Watch Monday, December 14, 2015 at 7:30pm on WMHT TV
In a stellar musical career that spans a quarter-century and encompasses 15 chart hits and record sales of more than 11 million, Tim Rushlow has seen it all and then some. First as frontman of Little Texas and subsequently as a celebrated solo artist, the veteran vocalist/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist has already decisively conquered the country charts.
While others in his position might be tempted to coast on such achievements, Rushlow has never been one to shy away from new musical challenges, and he's proving that point by diving head-first into his newest and most personal venture yet: Tim Rushlow & His Big Band, which debuts in March 2016 with the PBS concert special Tim Rushlow & His Big Band Live, which will also be released as a CD and DVD.
Tim Rushlow & His Big Band is the product of the singer's lifelong love for the Great American Songbook, and his abiding affinity for the vintage big-band swing of such legendary vocalists as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin and Sammy Davis Jr. Throughout the hour-long set, Rushlow performs with a characteristic mix of swagger and sensitivity, extending these time-honored American musical traditions while expanding his own horizons as a vocalist and entertainer.
Backed by 21 seasoned musicians including a 13-man horn section, Rushlow delivers an effortlessly powerful, charismatic performance that encompasses an assortment of vintage pop standards including "The Lady Is A Tramp," "That's Life" and "Beyond the Sea," along with inventive reworkings of Elvis Presley's "Love Me" and Buddy Holly's "Raining In My Heart," as well as a heart-tugging reinterpretation of the Little Texas hit "What Might Have Been."
Tim Rushlow & His Big Band Live makes it clear that Rushlow is a natural interpretive singer whose fluent renditions reflect his deep-rooted love for the classic material that he performs. Growing up in a musical family in Oklahoma and Texas, he developed a passion for big-band pop early in life, inspired by the Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin classics he discovered in his dad's record collection.
"It was stuff that a kid my age wouldn't normally be listening to," Tim notes. "But there was so much soul in the music, and so much real life in the lyrics, that it really moved me. That music definitely helped to shape what I did in the country-pop world. When Little Texas were playing arenas and selling out places, before the show, the guys would be in the front lounge of the bus listening to Led Zeppelin and I'd be in the back lounge listening to Sinatra. That's what motivated me and pumped me up before I went onstage. I love country music and I've had a great career singing it, but I've always had this burning desire to go out and sing with a huge group of musicians, with horns and strings and the whole thing."
Tim Rushlow & His Big Band Live serves as a persuasive introduction to a new musical adventure that Rushlow sees as both a long-term project and a personal calling.
"This is what I want to be doing for the next 25 years of my life," he confides, "and I realize that the only way to do this is to go all-in. I want people to know that they can come out to this show and have the best date night ever, and that everything about the show is going to be awesome. These songs are a part of my DNA, and they're standards for a reason. They've stood the test of time more than anything else out there, and people are still moved by them. I'd love to help carry on that tradition, and do it in my own way."
The same sense of entrepreneurial iconoclasm that makes Tim Rushlow & His Big Band Live such a revelation has been a consistent thread throughout the singer's lengthy musical career. After leaving his home in Arlington, Texas for Nashville, the young Rushlow talked himself into a job as a performer at Opryland, which began a series of musical adventures that eventually led to the formation of Little Texas.
Between 1991 and 1997, Little Texas, with Rushlow singing lead, scored an incredible run of success, releasing such enduring hits as "Some Guys Have All the Love," "First Time for Everything," "You and Forever and Me," "What Were You Thinkin'?," "I'd Rather Miss You," "What Might Have Been." "God Blessed Texas," "Kick a Little," "Amy's Back in Austin" and "Life Goes On." Following Little Texas' breakup, Rushlow staked out a similarly successful solo country career, working under his own name, as well as with the six-man band known as Rushlow and the duo Rushlow Harris, while also making significant inroads into the Christian Contemporary charts as a solo artist.
As Rushlow explains, a pair of recent outside-the-box projects helped to set the stage for his current return to his first musical love. In 2012, he undertook the One Man, One Guitar, One Night tour, a massively successful unplugged solo tour on which an unaccompanied Rushlow performed 90 minutes' worth of songs and stories.
"That tour actually pushed me toward the big-band thing, because it showed me that I could hold a crowd on my own," he asserts. "Going from fronting groups, where I had other people singing harmonies and sharing the spotlight, to having to pull it off completely by myself, really motivated me to feel like I can do this. I played some of the Great American Songbook standards on the solo tour, and I saw how those songs moved the audience, and that made me feel like I was on the right track."
In 2014, Rushlow released the album Tim Rushlow's Big Band: Classic Christmas, which combined holiday standards and original compositions, while introducing the swinging big-band arrangements that he'd been longing to explore. Classic Christmas was a success, spawning a surprise hit in the Rushlow original 'What Do I Do with the Blue?" and even scoring an impressive placement on the Billboard jazz chart. Soon, booking agents and talent buyers were enquiring about the possibility of booking Rushlow concerts in the same vein, convincing the artist that it was the right time to pursue his big-band dream to its logical conclusion.
In preparation for hitting the road as a big-band crooner, Rushlow decided to stage a one-off studio performance, with the dashingly-clad singer fronting his big band in front of a camera crew and an invited audience in a 1920s Nashville warehouse space that he'd redesigned to resemble a vintage Vegas-style supper club. To prepare himself for the taping, he spent weeks drilling on his own in a series of late-night rehearsals in a friend's Taekwondo studio.
Although it was initially intended as a private demo for prospective concert bookers, the show – shot in a single performance, with no retakes, do-overs or overdubs – turned out so well that it's been picked up by PBS television stations as a fundraising concert special, and slated for CD and DVD release.
"It was glorious, and I really think that it's the best thing I've ever done," Rushlow says of the live taping. "I knew that it was gonna have to be dead-on perfect, because I knew that the room was gonna be full of people going 'He's doing what?' But we won them over, and they were on their feet. I wanted it to be real and authentic, and I wanted people to understand that I'm serious about this, and that this music is a part of me."
Having brought his big-band dream to vibrant life, Tim Rushlow is looking forward to taking his Big Band out on the road to reconnect with old fans – and to win over some new ones.
"I'm just so excited about this," he concludes. "It's opened up a whole new chapter for me, and I don't expect it to be an overnight success. Any time you're building something new, it takes time, and that's OK with me because it's gonna be fun. I've got the time and the energy and the passion and the drive to do it. To be able to put on a suit and get out in front of a great band and sing these great songs is probably the best thing I'm ever gonna get to do as an entertainer. So I'm thrilled to get this shot, and I'm up for the challenge."