Dec 4, 2013
12:19 PM
Arts & Entertainment

Tom Rush, 1960s Godfather of New England Folk Music, Comes to StageOne in Fairfield Dec. 8

"I'll keep on moving
Things are bound to be improving these days
These days--
These days I sit on corner stones
And count the time in quarter tones to ten, my friend
Don't confront me with my failures
I had not forgotten them . . ."

The words above were some of the first we heard from Jackson Browne, who wrote the song "These Days" when he was only 16. But we didn't hear him sing it, not at first. That honor went to a New Hampshire-born folksinger named Tom Rush, a Harvard University grad (class of '63) who discovered Browne's work while trying to come up with enough material to complete an album he owed to his record label, Elektra, in 1968. By then, Rush already was well on his way to becoming, in the words of allmusic.com, "one of the finest and most unsung performers to come out of the '60s urban folk revival"—a revival that, of course, also brought us Bob Dylan. Unlike Dylan, Rush possessed a warm, full baritone voice, a relaxed style, and a killer interpretive instinct; not only did he come out of the gate with a seemingly unerring skill for picking brilliant songs to sing, but his recordings of those songs—whether written by him or someone else—always seemed definitive. On the 1966 album Take a Little Walk with Me he'd pulled off the tricky feat of combining the '50s rock 'n' roll he loved with the country blues he had become best known for ever since starting to play Club 47 in Cambridge, Mass. during his college days. So with this vexing '68 project he took another leap, deciding to create an album highlighting the work of the best—but not necessarily best-known—contemporary songwriters. The album, titled The Circle Game, featured songs by Browne ("Shadow Dream Song"), James Taylor ("Something in the Way She Moves") and Joni Mitchell ("Urge for Going" and the title track), all of whom were just about to launch recording careers of their own. (And one of Rush's songs, "No Regrets," became his oft-covered signature.) The Circle Game—with a cover photo shot by Linda Eastman, soon to become Linda McCartney—would later be deemed The Album that ushered in the "singer-songwriter" movement that dominated the '70s, led not only by Taylor, Browne and Mitchell but Carole King, Paul Simon and Randy Newman, among others.

In the decades since Rush, now 72, has carried on, performing regularly, winning new admirers, presenting more great songs. He'll play StageOne at Fairfield Theatre Company Dec 8. For more information, call (203) 259-1036 or visit fairfieldtheatre.org.

I see that there's a documentary film ​out about you, Tom Rush: No Regrets . . .

Well, it seems to be true.

. . . and it just won an award. Tell us about it.

I won an award at the New Hampshire Film Festival, which is very nice. It's made by Todd Kwait and Rob Stegman, two guys I met when they were making a documentary about folk music in Cambridge, Mass. in the 1960s, focusing on Club 47, which is where I got started. They recruited a whole bunch of the old guard to do interviews and perform songs here and there. They then did a video of a children's song for me. Then they decided to do a documentary on me, which started shooting a couple of years ago. And it culminated with a show I did at Symphony Hall in Boston last December, celebrating 50 years in music. They did a six-camera shoot at that show for a video DVD and CD set that just came out. So the documentary is the fourth project we've done, if you count the kid's video. But the documentary is not on DVD yet, and probably won't be until sometime next year. 

Well, what do you think of the documentary? Do you think it's of award-winning caliber?

Hey, who am I to argue? I think it'll probably be tweaked some more before it finally appears on DVD. Candidly, it's uncomfortable for me to watch myself or listen to myself. It's never as dazzingly, impossibly terrific as I hoped it would be. [laughs] You know what I mean. And also, they recruited a bunch of people—James Taylor, and Jac Holzman, who used to be the head of Elektra Records, and a couple of others—to sit in front of the camera and say extremely, extravagantly superlative things about me, which I find embarrassing. Makes me squirm.

I guess that's true of all of us. You're always more critical of yourself.

I would hope so.

Does it feel like you've been doing this for 50 years?

Not really, maybe five or ten. It goes like a blur, and everything speeds up as time goes by.

I've been aware of your work for at least 45 years. I heard The Circle Game as a young teenager. My brother, who was a diehard Led Zeppelin fan at the time, used to give me albums by James Taylor and others for Christmas and my birthday, because he said, "you like these guys." Now he does, too. But he gave me your album, which I loved right away and still have. Looking back, what strikes me is that after listening to that record, I was actually disappointed when I actually heard Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell do the songs you covered, because I was so accustomed to your versions.

