Monday, November 26, 2012

Tom Rush Interview: Celebrating 50 Years of Storytelling and Music



By Ray Shasho


American folk and blues raconteur Tom Rush has been captivating audiences with his deep- rooted acoustic stylings and musical repartee for over a half century. And there is still nothing more profound then witnessing the simplicity of a lone performer onstage with an acoustic guitar and a story to tell. Tom Rush has that rare ability to interpret life stories in its most traditional and purest form.

Tom began his life as a troubadour by performing at Boston- area clubs while attending Harvard University in the early 60s. Rush released two albums by the time he graduated.
By 1965, he signed to Electra and recorded three albums for the record label.

The Circle Game album released in 1968, covered tunes by singer-songwriter counterparts Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and James Taylor. The release also spawned the self-penned folk classic, “No Regrets.” The song has been covered by numerous artists over the years including … The Walker Brothers (#7 Hit -1975, UK Singles Chart), Emmylou Harris, Fairport Convention, Olivia Newton-John, Curtis Stigers, Waylon Jennings, and Shirley Bassey.  The album cover was photographed by Linda Eastman.
According to Rolling Stone magazine, The Circle Game ushered in the singer/songwriter era.
James Taylor was quoted saying, “Tom was not only one of my early heroes, but also one of my main influences.” 

Tom Rush in the 60s … (Tom Rush at the Unicorn, Got a Mind to Ramble, Blues, Songs and Ballads, Tom Rush, Take a Little Walk with Me, The Circle Game)

In the early 70s, Tom Rush recorded for Columbia Records.
Rush toured extensively throughout the 70s. He became a traditional act at renowned music clubs like The Cellar Door (Washington, DC) and The Bitter End (New York), but also played large arenas supporting legendary rock acts like Loggins and Messina, and Alice Cooper.  

Tom Rush in the 70s … (Classic Rush, Tom Rush, Wrong End of the Rainbow, Merrimack County, Ladies Love Outlaws, The Best of Tom Rush)

After taking a break from touring, Tom Rush triumphantly returned (1981) to a sold-out Symphony Hall in celebration of twenty years in music. The following year, Rush spearheaded what would become a traditional annual musical event at Symphony Hall in Boston. The event mirrored a concept from the Club 47 coffee house in Cambridge, Massachusetts of the early 60s- allowing established artists and newcomers to share the same stage. The concerts would spotlight well-known artists like Bonnie Raitt or Emmylou Harris, (along with then unknowns) Alison Krauss or Mark O’Connor. Tom took the Club 47 concert series on the road …where it’s been ever since. The show has performed at Boston’s Symphony Hall, The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and New York’s Carnegie Hall to name a few.

The Club 47 concert series continues to pack houses, delight audiences, and animate music critics.  Rush says … “It all comes down to a really good excuse for getting some friends together and throwing a party.”    

Tom Rush in the 80s … (Tom Rush: New Year, Tom Rush: Late Night Radio, Tom Rush: Blues, Songs and Ballads -re-release)

In 1999, Columbia/Legacy released a Tom Rush retrospective album that covers his recorded musical history from 1962 to the present.

Tom Rush in the 90s … (Work in Progress, Tom Rush: Wrong End of the Rainbow-re-release, The Very Best of Tom Rush: No Regrets)

In 2009, Tom Rush recorded his first studio album in 35 years. The album entitled, What I Know was recorded in Nashville. The release includes original material along with harmonies by Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Bramlett and Nanci Griffith.

Tom Rush 2000’s and present … (Merrimack County/ Ladies Love Outlaws –re-release, Live at Symphony Hall, Boston, Trolling for Owls, How I play(some of) My Favorite Songs, Judy Collins’ Wildflower Festival, What I know)

Most recently, a video surfaced on You Tube of Tom Rush performing the hilarious/ sad-but- true … Steven Walters penned ditty, “The Remember Song.”  The video has generated over six- million views.

