Good songs still the focus for Tom Rush
Tom Rush | Photo by Tom Wiseman
S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston
8 p.m. Oct. 28
www.evanstonspace.com or (847) 492-8860
Updated: January 23, 2012 4:20AM
Tom Rush is an acclaimed songwriter and musician, song interpreter, and performer. He was an influential part of the ’60s folk revival scene, and also the folk renaissance that began in the early ’80s. Throughout the years, Rush has continued to bolster folk music and its artists through his Club 47 concert series, named after the former Club 47 coffeehouse in Cambridge, Mass., (now Club Passim), where Rush got his start.
He has been credited with launching the singer-songwriter era by recording the material of then-unknowns Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and James Taylor on his “The Circle Game” album (1968). His own song on that album, “No Regrets,” has become a standard recorded by many artists.
He’s still writing songs. In 2009, Rush released his first new studio album in 35 years, the excellent “What I Know” on Appleseed Recordings, which features seven new Rush originals.
Recently, he released his first children’s song, and will release an accompanying video soon. Rush performs Oct. 28 at S.P.A.C.E. in Evanston. He spoke recently by phone with Pioneer Press.
Q: Tom, you deny that you had any intentions of launching the singer-songwriter era, and always pull back from claiming any credit, why is that?
A: If I did, it was an accident. I was just looking for good songs, walking around Boston Commons. The fact that all three of them — Joni Mitchell, Jackson Brown, and James Taylor — were on the same album (“The Circle Game“) had a lot to do with it. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but in retrospect, it was having all that brilliant material together that really made people sit up and take notice. I’m glad I did that.
Q: You have described the material on “The Circle Game” as “goose-bumps” songs. Did you literally get goose-bumps, was this some type of a litmus test for you?
A: Yes. I first heard Joni in Detroit, and this was at a point when I was two years over a deadline to (complete) an album. So I started bugging her for a song. And her (former) husband (Chuck Mitchell) was telling her, “no, our duo is where our future lies.” I encouraged her songwriting and she wanted (to do that) too.
Q: You’ve written your first children’s song. Tell us more about that. Is an album of such songs something you might do?
A: It‘s “The Fish Story Song,” about a fish that talks, and you can actually download it (free) at tomrush.com. It’s taking on a life of its own, the YouTube as 4 million hits. I have actually a whole collection of silly songs, not necessarily children’s songs, but more whimsical songs, so who knows.
Q: Tom, you refer to “bits and pieces” of songs, songs that take a while to percolate, your revisiting ideas for songs, is that your process of putting them together?
A: It all has to do with discipline, which is not a strong point of mine. If I sit down and work at it every day, every morning for a couple hours, there’s some songs there. But I get little notions, put on a piece of paper and in a folder. Some of these folders get lost in different places. But I’ll piece together ideas, have written whole songs (like that). I’m very slow as a songwriter.
Q: You have made the comment that the difference in the early ’60s music scenes of Boston and New York was that Boston was less driven, more ‘music-centered,’ and that New York was more ‘show biz’ with artists eager to make it big and get out on the road. How would you describe the Chicago scene at that same time?
A: I think that the Chicago scene was in between, but probably closer to the Cambridge scene, emphasis on the music and having fun. Steve Goodman was certainly way up in that vanguard. I remember people sitting on the floor on pillows, and the wonderful, warm environment in Chicago. I played Amazingrace, Earl of Old Town, Somebody Else’s Troubles.
Q: Asked what he recalled about Steve Goodman, Rush offered up a story:
A: I was playing in Boulder, Colorado, I think it was Tulagi’s, and Steve came. He was in town and came by, and we hung out after the show. He had bought this stuffed rabbit for his daughter, a bright pink stuffed rabbit, taller than he was, and we were sitting on a couch, with Steve’s arm around this rabbit. Then after the show, Steve went out and tried to catch a cab. It was snowing hard, and Steve was standing under a streetlight with his arm around this rabbit trying to hail a cab. The cabs would slow down, take a look at him, then speed off into the night. So I had Steve hide in the alley while I secured a cab for him.
Q: What can people expect at your upcoming show in Evanston?
A: It’ll be a solo acoustic, which is my favorite format, as it allows me the ability to ramble a little more freely.
Q: I see you’re on Facebook. Do you like social media? What do you think of the internet and social media and its impact on the music business?
A: Yes, I’ve got my toe in the water. But I’m not (yet) on Twitter. Facebook is kind of nice. My fans feel like they have a personal relationship with me. Just recently someone came up to me at a show and asked me to sign something. When I asked who it was for, they said “it’s for me” like I knew their name. I love it. And kids know about me from the Internet, seems I’m seeing more young faces in the audience. I actually had some college kids bring their parents to a show. When I said to the parents, “did you drag them with you?” they said, “no, they dragged us!” The industry? The day of the “star” is waning. The Top 40 side of things is shrinking. Performers have to go on stage now, can’t rely on CD sales. What the industry pumps out is no longer a mountain. It has become no more than a molehill.