Thomas Ruf of Ruf Records talks about Louisiana Red, Luther Allison, Jim Gaines, & European Blues

"Work hard and be honest all the time. Speak the truth. Make the best quality possible your goal in everything you do."

Thomas Ruf: The Blues against the blues

Thomas Ruf made his first stint into the music industry as a European tour promoter in the late 1980s.
He founded Ruf Record for the late great Luther Allison in 1994 who lived in Paris, France at that time and needed of a label and music publisher.

The motto of his label is "Where Blues Crosses Over". The company's office is located in Lindewerra, Germany. Since 2008 Ruf  produced 120 releases, sold over 1 million albums, received two Grammy nominations and ten Blues Music Award nominations. Past and present artists include Luther Allison, his son Bernard Allison, Louisiana Red, Eric Bibb, Canned Heat, Kevin Coyne, Sue Foley, Larry Garner, Michael Hill's Blues Mob, Candye Kane, Omar & The Howlers, Aynsley Lister, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Dani Wilde, Oli Brown, Ana Popovic, Spooky Tooth and Walter Trout. Since 2005 Ruf Records also promotes an annual package tour called “Bluescaravan”.
In 2007 Ruf Records received the “Keeping the Blues Alive”-Award from the Blues Foundation of Memphis, Tennessee.
Ruf is a founding member of the European Blues Union and a part of  the Blues Foundation’s Board of Directors

Interview by Michael Limnios

What first attracted you to the Blues & what does the BLUES mean to you?
It was the people; the Blues people. Not every blues person is a musician. Blues people are down to earth, friendly and know how to share (jamming together is a big thing in blues – not really existing in pop).
I met Luther Allison first and was overwhelmed by the communication power of his music. Blues is an universal language nowadays. We need more blues against the blues in this world!

How do you characterize the philosophy of RUF Records? How do you describe Ruf’s projects?
Where blues crosses over. We produce the blues of tomorrow and not re-record the blues of yesterday….

Why did you think that RUF Records continued to generate such a devoted following?
It’s our artists, the ruf records family. They create the following. We only help them.

What are the secrets to a good manager, agency, and promoter? What is the word "seal" of your work?
Work hard and be honest all the time. Speak the truth. make the best quality possible should be your goal in everything you do.

How has the blues business changed over the years since you first started in music?
It went from physical to digital. And it got poorer which is good. People that were in it for the wrong reasons (money, power, fame…) had to leave when the money dried up. So the people left in this business are really dedicated music people. They do it because they have to do it – regardless of fame and success…

Which was the best moment of RUF Records and which was the worst?
Best: When I went to a closed restaurant in Germany after hours with Luther Allison when I very first met him.
And he started to jam with some old German Black Forrest musicians playing blues to waltz rhythms…incredible!
Worst: getting an attorney letter from the Hendrix estate that made me pull my Hendrix blues tribute album off the market with their power and money.

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
It is still interesting every day! I learn something new all the time! Learning and improving is what keeps me interested…

What are some of the most memorable recordings you've had? When did you last laughing in studio and why?
We laugh all the time and make jokes! A session without fun is not a good session!

Are there any memories of all these GREAT BLUESMEN which you’d like to share with us?
There are so many! I always loved it when we met Pinetop Perkins at the Blues Music Awards and the old men in a sharp suit – barely able to walk – would charm the women! Everybody loved him!
Or Louisiana Red in his living room, playing blues for us (I went to see him at his house with the young Girls with Guitars) all night long and his wife Dora sitting on the sofa in her pyjamas shaking her head … priceless !

Do you remember anything funny or interesting from the recording time?
Once Jim Gaines (producer) almost scared Coco Montoya to death: they recorded in this spooky studio on Beale Street (behind the Hard Rock Café on Beale Street – now closed) where everyone could feel there was a spirit living in this place… the studio was all dark – candlelights only while Coco was doing a vocal take. Jim spoke back to him over the microphone into the dark recording hall  where coco was alone with his microphone:

“Coco – who is this standing next to you ?” Coco came out running and screaming  !
or another one: first recording with Kevin Coyne (British Undergroud Legend). We got to the studio, Kevin said he was going to warm up his voice and plug in the guitar. I went to the restroom to take a piss. When I came back from using the restroom, Kevin had 2 songs finished in the can ! He was that quick ! He improvised all his songs on the spot – never wrote anything down ever...

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about music?
Luther Allison, Jim Gaines, Mike Zito. They are all people’s people. It’s the people and the chemistry that creates the music. Not the technique.

Which of the people you have worked with do you consider the good friend? Of all the people you’ve meet, who do you admire the most?
Most artists that I worked with I would still consider as friends . Luther Allison, Walter Trout, Kevin Coyne, Erja Lyytinen, Dana Fuchs, even people I knew less well like Jeff Healey.
I admire them all for something. They all gave / taught me something special.

Which memory from Luther Allison makes you smile? What is the think you miss most from Louisiana Red?
Luther’s happiness. He had the world greatest smile! Red was so passionate when he improvises. He was completely spontaneous and pure in the moment of his expression. Nothing was manufactured or planned. All spontaneous emotions…

What is the strangest desire that you have requested someone in the recording? Which of the artists were the most difficult and which was the most gifted?
Maybe Shakura Saida and her breathing inhalator to help her sing.
I do not want to compare gifts and I do not want to speak about difficulties in public. All artists have their own personal strength and weaknesses …

Which of historical music personalities would you like to meet and recording?
Nobody, really. I am looking into the future and who is yet to be recorded!

Did you help many artist in the meantime did you found any gratitude from them?
Yes, much gratitude. And I am grateful to them!

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians/ producer/ agencies thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
Work harder than anyone else! Under promise and over deliver!

You had pretty interesting project BLUES CARAVAN, where did you get that idea?
It was more a need than an idea. A need to create a way to enable unknown artists to get a tour when they cannot make a tour under their own name…

Why are Europeans so enamored with the blues? Give one wish for the blues  
I wish more European musicians to be recognized for their talent. Everyone is looking towards America or the UK – and we have so many great artists around us.

Any comments about your experiences from The Blues Foundation and EUROPEAN BLUES UNION
It’s a great experience to meet so many different people from so many countries that share the passion for this music and work with them! It’s an amazing experience. Gives you hope for people and understanding between the nations…

If you go back to the past what things you would do better and what things you would a void to do again?
It was a learning experience. I wish I could have learned to say NO earlier on. But it’s a learning curve…

What is your “secret” MUSIC DREAM? What mistake of the music business, would you wish to correct?
I do not dream so much – I do the things that need to be done as we go along. I follow the wind in front of my nose.
I cannot correct reality. I can only adjust to it and work with it. And work on changing / improving myself.
When I become better, the reality will change and become better…

Ruf Records- Where Blues Crosses Over

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