Tom Rush will be embarking on a new tour beginning December 7th from Portland, Maine. The tour lands at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fl on January 10th, the Largo Cultural Center in Largo, Fl on January 11th and Big Arts- Schein Performance Hall, Sanibel Island, Fl on January 12th.

Order tickets for the Ponte Vedra Beach show at http://pvconcerthall.sjcvenues.com/ or call (904) 209-0399 for more information.
Order tickets for the Largo show at www.largo.com or call (727) 587-6793 for more information.
Order tickets for the Sanibel Island show at www.bigarts.org or call (239) 395-0900 for more information.

I had the great pleasure of chatting with Tom Rush recently about the tour, and just about life in general.
Here’s my interview with a pioneer of the onstage concept of …a man, his guitar, and a story… singer, songwriter, and musician … TOM RUSH.
Ray Shasho: Thanks for being on the call Tom … so how are things?
Tom Rush: “Well, it’s snowing again now, it’s just blowing around in the air … but I think summer is finally over.”
Ray Shasho: Not down here in always sunny Florida.
Tom Rush: “Sure … go ahead and rub it in.”
Ray Shasho: But you’ll be down here soon performing three shows in the “sunshine state.”   Besides the upcoming tour, you’re also compiling the talent for an upcoming Symphony Hall concert.  
Tom Rush: “Yup, the 28th of December. This is my fiftieth year of recording and doing shows.
Ray Shasho: Congratulations!
 Tom Rush:  “Thank-you! It’s king of depressing actually. (All laughing)  We’re going to do the show to kind of put the end-cap on the fiftieth year.”
Ray Shasho: Have you lined-up all the guest artists that are performing at the show yet?
Tom Rush: “I’m getting there … pretty close. I’ve got Nanci Griffith, Jonathan Edwards, Buskin & Batteau, and trying to line up a couple of more. I’m hoping this will turn back into an annual event; I use to do these every year back in the early 80s, and then Symphony Hall started using the dates for Pop shows between Christmas and New Years and I couldn’t get a date from them. But now they’ve opened up again, so I’m hoping I can do it again next year and maybe keep doing it going forward. But we’ll have a good time.”
Ray Shasho: Tom, I’ve been disgruntled with the music scene for quite a long time. Growing up in the 60s, we had the best of the best, and most of us probably thought it would never end.
Tom Rush: “Well I think the good news is, these days there are a lot of music scenes, which has nothing to do with the industry … with a capital I, and the industry is kind of circling the drain. I’m sure you’re aware; a number one record today sells about ten percent of what it did about twenty years ago. It’s all gone over to the internet, and that’s good news for the working musicians and bad news for the superstars.”
Ray Shasho: And there aren’t many record companies left so it’s almost impossible to get a record deal.
Tom Rush: “Again, the good news is, sensible new musicians don’t want a record deal … they’ll do it themselves. They can connect with their audiences on the internet; sell their product on the internet. There are acts that can sell ten thousand seats today who have never been on the radio. So, it’s kind of exciting.”
Ray Shasho: I miss those days of hearing a song on the radio and running down to your local record store to buy the record.  
Tom Rush: “That was a good model, the record company, the radio stations, and the concert industry working together in symbiosis … but it doesn’t work that way anymore.”
Ray Shasho: I chatted with Roger McGuinn (The Byrds) and he seems to be happy with being in control and not depending on record companies.
Tom Rush: “It is hard to start out now; even though you’ve got an infinite amount of shelf space on the internet, it’s hard to get peoples attention. So Roger and I are fortunate that we’re going in with an existing audience. But given that we have an existing audience; it’s a great way to keep in touch with them. The Symphony Hall show for instance, I wondered how was I going to get a promoter to put up fifty or sixty grand to take a chance whether we could sell this Hall. And what am I going to have to give up in exchange for that investment. So I thought what about a kickstarter campaign … and we filled half the Hall before it went on sale. So we’ve got all the bills paid going in, and it’s a good feeling. They’ll also be doing a six camera shoot at the show; some folks will be doing a documentary on me. So it will be a lot fun. Tickets aren’t on sale yet but tomrush.com will have all the news soon.” 
Ray Shasho: Tom, were you part of that Greenwich Village music scene with Maria Muldaur … Bob Dylan, and all those great artists?
Tom Rush: “Not so much, I was up in Cambridge, Massachusetts … there was a different music scene up there. The Greenwich Village scene, everybody wanted to get matching shirts and go on the road. Up in Cambridge, it was much more of an amateur scene. They were just doing it for the love of the music. A few of us went on to become professionals but not very many. It was mostly typewriter repairmen, psychopharmacologist, and people who just loved to get together to play music for the fun of it, and really had no intention or desire to go professional.”
Ray Shasho: So what was your big-break leading you into a professional music career?
Tom Rush: “I had a couple of friends with radio shows on WBZ in Boston, and they were 50,000 watts clear channel, these guys would get fan mail from New Zealand, and had regular listeners in Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, just a huge-huge audience. I didn’t understand that at the time … what 50,000 watts clear channel meant. They’d invite me to play some songs on their shows and had no idea what type of audience I was playing to. I still get a lot of people saying, “I use to hear you on WBZ!”
