Local harmonica heavyweight Peter Madcat Ruth is celebrating a milestone this week: his 70th birthday with a big show at The Ark in Ann Arbor this Thursday, April 4th. Madcat stopped in to the WEMU studios to talk about the milestone and the bash with WEMU's Michael Jewett:
*Listen to the audio above.
The event will feature music by Madcat and many of his musical friends including Howard Levy, Chris Brubeck, Josh Davis, Corky Siegel, Shari Kane, Seth Bernard, Rachael Davis, Drew Howard, Michael Shimmin, Mark Schrock, Dominic Davis, William Apostol, Dick Siegel and Joel Brown, with M.C. Michael Jewett.
Automated Transcript (please excuse errors):
Michael Jewett: Local harmonica heavyweight Peter MAD Cat Ruth is celebrating a milestone, his seventieth birthday with a big show at the Ark in Ann Arbor this Thursday April 4th and he's here now at WEMU to talk about the milestone the event and I'm sure any other number of topics we might ramble our way through. Hello welcome and happy birthday. On a big milestone. You're looking great. How you doing?
Madcat: I'm doing fine.
Michael Jewett: Alright. This is.. This is the big 7-0. Or just 7-0
Madcat: Yeah we're just 7 -0. 70, yeah it's pretty big!
Michael Jewett: Yeah it seems like just yesterday we were talking about 60 and now.
Madcat: It kind of astonishes me that that it's such a big number but then again I'm the same as I have been. So I'm feeling fine. Yeah.
Michael Jewett: It's not a big it doesn't feel like a big life changing type thing or whatever.
Madcat: Just a big number.
Just another number I think age ain't nothing but a number. Well the number is a number of blue songs goes. Well, congratulations on this and we should tell everyone just some basics. Your seventieth birthday bash is Thursday April 4th 8:00 p.m. at the Ark in Ann Arbor. It's you and just great set musicians
Madcat: About 15 other great musicians. Yeah.
Family friends and a number of artists that you've worked with over the years. People can go to the Ark's website if they just want a basic information if they want if they want to read a little bit more. Do you have a site that they should check out.
Madcat: All they could read about me at madcatmusic.net. They can also look at it and Ann Arbor Observer and read about me in the April issue, they just a put a little thing in there about it.
Michael Jewett: Ok. OK. For those of you who have a number mailing address.
Michael Jewett: You've got that you've got that resource. I'll have to look for that one, man. I just want to touch on few things here. Oh boy, it has been so long when you've been a member of a community for so long people say. "Well you've always been here." But that's not that's not really the case. You're actually from... You're not a native and after it you're on from near the Chicago area.
Madcat: Yeah I grew up in suburban Chicago, and I came to Ann Arbor when I was Twenty one years old I guess. And I've been here ever since.
Michael Jewett: Well now you were you were playing when you got here.
Madcat: Oh yeah. I came here to join inm cause I was in Chris Brubeck's rock n roll band called New Heavenly Blue, and he moved here and so I moved here to be in his band.
Michael Jewett: OK. But no let me back up a little second. I mean when you say the blues not just blues harmonica you say the blues Chicago is like you know I mean this is Chicago.
Madcat: I know (laughs).
Michael Jewett: So it's like it's like the wellspring of the blues and everthing. What was so attractive about Ann Arbor that that helped you make the decision. Was this like us. I mean why did you decide to stay? Don't take this the wrong way. We're glad you're here! But what why the shift why why did you decide you're going to come to a midwestern college town (with a great music scene)- what what made Ann Arbor so feel so good?
Madcat: Well Ann Arbor in 1970 was a whole lot different than Ann Arbor right now and you know the, Ann Arbor Blues Festival was starting here, and there was there's many clubs in town that had lived blues music and I was around when the Blind Pig opened in 1972. But, before that there was a lot of places that played live blues music and moved here and I liked it.
Michael Jewett: But Chicago had Chicago wasn't exactly... I mean, I really know the history of Chicago venues and whatnot at that time but it's not like Chicago would have been hurtin' for music opportunities. Was it just that this had a different vibe that felt more...
Madcat: Yeah it was more of a hometown vibe. Chicago is huge, and Ann Arbor - you can still get across town in 15 minutes (and you still can).
Michael Jewett: So traffic may be a little different, but, yeah.
Madcat: But I came here because I had this opportunity to be in Chris Brubeck's band New Heavenly Blue, which is just it just was an amazing band because we were playing blues and rock and roll and jazz and country music and we were doing a lot of different things and also I left Chicago when I was 21 in the drinking age there was 21 so I couldn't get into anything before, and I couldn't fool anyone. I couldn't you know get a fake I.D. and get myself.
Michael Jewett: I should because I say probably say it's like OK I know that you're 70. So yeah, I don't know.You have a certain youthful... I don't wanna say Baby Face I didn't really know you that well you know earlier on.
Madcat: But when I was 21 years old I looked like I was maybe 17 so I couldn't fake my way in to hear anything in Chicago anyway.
Michael Jewett: These are important considerations - that was the most important.
