World of Slick Music – Michael Ruff
Time again for another edition of World of Slick Music and as the headline above says today’s artist is Michael Ruff and maybe you haven’t heard about him. I suppose he’s not so well know for the big mass so to speak but in musician circles he’s very well respected. Today i’m gonna make a little exeption from the rules. Usually when i’m writing on Sundays i have some kind of gospel tune but not today and i’ll tell you why later.
Michael was born on December 20 1958 in Salt Lake City but spent his school years growing up in Boston and Manchester, Connecticut. He began playing piano at the age of 3 and was concidered a prodigy by his teachers. In high school he played with various groups that performed either blues, Top 40 or R&B and at the age of 17 he was touring with James Cotton, John Lee Hooker and other blues acts. A year later he joined Don Moore and backed this singer-songwriter in New York City clubs and Catskill Mountains resorts. Michael says that Don encouraged him to write songs on his own. Then he spend some years living in Woodstock outside New York City and played with Paul Butterfield, Orleans, David Sanborn. Later he moved to NYC and met singer/songwriter Randy Vanwarmer, toured with him and played on his album, picture below, with cats like Tony Levin (bass), Shane Fontayne (guitar).
Michael left ‘the big apple’ and moved to the west coast and Los Angeles where he recorded 2 albums with the Beckmeir Brothers and began doing session work for others. He says that his big break came when touring with Jose Feliciano and they toured all over the world. Further he says that he felt like he had made it cause he didn’t had to set up equipment on stage. When Michael was in his early twenties, he went on tour with Karla Bonoff and then became the musical director for Rickie Lee Jones on her two-year-long “Pirates Tour.” “She’s a brilliant perfectionist, and a spontaneous performer. She was a big influence on me.” Next gig was some demos with songtress Brenda Russell and playing in an R&B band with members of Chaka Khan’s group Rufus. Those guys were Andre Fisher (drums), Bobby Watson (bass), Tony Maiden (guitar) and saxmen Michael Paulo and Gerald Albright used to sit in regularly. Brenda brought producer Tommy LiPuma (George Benson, Michael Franks, The Crusaders, etc.) to see Michael perform which resulted in a contract with Warner Bros. Records and Ruff’s first album, Once In A Lifetime, produced by LiPuma see picture below.
Man, this is one album i’d love to have in my collection so many bad cats playing one it from both L.A. and NYC unfoturnately it ain’t easy to find. The thing is i’m not convinced if i wanna buy it to any cost…we’ll se what happens but a first step is to find it on some site! I mentioned Chaka Khan earlier and Michael became musical director and put together a top-notch band for her “I Feel For You Tour.” Ruff served as musical director for David Sanborn on an international tour that also featured Al Jarreau. Michael co-wrote and sang on the tune “Lesley Ann” on Sanborn’s “Close-Up” album. Ruff then toured with Laura Branigan, performed on several albums by the gospel group The Winans, and did a lengthy tour with Lionel Ritchie. I could go on and on with all the artists he has been working with…i’d believe it’s countless…
I couldn’t find any pics with those artists Michael was touring with during the 1980:s but as a bonus you’ll get this live concert where he’s the musical director for Chaka Khan in 1985. Now let’s jump 8 years forward in time when Michael was about to record his Speaking in Melodies album in L.A. He had master drummer Jeff Porcaro for the sessions but when the sessions were about to begin Jeff passed away. So what to do then? Michael had his scandinavian touring band flying in and those guys were Nils Landgren (back up vocals, trombone), Henrik Jansson (guitar), Lars ‘Larry’ Danielsson (bass) and last but not least drummer Per Lindvall. Stories tells that Michael had told his fellow musicians in L.A. to check out this swedish master drummer!
Michael in action at a outdoor festival in Denamrk 1990 and behind him is native danish Lars ‘Larry’ Danielsson playing the bass.
Further it says that when the studio crew heard Per play they got super impressed and said it was almost like hearing Jeff Porcaro himself playing! These stories/rumors do make sense since one of the album’s producers Carla Marlo writes in the album’s liner notes that when Michael and the scandinavian guys began to jam people were rushing from the nearby studios to see who those guys were that were grooving and swinging like crazy!
Picture above is from 1987, i think not quite sure, and is showing a performance at the amusement park in my town of Gothenburg, Sweden where Michael is performing with tow local guitarists and local bassist plus Per Lindvall on drums and he’s not from my town. Anyway one of my brothers was at this very concert and he has told me that the audience consisted of 50 % students at the music academy in town and the other 50 from the churches! Now at this time about half of all students at the music academy came from the churches so 75 % of the audience were churchfolks! Just like in America many musicans in Sweden also comes from the churches. So finally i’m gonna explain why i’m not having a gospel tune today. Michael was actually singing and playing at service in my church this morning and nowadays he does more gospel rather than like non sacred music. Personally i’d like to hear some of his older stuff instead of hearing the gospel stuff over and over again. As you know it ain’t no gospel song i’ve choosed with Michael and i guess you don’t mind. The song is taken from the Speaking in Melodies album from 1993, picture below, and it’s called ” Wishing Well”.
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