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Ruthie goes from rock to country

By Jon Johnson, November 1998

Ruthie Logsdon was a rock fan in her youth.

It's hardly the shocking expose that it might have been 30 years ago for the lead singer of Washington's Ruthie and the Wranglers. After all, times have changed. Garth Brooks has expressed his admiration for the likes of Queen and Kiss on more than one occasion, as have many of his contemporaries, who grew up on the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Outlaws.

In the case of Logsdon, though, she was a big fan of punk rock bands like Minor Threat, which Washington D.C. was a hotbed for in the '80's.

"My dad was a big country fan. He watched all the award shows. He watched 'Hee-Haw.' Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. All of my country influences pretty much come from going to bluegrass shows or watching the country stars on television."

"The thing was, I thought that was pretty square. I mean, my parents were watching it. I was getting it all through osmosis."

"I was influenced by a lot of the punk rock stuff that was going on in the early '80's. But when I started to play music and I started writing songs, I just played country. It just happened. I think it was because people go back to their roots. They go back to whatever they were influenced by when they were young."

Ruthie et al just released their second CD, "Life's Savings," following on the heels of their critically-acclaimed debut, "Wrangler City," which managed to land them guest appearances on CMT.

The new album features five originals and six covers, including versions of Loretta Lynn's "Fist City" and Del Reeves' "A Dime at a Time," which the band picked up not from the radio or an old record, but from an old video.

In addition to longtime members Logsdon and bassist Mark Noone (former lead vocalist of the region's legendary Slickee Boys and her husband) "Life's Savings" marks the recorded debut of drummer Joel App and new guitarist, Phil Mathieu, who comes to the group from a varied background that includes classical, jazz, and rock.

"His music is really varied. He's a well-known classical and jazz guitar player and he's played a lot with (jazz guitarist) Charlie Byrd. He hires himself out as a solo guitarist, and he plays country and rockabilly with us."

A common thread that runs through the interview is that Logsdon enjoys the band's independence; from booking their own shows (with a great deal of help from their manager Ted Smouse) to running their own label.

Lasso Records is a 100-percent group-operated effort, from the music that goes on the disc to the artwork that goes on the cover. The latter is, in fact, handled by Logsdon herself.

"I was a graphic artist, and I did music on the side and as music became more and more successful, I quit doing that and continued focusing on music. I do a lot of graphics for the band, so that keeps me in the graphics field."

Does Logsdon see a day when she might be interested in giving up that independence for a contract with a major label?

"They've asked here and there, but nobody has actually offered us a contract. We're a little too country and a little too off-the-wall for commercial country, which is fine. If someone said, 'This is the outfit you should wear and these are the songs that you should sing, and this is your backup band,' I couldn't do it. That'd be like somebody handing me a briefcase and saying, "Guess what? You're going to work on Capitol Hill next week.'"

"Life's Savings" has found favor at a number of country stations with good senses of humor through the album's "He's a Honky Tonk Man;" a takeoff on the Johnny Horton classic, "Honky Tonk Man." The difference in Logsdon's version is that he'd rather be something else entirely.

"I can't put out a record without putting one or two songs that make people go, 'Wait a minute....' I really didn't try to write that song. It just happened. I was in the shower and I was trying to sing the old (Johnny Horton) song and started singing, 'He's a honky tonk man...but he wants to be a honky tonk woman....'"

"And I thought it was funny. So the next day I went out on the porch and the whole thing just wrote itself."

Logsdon finishes with a story about the song; that a recent festival date in Cumberland, Md. resulted in a major area country station adding the number.

"And then we went to a National Public Radio station to do a live performance and an interview. And the guy who's supposed to interview us hears us practicing in the green room and says, 'You're not going to do that on the show, are you?' And I say, 'Well, we were planning on it. It's a standout song for us right now.'"

"And he says, 'Oh, no, we can't have that because of the language.' Because at the end of the song I say, '...And you should see his ass.' But other (commercial) stations have no problem playing it."

"Who knows? Maybe it's a N.P.R. rule or something."