22 Friday, November 29, 1996 l The Bee - By Ken Robison

Blues: Ruffo is using technology to round out his band and to strut his stuff

Continued from Page 17

performs with guitarist Martin Pugh and a computer-sampled rhythm section.

He understands that blues fans, rooted in the tradition, are not quick to accept pre-programmed drumming. But he vows to win them over.

"We’re going to take people past that," he said. "Once they see and hear us, they will forget, and not care."

It’s that kind of confident talk that gives "Steamin’ Stan" a bluesman’s bravado. He isn’t afraid to mention to a reporter that his radio show has great Arbitron ratings or to call himself "the best-known entertainer in Visalia."

Knows his limitations

That confidence gave him the fuel to bug radio stations until he secured his show, "Blues On Tap," Sunday nights from 8-10 on Porterville’s KIOO, FM 99.7.

And it’s that self-confidence that allows Ruffo to understand who he is - and is not - in the modern blues world.

"I ain’t black," he said, "and it ain’t 1950. I can’t play Little Walter better than Little Walter did. I want to play Stan Ruffo as well as I can."

If that means adopting the technology of the 90s, then so be it. Blues is an evolving art form, and Ruffo is ready to evolve, even to the point of developing a blues web site.

Calling up http://www.ruffo.com takes you to Ruffo’s home page, with a direct link to "Blues On Tap Worldwide," a one-hour weekly internet show. Ruffo’s site also has links to "NY CD Blues Review," his performance schedule, booking information, a biography and other blues related sites. Ruffo sees the net as the wave of the future for musicians.

"I see a lot of independent artists trying to figure how to make the internet work for them," Ruffo said. "It’s the new frontier. If enough people hear and like your music [on the internet], what do you need a record company for?"

But while he breaks ground on new technological avenues, Ruffo understands and appreciates the blues tradition well enough that his music doesn’t blaze strange new trails. Rather, he follows the road paved by his blues-harmonica influences - Little Walter, Paul Butterfield, Charlie Musselwhite, Kim Wilson, Rod Piazza and William Clarke.

Got club owner’s attention

It was Clarke’s untimely death that brought Ruffo to the attention of Club Fred owner Fred Martinez earlier this month. Ruffo was in the audience at the club when Clarke failed to arrive for his gig at the Tower district club. (Clarke died the next morning at Fresno Community Hospital from a bleeding ulcer.)

Clarke’s band mates asked Ruffo to sit in with them, and most of the audience stayed to see the show. The crowd was enthusiastic and Martinez was impressed. He invited Ruffo to perform at Club Fred Dec. 21.

"He saved the day," said Martinez, "He played and everybody had a good time. He’s as talented as a lot of people I’ve seen in town. He saved my butt, so I thought I’d give him a chance to headline his own show."

Ruffo has a new agent and publicist in the Bay area, which brought him up there for some radio interviews and nightclub gigs last week.

His compact disc from 1993, "Live At The Bastille," is getting some airplay on blues shows nationwide. His current cassette, "Jump n Swing Party," a duet with Pugh, is being distributed through his own networks- mainly at his live performances.

In addition, Ruffo performed three songs for a compact disc compilation, "West Coast Wailers," that is selling well in Europe. And he’s a fan as well as a player. On his weekly radio show, taking requests, playing songs by old and new blues players, announcing shows around the Valley, his enthusiasm for the genre is obvious.


Harmonica was his escape

It’s an enthusiasm fostered in his youth, growing up in an interracial Los Angeles neighborhood listening to music by African-Americans- blues R&B, soul. Ruffo began playing saxophone as a teen-ager.

But a harmonica was more portable, so it became his escape from the tedium of 18 years of truck driving.

In 1985, while living in Madera, Ruffo began sitting in with blues pianist Omar the Magnificent. He moved to Visalia in 1987, working as a trucking produce broker. He eventually quit that job to play music full time.

Ruffo said the harmonica is an easy instrument to play (he’s taught at Valley prisons for six years), but it’s difficult to perfect.

"I could have you playing the rhythm part in a blues song in 15 minutes," he said. "But to be an articulate, commanding player takes a long time."

Instrumentally or vocally, he said, you need to learn the lingo. "Blues is a language; either you learn to speak it or you don’t."

What is such an upbeat, enthusiastic guy doing singing the blues? Ruffo said the blues is nothing more than life’s experiences put into song.

"It can be happy, sad, glad, or bad," Ruffo explained. "A lot of my original material is uptempo, happy stuff because that’s how my life is. That’s how most people would like their lives to be.

"Some people’s jobs are not that way. It’s the bluesman’s job to take your blues away from you for a little while."