Tom Performs "Lost My Driving Wheel"

“What I Know” – Folk Album Of The Year

Delivered by Gene Shay for Tom Rush

This is the text of the acceptance speech I asked Gene Shay to deliver for me at the International Folk Alliance conference in Memphis in Mid February, 2010. They gave me the Folk Album of the Year award, but I couldn’t’ be there because it was my daughter’s Winter Break, and I had promises to keep.

For those of you who don’t know, Gene has been the voice of folk on Philadelphia radio for eons, and is the main reason I have an audience there. He has been a good friend for a long time, and I hope he doesn’t harbor any ill feelings. I wrote the sections in brackets to be delivered as Gene “speaking for himself.”

As you may know, What I Know is my first new studio album in 35 years. I’ve been asked over and over by the media: “Why the hell did it take you so long?” The subtext being, clearly, “What are you, stupid or something?”

Well, I’ve given a variety of cute, mealy-mouthed excuses and explanations, like a defendant trying to charm the jury, and so far I haven’t been indicted. But I feel this is a room full of friends and colleagues, and I think it’s time that truth were told — or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Here goes:

Early in my career my overarching goal was to die a tragic death at an early age, as so many great artists that I admired had done. Frankly, I regarded it as a career move. My thinking was that then, and only then, would I get the recognition —no, adulation — I so richly deserved.

This plan did not work out, though I came close on a couple of occasions. Dozens of occasions, actually, but the point is: Tragic Death at an Early Age (TDEA) isn’t something that just happens – one has to apply oneself and work toward that goal. Although I dabbled in all the things that might have killed me off in my twenties, I lacked focus. I lacked dedication.

I didn’t give up, though. I held on to my dream — into my thirties, forties, fifties. At last, however, in my late sixties I’ve had to come to grips with reality (or a reasonable facsimile thereof): TDEA has evaded me. A Tragic Death at an Early Age is simply not attainable when you’re sixty-eight. A mundane death as an old fart seemed to be my fate.

I was despondent at first, but at last realized that this was not the end. Perhaps this great disappointment could be seen as an opportunity. Perhaps I could actually do something rather than just wait around. Perhaps I could make another album!

And this is when Jim Mussleman called me up and suggested that I make another album. I tried my usually litany of excuses, but he wasn’t having it. He recruited Jim Rooney to produce the project, and Jim, with his band of merry men and women in Nashville made absolute magic with the raw material I lugged in.

I want to thank Jim Mussleman for not taking no for an answer; Jim Rooney for his talent at extracting more from you than you knew you had; all the mystical, magical musicians that contributed their talents, always in perfect service of the songs; David Ferguson for capturing all these wonderful notes and making me sound much better than I deserve to sound.

And, most importantly, all the radio folks who gave airtime to the results. (I find it very gratifying that virtually every cut on the album got a significant amount of play, that there wasn’t one “Hit” — though I’m sure that drove Mussleman crazy.)

Radio, as you all know, is still the very best way to connect the music with the audience, and to keep an art-form alive. It’s the jocks who get our music where it needs to go, who give the audience a place to congregate, who bind the community together. Some of you are close personal friends, some I know through phone chats, some only from listening on the air or on the ‘net. You are heroes, and I thank you!

I especially want to thank Gene Shay, who taught me everything I know, whose towering talent and rugged good looks are an inspiration to me, who is probably the most important person in the history of music.

Thank you!

Tom Rush