Well, yes, and that gives me an unfair advantage. I was just writing about this, actually. People get attached to the first version they hear of a song, and then anything else is compared to the degree that it differs and considered a flaw. So, if you're going to redo something, you've got to come up with a version that's so different and so compelling that people are willing to put aside their preconceptions. It's also one of the dangers of demos. If you make a demo of a song and play it for somebody, the twin dangers are that they will love it, and not like the finished version as well . . . or they'll hate it, and their mind is made up that they just don't like the song.

It’s interesting, because you kind of bridged the . . . there was a time when singers were considered to be the mouthpiece of songwriters, because songwriters couldn’t “sing.” But you’re credited with heralding the era of  the singer-songwriter.

I’ve been accused of that! I remember Jackson [Browne] telling me at one point that he wished he was a good enough singer  to do an album just of other people’s songs. He felt he had to do his own stuff because that was the only reason for him to be singing at all. 

Odd. I don’t think of him as a bad singer.

I don’t either. Now, Bob Dylan, yeah! I remember thinking about Dylan, when I heard his first album—I knew him, and I’d heard him sing live a couple of times—“Gee, if he only had a better voice, he might actually get somewhere.” And here we are today . . .

Did you ever work with Dylan? I know that there was always that rumor that he played on one of your albums under another name.

No, and I haven’t worked as hard as I might to dispel that notion. I forget who he was supposed to be—Roosevelt Gook or Daddy Bones—but actually it was . . . I’m blanking here . . .

Was it Al Kooper?

Well, Kooper was one of them, and John Herald was the other, and I’m blanking on who was who. But the reason for the false name was, in those days, if somebody “doubled”—played more than one instrument—you had to pay them twice, for their musician’s union fees. And the musicians themselves didn’t want to push that rule too hard, so for the same fee they would come in under an assumed name.

Kooper went on to form Blood, Sweat and Tears, but before that he was a ubiquitous session man.

Yes he was. There were quite a few guys back them . . . John Sebastian, who went on to form the Lovin’ Spoonful, played harmonica on some of my early stuff. That was the third paying gig he ever had, working with me.

 

Well, how did you get started in ​music? You were a student at Harvard . . .

Yes, I was. I loved folk music when I got to Cambridge, and there was this real hotbed going on there, a lot of coffeehouses, a lot of people playing guitars and singing songs. The sensibility there was very “purist”; you had to be “ethnic.” And a lot of the stuff that I liked was considered to be commercial, which was “bad.”

Who were some of those artists?

Well, Josh White comes to mind, I loved him and still do. But he was a black guy who was a cabaret act—he sang folk songs but in a very polished, slick way. He wasn’t a coal miner or cotton picker or chain-gang worker. He wasn’t “ethnic,” so therefore he was not acceptable. So I didn’t talk a lot about Josh White. But there was so much good music going on, I just got sucked into it. Club 47 was a block and a half from my dorm. When the studying got hard, it was just too easy to slide down to Club 47 and see what was going on.

Did you know guitar at that point, or did you teach yourself how to play?

I was forced to take piano lessons as a kid because both my parents wished that they had taken piano lessons. And I hated it; it was torture for everybody. But I had an older cousin named Beau Beals who played the ukulele, and he was just such a fun character. He was my daddy’s age, but technically my cousin. So he showed me how to play the ukulele, and taught me all these silly old songs like “My Father’s Whiskers” and “K-K-K-Katie.” That’s where I really got hooked on the idea that music could be fun. So I played the ukulele for awhile, then the baritone ukulele—I figured that was more manly. Somewhere around the age of 14 I figured I needed a more “manly” instrument.

Then I went over to the guitar, and was just totally enamored of the rock ’n ’roll of the late ’50s: Chuck Berry and Elvis and the Everly Brothers. I’m still in awe of that era—there were so many enormously talented people who were completely different from one another. Fats Domino and Carl Perkins were at opposite ends of the universe, and they were both fantastic. I got all swept up in that, and then heard my first Josh White recording when I was about 16. When I got to Cambridge, I was lured over to the grittier side of folk music. Though I have to admit, there was a tacit irony in a bunch of Harvard students sitting around singing about how tough it was in the coal mines. But we were very sincere about it, which we thought would get us through the incongruities.

Critics often talk about the “New England folk movement” and set Arlo Guthrie as the avatar of that, and the “New York movement,” starring Dylan. Do you think there was a difference?

