Behind the good-time music and onstage antics, bluesman Bobby Rush knows the pains of African-Americans' struggle for civil rights.
The 77-year-old remembers the time he went to see Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak at the city's International Amphitheater. After ferrying people to the event, he parked on the "white" side of the amphitheater only to be met by an angry mob of white men with baseball bats. The bigots chased Rush until he found refuge in a police station, but they went back and set fire to his car.
"They kicked us out of the police station, saying we didn't have no business over there anyway. I got really involved (in the movement) after that," says Rush, who to this day uses his tour bus to take people to the polls on election days. "I'm involved always with anything to do with Martin Luther King any kind of way I can be involved because I know what he stood for and I stand for the same thing."
Saturday, Rush will stand for those principles once again when he headlines the second night of the annual "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace & Freedom Weekend Tribute Celebration" at Sam's Town Casino's River Palace Entertainment Center.
Held in the runup to Monday's observance of the national holiday named in honor the civil rights martyr, the show is a benefit for Memphis' National Civil Rights Museum. Rush will perform with fellow Southern soul circuit star Sir Charles Jones. The Manhattans ("Kiss and Say Goodbye") perform Friday night.
Regardless of hardships, Rush, true to his sunny performing persona, doesn't spend much time dwelling on the negative aspects of the past. In fact, on his latest record he returns to his earliest days growing up in Homer, La.
Due out Feb. 19 on the performer's own Deep Rush label, Down In Louisiana finds Rush raiding the sounds he heard growing up in the rural backwater — Cajun/zydeco, acoustic blues, gospel — with his own funky R&B. Produced in Nashville by Rush's former keyboard player (and former Memphian) Paul Brown with a four-piece band, the record continues the exploration of rawer, simpler sounds that have rejuvenated Rush's career over the past decade.
"I had this idea, let me go back to the roots of me and where I come from," says Rush, "not only to Louisiana, but I went back musically kind of broke down without the big band."
Showtimes for both concerts is 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 or $50 for both nights. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster. For more information, call 662-363-0711 or visit samstowntunica.com.
Also In Tunica This Week
Modern-day country outlaw Jamey Johnson will be in concert at Horseshoe Casino's Bluesville Friday night.
Johnson, who has become a hero to fans of "real" country with his tradition-bound top-shelf songwriting and no-frills classic country style, defied industry wisdom in 2012 by releasing a tribute to a deceased country star of '60s, one-time Memphian Hank Cochran.
The gambit paid off. Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran has been nominated for Best Country Album at the Grammy Awards to be handed out Feb. 10.
Showtime for Johnson is 8 p.m. Tickets are $25, $35, $45, and $75 and are available at the box office and through Ticketmaster. More information: 800-303-7463 or horseshoetunica.com.
Finally, before heading to Washington to participate in a King memorial event on Monday, R&B diva and Grammy Hall of Famer Patti LaBelle will first perform at Gold Strike Casino's Millennium Theater Saturday night.
Showtime for LaBelle's concert at the Gold Strike is 8 p.m. Tickets are $79.95 and $89.95 and are available at the gift shop and through Ticketmaster. More information: 662-357-1111 or goldstrike.com.