Ray Shasho: I associate timelines of my life with music. Like… where was I when I first heard a particular song being played on the airwaves etc. Or in your case, through my teen years … every time I’d pick up the Washington Post entertainment section … there you were performing at The Cellar Door in Georgetown.
Tom Rush: “I’m being told over and over… “You’re the soundtrack to my college years …or my time in Viet Nam …or whatever, so people are coming to hear the songs they are familiar with, and God bless them, but if you want to do new stuff, you’ve got to sort of shoulder aside some of the older stuff. I still do a lot of the old stuff onstage … some Joni material, The Circle Game, “No Regrets” …which is my song, “Driving Wheel,” songs that people associate me with, but I also manage to squeeze in new material, and the good news is that my crowd seems to love it.”
Ray Shasho: I truly believe …a lone singer onstage with a guitar and a story to tell imprints an everlasting impression that a band of musicians just can’t compare to.
Tom Rush: “I do agree, and there aren’t many people doing that anymore. It’s an interesting discipline to be able to get up with just a guitar and hold people’s attention for a couple of hours.”
Ray Shasho: “I enjoyed the “What’s Wrong with America” video on your website. Do you think musicians should publicly endorse and campaign for a candidate?”
Tom Rush: “I’ve avoided that. On the one hand, I think my job is to give a person a little vacation from everything that’s wrong with the world, so I try not to get political onstage; I have been doing this, “What’s Wrong with America” song, which is quite different. I think even rich people will get a laugh out of it. But I think in general, I shy away from politics onstage.”
Ray Shasho:  Tom, I ask everyone that I interview this particular question. If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish to collaborate or play with anyone, living, or in the past, who would you choose? 
Tom Rush: “That’s a tough one …but I’d love to be able to sit in the audience and listen to Robert Johnson or Josh White. I did get to see Josh White play; he was one of my idols. I’d love to see Lead Belly and some of the old blues guys that aren’t with us anymore. That would be a treat.”
Ray Shasho: It’s a shame that many of those incredible blues players weren’t appreciated back in their day as much as they are now.
Tom Rush: “That was one of the interesting things about the Club 47 in Cambridge; they made a point of going out and finding these guys. A lot of them had retired, and most never played for a white audience before. They’d bring them up to Cambridge and these guys would be sitting in front of a bunch of white college kids. It must have been like going to Mars. But the kids loved it and a lot of the blues guys got a second career out of playing for college kids.”
Ray Shasho:  Tom, did you ever have it in your heart to pick up a ‘Strat’ and just wail away? (Laughing)
Tom Rush: “I tried playing electric for awhile and it just didn’t work out. My reflexes are centered on the six string acoustic. I just played the electric too hard and it sounded awful, so I gave it up.”
Ray Shasho:  I love “The Remember Song” because it’s so true … and based on the audience response, I think people can really identify with the lyrics. (Over 6-million views on You Tube) Are you surprised how popular that tune has become?
Tom Rush: “That was kind of a surprise …yea. My web guy was putting up some stuff on You Tube and I said …let’s put up “The Remember Song” people might like it. It didn’t cost anything, what the hell. And it’s the one that took off. It’s a song for our times.”
Ray Shasho: Do you have a favorite tune you like to perform onstage?
Tom Rush: “Not in particular, having been added it for fifty years; I have enough of a repertoire that if I get bored I can swap it out for something else. And then there’s new material coming along, either my songs or music I find on other peoples recordings. So, no, I don’t think I have a favorite. I like mixing things up, doing some silly stuff, along with serious stuff, up tempo, and some quiet things … it keeps me interested.”
Ray Shasho: What I Know is your latest release, do you have plans to record in the studio again soon?
Tom Rush: “I’ve got about three or four projects going at the same time and I don’t know which one is going to make it to the studio first. I wrote a kid song for the first time ever … and not necessarily kid songs but silly songs coming along. It would be a fun project to do; I could probably whip it off in a day. But then there are collections of other things, stuff that I’m writing, songs that I’ve learned from other people. I had so much fun working with Jim Rooney and his people down in Nashville, and I’d love to get back in the studio with him.”
Ray Shasho: They’ve got some amazing players down in Nashville don’t they?
Tom Rush: “Oh boy … working with these guys is like having a magic carpet ride. There are fifteen tracks on the CD and six of those are first takes. And I was actually disappointed they were first-takes because I wanted to do them over and over. (All laughing) It just felt so good. Every other house down there is a recording studio. You can get really top quality recording studio time for cheap.”
Ray Shasho: Your wife ‘Renee Askins’ is an author who wrote a book called “Shadow Mountain” …can you talk about her book?
Tom Rush: “It’s a good book … fifteen years working to get wolves restored to Yellowstone Park, and got the job done against overwhelming odds, because it was not popular with the ranchers who have a very disproportionate amount of power out there.”