I don’t think Arlo was the center of New England. In fact, I once heard Arlo in an interview say that he learned his father’s songs by listening to my recordings. Arlo’s a bit younger; I’m not sure how old he is, but he’s 10 years behind me. So he was not on the scene in the early ’60s.

But there were two different camps. The New York guys were all kind of professionally oriented; they all wanted to get matching shirts and go on the road. The Boston/Cambridge crowd was more interested in the music. There were students, typewriter repairmen and psychopharmacologists—all kinds of people—who just loved to get together and play. You’d play a show at Club 47, and for $10 someone could buy a case of beer to bring to the party that inevitably happened after the show. Few of the people who hung out and played had any notion of becoming  professional. I didn’t; it just sort of happened. I didn’t plan it.

When do you think you crossed that bridge?

I’m still not quite over it. I graduated with an English Lit degree, and nobody was lining up to pay me to read books. They were willing to pay me to play and sing, which I still find incredible. So I figured I’d play and sing a little bit until I got it all sorted out. And I’m still trying to sort it out.

How did you become aware of James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne? Did someone come to you and say “Hey, you’ve really got to hear these folks?”

Each one has a different story. But the basis for them all was that I was two years overdue in delivering an album to Elektra. And I just couldn’t find any more traditional folk music that I was excited about. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough, or maybe I was being too fussy. Maybe I was acknowledging my limitations. But on the previous record I’d made for the label, Take a Little Walk with Me, I’d had one side of traditional folk; the other side was late ’50s rock ’n’ roll. Again, I couldn’t find enough folk music to do, so I went back to my roots. That came out about halfway between the original emergence of those artists and the’50s revival that started in the ’70s; there’s been a somewhat muted debate as to whether I was prophetic or retarded.

So there I was, casting about for the second time because I really didn’t want to do more rock ’n’ roll. And along came these three fabulous writers. I met Joni at a club in Detroit, where she came in to do a guest set with me so I could hear her songs. James I met through the offices of Paul Rothchild, who was my producer. I remember we were sitting on the floor of an empty office, with no furniture, while James sang a few songs into a tape  recorder on his way to England. And again, I was bowled over by these songs. And Jackson was actually published by Elektra Records, so I heard him through his publishing demos.

These three were writing songs that were certainly not traditional folk; they were much more sophisticated musically and lyrically. It was a different sensibility, but not a leap into total terra incognita. I loved their work, and it became the basis of The Circle Game album, which is the project that allegedly ushered in the singer-songwriter era. I was not trying to usher in anything, or even promote the careers of up and coming artists. I was simply looking for good material. And I think if those three writers had been introduced on three separate discs, they wouldn’t have attracted as much attention. That fact that here on one record there were three stunning new songwriters being debuted was the key.

It seemed that after that, it was some time before Jackson produced a record of his own.

I know at first he didn’t aspire to being a performer; he just wanted to be a songwriter, which I thought was brilliant. Because you can make money—more then than now. You could make a good living and not have to leave home.

What draws you to a song, makes you say, “This is a great one?”

I wish I had a coherent answer to that question; it would make my life much easier if I could call a publisher and say, “I want a song in F-flat with this, that and the other." [laughs] The only thread that I can find is visual imagery. I like songs that are strong in that. But I play Bo Diddley and Joni Mitchell back-to-back, so it’s hard to come up with a “recipe” for what I like.

Is there one song that you always love playing—you never get tired of it? One that you never drop from your set?

Murray McLauchlan’s “Child’s Song” is one I’ve had in my sets for as long as I can remember, since I learned it. And I almost always do either Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going” or “The Circle Game.” Probably not both in the same show.  As long as winter comes, “Urge for Going” will be a great song. And as long as children grow up and leave home, “Child’s Song” will be great.

 

It's cool to see that “The Remember Song” has more than 6 million hits on You Tube . . . I imagine that was a surprise.

It was! My web guy was putting up some stuff on YouTube, and I said, “Why don’t you put up that ‘Remember Song’ clip? Somebody might like it.”

Does writing come easily to you?

That’s a difficult question, because if the writing’s difficult, the song probably isn’t going to be very good. The best songs flow pretty easily. The more you think about them, the worse they get. I guess it was Kurt Vonnegut who had a sign posted over his desk, “Don’t think.”

So that’s a good mantra for a songwriter.

