The accolades given the Coen Brothers for their fictional "biography" Inside Llewyn Davis are definitely well-deserved. But the biggest rewards the film will reap will likely be those shared with the real-life folk singers who came of age in the early '60s and extended their influence onward over the successive five decades. One such individual is Tom Rush, an artist who not only helped jump-start the folk boom of that golden era but also helped subsequent generations gain their footing as well. It was Rush, after all, who became one of the first artists to cover James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and Joni Mitchell, even while penning songs of his own that became an essential part of the folk firmament.
Fifty years later, on the eve of his 72nd birthday, Rush is still carving out an individual niche while still clinging to his unassuming style and charming audiences from the Northeast to our own environs here in South Florida. We had a chance to chat with him via email just prior to his upcoming gig at the Broward Center of the Performing Arts.
New Times: You play South Florida fairly consistently. So what attracts you to our area?
Tom Rush: I'm bracing myself to go outside and shovel two feet of snow off the walk here in Vermont. It's 15 below zero. Need I say more?
What can we expect from a Tom Rush show circa 2014?
Some new songs and some old favorites, along with some stories that are either true or even better than true since I've improved them.
Let's catch up. What's new with you since your last visit here a couple of years ago? Any new albums in the pipeline?
I did a show at Boston's Symphony Hall a year ago, celebrating 50 years of music with my friends David Bromberg, Jonathan Edwards, Buskin & Batteau, and more. A very nice DVD/CD set of that evening just came out and is available (as chance would have it) at tomrush.com. There's also a video documentary in the works that will be ready for release sometime in the first half of this year.
You're credited with helping to bring the songs of Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and other notables to larger audiences through your early covers of their tunes. Is there anyone around these days that you're leaning toward in terms of prospective covers? Or any up-and-comers that you especially admire?
I always mention a fellow named A.J. Swearingen in this context. Great songs, singing, guitar playing -- and he's good-looking. I hate him.
What do you think of the so-called nu-folk scene these days? Any thoughts on the current folk scene in general?
The term "folk" has come to mean almost nothing these days. Mumford & Sons is definitely a folk act, or would have been if they'd appeared in the '60s. Some of what Paul Simon and Springsteen have released could be considered folk. Musicians have for a long time been going back to the well of the traditional songs that are the real "folk."
What's in Tom Rush's bucket list these days?
Finding enough time to come up with a bucket list.
Politics are really tangled these days and always seem to be relevant in folk circles. Do you have any views you care to share on what's going on in Washington or around the world?
Washington has finally devolved into almost complete disfunctionality. They've got to realize that "compromise" doesn't mean "give me everything I want, and then I'll ask for more" or this nation is done for. The global scene is also discouraging as technology gives us ever more tools to act upon our nastier impulses. Everybody can't have everything, but everybody should have something.
Have you seen the Llewyn Davis movie? If so, what are your thoughts. Could you relate to it?
Haven't seen it yet, but friends who have, who were there in the '60s, say that it misses the mark. All of the angst, little of the joy.
Do you still do an annual New Year's show in Boston with your friends? It seems that your music blends well with your humor. How did you develop your ability to connect the way you do with your audiences?
I just did another show there last week, so it's looking like the annual tradition may be reestablished. As for rapport, I'm not sure. I just love sharing my enthusiasm for the music with the audience, and it seems to work.
Speaking of which, it's so cool the way you go out to meet and mingle during intermission and after the show. Have you always done that?
No. Back in the day, it was considered very uncool to sell merchandise at shows; the record stores wanted all the action for themselves, and the record companies supported that. I started selling stuff before it was cool, and it seemed to work. And it seemed to work a lot better if I went out and signed stuff. And I discovered that it was fun to connect with the people I'd just been playing for.
One of my favorite Tom Rush tunes -- shared by millions as far as that love is concerned -- is "No Regrets." Is there a backstory with that song? It's such an incredibly beautiful piece of work, and it's been covered countless times. Are there any covers of that song you liked in particular?
My new girlfriend had just come up from New York to spend a weekend with me in Cambridge. I put her on the plane back to New York City, and as I watched it fly away, it felt strange being alone. That's it. As for my favorite version, the Walker Brothers in England had a huge hit with the song. That's probably my favorite because it put my first two kids through college.
Are you the nostalgic sort? Do you ever look back in wonder at your amazing career? Ever wish you could relive certain aspects of it, revisit certain individuals you were perhaps acquainted with back then?
No, I'm much more concerned with trying to figure out what's coming next. I'm not saying I'm any good at that, mind you, just that I try. I suppose it would be good to go back and try to correct some missteps, make apologies where they were due, but as I've said, I'm less concerned with the past than the future.
What are your plans for 2014?
Ah! Now you've backed me into a corner with all this "thinking about the future" nonsense. My plan for the new year is, basically, to somehow get through it. We've just decided to home-school our 14-year-old for the balance of the year, so that will keep me quite busy enough. I'd like to write a bunch -- songs and other stuff -- and get back in the recording studio for a while, and then invent that thing I've been thinking about to save the world. Wish me luck!
Anything you'd like to add?
Tomrush.com is the source of all knowledge and all merchandise... And you can sign up there for my occasional newsletter wherein I ponder all sorts of imponderable things.
Tom Rush performs at 7 p.m. Sunday, January 12, at the Amaturo Theater in the Broward Center of the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $35. Call 954-462-0222. Visit browardcenter.org.
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