South West’s resident Johnny B Goode, Ruzz Evans celebrates his thirtieth birthday with the release of a live album, Against the Grain. I caught up with him for a quick reminisce, and chinwag about the album……
As suggested, it was recorded at Frome’s Cheese & Grain on 19th June 2021, postponed due to lockdown. Such dynamic and regenerating conditions really breath atmosphere into this album, and it captures the mood of a band excited to re-emerge from isolation. Though by now, we’ve come to expect excellence from Ruzz Guitar’s Blues Revue as standard.
Featuring tracks from the band’s previous releases it also includes tracks from Ruzz Guitar’s recent video series “RG Sessions.” It’s uniquely delivered blues, RnB, rock n roll fusion with feelgood big band vibes, often frenzied and danceable, lengthy moments of extraordinarily proficient jamming, yet, like Longing to See You on this album, there’s always time for a concentrated ballad.
And oh my, if there isn’t Ruzz doing a sublime guitar solo of Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World, then joking about breaking a fingernail, but the complimenting talent behind the man is second to none. Blues Revue drummer Mike Hoddinott, bassist Richie Blake and Graham Nicholls on rhythm guitar, with a horns section of Michael Gavaghan on sax, Jack Jowers on trumpet and trombonist Will Jones, and special guests’ incredible vocalist and pianist Pete Gage, who is fast becoming part of the furniture, and breathes real gritty delta blues ambience into the collective, along with sublime harmonica by Jerry Tremaine, who simply wows on Baby, Scratch My Back.
Seriously, this is eight hard-earned pounds well spent. I’d say it’s better than the previous live album, Live at the Louisiana, we fondly reviewed a couple of years ago; Ruzz agrees, a quietly proud perfectionist, I figure.
But I want to get deeper into the psyche of the frontman, find out what drives him, when and how he first picked up that instrument. Firstly though, on this new release, I had to compliment the aforementioned Wonderful World solo. “That reaction is what I was aiming for,” he replied, “I wanted to bring something new to the table and challenge myself. I’m really happy that it came across as I wanted!”
Just checking this recording at the Cheese & Grain was the first live show they did after lockdown, Ruzz confirmed it was, “we had done an online set back in August 2020, and one small gig before all the lockdowns came back in heavier. That show was our first, full band show since the Devizes Rugby Club gig in March.” Ah, yes, what a way to go out that was!
Treated of a number of streams during lockdown, I asked if they considered continuing them. “Definitely. I’ve been trying to think of the right events to live stream to anyone who can’t make it in person (I.e., my international audience). I want the streams to be more than just me sat at home with my guitar all the time,” Ruzz chuckled. “I want it to be as much an experience for people watching the stream as for the people at the live event.”
Jogged my memory of a great stream from his garden, and though it was strange at first, seeing musicians in their home, on their sofas, some even with washing on a clotheshorse in the background, some made an effort to avert from the standard; I recalled Jon Amor climbing out onto his roof like a 5th Beatle! Ruzz laughed, “Jon had some great ones!”
This is Ruzz Guitar’s Blues Revue’s seven album, and out of them there’s three live ones, including Visual Radio Arts in 2018. Does he think he projects best when live, rather than a studio?
“I love working on music in the studio, but yes, I think this sort of music is best experienced live,” Ruzz answered, though I suspected as much. “It wasn’t a conscious plan to do three live recordings but I can honestly say that this new one is my favourite by far. I feel the band is playing better than ever. I’m always trying to capture that magic on our recordings, whether it’s in the studio or live.”
I wished him a happy birthday and counted it an ideal opportunity to trace his past and discover the very beginnings of Ruzz Guitar’s Blues Revue.
“My dad and youngest brother play music,” he answered my family connection to music question. “I got my start into live guitar playing through my dad. Back when I was 16, he put a band together to feature me on guitar; I haven’t looked back since!”
The first time he picked up a guitar? “When I was 15. I had started on bass and drums, around 14, but was shown a George Thorogood DVD and then taken to see him live. After that I decided to learn slide guitar, then Jimmie Vaughan and Brian Setzer came along, and the rest is history.”
I wondered if they commonly had requests for cliché rock n roll hits, imagining drunk punters asking for Heartbreak Hotel or That’ll be the Day, but would Ruzz appease such appeals, and in that, did it start out this way. “I have played all of those in various rockabilly bands over the years; great tunes, but maybe not quite right for the current band!”
Originals is what you get with Ruzz Guitar, outstanding ones, yet he cites the blues, RnB artists as influences; Dr Feelgood, The Fabulous Thunderbirds. “I try to take from many places,” he laughed, “Wilko Johnson, BB King, Reverend Horton Heat, Steve Cropper; to name a few.”
Anticipated responses, so I thought I’d throw a curveball for the finale. I use the urban myth of Hendrix taking his guitar everywhere, to my kids, as a testament to dedication, and how hard you must strive to perfect something, any goal you might have. It was reported Hendrix took it to the toilet. I asked Ruzz what drives that dedication in him, but not before inquiring if he too, took his guitar to the loo!
He chuckled at this, and for the record answered, “I haven’t gone that far!”
“In all honesty I don’t know. It’s just something that’s felt right since I started learning. It’s been the one constant in my life since I was 15. There’s nothing more enjoyable to me than learning more with it, writing my own music and standing up in front of a group of people and taking them on a musical journey with me… it’s just what I was meant to do with my life.”
Well, at just thirty he’s certainly achieved it, this album is proof. He signed off with “hope to catch up in Devizes in March!” And there’s a thing, 12th March the Wiltshire Blues and Soul Club are indeed at the Corn Exchange with Ruzz Guitar’s Blues Revue headlining, which we’ve already previewed, here.
The live performance from the Cheese & Grain can be seen on YouTube for a limited time, here.
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