I just finished reading John Goldrosen's definitive (and out-of-print) biography of Buddy Holly. While not a case of "too much information" in that way, it delves deeply into Buddy's music, recording and relationships with Jerry Allison, Joe Mauldin (the Crickets) and the other musicians he worked with over his too brief career. It is interesting to note that when they were trying to come up with a name, The Beetles was one they considered... and passed on. The revelations about Norman Petty, who owned the studio in Clovis, NM, where Buddy recorded and was guided in his career was another case of the abuses that took place in the heyday of rock 'n roll-- not unlike the time Chuck Berry was shocked to discover that he was sharing songwriting credit--and royalties-- with Alan Freed. After covering the plane crash, Mr. Goldrosen touches on the number of singers who have covered Buddy's music, from Bobby Fuller to Linda Ronstadt, and beyond. There was a passage in this context that made me sit up and take notice-- and put a smile on my face.
"Here and there in the late sixties, a few American performers began to acknowledge the true value of Holly's music (and that of other early rock 'n roll performers). Tom Rush's album Take a Little Walk With Me included his quite individualistic interpretations of several rock 'n roll songs, including Holly's 'Love's Made a Fool of You' – which Rush also made a standard in his concert performances. Rush's quiet and reflective rendition of the song fully captured the spirit of the lyrics, and his instrumental accompaniment was at one and the same time quite distinct from that of the original Holly version, and yet totally appropriate to the song. Hundreds of artists have recorded Holly's songs at one time or another, but few have been as successful as Rush in producing a recording which, while the artist's own creation, fully captures the spirit of Buddy Holly's music."
Wow! Now, I have always loved Tom Rush's version of Love's Made a Fool of You. In fact, the entire album is both timeless and masterful. Kind of like Rush's Bringing it All Back Home, in that one side of the LP was all electric, old rock 'n roll (with the exception of his composition, On the Road Again) and the other side was (mostly) acoustic. The electric side was recorded with Al Kooper, John Sebastion, Harvey Brooks and a certain Roosevelt Gook, playing piano. There are some who believe it was Kooper, trying for twice the royalties under the odd pseudonym. The more commonly accepted answer is that it was Bob Dylan tickling the ivories. The acoustic side featured five tunes: a haunting rendition of Eric Von Schmidt's Joshua Gone Barbados, an ambivalent take on the traditional Sugar Mama, Statesboro Blues (years before it became a staple of the Allman Brothers' repertoire, and an absolute tour de force performance of Galveston Flood.
If you get the sense I am a Tom Rush fan, well... that ain't the half of it. I cut my (adult) teeth on Rush. I used to see him play at the Unicorn, in Boston and Club 47, in Harvard Square, after he dropped out of the University and decided to be a full-time folk singer. And folk singer he was. His first recordings were on the Prestige label, and were filled with traditional blues and depression-era folk songs. Tom sang them like they were his. He owned them. His deep voice, clipped phrasing and extraordinarily proficient guitar playing lifted him head and shoulders above the many others who tried pulling off the same thing. You would never have known Tom was from New Hampshire. He was from America and sounded like it.
Tom Rush is not, nor was he ever a great songwriter. He may be known for one song, No Regrets. But he had a gift like Sinatra and other great singers. He had a marvelous knack for finding unknown--and yet to be discovered--songwriters. He recorded Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Jackson Browne before they recorded themselves. His version of Urge for Going still resonates for me as it did the first time I heard it, signaling the end of summer and the beginning of winter-- the sadness of love fading with the warmth and radiance of summer. When he went from Elektra to Columbia, he veered from folk to pop, with a touch of country. He does a song called Drivin' Wheel on the eponymous Columbia album (written by David Whiffen, who plays on the album) that, like the lyrics say, will make you stop dead in your tracks. The word haunting comes up again. He sings it with a palpable ache in his voice. I can even hear it in my head and get chills! That same album has his version of James Taylor's Rainy Day Man, which becomes something else again.
I wrote an email to Tom Rush some years back, after driving back from my therapist in Pasadena. Urge for Going was on the CD player and a lump was in my throat. The song is a touchstone of sorts for me. I told him so. He wrote back, offering a thanks and a self-deprecating word or two.
Tom still plays and tours. When he has a mind to, I guess. He left New Hampshire and settled in Big Sky Country. Somehow, that seems so fitting. To me, he is an underdiscovered national treasure. If you know him and his music, then you know. If you don't, you should...