Merrilee Rush was born Merrilee Gunst in Seattle, Washington. At a very young age, she studied classical piano. At age 16, she auditioned for and became the lead singer of a local band, the Amazing Aztecs, which was led by saxophone player, Neil Rush. She auditioned to play the piano, but was also asked if she could sing. Boy, could she! She had been singing most of her life and was influenced by rocking R&B music at dances around town.
The Aztecs did not last long. The band broke up because they felt too much attention was being given to Merrilee. She had been gaining a huge popularity around Seattle. She began appearing in various theater productions around town.
Neil Rush was paying a lot of attention to Merrilee and despite her parent’s best efforts, she and Neil broke free of their attempted control and joined ‘The Statics.’ She played an organ, rather than the piano in this group. They could really put on a show.
The Statics decide to make a record and, because of their continued interest in R&B music, choose, “Hey, Mrs. Jones,” a 1952 hit for Jimmy Forrest. They continued to play frat parties, school dances, armories, etc. and made more records.
Merrilee married her bandmate, Neil Rush, in 1963.
One night, the Statics were booked across the street from another venue where Paul Revere and the Raiders were also booked. The Statics had a full house while the Raiders had almost no one. Not knowing it at the time, but Merrilee would later hook up with the Raiders to boost her career.
In 1965, Merrilee and Neil broke from the Statics and formed a new group called Merrilee and the Turnabouts. Best of all, Merrilee was no longer stuck behind the keyboards and was free to roam the stage, singing. They began sharing the stage with some major headliners of the day. The Turnabouts released a couple of records, which went nowhere, but showed that Merrilee was breaking with the R&B sound of the Statics and was moving into the post Beatlemania era sound.
The Turnabouts began a major tour schedule and in 1967, Paul Revere asked Merrilee to tour with the Raiders. One catch was she had to use a different backing band, the Board of Directors. They toured the southeast and Merrilee was later asked to attended recording sessions with the Raiders, where she met Chips Moman. She cut some demo tracks for him and was soon offered the song, “Angel of the Morning.” She recorded the song in Memphis backed by studio musicians, but the records showed, ‘Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts.’ Of course, most records used studio musicians rather than the actual band.
The record was release in 1968 and shot to #7 on Billboard. Riding high on this success, other songs were released, the first of which was “That Kind of Woman.” Great songs, but just couldn’t break the Top 40.
Merrilee received a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary female vocalist of the year. One problem was that the contract she had sign only allowed her to receive around $5000 for a record that sold a million copies by 1970.
Over the next several years, Merrilee continued to record and tour, switching labels a couple of times. She and Neil Rush would divorce and she would later marry entertainer Billy Mac McCarthy. She still lives in the Seattle area and together they breed and raise Sheepdogs, which she has been doing since the late 70s. Merrilee still plays oldies shows, fairs and conventions around the country, but mostly in the northeast.
Hey, Mrs. Jones – Tiny Tony with the Statics
Angel Of The Morning – Merrilee Rush