Artist interview – Peter ‘Madcat’ Ruth

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Peter 'Madcat' Ruth is a pillar of the Ann Arbor music scene with fame across the globe. | Photo by Benjamin Weatherston

Peter ‘Madcat’ Ruth is a pillar of the Ann Arbor music scene with fame across the globe. | Photo by Benjamin Weatherston

Ben: Tell me about your recent tour in Brazil. What were some of the highlights?
Madcat: I always have a great time in Brazil. This year was my 13th trip to Brazil since 1995, and I now have many friends throughout Brazil. When I’m in Brazil I tour with the Big Joe Manfra Blues Band from Rio de Janeiro. Manfra is an excellent blues guitarist. When I go there, I use his band as my backup band and I front the show, playing harmonica and doing all the singing. I am much more famous in Brazil than in the USA… In Brazil I’m always billed as INTERNATIONAL BLUES LEGEND PETER MADCAT FROM CHICAGO!

Ben: Chicago? What’s that about?
Madcat: I grew up in the Chicago area (Park Ridge, IL).

Ben: Has winning the Grammy for the Bolcom performance helped your tour sales?
Madcat: Winning a Grammy was quite a fluke. It is a good thing to have on my resume – perhaps it might spark some interest when I’m trying to book a gig, but other than that it is more or less a foot note in my music career.

Ben: Did you ever think about moving to one of “music capitals” of America? What kept you in Ann Arbor?
Madcat: Yes, I considered moving to New York in the late 1970s, but I really like living here in Ann Arbor. I moved here in 1970 to join the band New Heavenly Blue, and I’ve lived here ever since.

Ben: I’ve talked to people that have learned music through you. Tell me about some of the instructing you’ve done over the years.
Madcat: I’ve met many professional musicians who have told me that I was a big influence on them when they were growing up. I especially hear that from harmonica players. When I played with New Heavenly Blue, Sky King, and Dave Brubeck (Two Generations of Brubeck), I was definitely pushing the boundaries of what music and sounds could be played on harmonica. So it is always nice to hear that other professional musicians were inspired by my music. I don’t do a lot of teaching, but I have done a number of harmonica and ukulele workshops over the years. And Homespun Tapes has produced two DVDs of me teaching harmonica.

Ben: Tell me about your new band. What new direction is your music headed in?
Madcat: For about the last 20 years I have been primarily playing acoustic music with Shari Kane (Madcat & Kane) and with Chris Brubeck (Chris Brubeck’s Triple Play). But before that I was primarily playing in electric bands. Townies may remember New Heavenly Blue, Sky King, The Madcat Brubeck Band, and Madcat’s Pressure Cooker. Well now, after 20 years, I again have an electric band: The Madcat Midnight Blues Journey. It features me on vocals, amplified harmonica, electric ukulele and electric guitar; Drew Howard on vocals, electric guitar and lap steel guitar; Mark Schrock on vocals and bass; and Michael Shimmin on drums.