published Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Rick Rushing and company spread the blues news at JJ's Bohemia - Oct. 18

Blues guitarist/vocalit Rick Rushing, right, leads The Blues Strangers, bassist Aaron Nash, center, and drummer Steve Muse.
Blues guitarist/vocalit Rick Rushing, right, leads The Blues Strangers, bassist Aaron Nash, center, and drummer Steve Muse.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.


* What: Milele Roots and Rich Rushing & The Blues Strangers

* When: 10 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 18

* Where: JJ's Bohemia, 231 M.L. King Blvd.

* Admission: $5

* Website:

In the two decades since his father refused to let him take up the saxophone, Rick Rushing says he's learned to accept Mick Jagger's wisdom that what you need and what you want aren't always the same thing.

"[He thought] there were some not-so-savory things in the evening time that happened with musicians. I think he was trying to keep me from getting involved in that lifestyle," explains Rushing, who now heads up local blues trio The Blues Strangers.

"He said the saxophone would take me places that I probably didn't need to go."

Instead, Rushing studied the cello because, he says, his father was, "more comfortable with the nightlife." In the long run, starting out as a string musician made his eventual transition to guitar all the easier, and he says he's fallen in love with the six-string in the decade since he first picked one up on a basketball court in Venice Beach, Calif.

Although he is known for guitar chops inspired by blues/rock greats such as BB King, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Rushing is a descendant of famed vocalist Jimmy Rushing, an Oklahoma blues and swing jazz singer who was a featured member of the Count Basie Orchestra.

Unlike the elder Rushing, who went by the nickname Mr. Five By Five (for being as wide as he was tall), Rick Rushing's hushed vocals belie his slender, towering stature.

A native of Cincinnati, Rushing followed some friends to L.A. in the early 2000s to "[see] what it was all about out there." He had $35 in his pocket. A year later, he decided the West Coast wasn't for him and relocated to Chattanooga to join his extended family.

Soon after he came to the Scenic City, a friend introduced him to the guitar and, through it, blues music, which he says gave him an outlet for the listless sensation he felt at a time when he was trying to sort out his priorities.

"It was just perfect timing," Rushing says. "There are ways that people cope with things, and some are legal and others are illegal. Guitar and music are legal, and they kept me out of a lot of trouble."

The soundtrack in the Rushing household growing up was predominantly jazz music, and after his arrival in Chattanooga, Rushing participated in jazz bands at Chattanooga State Community College and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. In 2006, however, he formed The Blues Strangers, which he has led ever since. The band will take the stage Friday, Oct. 18, at JJ's Bohemia.

Whether they're playing covers of Otis Rush and Stevie Ray Vaughan or original material, Rushing says the Blues Strangers have ratcheted the music down to an impressive degree over the last seven years.

"If some place ... out of town ... wanted to ask about us, 99 percent of people would say, 'Yeah, book them,'" he says. "That doesn't happen overnight. It's taken us time to develop a good name and reputation around town."

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfree or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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