Harmonicist Peter "Madcat" Ruth on loving his instrument, Dave Brubeck, and winning a Grammy

May 15, 2014

Peter "Madcat" Ruth, left, with guitarist Dave Boutette. Ruth will perform with Boutette on May 17th in Kalamazoo.
Credit Courtesy of the Artist

Harmonicist Peter "Madcat" Ruth has spent five decades blowing all the right notes. His career has  taken him around the world and into blues, rock, jazz - and even classical music. 

The Ann Arbor-based musician is performing at Mangia Mangia in Kalamazoo on Saturday, and talked with us about his work with legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, his surprise Grammy win, and how the harmonica has continued to remain distinct from its electronic counterparts in the 21st century:

"The harmonica has just a sound that's unlike any other instrument. When they came out with synthesizers they could never get a synthesizer to sound like a harmonica cause so much of the sound of the harmonica is the harmonica player's lungs and throat and hands. In some ways I don't think it's as popular as it was a few decades ago, but still people like to hear it."

On winning his first Grammy, in 2005 for performing on the classical album "Songs of Innocence and of Experience," conducted by William Bolcom:

"Rehearsals started and [Bolcom] said 'You know I want you to play this little cowboy song, and strum guitar and sing it as part of this whole thing.' and I said 'Well, Okay, I'll do that.' It says on the Grammy award "Featured Soloist." I asked some of the other musicians that played if they got Grammys as well and they didn't. So I think it's because it was a  'featured vocal soloist.' Me and these opera singers from New York were the ones that got the Grammys. It's so ludicrous! I've been playing music for decades and not much classical I must say - but that's how I won my Grammy."

 On his non-plans for retirement:  

"One of my great inspirations was Dave Brubeck, and he was playing music up until the last six months of his life, I think - and that's what I intend to do, I guess.  Some people say they can't wait to retire because they don't enjoy their work, but I love my work."