With his shock of white hair and matching mustache, Tom Rush looks a lot like Mark Twain.
Though he’s a musician by trade, Rush actually has a lot in common with the river writer. For 50 years, the singer-songwriter has held audiences captive with his combination of talent and personality.
“I figured out early on that if people like you, they’re more prone to liking your music,” Rush said.
Mostly due to his 1968 album, “The Circle Game,” which featured songs by Jackson Browne, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, plus his (now) folk standard “No Regrets,” Rush is regarded as exposing singer-songwriting to widespread audiences.
Since then, Rush has released another 19 albums, including his own favorite, 2009’s “What I Know.”
They’re guitar-driven pieces, with Rush’s thoughts spilling out in the measures, detailing everything from his trouble finding car keys to the nature of romance — all caged in a folksy-blues shell. He’s more of a guy relating his life than a singer performing a song.
Singer-songwriters are a dime a dozen now, but Rush still occupies a different landscape, one where his congeniality and knack for story-telling reign supreme above the quacks who pick up a guitar and call themselves musicians.
Though Rush didn’t pick up a guitar first — he learned how to play the ukulele from an older cousin at the age of 10, an activity that made music fun while he struggled through baneful piano lessons.
The guitar came around age 15, something that he took with him to Harvard.
After graduating with a degree in English literature, Rush realized that “no one was willing to pay me to read books, but they would pay me to play music.”
It’s the type of vaguely tongue-in-cheek comment that characterizes Rush and his music. His interludes, where he might mix philosophizing on the nature of the muse with an oddly humorous story about a song for a dead bird, merely add to his legend.
In fact, his ability to relax an audience like an older, still-funny, down-to-earth comedian is so popular that he sometimes gets requests for his stories.
Playing with a band in the ’80s, while fun, prevented his meandering tales from taking full form, resulting in the other musicians “looking fidgety.” So he got away from that.
He’s solo again, which allows him to again integrate anecdotes into his performances of such natural sounding songs — a seemingly effortless exercise for Rush.
“Song-writing is like coaxing something out of the shadows,” Rush said. “It’s there — you just have to be quiet and listen.”
What: Tom Rush
When: 7:30 p.m., Thursday
Where: The Cedar Cultural Center, 416 S. Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
Ages: All ages