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The Mudcat Cafesj

User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
PJ Time's Running Out! (17) RE: Time's Running Out! 13 Aug 99

For what it's worth I have a sweet memory of the Southern blues and stride piano-picker Ruby Red...

I grew up in Atlanta, in the late 60's/early 70's, when underage whitebread surburban girls weren't supposed to sneak downtown to a place like Ruby's. By day I had a conservatory education with Dr. Herbert, at night I headed for The Underground and graduate studies with Ruby Red hisown self.

Ruby was 250 years old when I was a kid, so I'm sure he's not around anymore, but the memory of that sound stayed with me and affected what I played.

Once he asked me if I was old enough to be there, and though he couldn't see me to be sure I was lying, I think he knew. I never tried to get a drink in the place, I just wanted to listen to him play, and to get him to show me how to make that noise come out of the box.

Ruby never busted me to my folks, and they never knew why their daughter played piano like a blind 80 year old black man from time to time.

Funny, 30 years and 3 lifetimes later I was at Down Home Music in Berkeley and I found a recording of Ruby that had been put onto CD. I was thrilled and rushed to put the headphones on and hear it.

I wasn't prepared. It was sort of like visiting the house you grew up in. You recognize every nook and cranny, but things seem out of proportion. Not just smaller, but LESS somehow. Without the substance or texture that survives in your memory of the time.

Maybe it was a bad day when they recorded him. Maybe it was a different part of his life than when I used to listen to him play and sing.

Or maybe it's just that he was my first taste of that kind of music, and I'll always remember it better than it was. I put the CD back on the shelf. I have a much better recording in my head. On this recording I can smell the smoke and bourbon, and see the long, bent fingers working the keys, and hear people laughing and talking while I listened to the most amazing music a young white kid could imagine.

Here's to ya, Ruby wherever you are. You're still the best in my heart, and I can still hear you when I play the blues.


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