’s Gotta Have Money and 1985’s What’s Good for the Goose Is Good for the Gander often featuring material so suggestive he refused to re-create it live. During the mid-’90s, Rush moved to Waldoxy, heralding a return to a soul-blues sound on LPs including 1995’s One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show, 1997’s Lovin’ a Big Fat Woman, and 2000’s Hoochie Man. In April 2001, his tour bus crashed, injuring several bandmembers and killing one, Latisha Brown. Rush was hospitalized for a short time, then returned home to recuperate. Rush returned to action in 2003 with the release of the Live from Ground Zero CD and DVD on his own label, Deep Rush, followed by Folkfunk, also on Deep Rush, in 2004. Rush released two albums in 2005, Hen Pecked and Night Fishin’, and continued his prolific activity with 2008’s Look at What You Gettin’, which offered a mix of ballads, soul, and bluesy double entendres.

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