Still a Rush

Tom Rush, 72, is still celebrating the music and an anniversary few in any industry get to enjoy: 50 years in the business.

In 1968, Tom Rush released The Circle Game, the pivotal singer-songwriter album that would change his career forever. Rush’s compositions on the LP found a home beside those of then-unknown songwriters such as James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne. The resulting record gained him attention from publications like Rolling Stone, which credited Rush with ushering in the era of the singer-songwriter.

At the time, Rush and his peers were performing traditional folk music, Appalachian and Irish-Scottish. When Rush started running out of songs he really wanted to play, he hunted around for material from new songwriters in the hope that he could finish his two-years overdue disc for Elektra Records.

“If it’s true {being called the usher}, it’s a byproduct of simply looking for good songs,” Rush says during a phone interview from his Vermont home. “I was just looking for songs to make an album. Joni Mitchell did a guest set at a show in Detroit and blew me over. James Taylor and Jackson Browne were also represented and all were unknown at the time. I was just looking for great songs, not trying to usher in or promote, but if it helped, that’s great. They were just great songwriters with songs that were much more sophisticated musically and lyrically than traditional material. If those three artists had been represented on different projects, it wouldn’t have been as big. But that they all debuted on the same disc caught people’s attention.”

Rush, 72, is still celebrating the music and an anniversary few in any industry get to enjoy: 50 years in the business. Rush continues the celebration with a stop at the Auburn Public Theater on Saturday, Nov. 2.

But 50 years in, Rush remembers that even a single year was never his intention. “I didn’t think a bit of becoming a professional musician,” he says. “I was just having fun. It was a good way to meet girls. Anyone who tells you they went into music for another reason is lying.”

Beyond the girls, Rush had graduated college with an English literature degree and found himself with few job options. He had been playing music since he was a child, although piano lessons never fit him. “It {piano lessons} was a terrible thing for everyone concerned,” he says. “Innocent bystanders were harmed. My teacher hated it, I hated it.”

A cousin turned Rush onto the ukulele, and in his teen years he started experimenting with the guitar. “I thought it was more manly,” he explains.

After Rush finished school, performing became a way for him to make money. “People were willing to pay me to play and sing, which still amazes me, so I thought I might as well do this until I figure out what I’m gonna do when I grow up,” he says. “’Til her dying day, my mother wanted to know when I’d get a real job. I think at this point I’m unemployable.”

Many of the artists Rush has worked with performing and on more than a dozen albums appear on his December 2012 performance CD/DVD, Tom Rush Celebrates 50 Years of Music. A DVD documentary, Tom Rush: No Regrets, is also making the rounds at film festivals.

“They started shooting {the documentary} two and a half years ago. They started following me around,” he says. “It’s weird having a camera crew follow you through an airport. But I just tried to ignore them and eventually they’d go away. Then they went out and interviewed people like James Taylor, who says these extravagantly superlative things about me. It’s embarrassing.”

Rush goes on about other figures interviewed for the film, such as the head of his first record label and Dick Summer, then a major radio disc jockey for Boston’s WBZ. The film also talks about what it was like for Rush being an adopted child and connecting with his biological family in his 40s.

Rush is currently working on a book (“It’s an autobiography that keeps veering into an advice column,” he says).

He’s also a proponent of the Internet’s changing of the rules regarding budding music makers.

“If you didn’t have a record deal, you didn’t exist,” he says. “Then the Internet came along and now anybody with a laptop can cut some songs and put them on the Internet, attract attention and sell them. They can connect with an audience without having to go through the industry tollbooth. It’s enabled a lot of dreadful music, mind you, but also allowed people to make a living that they otherwise would not be able to. Meanwhile, the record industry is really circling the drain. Making a living will have to happen on stage, which is fine by me. I love to perform. I love getting in front of an audience.”

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