Tom Rush Living the Dream, No Regrets

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Submitted by Don Graham

When I reached Tom Rush by phone the other day to talk about his upcoming show at Toronto’s Hugh’s Room, I started the conversation with “How are you Tom?’ His response, “I’m living the dream.” And what a long incredible dream it’s been since recording his debut album in 1962 and having just released a new one in 2009. He continues to tour to this day. In fact his tour schedule is so filled it’s staggering to look at. But Tom couldn’t be happier.

Tom Rush was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and began performing in 1961 while attending Harvard University where he majored in English literature.He performed regulary at the Club 47 coffee house in Cambridge.

His 1968 composition "No Regrets" has become a virtual standard, with a whole lot of cover versions having been recorded to date. Tom himself did two very different versions. Some other rendititons includeThe Walker Brothers, which gave Tom Rush Top Ten credit as a songwriter on the UK singles chart, Emmylou Harris, who included the song on her 1988 album Bluebird, and Midge Ure whose cover also made the UK Top Ten.

Tom is a living legend and everything about him is distinct. He has a distinct guitar style, a dry sense of humor, and a voice all his own that has warmed the hearts and soothed the ears of audiences around the globe. He also leaves audiences with enough smiles and laughter to lighten even the heaviest of hearts. Tom Rush shows are that rare melding of emotional gumbo, complete with songs of joy, laughter, pain and sorrow but also belief and conquering. And he does a pretty mean train song or two, “Panama Limited” being one of my favorites.

Tom Rush is one of the pioneers of the American music scene and was instrumental in the building of the folk revival in the ’60s and the rebirth of it in the ’80s and ’90s. People like James Taylor have credited Tom with being “one of my early heroes, and also one of my main influences.” Country music star Garth Brooks has also credited Rush with being one of his top five musical influences.

Tom has kick started the careers of songwriters Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne by being among the first to record their songs. Tom’s version of Joni’s “Circle Game” was the first time I heard the song.

Tom’s ‘signature’ in the early days, and for most of his live career, was his distinctive guitar. When I asked him if he was still playing his big Epiphone Texan he said, “ Well the original one burned up in a house fire about 20 years ago and there have been a few in between but recently I was approached by Canadian guitar makers MacKenzie & Marr to produce a limited edition recreation of my “Naked Lady” guitar and I said if you can get me a naked lady with a snake wrapped around her, let’s do it,” And they did and he currently tours with the new “ Naked Lady.”

In 1999, Columbia/Legacy released a Tom Rush retrospective album covering his recorded musical history from 1962 to the present, including tracks recorded for Columbia, Elektra, Prestige and his independent years. Entitled “The Very Best of Tom Rush: No Regrets”, the 17-track compilation includes as a bonus a brand new Tom Rush composition, “River Song,” which features vocal contributions from Grammy winners Shawn Colvin and Marc Cohn.

A live CD, “Trolling for Owls” released in 2003 and published by Tom’s NIGHTLIGHT RECORDINGS, captures Tom’s complete performance and includes, for the first time, some of the spoken stories that have endeared him to audiences.

In 2009, Tom recorded his first studio CD in 35 years. Recorded in Nashville, “What I Know” was produced by Tom’s long-time friend Jim Rooney and includes original Tom Rush material, as well as harmonies by Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Bramlett and Nanci Griffith. Today, Tom Rush lives in New Hampshire when he’s not touring. His voice has grown even richer and more melodic over the years, and his music, like a fine wine, has matured and found its wheelhouse.

Now he sets to return to Hugh’s Room in Toronto. “I love Hugh’s Room, it’s a great venue, good sound and great audiences. And I’ll be there accompanied on the piano with my friend Matt Nakoa. I think Matt is an incredible talent and will do big things for himself one day. Right now he’s playing alongside me and doing a great job driving all these miles to get to the gigs!”

So what keeps Tom out there still playing and singing and telling his stories? “ Well” he said, with that Tom Rush laugh, “ I got a kid to put through college!”And more seriously, “I love the people that I get to meet and their reaction to the music. That’s actually what drives me to keep doing this. The travelling is hard but the reaction is worth it. I probably play for free and charge for the travelling.”

So do not miss this chance to see a legend in action at Hugh’s Room if you’re in the area, Saturday April 16th. It will be a show for the ages.