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Thursday, July 14, 2011 12:14 pm

Hurricane Ruth returns

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Hurricane Ruth performs Sat., July 16, 3:40-5 p.m. at the Chatham Sweet Corn Festival at Chatham Community Park.
Try tossing out the name Hurricane Ruth in a conversation about area music and see what happens. Most folks from back in the day are likely to have a story about a particularly stupendous performance or perhaps a terrific tale of those heady times. Voted top blues band by the now-defunct Prairie Sun magazine and opening for the likes of Taj Mahal and BB King, her eponymous band in the mid to late 70s toured with great success throughout the Midwest. Roaring from show to show, loaded with the best and brightest rockers in central Illinois, Hurricane Ruth was a force to be reckoned with. She then fronted the hard rocking band Slick New Face until taking a much-deserved break from the hectic music lifestyle. But her first memories of music go back to the days of literally sitting on her father’s knee.

“There’s an old photo of me sitting on my dad’s lap playing the ride cymbal while he performed on the drum kit,” she says. “I was about three years old. I’ve been blessed by music all my life.”

Ruth LaMaster grew up in Beardstown where her parents ran a tavern featuring weekly music shows. Sunday afternoon jam sessions were a highlight as area musicians gathered for fellowship and performance. Into this expansive wealth of local live music she added the influences of her mother and father, and rhythm and blues performers such as Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, to create a rich tapestry of inspiration that molded her early music life.

After moving to the capital city to attend Springfield College in Illinois, she met up with several musicians in that fertile music department, including Bill Jansen, Doug Rapier and John Sluzalis, plus hung out with her childhood friend, Christy Bly, all who continued to pursue music as lifetime adventures. From there she began singing with Dick Garretson and credits him with giving her a working lesson in professional public performance.

“Playing with Dick I learned how to read a crowd and keep a show going,” she says. “He really gave me a chance. I’ve been surrounded by so much musical talent and got a very musically nurturing beginning.”
When a friend wondered out loud “how a voice that big came out of a person that small,” then and there Ruth LaMaster became Hurricane Ruth.

After years and years of bars and clubs, crowds and concerts, plus many miles on the road, always just a step away from something bigger and better, Ruth let the singing rest for a while. Now after recently retiring from 23 years of gainful employment in UPS management, she’s ready to sing out again and hits the stage on Saturday afternoon at the Chatham Sweet Corn Festival to debut the return of Hurricane Ruth.

Her band of local players, all veterans of many years of performance, include David Lumsden on guitar, Gary Davis on bass and Jim Engel on drums. The music is blues based with a rock edge (“We call it red-hot, rocking, power blues”), much like the rhythm and blues she grew up with, plus the rock influence of those young adult years.

“I look at this as a second chance to do what I really love,” she says. “It’s truly a blessing to be singing again and working with such wonderful musicians. I just want to give back to the community all that I can.”

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

Newsflash: The Sangawegians, the annual mix of Paul Kirby, former Williamsville resident now living and playing bluegrass and opera (separately) in Norway, along with John Brillhart and Gary Fifer, return to the Brewhaus on Sunday, July 17, for a set of interestingly edgy folk music at 9 p.m. Paul’s wife and bassist will join him for his set. We will celebrate Raoul’s birthday with a toast at midnight.
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