Q&A with Rusty Ends, the missing link between 1950s blues - rockbilly and the musical styles of the 21st century.

"I hope one day music will again be as important to us as it used to be. Video games and the internet have taken the place of music. Now people go to concerts to take selfies. Music used to be a part of every one's life. You woke up to it, went to sleep with it, and songs defined moments in our lives. I hope there will always be people who want to make real music (no matter the genre), and people who want to hear it."

Rusty Ends: Hillbilly Hoo Doo

Rusty Ends is the real deal, a true link between the rock and blues of the 50’s and 60’s and the 21st century. Rusty learned his craft as a teenager playing in the bars and taverns up and down Dixie Highway between Louisville and Fort Knox. The audiences were made up of a combination of soldiers, bikers, laborers, hustlers and working ladies (a vocal, volatile and sometimes lethal combination). The band had to play a combination of blues, soul and country and do it all with a beat that allowed the topless dancers to keep gyrating. With every gig Rusty improved and soon was asked to join The Premiers, a popular club band. This launched a long career in the once vital Louisville club scene. In 1969 he did his first recording session with the band Cooper ‘n’ Brass at Phillips International Recording Studio in Memphis TN, owned by legendary Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneer Sam Phillips.

Rusty has backed up some legendary performers including The Shirelles, The Drifters, Bobby Lewis, The Coasters, The Marvelettes and The Little River Band. At Blues Festivals he has played on bills that included Koko Taylor, Otis Rush, The Excello Blues All Stars and has played in recording sessions behind Kelly Richey, Robbie Bartlett, Wayne Young, and the great Blues Man Eddie Kirkland. Around 2010 Rusty disappeared from the music scene. When Rusty disappeared, it was rumored he lived in the Everglades and studied Native American mysticism with an old Seminole Medicine Man. Rusty reappeared five years later when a long time friend and sometimes band mate David Zirnheld asked him to play at church services with him. Rusty and the band do a combination of covers and originals combining Rock-A-Billy, Blues, Soul and anything else that catches his attention. This unique combination and the heart of Rusty has resulted in a real Kentucky burgoo he calls Hillbilly Hoo Doo. The 12 original songs on The Last of the Boogie Men (2020) take the blues and genres influenced by them (rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly and even swing), and blend them together to make a spicy hillbilly gumbo. The Last of the Boogie Men is the most stripped down recording Rusty has ever made, just guitar, bass and drums and on two cuts Gary Falk on tenor sax.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

The blues is at the root of everything in American music. Just as it has always been both a way for people to forget their troubles and party it has also been a way to cleanse our souls and make our lives better. As the blues has been incorporated into country and is the heart of rock it has the same impact on all of the diverse cultures that make up America. I can never forget the old news film of venues being roped off to keep the black and white kids apart, and how once the music started, they tore the barriers down and just partied together. If that same feeling could carry over into every day and everybody saw how much we have in common it would be so cool. That is what I feel when I'm in a philosophical mood about the blues and rock.

What touched (emotionally) you from the Native American mysticism and the old Seminole Medicine Man?

The connection with what is real. The native American relation to nature is really much bigger than that. It separates what matters from the trivial, and we all need to learn that.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

Our sound is rocking and blue. Not too long ago I played a job and a man came up to me and said I was the dirtiest guitar player he ever heard. I took it as a compliment, I think my style is greasy, soulful, and fun. My philosophy is if it feels good it's all right. My songbook is everything that I've ever heard that I liked. Hopefully I can combine classic soul, blues, roots rock, and boogaloo jazz into something that sounds good and people can recognize the roots, but it fits together into a full sound that stands on it's own.

"I want my music to make people feel good. I hope it will bring them together and that they will realize how they have so much in common as they see that they all enjoy the same things, maybe they will realize that they share the same needs, hopes, and dreams. And that they all like to party."

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I did a session with Eddie Kirkland one time and he told me to play as much and as often as I could. When I played with the Shirelles everytime they sang "This Is Dedicated To the One I Love", if I remember correctly it was Beverly Lee who would sing that first line by herself. It was so soulful, as soulful as anything I've ever heard, and I have always tried to capture that feeling (I haven't succeeded yet). I once met B.B. King, and he was so gracious. I wanted to tell him what an honor it was and how much his music meant to me, and I couldn't get any words out. I never want to embarrass myself like that again. The best advice I ever got was from my dad who always told me not to live my life trying to please other people.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Eddie Kirkland telling us how he went to the crossroads to make a deal with the devil, but he saw monsters and spirits that scared him so much he turned around and went home. The Shirelles playing a county fair and walking off stage in mud and wet sand to sing to a boy in a wheelchair. I have always considered a jam as a place for musicians to have fun and make good music together. I was at a jam and a young guitar player from a big jazz college was trying to cut me. He was way better than me, but I still considered it rude. I went way back in time and pulled out some stuff from guys like Billy Butler that he had never heard before. The people went wild, I wasn't blown away, and I always try to remember if you listen to any musician long enough, they will probably play something good that you've never heard before.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the soul and feeling. I don't want to hear programmed beats or digital instruments or backing tracks. I want the human touch and an honest sound.  It bothers me today that so many people just listen, they think dance music has to be over produced and electronic. Blues was meant to be danced to. It used to be people came to a club to hear the band and dance. If it has a backbeat and you can count to four you can dance to it. I hope one day music will again be as important to us as it used to be. Video games and the internet have taken the place of music. Now people go to concerts to take selfies. Music used to be a part of every one's life. You woke up to it, went to sleep with it, and songs defined moments in our lives. I hope there will always be people who want to make real music (no matter the genre), and people who want to hear it.

"The importance of helping people forget their troubles for a little while and have a god time. When I played those rough joints in the early days, I was playing for people who had hard physically demanding lives, and when they came to a bar, they wanted to forget about it, feel important and have a good time."  (Photo: Rusty and the band do a combination of covers and originals combining Rock-A-Billy, Blues, Soul and anything else that catches his attention.)

What would you say characterizes Kentucky blues scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?

Like everywhere else there are fewer places to play blues, and when the clubs finally reopen there may be fewer yet. There are a lot of really good bands that need to be heard. There are still a lot of people who have a very narrow view of what is blues. Anything that doesn't evolve dies, and that includes the blues. We have a great blues society in Louisville that really promotes the blues.  but many of the fans, probably myself included, have a tendency to hang in because we think we can hear the local bands anytime. They are still great, and we have to get out and support them.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

The importance of helping people forget their troubles for a little while and have a god time. When I played those rough joints in the early days, I was playing for people who had hard physically demanding lives, and when they came to a bar, they wanted to forget about it, feel important and have a good time. I learned how to read a crowd, hopefully know what to play to help them do that. This carries over to every show we play. And you learn to appreciate every person that comes to hear you.  You owe them the best show that you can give them.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

I want my music to make people feel good. I hope it will bring them together and that they will realize how they have so much in common as they see that they all enjoy the same things, maybe they will realize that they share the same needs, hopes, and dreams. And that they all like to party.

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