Yeah, I think so. You’re connecting with the subconscious, and the more you try to be rational, the harder that becomes. Songs, paintings, sculpture: They’re all basically emotional communication. They don’t appeal to our logical minds. When I write a song, I feel like I’m trying to tune in some sort of distant radio station. I’m trying to  capture the words and the melody that already exist. I’m not creating them, I’m just trying to transcribe them accurately.

What was the story behind “No Regrets”?

“No Regrets” was actually, in some ways, a flight of fantasy. A girl, Jill Lumpkin, had come up from New York City to Cambridge to spend a weekend with me. She was later to become my girlfriend; she’s the girl on the cover of The Circle Game album. But she spent the weekend, then she went back to New York; I took her to Logan Airport and put her on a plane. Up to that point, I’d never spent three or four days consecutively with a woman. So when she went away, it felt strange to be alone. That’s where that song came from—projecting that feeling into the end of a long relationship, which I’d never had at that point in my life.

When you play that song now, can you still connect with those feelings?

Yeah, I can. It’s much more relevant to me at this point in my life than it was when I wrote it. But that’s one of the reasons I rotate my repertoire—if a song no longer connects with me, I feel I should stop doing it for awhile. And I guess the upside of being onstage for 50 years is that I have enough of a repertoire that I can do that, and occasionally add a new song.

Do you have a songwriting routine?

I should. And thank you for making me feel guilty for not sticking to it! What works for me is to get up in the morning and get a cup of coffee and sit and stare at the guitar for a couple of hours. When I do that, ideas start to arrive and some of them stick together; clumps stick to other clumps and gradually you have the beginnings of a song. I find I’ll actually be working on three or four songs at once. Once I get them rolling, if I stick to my routine I’ll get up in the morning and work on song No. 1, and I’ll make some progress—I’ll come up with a line or two or figure out what the chords in the chorus should be. Then I might run out of steam, so I’ll put that aside and work on song No. 2. After a couple of hours I won’t feel like writing anymore, so I’ll get up and pay some bills or do something exciting.

Even with the kind of writing I do, I find when I get stuck the best thing is to walk away from it. The minute I’m involved in something else, I suddenly have clarity on how to get unstuck.

And with writing, it’s never too late. In performing you can’t go back and go, “What I should say here is . . .” That’s why studio musicians don’t make good sidemen onstage, because they’re so used to, “We’ll fix it in the mix.” Or the next take.

That’s why I think newspaper writers don’t make good magazine writers, and vice-versa.

Well, you get used to a certain style. I know that in my case onstage, I’m quite used to doing two 50-minute sets with a 20-minute intermission. If I’m in a group show with a lot of artists and only have 20 minutes, it’s very difficult for me to calibrate my energy to a different time frame.

We are creatures of habit, I guess.

We get good at doing a particular thing. A tennis player wouldn’t make a good ping-pong player, necessarily. They’d probably make a much better ping-pong player than I would ever make, but you get used to doing your one thing.

This is going off the rails even further in this interview, but I had a talk with someone the other day about whether humans are more catlike or doglike. As a cat owner, I’ve decided we’re closer to them, as cats are the ultimate creatures of habit.

There’s a book called The Power of Habit. It’s fascinating. It’s partly about bad habits, gambling addiction and so forth. But it’s also about why you buy the same brand of toothpaste all the time. There’s no rationale to that, but there is a science to it, and marketers have it down pat. The guys who design the pinball machines and gambling machines—the one-armed bandits—are extremely scientific about how they get your attention, keep your attention and keep shooting you those little doses of dopamine that keep you engaged.

And the people designing foods are very deliberate and calculating. There’s a certain ratio of oil to other stuff that feels good in your mouth. Fritos has it down—it has the right amount of salt, right amount of fat. There’s even a word for it that I can’t remember, for that perfect balance of sensations and flavors.

This discussion makes me wonder if the music business has that kind of formula for addicting people to certain artists and songs.

No, it’s amazing how disorganized the music business is. I mean, I’m glad in a way. They had encounter groups at one point; the labels would play a new song for a supposedly representative bunch of teenagers to see what they thought. Dick Clark, actually, was doing this. So that’s a kind of market research. But then somebody like Bob Dylan comes along and doesn’t do anything right, and is hugely influential.

Ford Motor Co. once did a huge amount of research on what kind of car consumers would like. Thousands of surveys.  In response to that, they came up with the Edsel, designed point-for-point to satisfy the needs of their consumers. At the same time the Edsel came out, the Volkswagen Beetle also came out, and basically ate the Edsel’s lunch. But people had no way of knowing they wanted the Beetle, they couldn’t describe it  because they’d never seen anything like it. Once they saw it they loved it. And so the Beatles, Dylan, Presley, all these artists come along and don’t follow the rules, and they’re hugely successful.

