ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JULY 31, 1987
By Steve Newton
The Fabulous Thunderbirds are from Austin, Texas. Mason Ruffner is from Forth Worth. The Fabulous Thunderbirds hit it big last year with an album produced by Dave Edmunds. Mason Ruffner is hitting it big this year with an album produced by Dave Edmunds.
Is there a connection? Not really. In fact, Ruffner is quick to claim that the T-Birds’ success had nothing to do with his decision to acquire the use of Edmunds’ golden eardrums.
“Even before the Thunderbirds he was considered one of the best at roots-style production,” says Mason, on the line from Kansas City. The red-hot guitarman, who plays the 86 Street Music Hall on Friday (July 31), actually got more than just Edmunds’ production skills for his Gypsy Blood album. Edmunds sings backup and plays guitar on five tunes as well, including the title track, which has been getting steady airplay on local rock radio.
Although not particularly well known in Canada (yet), Mason Ruffner is a veteran of the U.S. blues-rock scene. (When I asked him his age, he replied, “Me? Oh, I’m old.”) As such, he’s a little slow to attribute the current commercial upsurge in blues to the recent breakthrough of acts like Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Fab T-Birds.
“These bands shouldn’t get the credit, ’cause ever since the ’60s there’s been bands playin’ blues and gettin’ popular. From the Paul Butterfield Band, to Cream, and then Johnny WInter, and then George Thorogood. There’s always been somebody makin’ some noise doin’ roots kinda music.”
As far as his own influences go, Ruffner says that he didn’t really have any. “I just heard somethin’ I liked, and then I tried to play it. It wasn’t the artist so much, it was the material that attracted me.”
Maybe so, but Ruffner sounds a hell of a lot like Jimi Hendrix on a few of Gypsy Blood‘s tracks–especially in the vocals department. He even howls like Jimi at the end of “Dancin’ On Top of the World”.
“Some people have said I sing like him, but I don’ t really hear it. To me, my influence has really been the blues singers.”
One guitar hero who has had an effect on Ruffner is Jimmy Page, who he gives a “special thanks” to on the back cover of Gypsy Blood.
“He’s inspired me a lot, and gave me a big break when I went on tour with the Firm last year. That opened the doors, really, to do this album.”
As well as the Firm, Ruffner has been touring with Crosby, Stills and Nash, as well as headlining clubs across America. Once, when he was playing a bar in New Orleans, the Boss himself dropped by, and made quite an impression.
“I’ve never been a Bruce Springsteen fan first of all, but when I met him I became a real big fan of the man because he really was a tremendous human being, and he inspired me a lot in the way he acted.”
Springsteen was one of the big names rumoured to attend the recent CBS Records convention here in town. He never made it, but Ruffner did, and had the opportunity to meet the likes of Ricky Skaggs, Dave Alvin, George Michael, and Gino Vanelli. “I had a ball,” he boasts. “They had to drag me away.”
Before the CBS party, Ruffner had never been to Vancouver–or Canada for that matter. When he plays here Friday he’ll be accompanied by a four-piece band made up of musicians from Austin, Forth Worth, and Cleveland. He hasn’t been playing with them long, but he figures they’ll be tight enough to please most local blues-rock fanatics.
“We’ve got a few loose spots,” he says, “but by the time we hit Vancouver, everything oughta be in place.”
If Ruffner plays like he does on Gypsy Blood, there shouldn’t be any complaints.