- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 1999

NEW YORK - Tom Rush is taking a seat in a Columbia Records conference room to do an interview when his cell phone rings.

"I tell people I carry this in case there's a folk-music emergency," he jokes. Actually, Mr. Rush does voice-overs, and the call is about a job.

"The microphone is in my spare room in Moose, Wyo.," Mr. Rush tells the interviewer. "And the tape recorder is in Hong Kong."

But back to folk music.

"Folk music is doing well," Mr. Rush says. "I think it is achieving a steady presence in the culture, like jazz and classical. It is not just a branch of pop music.

"I think a lot of artists, if you scratch a little below the surface, are folk singers. Bruce Springsteen made some very folky records. Nobody ever called them that. Also Paul Simon. And Jewel I can't perceive the difference between her and a folk singer."

His new CD, "The Very Best of Tom Rush: No Regrets," has 17 songs, ranging from "San Francisco Bay Blues," first recorded live at a Boston coffeehouse in 1962, through folk rock to 1999's "River Song."

"For the anthology, I had to listen to everything I ever recorded. It took a while. I tend to be pretty critical of my own stuff. I like the stuff that made it onto the CD," he says. "A few other cuts just gave me the creeps. What was I thinking?"

Mr. Rush learned "San Francisco Bay Blues" when he was studying English literature at Harvard University. Composer Jesse Fuller taught him the song when he was a guest on Mr. Rush's 30-minute radio program.

"You had to learn 'San Francisco Bay Blues' if you were going to be a folk singer," Mr. Rush says, adding: "I think I do it better today."

He interrupted his studies for a year to see if he could make a living as a folk singer. He decided that he could just barely. He had planned to study marine biology at the University of North Carolina, but his father had been strong for Harvard. "In retrospect, it was a good place to be," he says. "It was a hotbed of folkiness."

When the 1960s folk boom went bust, Mr. Rush retired to a farm in his native New Hampshire. "That lasted nine months," he says. "I love to perform. I don't love to travel, but the performing part I still find great joy in. I went back to playing on an occasional basis. I did not go back to touring 12 months a year."

Today, he does about 50 shows a year more this year because of the new CD. He performs alone or with Joe Mennonna, who sings harmony and plays piano, synthesizer and saxophone.

Mr. Rush played three reunion concerts with area folk singers at Boston's Symphony Hall in 1980. "Most of them were amateurs, singing for the love of the music," he says. "They didn't have an idea of making money at it. A lot of these people hadn't been onstage in 20 years. We had some very nervous people."

Out of those concerts grew Mr. Rush's occasional Club 47 shows, named for a Cambridge, Mass., folk club. The shows are a mixture of stars and newcomers, including Janice Ian, Richie Havens and Vance Gilbert. "Keep your eyes on Vance. He is great," Mr. Rush says.

His favorite songs include Joni Mitchell's "The Circle Game" and "Urge for Going" and his own "No Regrets," which is popular with other singers; there's even a rap version.

Mr. Rush lives in Wyoming with his wife, Rena, who has worked to bring wolves back to Yellowstone National Park. "She had to be out there. I had to be with her. It seems like an odd place for me to end up," he says. "I'm a New England boy, through and through."

Bison camp on the lawn where the Rushes live. They love the house but have to move because the National Park Service owns it, so they are looking for "a nice, inexpensive house by the water" in Jackson, Wyo.

"River Song," one of the songs on the new CD, is about the Snake River, which runs through Jackson and the Teton Range of the Rockie Mountains. "I love the track, and I don't love much," he says.

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