"Slippin' Through The Cracks - The Blues Journey of Bobby Rush " - Featuring music and lyrics by Bobby Rush - Bobby has co-written the book with Stephen Lloyd Helper (Smokey Joes Cafe ) - Co-directed by Stephen Helper and Amanda Thomas. Felton Offard - Musical Direction / Arrangements and Orchestrations - Felton Offard and Jeremy Jones / Associate Musical Direction - Jeremy Jones
" I was blessed enough to come up in a time when I could be like a stand-up comedian and talk about the two most important things in life: sex and money. I don’t mean no harm to anybody. It’s the truth. It’s part of life, and life hasn’t changed. But I’m blessed today that I can put one foot on one side of the fence, and the other foot on the other side. I can still do the shows with the girls around me for Black (audiences), or I can cross the railroad tracks and cross over to the white market and play guitar in a club where Black people probably don’t even know I’m there. How many guys can do that? I’m the only one left who can do it”. - Bobby Rush
Extraordinary, unforgettable, and a once-in-my-lifetime experience to be invited to , and be part of the audience for "Slippin' Through The Cracks - The Blues Journey of Bobby Rush " . This was a remarkable experience, the cast reading of the proposed musical based on the amazing life of blues entertainer , Bobby Rush . Located on the 4th floor of Pearl Studios in Manhattan ( where I was stunned and mesmerized to see so many auditions taking place for stage and television , rehearsals for many projects taking place in various rooms throughout the building, with folks lined up outside closed doors excitedly waiting their turns to audition ) the invitation only event was filled with media folks , authors , producers , directors , photographers , family friends of Bobby Rush and writer / co-director Stephen Lloyd Helper - and - me ! It was such a thrill to have Bobby Rush take me aside and introduce me to his manager, to family members , and to Stephen Helper. We talked a little bit about the North Jersey Blues Society and Bobby was very happy that a blues society was there to cover the event . He happily signed autographs, talked about the play , posed for photos , and was excited that so many folks had come for this unique presentation - a musical based on his incredible life story . Spending time with Bobby Rush is almost a spiritual experience, his energy , his drive , his faith in the hope for a better world , all come across as you speak with him . Bobby has the same energy like he had decades ago. His youthful energy is enviable and clearly unstoppable!
" Steppin' Through The Cracks " - 14 music stands in a row across this studio space, actors assembled with their huge binders filled with dialogue - cues - and songs - a band at one end and the production crew on the other end - and in between all of this - a group of 50 folks lucky to be invited for this exciting reading. The story is amazing - the actors are incredible - the voices are astonishing - and the band , and those majestic voices , raised the roof on many occasions - Musical Direction by Felton Offord we listened to Bobby Rush classic performed by this incredible cast - " Shake It For Me " ; "Mary Jane " ; " One Monkey Don't Make No Show " ; " I Wanna Do The Do " ; and Bobby's biggest hit , " Chicken Heads" - a total of 24 songs that traces the extraordinary life of Bobby Rush - plenty of blues , funk , soul , and rhythm and blues - many of the numbers dance-floor ready. butt thumpin' and hip shakin' - imagine what would happen in an actual theatre? If this wasn't enough - Bobby Rush himself comes up at the end and performs as part of " "Funky Old Man ". Never has 2 hours flown by so quickly! Never have I had this much fun watching actors perform, sing, and bring down the roof! Their enthusiasm exploded with every number sung and every line read - “Slippin' Through The Cracks " - let's hope this magical musical can be finally brought to theatres everywhere!
At the champagne reception afterwards, it was a pleasure to meet many of the actors and talk to them a bit about their performances. Cedric Lamar, who played Bobby Rush, was explaining how difficult it was to actually learn to play the guitar like Bobby. He is a musician himself. However, Bobby's playing doesn't fit the standard so-called blues structure. Bobby's chords jump all over the place at any given time. I said to Cedric that you can't put Bobby Rush into a box. He has built his own particular box and out of that can jump any type of music at any given time. Cedric said that it took him several weeks to feel comfortable to play well enough like Bobby, and that he did perform for Bobby . and get many valuable tips and insights from the legend himself.
Mark Henderson, who plays both Emmet Ellis Sr; the pastor father of Bobby Rush , and Older Bobby Rush , told me that he is a professor at a university in Mississippi . He planned on flying back to Mississippi in a day or two. We had a few minutes to talk about the show, education and the blues society , took a photo , and thanked each other for the short time together.