Madcat: So I saw Blues in Chicago I like the University of Chicago would have blues shows and the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle would have blues shows and those blues on the radio and there's blues on the AM radio that I could hear every night. It was great but but as far as playing music I had much more opportunity to do that in Ann Arbor.
Michael Jewett: Wow that's quite an endorsement for the for the scene at that time. So, looking back again our guests Peter madcap Ruth his seventieth birthday bashes this Thursday at the Arkr in Ann Arbor. 8:00 p.m. for the basics about the show: tickets, whatnot at the ark.org is probably the best way to go.
Michael Jewett: Over 50 years of being (right around 50 years) of being a professional musician. A lot of changes, do you do you feel nostalgic about any particular era? Do you feel, or what are some of the things that have changed that you think are like better maybe not as cool? Any any over overriding kind of impression?
Madcat: Back when I moved here live music in Ann Arbor was just booming. Now there's way fewer places, but but it was the whole a whole different scene because if you wanted any entertainment in 1970 you could listen to three TV channels or you could go you could go bowling you could go to a movie. There was no Internet. So if you wanted to be entertained you went out to hear live music, and it was all over. There was on the weekend there was you know 30 places with live music, and in any week night there was you know eight places with a live band. So it was just a scene. You know it's a great scene.
Michael Jewett: I've had this discussion with a lot of other musicians that are like let's say you're around your age, or around my age (you have you by about 10 years just to let everybody know the age we're talking about) just how much you know live concerts or you know or going to a music festival, or how big rites of passages those were you know for a long time, and they're just maybe you're kind of saying it's not the same.
Madcat: It's different and you know it's not that its better or worse really. It's just very different. I mean now you know you want to hear a blues song you go to YouTube and you can hear that blues song. You know you you can turn on the radio, you can find it. There's so many more resources. I remember when I was a kid I'd go to the Jazz Record Mart, the biggest place to get Blues albums. The biggest place in all of Chicago, and yet you know they might have 200 records to choose from and that was it. You know. I mean it's a whole different scene. So anyway. Well here we are.
Michael Jewett: Here we are. Now, you've colloborated will also sorts of musicians. Do you feel like you've achieved some sort of like like elder statesman or veteran performer role? Do you feel like you're like more of a teaching role, maybe as you've been on the scene or a long time or is it more just like the straight collaboration when you meet a new musician or some you know someone that you just starting a musical collaboration with is it does it's still the same as it was you know 30, 40 years ago?
Madcat: It's better because, I'm a better musician now then I was back then. I've just learned so much about music and about different styles of music and so when I sit in with people and I sit in with all kinds of different bands. I'm a member of this band, Sumkali playing Indian fusion music, you know. I play with Chris Brubeck playing you know Dave Brubeck tunes and acoustic funk music and I play with singer songwriters, and I play with Americana groups and then just have my own blues band, which is not limited to blues so we do a lot of different varieties of music. I keep really busy doing it, and people say "oh yeah he's the guy I see at the Kroger store." But actually in between seeing Kroger store, I travel all over the country, and also all over the world playing music, so I am very happy with how things are going, and I love playing music, and I'm keeping at it.
Michael Jewett: Very good. Speaking of traveling,and colloborating with other musicians, is there another kick you get out of traveling? I know not everyone is like a big fan of the road.
Madcat: Yeah. People often say "Don't you get tired of all that touring around" and actually the answer is still no. I mean even though in February I was touring with with Triple Play (that's Chris Brubeck and Joel Brown) we were in Minnesota, South Dakota, and Montana in February and it got to be 10 below zero with a 40 mile an hour wind. And yet that's some blues inspiration.. Did I have miserable time? Well I got cold, but I had a good time playing music in out of the way places, I enjoy it.
Michael Jewett: Are there places that you would love to try to go to, or that you're actively seeking to play? Anywhere on the planet that you like to bring the Madcat magic to?
Madcat: Well I guess I'd like to do more playing in Europe. I have done some, but not much. Certain parts of Europe that I haven't been.
Michael Jewett: He's been everywhere. It's like he's like that song. "I've been everywhere."
Madcat: And I'd be happy to go back to Brazil. I've been there 13 times, and it's such a lovely place to play music. The Brazilian audiences just love live music, so it's fun.
Michael Jewett: you've got a great record, "Live in Rio.".
Madcat: Yeah it was. It was a good one.
Michael Jewett: Alright, a little closer to home. This Thursday - let's talk. Your seventieth birthday bash you've got a big long list of friends, and I would say your musical family members that you're going to present in this really once in a lifetime concert. Let's just kind of go through all kind of like hop around and talk about folks, but first up. You know you mentioned a couple of times Chris Brubeck.
Madcat: Yeah I met him in 1968. So that's about 51 years ago, and we've been playing music since we met. So, I was in his band new heavenly blue, his band Sky King I was in the Darius Brubeck ensemble, I was in then two generations of Brubeck with Dave Brubeck and his sons, and we toured all over the world. I was with him for about five years, and that was just an amazing opportunity. It's like an apprenticeship program that you can't buy. You know it's just amazing.
