THE BLOG
10/09/2014 06:43 pm ET | Updated Dec 09, 2014

My Chats with Tom Rush

A few things that get better with age, in no particular order:

Blue jeans. Leonard Cohen. Anything leather. Tom Rush.

Rush, 73, has a voice that has only warmed and deepened with age -- he sounds better now than he did 40 years ago.

As a music columnist, I get to talk to a lot of great musicians, and I've interviewed Tom Rush four times now. He's one of my favorite live performers and one of my favorite interviews for the same reason:

He's humble, friendly, self-depreciating--and a helluva smart guy.

He's also a tremendous storyteller with a razor-sharp wit and dry sense of humor. He'll have you laughing one minute and quietly crying the next, with songs like "Child's Song," "No Regrets" and "Circle Game."

Rush started out more than half a century ago in Cambridge--then a burgeoning folk scene. An English major at Harvard University, Rush started performing regularly at Club 47, where Eric von Schmidt, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and other soon-to-be icons were starting out, too.

A champion of new and emerging artists, Rush introduced the world to Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor, who called Rush an "early hero and one of my main influences."

Here's my most recent interview with Rush:

Daley: So what are you working on these days?

Rush: I've had an especially chaotic summer, which, oddly, has resulting in a writing spurt. I think I write to get away from the problems -- an escape.

Daley: Probably true. What songs are in your current rotation?

Rush: It changes show to show, but I do try to get some of the old favorites in there--"Urge for Going," "No Regrets," "The Remember Song," "Ladies Love Outlaws." I'll sneak in some new ones -- I think they're pretty good, but the audience will let me know for sure.

Daley: I read that you do voiceover work for ads? That's awesome. How did you get into that?
Rush: Kind of by accident. An inquiry came in the mail, out of the blue, about doing voice-overs for Bell South. My assistant actually threw it away, not knowing what it was about, and I spotted it in the trash.

It's fabulous work when it happens ... A year's pay for two day's work is how I looked at it. I did stuff for Tylenol, Chrysler, some others. I turned down work for Boeing, who was doing a campaign about their fighter jets and how good they are for freedom, and some environmental horror shows.

Daley: Like Bob Dylan, your tour seems to be never-ending. What do you like about life on the road?

Rush: The shows. Life on the road kind of sucks, actually. I love the shows, but the planes and hotels and rental cars wear you down.

Daley: I can see that. So you used to live in Boston, then New Hampshire, then Wyoming, and now you live in Vermont. Which place has inspired you most? Does landscape influence the way you write?

Rush: Influences, for me, seep in around the edges of things. I wouldn't say that one place inspired me more than others -- though now that you mention it, Wyoming did produce some good stuff. We're in the process now of moving from Vermont to Massachusetts. We'll see what comes of that!

Daley: Just for fun: What was the last book you read?

Rush: I'm currently reading "The Book of General Ignorance" by John Mitchinson and John Lloyd (2007), a listing of many of the things you know to be true, but aren't.

Daley: Last album you listened to?

Rush: I'm listening to Eric Clapton's compilation, "The Breeze," honoring the late J.J. Cale.

(From our previous chat in 2013.)

Daley: You have that special ability to make people laugh or cry with your songs and at your concerts. I always tear up during "Child's Song" by Murray McLauchlan. Does it hold a different meaning to you now as your own child grows older?

Rush: When I first started doing it all the 18 year-old kids would cry. Now it's the moms who burst into tears.

Daley: You also cover Murray McLauchlan's "Old Man's Song." How did you meet Murray?

Rush: My lead guitar player, Trevor Veitch, was a Canadian and introduced me to Murray during a rehearsal we were having at the Riverboat in Toronto. We remain friends today.

Daley: You've been at more than 50 years now. Do you remember your first gig?

Rush: I had a 30-minute folk show on Harvard's radio station, WHRB that had me going out to the clubs looking for guest musicians. That led, after a while, to getting on stage myself.

My first paid gig was at a coffee house called The Salamander. They propped me up in a corner and I played and sang, 40 minutes on, 20 minutes off, for the evening. (Then one day) the owner gave me my $10 and told me my services would no longer be required. He was upset, apparently, that his patrons were actually paying attention to me instead of drinking coffee and engaging in conversation, playing chess and such things. It's pretty much been downhill ever since.

Daley: What was the first song you wrote?

Rush: I guess the first was called "Julie's Blues," a tune stitched together mostly from pre-existing blues lines, which was true of most of the blues songs out there. I wrote it for my girlfriend at the time.

Daley: What were you like as a kid?

Rush: I grew up in Concord, NH, where my dad was a teacher at St. Paul's School. I had to take piano lessons as a kid because my parents both wished that they had taken piano lessons. It didn't work out well for anybody, least of all the teacher, who was reduced to tears on a regular basis.

Love this guy.


Daley is a freelance writer and music columnist. These interviews first appeared in her Spotlight music column, which you can follow on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/SpotlightFallRiverWithLaurenDaley?ref=hl.