“They had separate releases in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana; the wolves have flourished now and have been taken off the endangered species list in all three states. Each state is managing them very differently; Wyoming is managing them very badly. There basic policy is … just shoot them … every chance you get.”

“When she got the job done, Doubleday asked her to write a book about it, and she did, and it’s an excellent book. A women’s take on … why it was worth it, what it was really all about underneath it all, our relationship with wildness and wilderness … it’s a really a nice piece of work.”
Ray Shasho: Tom, thank you so much for being on the call today. But most of all … for the fifty years of great music and storytelling that you’ve given to all of us. We’ll see you in Florida!
Tom Rush: “Well thanks … I’ll keep doing it, if you keep listening!” 

Sign up for the Tom Rush Newsletter on Tom’s official website at http://tomrush.com/
Order the latest release from Tom Rush What I Know at amazon.com.
Order author Renee Askins (Tom’s wife) incredible journey … Shadow Mountain: A Memoir of Wolves, a Woman, and the Wild at amazon.com.

Tom Rush In Concert/ Florida dates …. Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fl on January 10th, the Largo Cultural Center in Largo, Fl on January 11th and Big Arts- Schein Performance Hall, Sanibel Island, Fl on January 12th.
Order tickets for the Ponte Vedra Beach show at http://pvconcerthall.sjcvenues.com/ or call (904) 209-0399 for more information.
Order tickets for the Largo show at www.largo.com or call (727) 587-6793 for more information.
Order tickets for the Sanibel Island show at www.bigarts.org or call (239) 395-0900 for more information.

Contact classic rock music journalist Ray Shasho at rockraymond.shasho@gmail.com

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