"In the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s the blues was a major factor that brought black and white musicians and audiences together and allowed people to forget their racial and political differences. People found a common interest in their love of the blues. I believe now in 2018 with the division our country is witnessing that once again blues music will play a big part in helping to unit us."
Ruth Wyand & The Tribe Of One
Ruth Wyand & The Tribe Of One, a one woman band from Kill Devil Hills, NC that generate the energy of a four piece band. With her powerful yet intricate picking style, alternating thumb bass, bottleneck slide, multiple foot drums and raw blues vocals Ruth draws on her deep love of American roots music to showcase her strengths as a guitarist, singer and songwriter. Ruth says: "I am a guitar player who sings and writes and has a sarcastic sense of humor. Throughout my 100 or so years of playing I haven’t been able to lock in on a style that fits neatly into a specific category. If I have to classify it my music is defiantly Blues Americana, Roots, singer/songwriter, blue jazz, contemporary folk with a little Hendrix."
Demonstrating her instrumental prowess, primal rhythmic energy, emotive vocals and songwriting her new album “Tribe Of One” (2018) was recorded live in the studio. Playing guitar, foot drums and singing at once “Tribe Of One” is a mixture of 11 originals and 3 covers by Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Piedmont Blues Guitarist Etta Baker. Ruth says: "One of my new neighbors was a guy name Mr. Mac from Durham NC. He was a huge black man with a big heart and a strong love for family, church and blues music. On my way to the bus stop for my guitar lesson on Saturday mornings I would pass by Mr. Mac’s house. He would be working in his yard or washing his car and always listening to music a boom box. With my little guitar in the red and black plaid bag I would walk by and he would yell over to me “Ruthie go learn a blues song for me”. I had no idea what he was talking about. When I asked my guitar teacher what a blues song was he said it was Johnnie B. Goode slowed down. So I slowed it way down and played it for Mr Mac. He said yes “deep down Louisiana close to New Orleans” now that’s the blues alright but you need to hear a few more. He had a milk crate full of albums. I went through all of them studying every picture. Memphis Minnie holding a guitar, Big Mama Thornton ‘The Original Hound Dog’, Hound Dog Taylor with six fingers. He played cassette after cassette of blues, jazz, R&B, even Hank Williams, the Allman Brothers, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. I was intrigued, hooked and scared at the same time and I still am."
How has the Blues music and culture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
Growing up in a small four bedroom, one and half bath house with eleven people I would escape to a fort under the dining room table and read books I took out of the Library. One of the first biographies I read was “Harriet Tubman, Conductor of The Underground Railroad”. In the book it mentioned “call and response” songs slaves sang while working in the field. As a first year guitar student it intrigued me to hear about this form of music. I learned quickly about the injustices and treatment of African Americans and how music played an integral part of their lives to help ease their fear and pain and also how it was used to secretly communicate. Learning about Harriet Tubman lead me to a life’s journey of studying the origins of the blues and the music and culture of blues musicians.
What were the reasons that you started "one woman band" experiments?
I started out playing in bands when I was 14 and I always had a drummer and bass player, so when I started writing and doing solo gigs on acoustic guitar, I would have an egg shaker in my picking hand, some kind of a stomp box and playing alternating thumb bass (Piedmont style) to create a bigger sound. I get bored quickly with hearing someone just strumming an acoustic guitar and I didn’t want to be another girl with another acoustic guitar, singing another sappy song about love or a breakup. I wanted to bring more of a rhythmic and powerful thing to the table so The One Woman Band grew organically from that. Plus the juke joint rule - “when people dance the more they drink, the more they drink the better they tip - so keep em’ dancing”.
How do you describe your songbook and sound?
My songbook reflex the experiences of people I’ve known and one’s I’ve read about - Blues based Americana. My sound is percussive finger picking over a canvas of blues & jazz chord patterns.
Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences?
I had the opportunity to open up for John Hammond several times. Backstage at a show he showed me how to use the slide on my pinky to free up my other fingers for playing chords and riffs. Not only was it a great lesson in bottle neck slide but because he was so calm and polite before going on stage it left a lasting impression on me to stay grounded and relaxed before performing and treat people with respect.
What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
My father ‘Back Bay Bill’ Wyand told me to follow my instincts and do what I thought was best for me, but for years I listened to what others thought would be best for me. “Just sing don’t play the guitar there’s already a Bonnie Raitt”. “Don’t sing just play the guitar, there aren’t enough women instrumentalist”. “Wear more lipstick, show more cleavage, smile even if it’s a sad song”, I could go on for hours. When I stopped listening to people’s advice and followed my own instincts, I found the best advice was from ‘Back Bay Bill’ Wyand.
Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
You’ll have to wait for the book for all those stories. Getting my nose broken by someone smashing my face into a jukebox in a bar fight, showing up to a gig with my guitar case and no guitar in it, playing at a nudest colony, playing at a strip club next to the pole to sharing a mic with Papa Chubby. Like so many musicians I have thousands of stories, funny, scary, sad and sometimes mean.
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past?
The club owners and the audiences. It seems now that brew pubs and bars host a weekly or monthly Blues Night for something different and don’t really care what kind of music it is as long as people eat and drink. I miss the down and dirty clubs where people came to dance and listen to live music for the love of the music and the owner was a true music lover not an entrepreneur who will move on to the next idea if they had a bad night.
What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
My hope is that more people are introduced to the various styles of blues music not just shuffles, Stratocasters and guys with fedoras regurgitating a 12 bar. My fear is shuffles, Stratocasters and guys with fedoras regurgitating a 12 bar. The Blues genre is a double edge sword, on one hand you want to preserve a tradition but on the other you want to keep it fresh and add something new, my hope is to do both.
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
I would like to see people get booked and/or signed because they are talented musicians not because they have a lot friends and likes on social media or have a big sponsor. It’s become a too much of a popularity contest while the music and talent has taken a back seat.
What touched you (emotionally) from Hendrix, Dylan, and Etta Baker songs?
As a guitar player if you could play a Hendrix song you were high in the ranks of guitarists. I spent hundreds of hours learning Hendrix solos than I realized his chord progressions and lyrics were so much more involved and fascinating. When I stripped his songs down on an acoustic guitar it was poetry.
Dylan is poetry on different level. As a guitarist Dylan was the reverse of Hendrix he was basic and folky, but when I sat down with a book of his lyrics | realized his genius. Hendrix put lyrics to the music and Dylan put music to the lyrics.
Etta Baker was self taught and played totally from the heart. The only way to play an Etta song is to breathe and relax and let the song play itself. It took me years to do that. These three artists are world’s apart from each other in style but have that one common thread of instinctual creation.
"My songbook reflex the experiences of people I’ve known and one’s I’ve read about - Blues based Americana. My sound is percussive finger picking over a canvas of blues & jazz chord patterns."
What characterize NC blues scene?
Piedmont pickers set the North Carolina blues scene apart from most of the country.
What does it mean to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says?
It’s a tough question, I’ve been at this a long time and I see both sides of the coin. I know women, including myself that have been abused and taken advantaged of by men in the business, but I’ve also seen women use their sexuality to further their careers and step on anyone who gets in their way. It’s all about power and power doesn’t have a gender. I don’t think of it as a ‘man’s world’ more like a ‘power hungry person’s world’. Parity and equality are things we should all strive for and until we achieve that society can’t reach it’s full potential. I know I’m preaching but I’ve been screwed over equally by men and women in the music business. I still get the “you play good for a girl” or “you play as good as any man” comments and when I walk into a guitar store, they talk to my husband assuming that he’s the musician. But that just rolls off my back now and all I have to do is play and it shows them who the musician is.
What is the status of women in music?
It has changed so much just in my lifetime and not necessarily for the best. I was influenced by women who played instruments very well ie.. Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell and Joan Armatrading. Girls today are influenced by women who don’t play or occasionally sit at a piano and sing a ballad. It’s back to the “chick singer”. It seems women are singers and dancers and not musicians (2018 Grammies). I have a music school where I coach six rock and blues bands of kids 7 to 17 years old. The girls in the program can’t name one woman that they listen to who plays an instrument other than piano. I’m seeing a lot of independent women musicians coming up now and I hope there will be a wave of women instrumentalist in the near future that will make it to a teenage girl’s iTunes playlists.
What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?
In the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s the blues was a major factor that brought black and white musicians and audiences together and allowed people to forget their racial and political differences. People found a common interest in their love of the blues. I believe now in 2018 with the division our country is witnessing that once again blues music will play a big part in helping to unit us.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?
I’d like to go to Chicago in 1940 to hear and see Memphis Minnie in a guitar cutting contest with Muddy Waters or Big Bill Broonzy. I would love to hear what she had to say, her banter on stage between songs, check out her guitar, how she used open tunings and how she played certain chords.
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