2006 seems to be a year of significant anniversaries for several Blues and Roots Labels. There have been 25, 30, and 35 year, retrospectives from my friends and colleagues at Alligator, Blind Pig, and Story Plain this year. Compiling a retrospective collection provided me with a great opportunity to examine my company’s productivity and to take an objective look at my endeavours over the years since I established Ruf Records in 1994. You may ask, why do this after 12 years rather than 10 or 15?
Well, I guess the number may not have much significance to many people, but I believe it to be important. I was born 12/12/65, 12 months make a year, 12 signs complete the various aspects of the ‘Wheel of Life’ in the Buddhist tradition, which interests me greatly. The number 12 has magic for me.
To create this compilation I decided to work backwards from the present day. I examined my release schedules for each of the years I have been operating, and my aim was to find THE essential recording from every year, and to include a song from it here. This retrospective release also contains a DVD to mark our large-scale move into this new medium since 2004. I selected tracks from our many DVD releases, which include Aynsley Lister – ‘LIVE!’, The Imperial Crowns – ‘Preachin’ The Blues – Live’, Ian Parker – ‘…whilst the wind’, ‘Ana Popovic – ANA!’, Robin Trower – ‘Living out of Time’, and a particular favourite of mine, the highly creative, Bob Brozman – ‘Live in Germany’.
As soon as I began looking at the present year’s release schedule, I realised that the notion that I could select one essential recording for every year would be very tough. In fact, I found it impossible to select only one album for 2006! Walter Trout’s “Full Circle”, has already enjoyed 15 weeks on the Billboard Blues Charts as I write this, and there is no end in sight to this current success. This album’s release marks a new chapter in my company’s presence in the US marketplace. Earlier in the year, the British press raved emphatically about Sue Foley’s ‘New Used Car’, calling it “a real hard hitting killer tool” (NAME). This type of response has not been unusual, and I personally think the record is wonderful. I simply could not leave it out.
Strangely, I can hardly remember any of the details of this year’s output, but looking at the release schedule, it is easy to understand why! The 15 releases on this year’s schedule (probably 5 more than we could have ever hoped to handle on paper!) included 4 releases on the relatively new medium of DVD. This year also saw the launch of the Ruf Records touring brand ‘BluesCaravan.com’, so I guess I really did have my hands full, and worked flat out to divide my time between the office and the tour bus! I travelled with Sue Foley, Candye Kane and Ana Popovic for the first edition of Blues Caravan in which this exciting line-up played 56 successful shows throughout 14 countries, and provided the perfect launch for this new touring concept. As for the most significant releases of the year I once again felt compelled to include 2 artists! Candye Kayne’s “ White Trash Girl” was hailed as her best recording to date and received tremendous airplay in both Europe and the US. The album also won the accolade of “Best Album Cover” in the gay community. The other important release of this year was Ian Parker’s live record, ‘…whilst the wind’. Ian is a young gentleman, hailing from the UK with tremendous potential as a performer, vocalist and songwriter.
This year saw something of a production boom in DVDs for us, a follow-up to our highly acclaimed Walter Trout DVD ‘Relentless’, which came out in 2003. After the release of Walter’s DVD it became apparent that very few blues artists have actually released DVDs, and that where they have, the production often lacks quality due to budget limitations. I guess it was our ambition to produce blues DVDs that could rival major label rock DVDs on quality, and to see that all of our artists had the opportunity to film a DVD. I would like to say a big thank you to our production partners, Rockpalast at WDR and Dutch View. Given that 5 of the 9 artists we released this year went on to release DVDs, and that many are represented on the DVD included in this compilation, I chose not to select any albums for this year.
The pick for this year for me was Omar & The Howlers label debut album, “Boogie Man”. I regard this release as a landmark recording, which I feel highlights what can be achieved when a seasoned roadhouse performer pairs up with contemporary songwriters, and is brave enough to broaden his stylistic horizons. Omar came to us with a long recording history, which stood him in good stead, and I feel very proud of this fantastic record.
