Folksinger and guitarist Tom Rush has had a storied career beginning in the 1960s when he was at the center of the folk music revival, introducing the world to artists like Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. His song “No Regrets” has become a folk music standard covered by Harry Belafonte and Emmylou Harris, among others. Rush will be performing at Cary Hall on October 21.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
LF: Can you talk about your connection to this area?
TR: I started out playing in the coffeehouses in Cambridge back in the 60s when I was in college at Harvard.
I originally wanted to go to the University of North Carolina. My dad had gone to Harvard, and his dad had gone to Harvard, and he said, “it’s your life, it’s your decision — but you’re going to Harvard.” And it was a turning point in my life, but not for the reasons he’d expected.
It was because of the music scene going on, in Cambridge in particular — there was just an absolutely astounding bunch of musicians there and they all kind of congregated at the Club 47. Club 47 was the flagship of the coffeehouse fleet because they not only hosted the kids, myself included, but they brought in the legends. You could sit in this little 80-seat room and hear the Carter Family, Flatt and Scruggs, Bill Monroe. A lot of the old blues legends came through. And they were astoundingly available, accessible. You could ask them — how do you do that thing you do, and they would show you.
LF: Who are some other people you collaborated with in that era?
TR: People like Jim Queskin, who had a jug band that was very, very well received. The Charles River Valley Boys, a blue bluegrass band. And of course Joan Baez came out of that scene as well, although she had already kind of fledged by the time I got there.
I get asked a lot about the difference between the New York folk scene and the Cambridge folk scene. And I think the difference was that in New York, everybody really wanted to be professional. They wanted to get matching shirts and go on the road. In Cambridge, there were a lot of brilliant players that had no notion of becoming professionals. They just loved to play the music. There was a mandolin-playing, high-harmony singing typewriter repairman, who was a typewriter repairman. He’d had no plans to go on the road, but he was great. Amazing. There was a banjo-playing psychopharmacologist who was very popular for a variety of reasons.
LF: Can you talk a little bit about what you’re working on these days?
TR: These days, since the beginning of COVID, I started this online series that I call Rockport Sundays. And it’s a video series that’s posted every Sunday morning. Usually it’s a guest and me sharing some stories about being on the road and the good old days — or the good new days — and we each sing a song. During the pandemic gave me a reason to keep writing songs and polishing up old songs, and a way to connect with an audience, which is really what I love doing. I’ve also just finished — well it’s not quite finished — a new album which will be out in January.
LF: What can Lexington audiences expect to hear when you play at Cary Hall?
TR: I named these concerts that I do — usually with a couple of well known artists and a couple of newcomers — Club 47 shows, after the old Club 47 in Cambridge. It’s the same kind of concept. I get my guests to play with one another, not just do their standard show, but to collaborate. And so for the Cary Hall show, I’m going to have Stephen Kellogg with me. He’s very well known and has a very established audience, he’s really good. And then for the youngsters, I’ve got Matt Nicola, who’s an absolutely stunning musician, singer, songwriter, guitar player, piano player — he’s been my accompanist for almost a decade now, but he’s also got a career of his own going, so he’ll be there, and a lovely young woman named Monica Rizzio, who plays guitar and fiddle and sings and writes songs and is really, really talented. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.