Born Emmit Ellis, Jr. in Homer, Louisiana, Rush was the son of Ellis Sr. and Mattie Ellis. His father was a pastor whose guitar and harmonica playing provided early musical influences. As a young child he began experimenting with music using a sugarcane syrup bucket and a broom-wire “diddley-bow.” Around 1946, he and the family moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas where his father took on the pastorate of a church. It was here that Rush would become friends with Elmore James, slide-player Boyd Gilmore (Elmore’s cousin), and piano-player Moose John Walker, eventually forming a band to support his singing, as well as harp and guitar playing.
Still a teen, Rush donned a fake moustache to play in local juke joints with the band. He was fascinated by the enthusiasm of the crowds. His family relocated to Chicago in 1953 where he became part of the local blues scene in the following decade.
It was in the early 1970s that his self-penned “Chicken Heads” cracked the Billboard R&B chart on Galaxy, after being picked up from a small label started by former Vee Jay Records producer, Calvin Carter. He later recorded with leading black music label, Philadelphia International, releasing his first album, Rush Hour, with one track, “I Wanna Do The Do” also charting in 1979 at #75.
In the early 1980s, he moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where he recorded a series of records for the LaJam label, Malaco’s Waldoxy imprint, and in 2003, for his own Deep Rush label with partner Greg Preston, a former Malaco Records executive. 2004’s FolkFunk was a return to a more rootsier sound, featuring guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart. He appeared in the film, The Road to Memphis which is part of the series The Blues, produced by Martin Scorsese. Rush was also a judge for the 2nd Annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists’ careers.
Rush received recognition for his music after the release of his 22nd album Rush, when he was awarded “Best Male Soul Blues Artist” at the Blues Music Awards. He also received “Best Acoustic Artist” and “Best Acoustic Album” for his album Raw. His album, Hoochie Mama was nominated for a Grammy award in the blues music section in 2000. His most recent albums are Show You A Good Time (2011) on Deep Rush and Down In Louisiana (2013) on Thirty Tigers.
In 2013, Rush was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the “Soul Blues Male Artist” category. In 2014, Rush’s album Down In Louisiana, won a Blues Music Award in the “Soul Blues Album of the Year” category, while Rush was also nominated in two other categories.
In July 2014, Rush performed with Dan Aykroyd one of James Brown’s songs on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.