SHIRLEY — Sifting through Tom Rush’s catalog, there are humorous songs, sad songs and some that make people think. At heart, he sees himself as a storyteller.
Rush’s classic songs, the hits of his contemporaries and his latest works will be heard when he performs at the Bull Run at 8 p.m. on Dec. 4.
When it comes to his writing process, Rush isn’t sure where the inspiration comes from. He can’t pinpoint it to personal experiences, an article he’s read in the newspaper or a story told to him.
“They just kind of drift into the room and my job is to grab them before they can drift away again. So I’m not good at sitting down to write a song on purpose about something. That doesn’t work well for me. But (what) does seem to work well is when ideas just seem to happen and I accumulate a few ideas and they stick together,” Rush said.
Most of his songs are written early in the morning, before he’s fully awake, by scribbling in a notepad and strumming on one of his guitars. Later in the day, “the editor comes on duty” and Rush will move to the computer and start evaluating his ideas.
As a performer, Rush has stood alongside some of the generation-defining singer-songwriters from his era including Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, James Taylor and Jackson Browne.
When it comes to his stories with many of music’s greats, Rush said he’s not sure how many of them are fit to print. However, Rush does recall an instance of “skinny dipping” with Joplin, members of the Grateful Dead, and Leslie West of the band Mountain. It’s a story he’s told before on his Rockport Sundays web series and to others in the media.
As the story goes, he and several musicians were traveling on a train through Canada. When they arrived in Calgary, Alberta, the promoters had booked the municipal swimming pool.
“Of course, all the hippies wanted to go skinny dipping and this just horrified the people who were managing the pool. But it was our pool, they couldn’t stop us,” Rush said. “But they did have one rule that they were going to enforce hard and fast which was everyone with long hair, which was everyone, had to wear a bathing cap. And my mind is permanently scarred at the sight of seeing Leslie West of Mountain coming out of the changing room wearing nothing but a bathing cap over his head and a second bathing cap upside down over his beard. You can’t unsee something like that.”
In the near future, Rush will be performing in Canada with Lightfoot. According to Rush, Lightfoot has proclaimed him “the best entertainer he’s ever seen.”
The respect is mutual, of Lightfoot, Rush said he was “clearly one of the best songwriters I’ve ever worked with.”
Through the pandemic, Rush found himself “audience deprived” which prompted him to start Rockport Sundays. The series can be seen on his website tomrush.com and at any time, a viewer can have access to eight songs and Rush’s commentary. When a new episode is uploaded, the oldest one is removed.
They have helped, but Rush said, “I have learned that when you tell a joke to a video camera, it doesn’t laugh.”
As pandemic restrictions have loosened and Rush has been able to get back on stage, he said work has stacked up quickly. Since late August, he estimates he’s performed “a year’s worth of shows in three months.”
However, as a self-described “early adopter” of COVID-19, he’s cautious about his showtime protocols.
“I just got back from doing a date in Florida, with the band America and to be honest, I was nervous about that. I did not go out to the vending table and shake hands and schmooze the way I used to do,” Rush said.
However, he’s more comfortable interacting with the audience when he knows they’ve been vaccinated. When performing in New England, Rush will “schmooze” with audience members at the vending table and take selfies. The Bull Run requires proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the performance.
Rush was nearly hospitalized with COVID-19 in March 2020 and believes he contracted it in West Palm Beach or on the flight home. Although he never developed a cough or a high fever, he experienced aches and chronic fatigue. Over the course of about five days, his symptoms slowly subsided.
A few months later, Rush had a pacemaker put in. While he’s not certain the two events are related, he was told of other COVID-19 survivors being in the Massachusetts General Hospital cardiac wing.
With a pacemaker and three vaccine doses, Rush jokingly said he was “pretty much superhuman.” He encourages others to get vaccinated.
During his performance at the Bull Run, Rush will be joined by Eric Lilljequist and Dean Adrien, founders of the band Orphan. The pair were once Rush’s backup band but at the Bull Run, they will provide guitar and harmony accompaniments.
Matt Nakoa, a budding musician, will accompany Rush on piano. Rush said Nakoa may not be with him too much longer as his own career develops.
“This kid is a genius and I’m hoping that when he’s playing stadiums, he lets me open the shows,” Rush said.
In addition to having talented musicians accompanying him, Rush said he is excited to play new material for the Bull Run crowd.
“The crowd so far (has) loved the new stuff, which is very encouraging,” Rush said.
For a musician of Rush’s stature, testing out new material can be a balancing act. He said not all of his contemporaries have the same leeway. Despite playing some of his hits thousands of times, he still gets “goosebumps,” but said he may go crazy if it was the only thing he was allowed to do.
For more information about Rush’s performance or to purchase tickets, visit tickets.bullrunrestaurant.com.