Although he was among the first to record songs by then-unknown writers Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Jackson Brown, Tom Rush isn't on the lookout for new voices these days. Instead, the ageless veteran of the early '60s folk years enjoys a modestly active performing schedule that allows him ample time to concentrate on his own compositions—if "concentrate" is the right verb.
"I find that if I get up and sit down with the guitar first thing in the morning, and just bang away at the guitar for an hour or so, interesting things happen," the warm, familiar baritone explains by phone from his New England home. "Especially if I'm not really paying attention to what I'm doing, I'll suddenly realize, hey, I'm doing something interesting here. Then I try to develop whatever that is. And if I do that every day for a month or so, I have some songs. "
"The problem is I don't do it every day," he laughs. "I've got a kid to get off to school; I've got all kinds of world-class excuses."
Then there is the problem of weighing those new tunes against the repertoire from his imposing contemporaries. "Oh, it's worse than that," he sighs ruefully. "I was an English lit major in college, so I'm constantly comparing myself to Marlowe and Shakespeare. I don't come out very well in the comparisons."
Even as he added his own occasional song as far back as the signature composition "No Regrets" on the classic 1968 Circle Game album, Rush played a key role in ushering in the singer-songwriter era. Not that he sees much significance in that.
"I think it's basically swapping labels. 'Folk singer' carries a lot of baggage with it, not all of it good," he says, "whereas 'singer-songwriter' is more fashionable."And that observation launches a story: "A while back I was at the Boston Music Awards. I was being inducted into their hall of fame—actually there is no 'hall'; it's more a file drawer of fame, but it was an honor nonetheless—and there was a young woman there who the previous year had gotten the female Folk Singer of the Year award, and the year I was there she was being given the Female Pop Singer of the Year award, for the same album. And the only difference was it had sold a million copies in the past 12 months. So it couldn't be folk music because it was selling well."
Regardless of labels, with a career spanning a full half-century now, Rush has no shortage of material, including some songs he's performed for most of that time. "I regard them as good friends," he smiles. "They're stories I enjoy telling. I think I do 'em better now than I did before, but that's not really for me to say. That's for the audience to decide."