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Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014 12:01 am

The season of Hurricane Ruth

Hurricane Ruth performs Sat., Nov. 22, at the Alamo. Mary Jo Curry and Tombstone Bullet start the show at 8 p.m.


As a working blues-rock artist, if you’ve had Willie Dixon, one of the most profound, prolific and professional blues guys of all time quoted as saying, “You’re the only hurricane I can appreciate,” that says a lot. Actually, that says it all in my opinion, but it’s only part of the story of “Hurricane” Ruth LaMaster.

Born and raised in Beardstown, the rough-and-ready west-central Illinois river city near where the Sangamon empties into the Illinois, Ruth started her professional singing career in 1979. Years before, she received an incredible and unique musical education at Sunday afternoon jams in her father’s local tavern. During a time when music styles and musicians mixed more than nowadays, Ruth soaked up the sounds, sitting in the room listening and singing along when she could.

“There were steel guitars and trumpets and trombones along with the regular guitar, bass and drums,” she recalls. “They played country and blues, but also Dixieland, big band and popular tunes of the day. It was our own Beardstown musical tour.”

Her best friend and musician pal, keyboardist Christy Bley, played an early on, key role in learning the art of making music. LaMaster, in cahoots with Bley, also an accomplished accordion player, vocalist and pianist, played for their fellow students at a Beardstown High School assembly. The young women received a standing ovation for their first gig, realizing then that, “this is what we wanted to do.”

To commemorate the release of her second full-length album in two years, Hurricane Ruth returned to the town of her youth and played at the Beardstown High School last September. The event raised some $3,500 to help purchase sound equipment for the new high school. These days, Ruth talks a lot about giving back, often while reminiscing on her heady, early days in the Midwest music scene. After a brilliant start in the early 80s, opening for household blues names such as Sam and Dave, John Lee Hooker and Willie Dixon, the Hurricane lost intensity and dwindled to a halt. She went to work for a major corporation and the music fizzled out.

“Maybe it was arrogance or immaturity or a lack of inner strength, but I wasn’t ready then,” she admits. “The whole time I worked and waited, not a day went by where I didn’t feel a burning passion to be back out singing. Now I respect it more than ever.”

Hurricane Ruth is definitely back up to storm level. Building on the success and reach of last year’s The Power of the Blues… Feels like a Hurricane, her latest recording, Born on the River (also produced by Springfield alum and Chicago resident Andon “Ted” Davis) took off like a shot. Now signed to the internationally established Blind Raccoon organization, run by Betsie Brown, a highly capable and experienced industry person, Hurricane Ruth is busting out all over the place. From radio plays in Buenos Aires, Europe and Australia, top-ten charting on the national Roots Report and steady rotation on Sirius XM blues stations, the music is getting heard.

Ruth gives the band, consisting of David Lumsden on electric guitar, Gary Davis on bass and Jim Engel on drums, all experienced veterans of the local music scene and extremely accomplished musicians, the full credit they deserve in bringing the sound of Hurricane Ruth to the realization and intensity of her namesake. They perform this Saturday night at the Alamo for a CD celebration concert.

“They are my brothers in music, all talented and decent people. We are doing this together,” she exclaims. “I’m blessed to be with them, to be doing this again. We are going places we’ve never been before. It’s our turn now.”

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.


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