Michael Jewett: I'm going to mention them kind of together two other fellow harmonica luminaries, Corky Siegel and Howard Levy. MAN
Madcat: Yeah WELL Corky Siegel, when I was starting to play quirky Seeger was in Chicago already playing and already having records and it was Corky Siegel and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and Charlie Musselwhite were the the three bands kind of bringing blues to younger audiences. So I knew about Corky and then later...
Michael Jewett: Corky has that kind of like a blues base, but branching out and playing all sorts of different styles. He has embraced that kind of approach to his main band these days.
Madcat: He still gets together with Jim swell once in a while but his main thing is the Chamber Blues with the string quartet and in Corky playing piano and harmonica.
Michael Jewett: So this is a blues oriented harmonica player with a string quartet and an Indian percussionist. Indian classical music. It really cooks.
Madcat: Howard I met way back in probably the mid 70s late 70s. We were both sitting in with a singer songwriter named Steve Goodman. That's where we met because Steve Goodman would always get lots of musicians to play with him. We met and I just said "Oh, this guy's amazing," and we became friends way back then and then later he went off and met Bela Fleck, and he was a founding member of the Flecktones. (He is the original Flecktone.) And he is an amazing just over-the-top amazing harmonica player. He can do some things that I certainly don't even come close to doing. And I'm a pretty good harmonica player. (laughs). But Howard is a is absolutely astounding. And he also plays piano really well. And he also can sight read anything, and he plays the clarinet if he wants to. Saxophone. Yeah. I'm really happy that he could could be here.
Michael Jewett: Yeah. Honored I'm sure just to have all these great great people. When you're putting the show together, did you think of the order? This is gotta be like a real labor of love. But, let's talk about the love we get for the music but trying to put all these people and put a concert together - This is artistic director stuff. This is like more than just the bandleader and calling a couple of tunes in a set.
Madcat: It was definitely a challenge because with 15 fabulous musicians and you know, approximately two hour concert you have to really edit carefully.
Michael Jewett: I don't want to like run down the plan because I don't want to give away too much, because I want people in attendance to kind of get that surprise. Josh Davis and Rachel Davis are on the on the bill.
Madcat: Yes and Dominic Davis. Josh Davis a founding member of steppin in it.from the Lansing band and Dominic Davis (another founding member of that band) and Dominic's married to Rachel Davis who is a great singer songwriter. Dominic has is the bass player in Jack White's band. OK. And moved to Nashville because that's where they're based. But he's an amazing bass player. Rachel is a great singer songwriter. And Josh Davis took third place on The Voice a couple of years back. He's an amazing singer and songwriter and these are all three of my originally Michigan people.
Michael Jewett: OK. So the connections there.
Madcat: Seth Bernard, another Michigan hero of the folk music scene.
Michael Jewett: All right. All right. Now I've saved a couple of names here because we kind of know them very very well. Singer songwriter Dick Siegel is going to put in a performance.
Madcat: I've known Dick since late probably mid 1970s.
Michael Jewett: He's a great storyteller. And Sheri Kane,.
Madcat: Oh yeah. We had a band Madcat and Kane, we toured for 24 years.
Michael Jewett: Was it that long?
Madcat: Twenty four years of touring all over the country, and I think we played 11 different countries.
Michael Jewett: Kind of like the original blues bands sound guitar and harmonica.
Madcat: Well that's where I started. Listen to sunny Terry and Brownie McGhee and that's how I got started in playing harmonica in the first place, and so yeah we followed that that duo route for a long time.
Michael Jewett: All right. And more recent band your midnight blues journey.
Madcat: Yeah. True Howard and Michael Shimmin and Mark Schrock. We still play all over the state. We don't get out of state much but. But Michigan's a nice big place and we keep pretty busy playing all over the place.
Michael Jewett: Fantastic fantastic. Again for more information on the show. Peter Madcat Ruth's seventieth birthday bash at the Ark in Ann Arbor this Thursday April the 4th. 15 musicians, Madcat Ruth and friends and family. This is we only get this once, do it right.
Madcat: Yeah, it's like my own folk festival. It's going to be fun.
Michael Jewett: I like it. I love it. I love it. Hey, man, and I should also add that I want to tell you how touched and really honored I was that you asked me to be a voice of this, and be the MC.
Madcat: You get to be the glue that holds everything together.
Michael Jewett: You no idea how how great that makes me feel. Being the glue is like being the connective tissue there. Happy birthday.
Madcat: Hey thank you.
Michael Jewett: Happy birthday and thank you for all this music and thank you On behalf of just so many friends and fans around here I'm glad you made the decision to stick around here. We like having you around man.
Madcat: Yeah. And when I turned 50 I had a big big concert at the Ark when I turned 60 a big concert. So. So now I'm turning 70, a big concert like this.
Michael Jewett: We look forward to many more.
Madcat: I hope so. We'll see what happens.
Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support. Make your donation to WEMU today to keep your community NPR station thriving.