EMOL Music

Tucson Troubadours

Joe Rush & Todd Hammes

by Tina Alvarez

When acoustic guitarist Joe Rush and Todd Hammes set out to record a four-song cassette, little did they know that their original intentions would blossom into the full-fledged CD,"Three Hours with Pete."

Many of you might remember their previous embodiment as "Joe Rush & Right Now," a three-piece rock outfit of guitar, bass and drums. But that line-up underwent changes when bassist Jim Head's studies progressively consumed all his time.

"It was all very friendly," Joe said of Jim's departure. "He was getting his Ph.D. in Planetary Science and he just seemed to have less and less time with the band. One day I sat him down and said, 'well, we're going to look for someone else,' and he was gratefully relieved. He left that meeting really happy. Then Todd and I, as a stop-gap measure, started playing as a duo. We
thought this would be a good thing to tide us over until we found another bass player."

As Pauline Young (of Young Management) began setting up bookings, she realized the only demo she had to give club owners was their work as a rock band. So Joe and Todd recorded four songs from "Play and Play and Play" as an acoustic duo. The demo tape exceeded their expectations, they recorded six more tracks. And when Joe returned to mix, he approached Pauline with the idea to press 1,000 CDs and issue it as an official "bootleg" to pass around and sell off the stage.

"We weren't even planning to do any artwork because we didn't have any money" Joe revealed. "Then we thought, 'well, we better put on some artwork.' Literally, the day before we were going to print the artwork, we decided to put a bar code on, because if you don't have a bar code, you can't put it in stores.

"The CD has been really successful," he continued. "It's been reviewed so well and people just really seem to like it. It's probably our most popular CD so far and it just came about so backasswards, you know."

"Three Hours with Pete" contains ten songs from previous Joe Rush recordings. This time around one finds simple, clean arrangements that are bursting with vigor. Their years of playing together are evident and their confidence shows. The singing carries more depth, soul and conviction than before and the tunes are immediately accessible and memorable.

Born in Tucson and raised in Oracle, Joeís interest in music started in junior high -- he began taking piano lessons when he was 14 as well as singing in the school choir and playing recorder.

"I was pretty certain all through high school that I was going to major in music in college. Then I went to college (University of Arizona) and I didn't really like being a music major, but I really like hanging around the dance department and I started to play hand drums and piano for the dance classes. That's still my job today."

As time went on, Joe began developing his skills as a songwriter and began taking guitar lessons, figuring he couldn't drag his piano to the coffeehouses. Upon taking a trip to Amherst, MA., his brother introduced him to Pauline Young, who was actively working with bands in the area, house-managing venues and booking regional tours for select artists. After returning to Tucson, Joe decided to drive back to Massachusetts, where he played every coffeehouse and open-mic he could.

"I asked Pauline if she would help manage me, and that was about in '89," he said. "Not long after that we started going out and eventually got married. She always kept working with the band. She still does. She works her ass off. It's so much effort booking a band that isn't signed to a record label."

Besides scheduling engagements and working with the media, Pauline also maintains a mailing list and is searching for a qualified person to work with her on the band's web page.

In 1991, as a solo artist, Joe released the cassette "Leap of Faith," followed by a self-titled five-song EP in 1993 and "3/18/93" was issued on cassette in 1994. With 1995's "Play and Play and Play," Joe emerged as a rock trio. Now, with "Three Hours with Pete," Joe and Todd have teamed up as an acoustic duo. Having followed Joe's music from the beginning, it's comforting to know that Joe and Todd can move fluidly between each medium, sacrificing neither musical integrity nor disrupting a loyal fan base. Although Joe would like to include more instruments in his live shows (piano, electric guitar, bass), he is enthusiastic about working with Todd.

"I think if I did find another bass player, Todd and I might be doing more of those three-piece rock gigs," he related. "So really, I guess the short answer is I'm just using whatever personnel is available to me. I think the best thing about the band or duo right now is the friendship between Todd and me. I really like working with him. He's creative, talented and just a phenomenal musician." The two met at the University of Arizona where Joe was employed and Todd was a student majoring in percussion, who had come by to play drums in dance classes. One of Todd's specialties is the djembe, which is an African hand drum that has the versatility of a drum kit. He is also experienced on the Tabla, an Indian drum, and is a student of the acknowledged Tabla master, Pandit Sharda Sahai.

"I met Todd and just instantly there was a good synergy between us," he described. "How we look at rhythm, think about music and performing was just in-sync right from the start."

The relationship has been a mutually beneficial one as well as a growing experience.

"We both kind-of grew up together, learned about arranging rock 'n roll songs," Joe pointed out. "Todd started out playing drums and then started to play a kit. He even tried playing bass for awhile. He didn't sing at all when I first met him and now he's a really fine singer. He can sing with me, for which I'll be eternally grateful. His backing vocals are getting more complex and he actually sings lead on some sections of the songs now."

Despite the continual hard work Joe has maintained, he doesn' see any record deal on the horizon -- but he's hoping. His accolades are many, among them playing at an Arizona's Best Kept Secrets Showcase, receiving the 1994 Tucson Area Music Award for "Best Rock Band," in 1996 featuring the "Best of Tucson Award for Acoustic Band" (Tucson Weekly Staff Pick and Reader's Choice Runner Up) and most recently, Rolling Stone Deutchland reviewed "Play and Play and
Play" in the January 1997 issue and was included on the Critic's Top Ten List of 1996 releases. Glitterhouse Records, a German independent label and mail order catalog, has imported CD copies of "Play and Play and Play" and "Three Hours with Pete."

Within the territory they have staked out, they are eclectic enough to make their future development quite interesting. This is a band to watch.

"I just want to say to anyone, anybody who ends up reading this article that Todd and I are still, after many, many years and shows together, we're still very serious about wanting to get on the road, wanting to record and be signed on a label," he stressed. "I don't want people to think that we're happy just doing the local coffeehouses forever. We really want to take our music to people all over the country. I think whoever signs us is going to get the hardest working duo they've ever had."

("Three Hours with Peteî" can be purchased at Borders Books & Music in Glendale, Phoenix & Tucson, as well as other local outlets).

Editor's Note: Since this article was first printed, Joe Rush and Todd Hammes have decided to focus on their own careers and so have gone their separate ways. Todd Hammes just released his first CD, an instrumental album he composed entitled "Thoughts."

Check out Joe Rush's web site for more info on Joe's touring and performance dates at http://members.aol.com/joerush/ and stay tuned for another Joe Rush recording to be released in a few months!

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