By JIM VOREL - H&R Staff Writer
DECATUR — “Hurricane” Ruth LaMaster earned her name based entirely on defying the expectations of those who sized her up as a performer before she began to sing.
“I worked for UPS from 1983 to 2010, and since then I’ve been blessed to come back to what I truly loved to do,” said LaMaster, who will perform as a Sunday afternoon headliner at Long Creek Vineyard’s “Smoking Blues and BBQs” festival. “I’ve gone back to writing and singing full time, and it’s a great feeling. In my other work, there wasn’t a day that went by when I didn’t think about performing full time again.”
The “power blues” singer is petite in stature but huge in sound, which caused her first audiences to question how such a big voice could come from such a small person. Performing since 1979, the Beardstown native has spent a career sometimes on, sometimes off the road as a full-time singer, and today is reaping the rewards of sticking with her passion.
LaMaster actually began her prospective music career as a dancer, which she credits in helping her develop “a good internal rhythm.” She first began singing regularly while in high school, channeling the music she heard in her home — singers such as Bessie Smith, Ray Charles, Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald, whose music she heard performed by her father, a drummer in several bands. But by the time she was forming her own group at 22 years old, the first incarnation of “Hurricane” Ruth had developed, a harder rocking blues performer than her traditional idols.
“I’m not your traditional blues screamer with the guttural voice, but I do sing some big, strong blues music,” she said. “I think I bring a lot of energy and power to my vocals. We call the music ‘power blues’ for that reason.”
LaMaster’s own brand of the blues has been heard around the country by thousands of audience members. During her original run in the early 1980s and a revival in the late 1990s, she had opportunities to perform alongside many legendary figures of the blues genre. Through this time, her band opened for acts ranging from B.B. King and John Lee Hooker to Sam & Dave, Willie Dixon and Taj Mahal. She considered every one of those shows an honor and an opportunity to study the greats in action.
“To be able to sit and talk with Willie Dixon after one of our shows, that’s something I won’t ever forget,” LaMaster said. “We gained a great amount of knowledge just from listening to him. And John Lee Hooker, he was one of the most memorable people to be around. Being in his presence was like being around blues royalty.”
Most recently, the singer was thrilled to have her band open for 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Heart in late 2012. It was just one more checkmark for LaMaster to cross off her list, another reward for putting in the time and sticking with her dream of performing music.
“To have Nancy Wilson, one of the people I grew up listening to, on stage giving us a shout-out, that was amazing,” she said. “I’ve tried to take something like that away from every experience we’ve had, and I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of ‘best moments’ in my career already. And we’re not done yet.”
Hurricane Ruth will perform Sunday afternoon at “Smoking Blues and BBQs.” Tickets are $10 for one day or $15 for Saturday and Sunday. Also performing are Noah’s Back Alley Blues, VooDoo Blues Band and the Bryan Dean Trio on Saturday, and Brown Bottle Fever on Sunday.