Not many regions of the country can claim to having a bonafide blueswoman among their ranks. Yet we, on the OBX, can take heart in the knowledge that we have not only a blueswoman, but one of the best in Ruth Wyand.
As a solo artist, she’s very impressive, whether she’s covering songs or performing her original compositions.
Her storied career has taken her to far flung corners of the world, and her more than ample skills have garnered her accolades and awards. But she’s not content with being one of the best in her genre and has taken it upon herself to spread the gospel of The Blues — and music, in general — by teaching younger generations at her music school, located in Kitty Hawk.
And if that’s not enough, she is the music director for two Dare County nonprofit organizations: The Mustang Outreach Program, a “school of rock” program that teaches elementary through high school kids how to work together in a band situation and the Dare2Care OBX Shredders, Dare County’s first inclusive rock band made up of members of the IDD, (intellectually developmental disability), community.
I recently caught up with the award-winning fingerpicker, slide player, songwriter, and music historian to discuss her career:
Q: If you’re not a native, what brought you to the Outer Banks ?
A: The pace.
Q: How would describe your music?
A: Blues-based Americana.
Q: Who are your greatest musical influences?
A: Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Joe Pass, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix
Q: Was there a concert you attended that lit a fire under you to be a musician yourself and get up on stage?
A: The first concert I went to was Janis Joplin at the Atlantic City Pop Festival at The Atlantic City Race Track. I was about 9 years old, and my older sister, who was 19, was supposed to be babysitting me and, instead, took me to the festival. All I remember was being scared to death and not letting go of her hand while we made our way to the stage walking through the thousands of hippies dancing. I never saw Janis or anyone on stage because I was too short, but I remember the power and vibes.
Q: Atlantic City Pop had a great lineup on that day. Canned Heat, Dr. John, Santana, Joe Cocker, among others. All somewhat blues-based. Do you remember hearing any of them?
A: I could lie and say,'Yeah man, I was right there in the center of it all. I was backstage and met all the bands…,' but unfortunately, I don’t remember any of the bands. All I remember was someone yelling into the mic 'get the @##$#*& off the trucks.' Years later, I was told that it was Janis telling everyone that the promoter won’t continue the show until everyone got off the trucks. I was scared to death of the crowds and wanted to go home. Yes, I was a wimp, but apparently I caught the rock and roll fever while I was there, and it hasn’t gone away.
Q: Where were you the first time you performed onstage?
A: A clam bake at Pop Loyd Stadium in Atlantic City.
Q: How old were you the first time you performed onstage?
Q: What song or songs did you perform at the clambake?
A: I performed a bunch of songs with my first band, Cross Wynd. We did Fleetwood Mac, Allman Brothers, Janis Joplin covers and a few originals.
Q: What's your favorite venue to play on the Outer Banks? To listen?
A: I’m looking for a new favorite place to play — it use to be Blue Point Back Bar in the summer. Art’s Place, on Monday nights, is my favorite place to listen.
Q: What do you do in the off-season? Do you have a day job?
A: A day job? I’m a musician year-round; There is no off-season. I play music, teach music, write and record music. When things close up locally, I go somewhere else, or work on a project at my home studio.
Q: Are your students getting a general music education from you, or are you prepping them to become the bluesmen and blueswomen of the future?
A: They’re getting a little of everything: reading, writing and rhythm. I emphasize learning how to read music and the disciplines that go with practicing while also encouraging spontaneity, creativity and improvisation. They spend time learning from the book, and then we close the book and play whatever comes to mind. Sometimes it’s a train wreck, but other times it turns into a creative outlet.
Q: What advice do you give your students if they want to pursue a career in music?
A: Don’t expect to be a star, and research the different types of careers in music besides performing and teaching — music publishing, music law, music management, studio engineering, music therapy, composing for videos, games, movie and show soundtracks.
Q: Was there a person in your life that motivated you to pursue music?
A: My cousin, Niki, was a great motivator for me to play and write music. She had a cool apartment in Philadelphia, and I would take a bus from Atlantic City to Philadelphia to visit her. She had an amazing record collection — Miles Davis, Dory Previn, John Coltrane, Bonnie Raitt, Edith Piaf and Buddy Guy and so many more. She also took me to see Melanie one night, then Andre Segovia the next night. I had a wide variety of influences.
Q: What is it about the blues that touched you?
A: The rhythm.
Q: If you could perform with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
A: Jimi Hendrix; total freedom of expression on the guitar.
Q: Your favorite Jimi Hendrix album?
A: 'Axis: Bold As Love.'
Q: Your favorite Jimi Hendrix song?
A: 'Little Wing.'
Q: What one song have you heard that you wish you'd written?
A: 'Happy Birthday' or 'Beethoven’s 5th'.
Q: If you could choose a time period in which to perform music, what would it be and why?
A: Next year.
Q: You live in Colington with your husband, Chris Creighton. He makes and repairs guitars. How did you two meet?
A: It was right after World War II, I was playing a gig with Charlie Christian and Benny Goodman at the Copa, and Chris was doing sound. I broke a string and he changed it for me, so I married him. Mama always said, 'marry the one who will take care of your instruments.' That’s a much better story than we met at a party at my brother’s house.
Q: Do you listen to new music, and, if so, what are you listening to?
A: I listen to a lot of new bands because my students are constantly bringing in songs. Panic at The Disco, Imagine Dragons, Arctic Monkeys, Cage The Elephant. The bands and production are new, but the music isn’t.
Q: The music business can be tough. Did you ever consider quitting and doing something else?
A: Every time I look at my bank account.
Q: McCartney or Lennon?
A: Depends on what day it is.
Q: Are you self taught?
A: Yes and no. I studied and have a degree in music, but it took me years to let that go and teach myself how to be myself and play from the heart rather than a book.
Q: Where can folks hear you this year?
A: Out on my dock with a gin and tonic in the summer. Check out my calendar on my website. I try to keep it updated with the places I’ll be playing: ruthwyand.com