 

 I understand that you were at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, when Dylan went electric  and was booed, the reasons for that still being strenuously argued.

Actually, I wasn’t there.

Really? Because there’s a picture of you on your website from it . . .

For whatever reason, I didn’t see his performance; I probably had a gig somewhere and had to split. But I think the booing . . . There was a great backstage scene. There was a photographer named David Garr, who’s now left the building. But David Garr was standing next to Albert Grossman and Alan Lomax, and they were getting into an argument that escalated very rapidly, Lomax being the quintessential folk and traditional music collector and Grossman being the marketer of popular artists. They ended up on the ground punching each other. David Garr had a long lens on his camera and he ran to get as far away as he could to get a photo, but he missed it. But you had the traditionalists who were very devout and dedicated to the purity of the folk traditions, and here was this kid basically peeing in the punchbowl. They just couldn’t take it.

One thing I read suggested that one reason why Dylan went through with it was he was pissed off at all the Lomax-y types at the festival who were such purists.

I would submit, though, that as a performer he probably knew what he was going to do long before he got to Newport. He would have had to rehearse that band; he wouldn’t have shown up with it. So I doubt that was a spontaneous decision. I don’t know if he appreciated what a storm it would cause.

With hindsight, it seems such a strange thing, but I guess those were different times.

It was about that time that I put out the album that had one traditional folk side and one electric rock’n’roll side, and nobody noticed. [laughs]  Nobody expected purity from Tom Rush.

When you look back at your career, what are you happiest about? What has been your best accomplishment?

I think I’ve written some good song; I think I’ve helped some people achieve the prominence that they deserve, in a minor way. At the bottom of it all, I’m very happy I’ve made a good living at something I love to do.

How much are you on the road nowadays?

Depends upon who you ask. My wife will tell you I’m never home. I will tell you I only do one weekend a month on the road, and then occasional other dates that I can commute to, within a two-hour radius of home base.

If you hadn’t been able to make a living at this, what would you be doing?

 I have no clue. I was thinking about this the other day; there was a watershed moment when I was auditioning for a play, which I was enthusiastic about, but I had no time to read the play or prepare. I got up there and I totally misread the part I was trying out for. I got yelled out for wasting the teacher’s time. Si never went back to acting; I think I might have enjoyed an acting career.

As I said, I was an English Lit major at Harvard, and that doesn’t really have a career path tied to it. Originally, I was going to go to the University of North Carolina and study marine biology. My daddy, who was faculty advisor for hundreds of students at St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., and told them what college they should go to, wouldn’t give me any advice. So when I got accepted to Harvard, Princeton and UNC, and told him I was going to North Carolina, he said, “No, you’re not.” The most important thing about Harvard was that it put me in Cambridge, Mass. where all this folk music was happening. Had I gone to UNC, I might be a marine biologist today.

So Harvard wasn't otherwise a good match for you?

Harvard was tough. I’d gone to Groton School in Massachusetts, which was allegedly preparatory, but I got to Cambridge totally unprepared. At Groton, you were told what to do every minute of every day. I got to Harvard, and no one was telling me anything. I didn’t have to go to classes if I didn’t want to. I remember going up to a professor who had just given us an assignment and saying, “Well, what do you want me to write about?” and he looked at me like, “Huh?” I totally drifted for the first couple of years.

At that time too, the Harvard professors were all important people who had written “The Book,” whatever it was. But they’d written it 30 years earlier. They really weren’t much interested in undergraduates; they did the lectures because they had to. There was no fire to their teaching—most of them were quite boring. The English department in particular was populated by extremely dull, old people.

Do young folk aspirants come to you today and ask for advice?

I actually got an email from a 17-year-old last week asking, “How do I get started?” It’s a tough one. My generic advice . . . actually, I’m in the process of writing a book. I was asked to write an autobiography by one of the big publishing houses, so I sat down to try to do that, but the project keeps veering off into a self-help book. But the one thing I tell everybody is, “Spend as much time performing in front of a live audience as you possibly can.” Because you’ll learn more than you will doing anything else. Like when I’ve got a new song that I think is brilliant, and I take it in front of a live audience and they disagree. Or you’ll feel the energy dissipate—the first two verses are great; then around the middle of the third verse, they’re gone, they’re off the hook. So you think, “Okay, well, I’ll have to do something different at that point in the song.”