This year saw a very light release schedule (only 8 releases) – all of them re-releases and live albums. I guess this is what happens when you run out of cash! Live recordings are cheap to make even if they don’t tend to sell as well as studio recordings. In all honesty, I don’t feel that there were any particularly significant releases in this year. However, whilst looking through the songs on each of this year’s releases I noticed a song on Larry Garner’s live album called ‘When the Blues turn black’. I think this is a great piece of song-writing and I wanted it to be featured on the compilation. I broke off from my original concept somewhat and decided to use the studio version of this song which appeared 2 years earlier on ‘Once upon the Blues’, which I prefer to the live version. Larry for me, is a good example of how cruel the business can be sometimes. He was regarded by ???? as being the “most important blues songwriter”, when he first appeared on the scene. His song-writing deals with contemporary issues rather than relying on well-worn “my baby took a train” type cliches. We signed Larry to a three-album deal, and worked hard to develop his career during that time, but sadly we never managed to sell his records in any significant numbers.
One of the highlights of this year was our discovery of a young woman from Yugoslavia – the first European artist we broke in the US, as well as the first ever European to be nominated for a WC Handy Award, Ana Popovic. She performed “Love Fever” at the 2002 Handy Awards Show. Today Ana is a mainstay on the world stage, appearing regularly at the genres top festivals and in it’s most celebrated concert halls. Speaking of awards, our 2001 re-issue of Luther Allison’s 1992, all acoustic album, ‘Hand Me Down My Moonshine’ (he never toured the US with this one) got us a Handy Award for ‘Re-issue of the Year’.
Not every year produced a classic, but again for this year, I could not make up my mind and I have therefore decided to represent 2 albums that I consider important in the history of Ruf Records. Aynsley Lister – our first developing artist from the UK who we signed in 1998 released his best selling album this year, which we finally released in North America in 2006. Good things come to those who wait! The other significant release of this year for me was Kevin Coyne’s ‘Roomful of Fools’, containing 100 % “on the spot” improvised music and lyrics, which was highly acclaimed in the press (“Without fanfare, Kevin Coyne has put out the album of the year”, Plain Dealer), but virtually ignored at retail, selling about 300 copies in the US. That’s showbizz I guess.
This was a busy year with 10 releases. I picked a track from this year’s new arrivals at Ruf Records, the Woodstock legends, Canned Heat. Blues Man Robert Lucas had just joined the currant line up and it features the last recordings of the Heat line-up featuring Henry “Sunflower” Vestine. As Bob Hite would say at this point: Don’t forget to boogie!
I decided to pass on a track from this year. 1998 saw 2 new arrivals at Ruf, Larry Garner (who is featured early on) and A. J. Croce, who opted to buy his masters back from us later on in order to seek pastures new.
the last year of luther allison touring. He sadly passed away aug 12. his roaring last studio album “reckless” was the album prior to catching 2the bir time”.we releases this one stateside through alligator records and the album got us our first grammy nomination.
I included a track of our acoustic duo friend n fellow –who toured with luther on his very last european tour. The track kind of sumarieses the emotions of this year: home
a light release shedule due to the bancrupsy of our US distributo that almost pushed us down to the ground.on the upside, luther allison sweapt the W.C. handy awards,winning in 5 categories: best performer,best male artist,best album,song of the year
In our second year of trading we managed to secure a distribution deal stateside and added our first North American staff member Ira Leslie, to handle Ruf Records sales + marketing on the other side of the pond.
Bernard Allison, who started his own band a few years earlier after touring with his father during the early 1990’s signed to Ruf Records this year. His label debut ‘Funk If I Know’ marked the beginning of Bernard’s search for his own identity, and his successful bid to escape his father’s shadow.
The European agent of Luther Allison started a record label for his rising blues hero.
After serving my apprenticeship on the road with the man since 1989, opening my record label offered another avenue to promote the music and career of this extraordinary artist.
From our very first release “Bad Love” (issued in the US as ‘Soul Fixin’ Man’ by Alligator Records) I chose to include ‘Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is’ - a challenge that Luther issued to me very early on in our business relationship! Still today I can hear him speaking these words and see the intense look in his eyes as if it was yesterday.
Thomas Ruf, September 2006