Q&A: Folk Legend Tom Rush Returns to Broward Center This Saturday, January 28

Tom Rush's career has followed many tributaries. He's a premier singer/songwriter who became one of the seminal figures of the early '60s folk music scene. For another, he helped introduce the world to emerging talents like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and Jackson Browne when they were all but unknowns, courtesy of his landmark early albums. Likewise, his 1968 composition, "No Regrets," has become an oft-covered standard.

But when it takes him more than 35 years to release a new studio album -- as was the case prior to the release of 2009 effort What I Know -- suffice it to say it doesn't exactly suggest a prolific work ethic. Naturally, then, when we had the opportunity to speak with Rush in anticipation of his upcoming appearance at the Broward Center this Saturday, January 28, we had to lead off with the obvious.

County Grind: So Tom, why the long gap between albums. At this point, it's been three years since your last release. Any plans for a new studio set?

Tom Rush: That question is asked a lot, and I give a lot of different answers, but here's the real reason. Early in my career, I figured I would probably die a tragic death at an early age, as so many great artists that I admired had done before me, and that only then would I get the appreciation -- adulation, really -- that I so richly deserved. (It was a business plan, truth be told, as much as a premonition.)

The problem is that Tragic Death at Early Age, or TDEA as we call it, doesn't just happen -- one has to apply oneself. And I admit that I lacked focus, dedication, and the years kept ticking on. I felt that death was passing me by, but I didn't give up! I held on to my dream, into my thirties, forties, fifties. Finally, in my sixties, I had to grapple with the reality that tragic death at an early age had evaded me, so I might as well make another album. So I did.

Actually, I am working on a new album, but the problem is that I'm actually working on three or four new albums, and the confusion seems to be slowing me down. Still, I don't expect I'll let another 35 years go by!

You did a children's DVD recently. That's an unusual turn for you, but it does seem to be a popular forum these days. Why did you decide to enter that arena?

I didn't decide; The Fish Story Song just kind of happened. It popped out of nowhere and seems to be taking on a life of its own. It's not an album but a single-song DVD or an audio-only download, both available only at my shows or One of the three or four albums in the works, however, is a collection of silly songs suitable for kids (or older people who should know better).

Early on, when you made some of the first recordings by James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and the others you gave first exposure to, did you have any idea these people would go on to become huge stars in their own right? Or did you see them as artists who happened to have good songs at the time?

Yes, and yes. I was sure that talents of that magnitude would find their way to the top, but at the moment I was focused on finding enough great songs to flesh out an album that I owed to Elektra and was two years overdue.

Have you kept in touch with any of the aforementioned artists? Have they ever offered any payback in the way of including you on one of their tours?

I bump into them occasionally, but we don't go bowling all the time or anything like that. As for touring, I've cut back on my travel to one (long) weekend a month, so the idea of getting on a bus and doing the Midwest does not make my heart race.

What are your thoughts about the folk revival that's been fostered by the independent music scene -- people like Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart, and Vetiver, among others? Have you heard any of that music, and if so, can you relate it to the folk revival that you were part of? Who are you following or listening to these days?

I'm sad to say I don't have time -- or the inclination, apparently -- to do as much listening as I ought. But the folk tradition has been alive and well for thousands of years, and I expect that it will last a bit longer despite our best efforts. As a recovering academic, by the way, I take "folk" to mean traditional material "handed down by ear" from generation to generation.

The word has come to mean just about any acoustic-guitar-driven music, the whole singer/songwriter thing, anything that's not clearly something else -- in other words, it doesn't mean much at all. As the internet increasingly enables the proliferation of niche markets, labels will mean less and less. There will be too many different flavors of music for a labeling system to be meaningful.

What are your thoughts about the new political populism that's been ushered in by the Occupy movement? And what are your thoughts concerning the opposite side of the spectrum, the tea party movement? 

I'd been wondering where the protest music was, since there seems to be so much to protest these days. The Occupy movements seem a bit unfocused, but then perhaps that's the nature of nascent populist movements. I do agree that the current distribution of wealth is bad for everybody, the 1 percent included. As parasites will do, they are killing the host that feeds them. The tea party movement is a puzzlement. How people on Medicare and Medicaid can go around complaining about socialism is beyond me.

Do you get involved with any political cause? We heard you took down your website in support of the opposition to the proposed bill that would allow government to police the internet?

I don't usually get too political, especially on stage. I feel it's my job to give folks a break from everything that's wrong with the world for a couple of hours. Yes, went dark for a day in coordination with Wikipedia and many other sites.

The protest against PIPA seems to have been successful -- for the moment. I'm not in favor of piracy, but this bill was a Trojan horse which, if passed and enforced, would have a devastating effect on the internet at large. Any benefit to the entertainment industries, who pushed for its passage, would be almost incidental to the damage it would do to the rest of us.

South Florida seems to have always been a good draw for you, one of the best outside your New England environs in fact. What do you attribute that to?

Snowbirds, God bless 'em!

Tom Rush. 8:30 p.m. Saturday, January 28, at the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center of the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $35. Click here.
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Lee Zimmerman