Mason Ruffner

 

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Mason Ruffner's self-titled debut album, released in 1985, was praised by many music critics. Rolling Stone wrote "Ruffner's clear, stringy and almost palpable sound (that he) gets from his fifties Fender Stratocaster and vintage Super Reverb amp ... a sound to make you relish again the sheer electric guitarness of the electric guitar". Many music fans are familiar with Ruffner via his 2nd CBS album "Gypsy Blood" (1987). The LP made it into Billboard's Top 100 and the title track was a AOR Top 10 hit as well as being featured in the film Steel Magnolias. He played guitar on Bob Dylan's "Oh Mercy" LP, and toured as an opener for Ringo Starr, Dave Edmunds and Jimmy Page, among others. In 1997 Mason's 3rd recording, "Evolution" made some noise on its release in Europe but never got released on US soil. "You Can't Win" on Burnside Records should turn some heads and get Ruffner back on the fast track in the blues world.

 


Born in Illinois and raised near Fort Worth, Texas, Ruffner was drawn to the guitar at the age of 14 after hearing Jimmy Reed play at the Skyliner Club in his home town. Playing the guitar "just like Jimmy Reed" became his driving ambition. An uncle bought him a used Fender Stratocaster and a new Super Reverb amplifier and he began playing with several garage bands around town. Rock and roll temporarily sidetracked him until a chance meeting with blues vocalist Robert Ealey at the Cellar Club. Ruffner wound up a member of Ealey's band, The Five Careless Lovers, making as little as $2 a night for some gigs but learning a lot about playing the blues. Ruffner was playing with Ealey when Ealey opened his own Fort Worth Club, The Blue Bird, which occasionally booked Stevie Ray Vaughn and Anson Funderburgh, both guitar players that Ruffner sat in with and who he considers his strongest influences.

 

In 1980, Ruffner put his Stratocaster in storage, bought an acoustic guitar, and decided to become a hobo musician. On his way to New York he stopped in New Orleans and started playing for tips in the French Quarter. He met some people who had connections with clubs on Bourbon Street and decided to stick around awhile. After a couple of months of playing on the street, Ruffner sent for his guitar and amplifier and talked his way into playing the early evening shift at the 544 Club. After six months of trial and error (and playing with a number of musicians), Ruffner put together a powerhouse blues trio, The Blues Rockers, that had many taking note. Not only did Ruffner's hard Texas style of blues playing attract tourist in droves, but he was one of the very few acts that attracted local music fans to Bourbon Street In 1985, he was signed by CBS Records after one of the label's executives heard him play. The label encouraged him to pursue rock and tone down his blues approach. It was a stylistic change Ruffner was initially unwilling to pursue but the lure of success in the lucrative rock marketplace proved too hard to resist.

 

CBS released two creditable LPs which put him on the rock and roll fast track but didn't quite put him on the top of the heap. In the late 1980's, Ruffner took the earnings he'd made as a minor rock icon and bought a spread in rural Wimberley, Texas. He kicked back and pretty much played when he felt like it. After a decade of living the good life in picturesque Texas, Ruffner decided, in the fall of 1998, that it was time to shift gears. He considered returning to New Orleans but eventually decided to move to Memphis where he started out playing solo gigs at BB King's Club. These solo shows gave Mason a chance to use his National Steel, which would come into play on his soon-to-be-recorded album for Burnside Records. Mason's road to Burnside Records began in the fall of 1997 when Don Hamilton, a fan of Mason's and of Burnside, sent a letter to the label owner Terry Currier concerning a "great guitar player" looking for the right home. After several paragraphs, it was revealed that "his name is Mason Ruffner and here is his phone number". Being a long time fan, Currier contacted Mason immediately, asking him if he would like to make a blues record. Ruffner's response was "That's the kind of record that I've wanted to make for a long time!" After a dialog of several months, Mason called in the Summer of '98 to say "I'm ready to make that record!"

 

The decision had been made to record at the studio of Mason's musician friend, singer/songwriter Keith Sykes. Before starting, he put together a new band and prepared them for what was about to become Ruffner's first blues recording. The band included drummer Bo Harris, bassist Dave Smith (bass player on both Johnny Lang CDs), and keyboardists Parker Card and Mark Avsec (Donnie Iris, Mason Ruffner). The new ensemble also included a powerful element: a horn section. Art Admaiston on sax and Scott Thompson blowing trumpet added the Memphis sound which helped make "You Can't Win" an album that Mason and his fans could be very proud of. Ruffner's new home in Memphis seemed to have a direct influence on his expanded approach to his music: "When I lived in Texas and New Orleans I never would have considered playing with horns," said Mason, "I just wanted to hear guitar, bass, drums and maybe a keyboard. When I got to Memphis, I started hearing all these great bands with a saxophone and a trumpet. It really opened my ears. I could have done this CD in Texas, but I'm glad now I waited until I got to Memphis. It's a much better record with the horns on it ... This is the blues CD that I've been wanting to do for a long time."

With his return to the blues and the release of his new CD "You Can't Win", Mason will be bringing his Memphis blues to a town near you soon.




"You Can't Win' represents Mason's return to the blues. Mason Ruffner is considered one of the finest rock/blues guitarists of our time. He has played and recorded with Bob Dylan, (He's featured on Dylan's "No Mercy") and has recorded with that album's producer, Daniel Lanois on his recording'Acadie". He released two albums on CBS. His first self titled release was produced by Rick Derringer in 1986 which was followed by the Dave Edmunds produced "Gypsy Blood" which sold over 250,000 units. The title track from "Gypsy Blood" was included in the movie Steel Magnolias and received heavy airplay. In between the records, Mason toured with U2, Crosby Stills & Nash and The Firm. After a move from Wimberly, Texas to Memphis, Tennesse, Mason set up shop and got together a cast of great local players including bassist Dave Smith, drummer Bo Harris, keyboardist Parker Card and the horn section of Art Edmaiston on saxophone and Scott Thompson on trumpet. The result of this is "You Can't Win", a collection of songs inspired by the 'Memphis' sound and by his return to blues. Cut mostly live in the studio with few overdubs, it captures a rawer side of Mason, rounded out with some Memphis styled horn work.


Click the album cover to listen to song samples from,
purchase a copy of and learn more about Mason's album
You Can't Win.