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Interviews

Kermit Ruffins: Swingin' and Smilin'

By Published: June 30, 2009

"Normally I work about five days a week, sometimes four. And if I gotta work, I get up first thing in the morning—I'm one of them early risers—so I get up right about 8 in the morning, try to get all of my chores done before 11, eat me a big lunch, lay out the rest of the day. Three hours before show time, [I] do a lil' bar hopping, drink a lil' beer, go listen to some live music, cause there's plenty live music down here in New Orleans on any given day. You can hear about 20 bands if you want, you know. If you're able to do it, you can actually see 20 bands easily on any given night. Then I go to work and swing out, whether it be Vaughn's on a Thursday night or Bullet's Sports Bar every Tuesday night. And I play the Rock and Bowl quite often, down at Mid-City Lanes—most of the time on a Saturday. That's normal. And every Friday at Blue Nile, and almost every Friday I'm home at my new place. I just opened up Sidney's Saloon at 1200 St. Bernard Avenue. The combination—music, food and family is real big down here in New Orleans, that's for damn sure." He adds, "If I'm off, I light up the grill, do a lil' barbequing and be home by six or seven o'clock and then it's time for bed."

Ruffins' deep love for all things New Orleans and with Tremé in particular is never more evident than in his most recent recording, Living a Tremé Life (Basin Street Records, 2009). Drawing from traditional New Orleans tunes like "Didn't He Ramble" and "I Ate Up The Apple Tree," to less traditional selections like the Isley Brothers' "For The Love Of You" and Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now," Living A Tremé Life is Ruffins at his fun-loving, most swinging self. Moreover, local musicians Herlin Riley

Herlin Riley
Herlin Riley
b.1957
drums
[drums], George Porter, Jr. [bass], Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews [trombone], and even the Rebirth Brass Band, among others, make this recording not only enjoyable, but also a significant work of post-Katrina New Orleans music [The disc debuted at #18 on the Billboard Jazz Charts and peaked at #11]. Most of all, this music is just plain fun for the listener, and Ruffins quickly relays just how much fun it was to make as well.

Kermit Ruffins"I've got Herlin and George Porter playing on a few tunes. I've got 'em playing on "I Can See Cleary Now." And I've got 'em playing on "Holy Cow," that Lee Dorsey [song]—bringing some of them old tunes back. I did a little Jesse Hill, "I Got Mine." Man, it was fun. It was a joy, man. Because one thing about New Orleans, we still do a lot of jam sessions—to the point where Wynton came and played with me at my record release party at the House of Blues during Jazz Fest. He just walked in, and there's Wynton standing right there, and that kind of stuff happens all the time."

Ruffins continues to spread the word about New Orleans and its traditions. Be it at home or on the road, his is a voice at the forefront of letting the world know that New Orleans is ready to play. "I just did something with Christian Scott

Christian Scott
Christian Scott
b.1983
trumpet
[trumpet], James Andrews [trumpet], myself and Marlon Jordan
Marlon Jordan
Marlon Jordan
b.1970
trumpet
[trumpet]. We did like a five-day tour around New York and around the areas up there. When I tell you it was a fun time with Herlin Riley
Herlin Riley
Herlin Riley
b.1957
drums
on drums; Roland Guerin
Roland Guerin
Roland Guerin
b.1968
bass
on bass—I'm telling you we had a good time. We talked about doing it over and over again. Nothing yet, but I'm quite sure sooner or later we'll be doing some stuff like that."

In the meantime, Ruffins has found yet another way to bring the Tremé life to the world, acting as a consultant to the recently signed HBO series, Tremé. Based on the post-Katrina struggles of musicians in New Orleans, David Simon's Tremé features also features Ruffins playing himself in ten episodes—both of source of pride for Ruffins and a relief for New Orleanians worldwide that the series should be real.

"My biggest accomplishment in the making of the HBO show is that I've got a major role playing myself for ten episodes. We just shot the pilot. It's been five years in the making and it's finally hit the fan. Donald Harrison is playing himself, too. I tell you, it's like the biggest thing to hit New Orleans in a long, long time. David is so committed to making this real—just the meetings I had being a consultant, just sitting down telling stories, I knew they were serious about it."

It's easy to hear happiness in Kermit Ruffins' playing and singing. It's even easier to hear the joy in his voice as he talks about family, food and the music of his beloved New Orleans. And while it remains to be seen how history will judge Ruffins against the countless number of musicians and entertainers that have meant so much to New Orleans and the world, one thing is certain. Wherever Pops is, he's listening to Kermit Ruffins swing and he's smiling.



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