Tom Rush Rush Hour At Hugh’s Room

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Submitted by Don Graham

It had been over three years since Tom Rush had performed  at Hugh’s Room in Toronto and the overflow crowd was a testament to how well loved and missed the man had been. When long time friend and former waitress at the iconic Riverboat in Toronto, Jane Harbury, introduced him and Tom ambled, yes ambled , to the stage you could almost feel the room smile with love and loyalty. Tom acknowledged how he happy was to be back in Canada although not without some trepidation, “ I’m 75 now and that’s about 99 Canadian!”

Tom and accompanist Matt Nakoa (more on Matt later) started the night off with a tune that gave an idea as to what was in store, “It’s Gonna Get Hot Tonight” and the party had begun.  For his second song Tom explained,“I’m going to do a new song and the reason I’m doing it so early in the set is cause if it sucks I have the rest of night to redeem myself.”  After he finished “Come See ‘Bout Me” the crowd let him know “it didn’t suck.”  Next up was a song by The Austin Lounge Lizards, “How can you not like a band that has a  song called ‘Jesus Loves Me, But He Can’t Stand You” called “Old Blevins.” Needs to be  heard to be fully appreciated but is perfectly suited to a Tom Rush set.

Jane Harbury and Tom RushJane Harbury and Tom RushThen the legendary status of Tom Rush was front and center. “I was playing at a coffee house in Detroit, The Chessmate, and a young, unknown songwriter named Joni Mitchell asked if she could do a guest set and sing a few songs for me to hear. Well I was a little overdue to deliver a new album to Elektra, well actually about 2 years overdue, and when I heard the 4 songs this young girl did my jaw dropped. I said ‘Do you have any more?” and she said “ Give me a week.’ So about 2 weeks later I got a tape with 6 more songs on it and Joni apologized for the last one, she wasn’t sure about it. I liked it just fine and not only did I record it I named my album after it. “ And then Tom began playing the classic “ Circle Game.” It was magical. “How Can She Dance Like That” rocked and “Drop Down Mama” set the stage for accompanist Matt Nakoa to be center stage. Tom introduced Matt and left the stage to the young New York state native.  Matt explained it was his first time in Canada and how impressed he was. He looked out at the full house and said, “Next time I drive for 6 hours to play for 3 people I’ll remember this amazing night.”

For his 2 songs he stepped out from behind the piano and picked up  a guitar. The first song he did was “Where On Earth Is Heaven” a beautiful song and he sang it with a voice that showcased his star quality. This guy is really good. As Tom Rush said “ He’s a  huge talent, one day I’ll be opening for him.” His second song was another original “You Are My Moonshine.” This is a hit song. Matt exited the stage and Tom did a few solo songs, his You Tube smash, “The Remember Song”, about the  pitfalls of aging and forgetting. I think that’s what it was about but I can’t really remember. This was followed by Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away”. Tom explains, “This was written by Mentor Williams and I’m going to do it the way it was probably written, without the strings and choir of voices behind the vocal. I ran into Mentor at the airport in Nashville but forgot to ask him what he envisioned when he sat at the kitchen table and wrote it.”  He closed the set with one of my all-time favourite Tom Rush songs “Panama Limited”.  In this song you realize that although Tom Rush is widely saluted as a great storyteller, songwriter and singer he is also a gifted guitar player.

To start the second set Tom kicked the door wide open with “Ladies Love Outlaws” explaining “This was written by Lee Clayton, Lee told me he wrote it for me but I’m pretty sure he told Waylon Jennings the same thing.” Waylon had a big hit with it. Next was the  beautiful “River Song” followed by “Life Is Fine”. The story behind this one was “Sometimes my muse shows up at inopportune times. Like this song, she showed up in the middle of the night. I opened one eye and  said ‘ Can you come back in the morning?’ and she ‘Nope, this is a good one. You better get on it or I’ll take it over to Arlo.’ I said ‘O.K. I’m up”. And a great song it is, it was worth waking up for. Next was the introspective “Voices” and then a slight departure. “I was scrambling around for love songs for a Valentine’s show I was doing. I think it was around the 12th of February, and I realized my catalogue was not replete with an abundance of love songs suitable for Valentine’s Day. But I picked this John Prine and Fred Koller  song and he went into a raucous version of “Let’s Talk Dirty In Hawaiian” Tom left the stage and Matt Nakoa returnned with his third original, the moving“ Light In The Dark“  This set the stage for Tom’s most covered song, “No Regrets.” “There’s a lot of different versions of this song out there  and it’s done quite well for me.  It put my two children from a previous administration through college.” And or the last official song of the set he chose David Wiffen’s “Driving Wheel.”

For his encore Tom returned to stage by himself. He told the story of how he was rehearsing at the Riverboat in Toronto when Trevor Veitch brought in a young singer/songwriter named Murray McLauchlan to sing a couple of songs for him.

“Murray sat on the side of the stage and sang this song for me and it’s been my favourite song of Murray’s ever since.” And he began the tender “Child’s Song.”

Matt Nakoa rejoined Tom on the stage and Tom said “I can’t leave you with slow song and launched into “Who Do You Love/ Bo Diddley.”

The meet and greet after the show was a really nice sight to see, lineups of Tom Rush fans whom he treated more like old friends, signing CDs and  posters and posing for pictures.

In Tom’s words to his audience” People ask me why I still do this?  Travel around the country with my guitars singing songs and telling stories?  The honest answer is because of you guys.”

Don’t make us wait another three years Tom, come back soon.