By Rob Nagy
Looking back at a musical journey spanning over five decades, singer songwriter Tom Rush muses aloud about his now legendary career.
“I didn’t really have expectations when it came to music,” said Rush. “I figured I was going to do this for a few years until I figured out what I was really going to do. People were willing to pay me to play and sing, which I still find amazing. So I’ll do that for a little while until I figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up.”
As a tribute to his fans and in recognition of a milestone, Rush has released “Tom Rush, Celebrates 50 Years of Music.” A CD/DVD recorded at Boston’s Symphony Hall in 2012, the double album features Rush performing in front of a packed house at a venue whose stage he has graced many times in his storied career. Special guest appearances include Jonathan Edwards, David Bromberg, Dom Flemons and Buskin & Batteau.
“There are some folks (Todd Kwait and Rob Stegman) currently making a documentary about me,” says Rush. “I was talking with them, and I thought, ‘Geez, it would be great to close out 50 years at Symphony Hall in Boston. I used to perform shows there back in the 80s, and they were very well received, sold out and people loved them.’ So, they booked the hall and did a six camera shoot, which came out looking great. This particular night I was joined by some of my favorite people in the world. That really made it nice. The off shoot of this became my ‘Celebrates 50 Years of Music’ release.”
Born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Rush attended Harvard University as an English literature major in the early 60s. It was during this time that he gravitated toward folk music, dabbling in and recording lowland Scottish and Appalachian folk songs.
Rush became a regular performer at the legendary Club 47 in Cambridge and the Unicorn in Boston. Locally, Bryn Mawr’s Main Point played host to Rush on numerous East Coast concert tours.
Rush recalls a humorous story following the release of his 1962 debut album, “Tom Rush at the Unicorn.”
“When my very first album came out fifty some years ago, a big record store in Harvard Square was carrying it,” said Rush. “I went in and saw that they had me filed under folk, and I went up to the manager and said, ‘Excuse me, this is my album. I’m not really a folk singer.’ So he said, ‘OK,’ and he put it in the blues section. ‘I’m not really a blues singer either.’ After a couple of more slots he said, ‘OK kid,” and he put me in misc. (laughs) I learned my lesson.”
His 1968 album “The Circle Game” spawned the classic song “No Regrets,” which has become a Tom Rush standard and a fan favorite. Recorded by numerous fellow artists, the Walker Brothers and Emmylou Harris attained charting success with their respective cover versions of the song.
Over the next four decades Rush released an occasional album and played to packed coffee houses, clubs and theatres. While he gained notoriety and critical acclaim for many of his own songs, it was not uncommon for Rush to cover material of fellow artists James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne, helping to launch their respective careers. His musical impact was recognized by Rolling Stone Magazine, who credited him with giving birth to the era of the singer songwriter.
By the 80s, when the record industry was turning its back on artists like Rush, he expanded his creativity by launching a highly successful music mail order business.
“Making my own records and selling them through the mail put me in touch with a lot of people,” said Rush. “They would write me letters, and I’d answer them. I think there was a sense of a personal connection. Now, with the Internet, it is much easier and certainly cheaper to keep in touch with people. They feel that they know me and I know them. These people have been paying my rent for 50 years (laughs), so I like to stay in touch and meet as many of them as I can when I do a show.”
When it comes down to defining the essence of Tom Rush the artist and performer, Rush puts it quite simply.
“I think I’m a storyteller,” says Rush. “The stories have become an important ingredient in the show, and I think the songs also tell a story or paint a picture of the person speaking in that song. I want people to go away feeling good. I try to do a little bit of an emotional journey through the course of a show. I’ve got some funny songs. I’ve got some really introspective songs that get people pretty emotional. It’s the balance between the two. I try not to get in the way of the song and be a window you can view the song through. Getting to do something that I really love and getting paid for it is a real blessing.”
IF YOU GO
Tom Rush performs at 7 p.m. Friday, April 4 at the Ardmore Music Hall, 23 E. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore. For tickets go to www.ardmoremusichall.com. To stay up to date with Tom Rush visitwww.tomrush.com.