Great ‘stache, great songwriting. Those are the first two features you recognize when you give folk singer Tom Rush a quick look and listen. Delve deeper, and you’ll notice much more.
Before his mustache and notoriety grew, Rush was an English student and self-taught guitarist at Harvard University performing at Club 47 (now known as Club Passim) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He met a number of other folk performers at this time and released two albums before signing with Elektra Records in 1965 for his next three albums.
These recordings from that time are some of the best folk songs the Sixties ever heard outside of Bob Dylan’s first nine, legendary albums. Rush’s covers of original songs by rising folkies and friends Joni Mitchell and James Taylor helped them build their own careers, and jumpstart what Rolling Stone has called the late 1960s-early 1970s “era of the singer –songwriter.” Taylor claims Tom Rush as a significant influence and an “early hero” (here’s a recent photo of the two friends after a benefit concert). It’s not so surprising now to hear similarities in the way Rush and Taylor sing and play guitar (speaking of James Taylor, his son, Ben Taylor, plays Rams Head On Stage on April 16th and James’ brother, Livingston Taylor plays On Stage two days later on April 18th).
Rush’s early success in the folk scene culminated in what would be his biggest critical hit: the 1970 release of The Circle Game, an album that combined masterful, beautifully spacious folk guitar styling, similar to that of British folk legends Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Nick Drake, and the like, with the romp and stomp of American folk rock bands like the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and others. Check out “Rockport Sunday” and Rush’s cover of “Something in the Way She Moves,” to hear this dichotomy in action.
Rush brought in a backing band in the early 1970s to expand his live capabilities and keep pace with the evolving American folk/country rock genres, now dominated by high-profile artists and groups capable of captivating entire arenas. But Rush never lost his roots or his head as the music scene around him drastically changed in only a few years (I’m looking at you disco). By the mid-1970s, he decided to take a break to live on his farm in New Hampshire and would not return to the limelight until the early 1980s. When he did, he was welcomed back with open arms, as all timeless musicians should be.
The key to Rush’s success over the years has been his light-hearted, down to earth nature, which you can hear immediately in his lyrics and interaction with audiences throughout his career. He’s one of those uniquely talented yet humble musicians, who play straight from the soul, and solely for the sake of the music. If that’s your kind of concert, come out to Rams Head On Stage this Sunday, April 6th to see an intimate set with one of America’s folk heroes. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are still available at www.ramsheadonstage.com.
Here’s a great video that showcases Rush’s story telling and guitar playing prowess.
– Matt Ellis