Mason Ruffner grew up in a Protestant household whose code of behavior was as strict as any in a Southern Baptist home, and one of the family's cardinal rules was to refrain from such "sinful" things as dancing. So at 17, he took off from his family's Fort Worth home and set out for Southern California to sample all the things that he'd been warned were sinful and bad for him -- girls, alcohol, drugs, and music. He eventually came to the conclusion that he wanted more than the freewheeling surfer lifestyle that he'd been living since the late '60s in Southern California. He chucked it all -- everything, that is, except the music and his interest in guitars -- and headed for Texas again.
At first he took a shot at folk and rock. Later, inspired by Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan as well as the blues he'd been exposed to in Fort Worth and a host of legendary bluesmen who included Lightnin' Hopkins and Howlin' Wolf, Ruffner left the west coast to find his way in the music world and explore the blues. He also drew inspiration from the writings of 19th century French poets Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud. At one point, he played Fort Worth's Bluebird Lounge as part of Robert Ealey's Five Careless Lovers. He landed in New Orleans in 1977, intending to stay only long enough to make some quick cash before he set off for Europe. The Crescent City, and the music he heard playing in Preservation Hall and the nightspots on Bourbon Street that featured such musicians as Huey "Piano" Smith and Smiley Lewis, quickly got under his skin.
Ruffner's trip to Europe never materialized. He settled into a French Quarter apartment and started working the clubs. He formed the Blues Rockers and played regularly at Club 544, often backing such blues artists as Memphis Slim and John Lee Hooker. Word of Ruffner started to spread, reaching such heavy hitters as Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carlos Santana, and Jimmy Page, who began dropping into the clubs where Ruffner was playing. During one of these New Orleans gigs, CBS executive Tony Martell was in the audience. Ruffner's show so impressed Martell that he soon had his own recording contract.
Martell set him up with Rick Derringer as his producer, and the result was an eponymous bluesy album of mostly original material that was issued in 1985. Ruffner became the opening act on a tour of the U.S. with Jimmy Page and the Firm, and his debut album gathered high critical praise from both the New York Times and Rolling Stone. He followed up two years later with Gypsy Blood, which featured Dave Edmunds as producer. He went on tour with Page again, as well as with Crosby, Stills & Nash and U2. In 1989, Ruffner opened Ringo Starr's tour. That same year, he played on Dylan's Oh Mercy album and Daniel Lanois' first album, Acadie. ~ Linda Seida
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