I Ain’t Studdin’ Ya: My American Blues Story

Hachette. Jun. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9780306874802. $29. MUSIC
In a series of snapshot vignettes, musician Rush’s memoir, cowritten by Powell (coauthor, My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire), offers an expressive sojourn through the world of American blues and R&B, from the post–World War II era to the present. Rush discusses his hardscrabble childhood; born Emmett Ellis Jr. in 1933, he grew up in Louisiana and Arkansas in a family of 10 children, crafting instruments from broom wire and bottles. His parents were both Black, but he says his mother was “light-passing”; as a boy, he was confused by differences in how his mother and father were treated. The book ends with Rush’s 2017 Grammy win and 2006 induction into the Blues Hall of Fame. In between, there are enthralling anecdotes about the greats (Muddy Waters, James Brown, Ike and Tina Turner), the challenges of life on the road, and the vagaries of Rush’s home bases of Chicago and Jackson, MI. Other intriguing sidelights include Rush’s work as a bricklayer and barbecue chef, and his tours across Europe and less-visited areas of the United States. He also discusses the tragic loss of three of his children to sickle-cell anemia.
VERDICT Rush describes the rewards and difficulties of the bluesman’s life with a refreshing, self-deprecating honesty. His story will appeal to musicians and readers interested in race in the United States.
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