 

Ben Taylor recently told me he won't even record a song until he's played it for a year.

There's pluses and minuses to that. I would record it right away, and then record it in a year and see what happens. Because there's an energy when something's brand-new—it's like first love—and then you fall into a routine with a song, and you're not as aware of it. There's an energy that goes out of it. You gain some finesse and polish, but sometimes polish is not good. Jim Rooney, my producer on my last studio album What I Know—which I think is my best work—his genius is he has a great system in his brain for detecting that energy. And it doesn't matter if it's perfect. If you make a mistake it doesn't matter, as long as it has that energy that engages the listener. That's more apt to happen with a brand-new song.

Are there any young folk artists on the scene right now that excite you?

There's a whole lot of them, and I actually haven't been paying attention the way I should. But I'm working on another show for Symphony Hall Dec. 28. The people on my email list have got a head start for tickets. I should plug my email list, by the way—I try to keep them entertaining and apparently I've succeeded, because I've got some loyal readers out there. It's a thinly veiled mechanism for selling stuff to people, but it starts out with a story about this or that.

But in putting this show together, so far we've got Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band with Maria Muldaur and Geoff Muldaur, and Patti Larkin will be there. And we'll be auditioning and checking out up-and-comers, There's some really astoundingly talented people out there. Two of my favorites, neither of whom were available for the show, are a young woman named Sara Jarosz—she's quite wonderful—and a young guy named Chris Thile, a mandolin player who does Bach and bluegrass. He's quite astounding in his technique and craftsmanship. [Ed. note: Rush's guests will now include Sarah Lee Guthrie—Arlo's daughter—and Johnny Irion.]

You've performed with Elvis Costello.

Yes, on "Prairie Home Companion." It was fun. Backstage, I told him, "I brought you a copy of my latest studio album," and he said, "Oh! Thank you! I had one at home and meant to bring it for you to sign."

And on your website there's a photo of you hanging with Bono.

We go way back. No, not really. He started doing the chorus to "No Regrets" in his stage shows, as a tag to a song called, "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own." I saw an interview with him where someone asked him, "I see your doing a little bit of 'No Regrets.''' He said, "Oh yeah"—Scott Walker, the genius of the Walker Brothers, had had a huge hit with 'No Regrets' in England, and apparently Bono thought Scott Walker wrote it. So, I figured I had to set that straight. So I went to a show U2 did in Phoenix, when my son and nephew were both at Arizona State in Tempe. I got invited to the afterparty and hung out with the band a little bit. They're very down-to-earth guys; I was impressed that The Edge came down and plunked himself between my kid and my nephew, both with torn jeans and hats on backwards, and actually had a conversation with them. I thought that was cool.

The Walker Brothers' version of "No Regrets" was a huge hit in Britain. It actually ticked me off because it struck me as a note-for-note cop of my recording for Elektra, with the same soaring guitar solos. I wasn't so much annoyed with them as I was with my record company—if they could have a hit, why couldn't I? But the cover version put two kids through college. Then the Walkers did a retrospective album later, that they titled "No Regrets," and that again was a huge hit. And off of the Walker Brothers' recording came a bunch of other covers: Midge Ure of Ultravox did a heavy metal version, which was so ponderous. There was also a hip-hop version. The group had a hit with it and disbanded.

I understand your wife, Renée Askins, is also a writer.

She is. She's written a book, Shadow Mountain, about the 15 years she spent getting wolves restored to Yellowstone Park; she was very central to that successful effort. A bunch of guys had written books about the project, all from a very male perspective, using lots of combat analogies and imagery. Renée's book is from the women's perspective—what did it all really mean and why was it important. She's not encouraging to people who want to have wolves as pets. We were getting lots of mail from people who do. Hybrids are particularly dangerous, because with a worl, at least you know you have a wild animal, and you know how they're wired—they move through the hierarchy by challenging the top dog, so pretty soon your wolf is going to try to take you. And it's very sudden—the animal will be totally lovable and delightful until one day, it'll take your face off. Then the animal is put down, and somebody's kid is hurt. It's a really bad idea. With purebred wolves, it's fairly predictable; with hybrids, you don't know what you got. It's like leaving a loaded gun around the house.

Tom Rush, 1960s Godfather of New England Folk Music, Comes to StageOne in Fairfield Dec. 8

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