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Note: This updated story was originally published in October 2020, prior to a concert at the Greenwich Odeum.
Tom Rush was there at the beginning. The legendary singer-songwriter has been a mainstay on the folk scene since the early 1960’s, when along with Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and others, he was a regular on the coffeehouse circuit. He traversed “the green pastures of Harvard University” (as Dylan once wrote) and was frequently “in residence” at Club 47 (now Club Passim), an incubator of Cambridge, MA folk scene in the 1960’s.
Still going strong at age 80, Rush will bring his socially distant, COVID-safe show to the Narrows Center in Fall River Friday, May 28th. The popular singer has already beaten back the COVID monster, having recovered from a bout with the virus last Spring. He described what happened when I spoke with him in October.
“I think I got it on a plane coming north from Florida after a string of gigs down there,” explained Rush. “I actually got off easy, I was not hospitalized, although it was close. It was five days of feeling worse and worse, and then five days of feeling really bad, and then five days of getting better. And then probably another month of getting back to 100%.”
The COVID crisis has meant difficult times for musicians and other entertainers, but like many, Rush has been innovative in finding ways to reach his fans.
“As you know, a lot of places have closed down, and a lot of places are trying to figure out how to do shows. The (Narrows Center) will be at reduced capacity, it won’t be a packed show. If you come with your family, you can sit together,” Rush explained.
Rush is connecting to his audience in other ways. “I wrote up a little primer called, ‘How to Host a Private Concert’ which is up on Tomrush.com. About a thousand people have checked it out and a couple of hundred have contacted my booking agent. A lot of the shows have been outdoors up to now. They can also be done indoors if you use common sense, distancing and masks and all that.”
He’s also launching a campaign on the popular Patreon platform, which he promises will provide fans “a backstage pass to the artistic process. I’ll be offering brand new songs that haven’t been recorded yet, songs in progress, and pages from a couple of books that I’m working on, with stories like ‘Skinny Dipping with Janis.’”
Rush is known to reveal past stories during his shows – he shared a few with us, including a memory of when he first met Joni Mitchell.
“I met Joni at a little club in Detroit, Michigan called The Chessmate. I did a two-week gig there every year. She and her husband Chuck Mitchell had a folk duo and they were playing there. Joni had just started writing songs in probably in ’65 or ’66. Joni asked the owner if she could do a guest set so I could hear some of her new songs and maybe record them.”
Rush continued, “So she got up and did four tunes that just blew me away. ‘Urge for Going,’ a song that I still do, and still love doing, was one of those. She then sent me a tape of some more tunes including ‘Circle Game.’ I named the album after that one. I was just totally blown away by her writing – it was always so beautifully poetic, honest and insightful.”
“I brought her back East with me and had her open my shows around New England cause I wanted to introduce her to a wider audience. I even tried to get her a record deal in New York but failed. Jack Holtzman at Electra Records said, ‘No, she sounds too much like Judy Collins.’ Which she did – Judy was a big influence on her early on. But c’mon Jack, listen to the words. I failed to get her a record deal, but she later managed to do that on her own…” remarked Rush.
Rush also shared his thoughts on how he approaches the process of songwriting.
“I’ve found that it’s a bad idea to try to write a song. In my experience, the best songs just kind of happen. I kind of visualize it like ideas that come floating into the room. But if you look at them too hard it scares them away. You have to try to write them down before they evaporate. And then at the end of the morning, you have a couple of pages of ideas, many of which are really dumb, but some of which actually have some merit and they stick together.”
“I try to do the creative writing when I’m not really awake yet and then sometime in the late morning,” Rush continued. “I move from the pen and paper phase onto the computer and start organizing things .. and try to create a structure for all these random ideas… but sitting down and trying to write a song, I’ve never been good writing a song about something specific, an ‘assignment’ kind of song.”
For more on Tom Rush, including information on joining his new subscription service, visit his website here. For more tales of great folks and a great evening of live music, click the Narrows Center link here.