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Jimmy Rushing at Pep's

It was in 1959 that I first met Jimmy Rushing. He was appearing at Pep's Lounge, a popular jazz spot at Broad and South Streets in Philadelphia, I was at WHAT-FM, the city's 24/7 jazz station. Between Pep's and The Showboat Lounge, there was rarely a week when one could not catch a major jazz act in center city, so I tried to get interviews as often as I could, but not always at the clubs. This was a club interview, made in the small wreck of a dressing room that was reserved for the headliners and showed the owner's disrespect. You will hear juke box music of the day (organs were in vogue) seeping through the thin wall that separated Pep's from a bargain eatery next door. When I sat down with Billie Holiday in that same room, she snapped her fingers and sang to the bass line somebody's quarter had paid for. Billie also showed me how that ball of facial tissue next to her makeup box was loaded with razor blades—just in case. I thought that to be rather unusual, but it really wasn't—women had to be tough to survive on the road in those days. Alberta Hunter used to walk around looking like a New York bag lady, with a shopping bag in each hand, and one day she showed me how she always had a her grip around a cloth-covered ice pick—just in case.

Jimmy and I in dressing room at Vassar - 1961
Back to Jimmy Rushing. I would later get to know very well, but this was our first meeting. He talks about his early years and his first trip to England, which had occurred the year before. He met Humphrey Lyttleton and George Melly, and had his first—perhaps only—encounter with skiffle, which he likened to hillbilly. We also talk about Billie Holiday and how her voice underwent a change in her last years. I should mention that I have long since reversed my opinion on that—what I once identified as "deterioration" was really not that. Billie's voice simply absorbed the the hurt and abuse of years spent being mistreated by her men, her government, and herself. The smile was gone, the soul remained.

Here and there, you will hear references to recordings that I later spliced into the tape, but removed from this post to comply with copyright laws—the interview itself is intact.

About a year later, just two days away from 1960, Jimmy and I sat down for another interview, this time at the legendary Half Note, in the bowels of Manhattan. I will post that soon, but now I hope you find something interesting in this one. Please post a comment and let me know what you think. 


  1. This is absolutely wonderful: to hear Jimmy Rushing talking is something special -- the sound of his voice, his cadences, the way his phrases rise and fall so echoes his singing. I would suggest that the dating of this interview is a little later than 1958, because you and he speak of Billie Holiday's last recordings and her death -- but this tape is a special pleasure! Thanks, Michael Steinman

  2. Thank you for pointing that out, Michael. I did have an off feeling about the date, but you are correct. So, I think, is my revision of the text. It was late, I was tired, I should have waited until morning before posting. There's a lesson in that!

    Thank you also for the good words!

  3. It was the last thing I'd imagine Rushing would define Blues for him as a hobby, that was a good surprise. Didn't Rushing done some SERIOUS Blues with the Count Basie band?

    I anyway prefer the Blues over the ballads as far as Rushing though I like all I heard so far from him.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Blues is by default a part of a jazz singer's repertoire. I have never heard a singer say that he/she didn't like the blues, but I heard a few say that they didn't like to be classified as a blues singer. Lonnie was one who felt that kind of labeling to be a barrier.

  5. I have to say Rushing was the one I missed seeing, maybe if I had been a year or so older! Despite all his great work with Basie, there is also one fabulous version of Hello Little Girl with Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie c1959 if you have not heard then search it out and play at "human strength volume" it's the only way!

    Chris Alberston, I bought your Bessie smith book when it first came out, what a nice place to meet you!

  6. Thank you, Richard T. I'll look for that recording and rev up my amp!

    I will be posting the second Rushing interview this week.

  7. Thank you for sharing this. I really enjoyed listening to Jimmy Rushing. It sounded like a nice relaxed conversation.

  8. Jimmy was like a family member in my childhood home. Love him. Thanks for the post.