Bobby Rush's inspiring but little known story - produced as a fantastic, moving , beautifully performed musical . This is a powerful tribute to an entertainer who has been electrifying audiences for decades. Bobby Rush - peeking through the cracks of Arkansas juke-joints , excited by the music and energized by all the action that he saw going on inside ; brutalized by the plantation system and dehumanized as a sharecropper picking and chopping cotton , riding a mule , and harvesting sugar cane (at one point in the performances young Emmet Ellis is told by a white foreman that he had a 2-day job for him cleaning up debris and that this work would lead to a big payday . When the work was finally completed , and Emmet asked for his payday , the white man reached into his pocket and pulled out a large "Payday" candy bar and handed that to the shocked young man) ) ; Bobby's father was a Pastor and his guitar playing and harmonica performances influenced the young Emmet ; As a young child Bobby ( Emmet ) began experimenting with music using a sugarcane syrup bucket and a broom-wire diddley-bow; His mother was a homemaker who was multiracial and often passed for white during their time living in Louisiana . Many times she played like she was Bobby's babysitter and not his mom. Sometimes mom would act like his father's chauffeur and not her spouse. Her life was in constant danger; As a teenager Bobby would wear a false mustache to trick club owners into thinking he was old enough to gain entry into the clubs ; In 1953 the family moved to Chicago where years later Bobby , with a new name , Bobby Rush , became an important part of the Chicago blues scene . Little Walter got him a job at a club called " Skins " where they played behind a curtain for white audiences ; The Chess Brothers later dumped Bobby because he was a threat to them - Bobby could read ! ; After living in Chicago for 48 years Bobby Rush moved to Jackson , Mississippi to find the roots of his enslaved ancestors ; Bobby was jailed several times , charges falsified by Jim Crow cops , one cop was sleeping with his wife at the time , and another cop busted Bobby because he had the same name as a Black Panther member - though the cop knew that the two men were not the same person ; Bobby later developed a lively and sometimes risqué act that blended music , dance , comedy - and plenty of sex . He called his music " folk funk " - taking the blues into new directions with a lot of funk, rhythm and blues , and soul . His live shows were sexually suggestive , edgy , humorous , and explosively exciting ; Bobby Rush became the "King of the Chitlin' Circuit " , those black clubs that became a roadway for entertainers in many Southern states ; three children dying from sickle-cell anemia ; renowned for his entrepreneurial flair by working multiple gigs the same night and sometimes collecting double pay by disguising himself as an emcee at his own shows ; Bobby has recorded for more than 20 labels from Checker / Chess and ABC to Philly Int'l and Rounder/Concord and on to Malaco and his own label , Deep Rush ; In 2007 Bobby Rush became the first blues artist to perform in China , earning him the title " International Dean of the Blues " . He was later named " Friendship Ambassador to the Great Wall of China " after performing for 40,000 , the largest concert gathering at the particular site ; In 2017 , at the age of 83 , Bobby finally won his first Grammy Award for the album " Porcupine Meat " . Bobby Rush continues to record some of the best stripped-back, bare bones Delta Blues songs. At age 87 one of the last original African American Bluesmen of the Southern and Chicago Blues Scene.
“Slippin' Through The Cracks - The Blues Journey Of Bobby Rush " - Where did it all begin? Stephen Helper knew nothing about Bobby Rush and even less about blues music. His award-winning theatrical track record speaks for itself. Stephen was driving his car two years ago with his partner, who had tuned into the Sirius XM blues station when the Bobby Rush song " Sue " came over the radio . The tune grabbed the theatre pro's ear and sparked a vision. " I thought it was hilarious, and I thought it was funky and bluesy , and it had a great , funny story . I thought, " This would be great in a theatre ". As Stephen told me, " I didn't know anything about Bobby . I didn't know if he was dead or alive “. So Stephen dove into Wikipedia to research Bobby Rush - " Bobby Rush had quite a life - happening and still going. I also knew that there were very few bluesmen from his generation still alive, let alone as active as he . So, I just went for it ".
Stephen contacted Bobby Rush's manager and started talks about creating a musical. Bobby Rush was certainly cautious, very skeptical, about Stephen's proposition. " I just thought he was a fan who liked what he heard. We were looking for a “ business ship " out of it , and it comes to be a friendship " , said Bobby Rush. " That friendship is, oh my God , very much two ways . And I am blessed. Deeply Blessed”, says Stephen Helper. " Slippin' Through The Tracks " - delivers the great time that Stephen hoped to bring to audiences. The first Broadway musical in history to come authentically straight out of the legendary Mississippi Delta. The play was first professionally workshopped in Jackson, Mississippi to ensure its authenticity. " Slippin' Through The Cracks " - recognition of Bobby's storytelling gifts, and the deep connection that his music has made with people around the world " If a dirt poor country boy, with no education , no opportunities , faced with great troubles , can make it through life doing what he loves , so can you " - Bobby Rush
And The Cast......
Stage Directions Read By - Asha Etchison
Special Appearance By - Bobby Rush
Walter Russell lll (MJ The Musical ) - Young Bobby Rush
Cedric Lemar - Bobby Rush
Mark Henderson (Hawthorne) - Emmet Eliss Sr. - and - Older Bobby Rush
Melvin Abston (Death of a Salesman)
Max Clayton (The Music Man)
David Jennings (Tina)
Jessie Lenat (Sneaky Pete)
Lizon Mitchell (Ohio State Murders)
Kyle Taylor Parker (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)
Akilah Ayanna Sailers (Mrs. Doubtfire)
Carla R. Stewart (Tina)
Na Tasha Yvette Williams (Some Like it Hot)
And Let's Give It Up for The Band......
Trevor Holder - Drummer
Jeremy Jones - Bass
Robert Morris - Guitar / Keys
Felton Offard - Guitar / Conductor
V Jeffrey Smith - Sax / Keys / Harmonica