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September 24, 1982 - Image 18

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1982-09-24
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By Sarah Bassett
A CROWD gathers near a small
outdoor pavilion. As soon as the
last performer closes his act, listeners
begin to wander off. Dozens who have
waited near the edges replace them and
add to their numbers, jostling for a spot
near the stage.
Many in the crowd have long hair and
wear yellow t-shirts emblazoned with a
red "Madcat!" They sit cross-legged on
the ground, shoulder-to-shoulder,
drinking from cans of beer and
laughing. A few of them glance up, then
go back to talking when a slender man
in another yellow t-shirt strolls casually
on to the stage. He looks like a roadie,
alone with the massive electronic
equipment on the platform, adjusting
sound levels and tinkering with dials.
Just as people start to wonder out
loud when the show will begin, the man
turns. His wire-rimmed glasses twinkle
as he scans the crowd. He raises his
hand, salutes thumb-to-forehead, grins,
and says simply "Why not?!"
A cheer goes up. The man leans into
the mike and a wail of his harmonica
hits the street; Peter "Madcat" Ruth is
IT'S NOT HARD to see where he got
his nickname. As soon as the
harmonica touched his lips at this
summer's Ann Arbor Art Fair concert,
he was in constant motion. One foot
pumped the pedal of an electronic
drum. A hand slid back and forth across
the harmonica, slung from his neck
with a wire contraption. The other hand
beat a wooden instrument against his
Just when it seemed he couldn't han-
dle any more, he screwed up his face in-
to a grin and sang out: "Scooby-dooby-

I fS


f Td

..... ......
.............. - . -

dooby-scooby doooo-wah!" The crowd
cheered again, clapping to the beat.
Already, within minutes of starting
the show, Madcat was belting out the
blues like he'd been doing it all day. He
looked like he held back nothing. Red-
blond hair tossing, he bent and swayed
and thumped time-and his connection
with the audience was total. All his at-
tention seemed focused on the music,
and on sending it out to the people.
Although some might say that Mad-
cat supplies the energy, he claims the
audience brings it to his concerts.
"They're the ones who make it
special," he said recently, sitting cross-
legged on a lawn chair in the back yard
of his Ann Arbor home. "If the audience
is dull, the show is dull. What I try to do
is share with people, take my energy
and use it the best way I can. When a
flow gets going back and forth between
us, that's when a performance 'is
"I miss a lot of what goes on before a
concert," he continued. "I concentrate.
I try not to think of anything but per-
forming. When I'm up on stage, half of
my attention is on the music; the other
half is on the audience.'"
His fans seem to know that he's with
them when he plays. At the start of the
Art Fair performance, one fan com-
mented: "If you think he's into it now,
wait around for an hour or two. The
more he puts out, the better he gets.
This place'll really rock before the
night is over."
And it did. Madcat Ruth, the one-man
band, moved from blues to bluesy-rock
to jazz and back again. He sang about
cruisin' down I-94, Joe's Star Lounge,
and losin' his woman at University
Hospital. With each mention of a
familiar Ann Arbor locale, there were
whistles, whoops and shouts from the
While he admits to putting extra ef-
fort into local concerts because "Ann
Arbor is special to me," Madcat makes
it a point, in true blues tradition, to
adapt his lyrics to any location. Most of
his touring takes place around the
Midwest-Michigan, Illinois, Wiscon-
sin-and the east coast. A loyal
following greets him in both areas. On
occasion, he even gets letters from
places he hasn't visited in years,
causing him to wonder how the fan in
Nebraska, for example, knows his
music so well.
While he has no solo albums out to
date, Madcat has appeared on eleven or
twelve records over the span of a 14-
year career. In 1969, he moved to Ann
Arbor to join a rock band called New
Heavenly Blues. After cutting two
records with them, he played with Sky
King, but left when the members
moved to New York City.
Since then, the 33-year-old has per-
formed in bands with jazz great Dave
Brubeck, Brubeck's sons Danny, Chris
and Darrius, and with Steve Goodman,
David Amram, Jerry Mulligan and
Paul Desmond.
Madcat's latest recording will apear
on Cruisin' Ann Arbor, the live com-
pilation album of local groups to be
released this December.
It all began with a ukelele. Madcat,
raised-in a Chicago suburb, picked it up
while still in grade school and by seven-
th grade, he owned a guitar. With a folk
music revival in the 1960s, he began to
listen to groups such as the Kingston
Trio-a favorite-and Peter, Paul and
Then, along came the blues har-
monica. His father played a schmaltzy,


By Julie Hinds
I N THE HEART of Paris, along the
Champs Elysee, there's an intimate
restaurant known for its rich food,
elegant decor, and discreet help.
Not surprising? Well, what if the
same restaurant were miraculously
transplanted to Ann Arbor-just down
the road from Kresge's, Follett's, and
State Discount?
That's the shock of stumbling upon
Escoffier, a small French restaurant
tucked into 217S. State which serves up
all the old world charm and flair it can
muster-smack in the middle of the
student shopping district.
Eating at Escoffier is finding out how
wonderful and decadent luxury can be.
Diners are pampered with fine china,
fine crystal, fine linen. A piano player
hidden in a corner plays everything
that's soothing, from Chopin to "The
Sound of Music." Three or four waiters
hover around each table with nothing
better to do than leap at every beck or
Eating at Escoffier is also a potential
nightmare of embarrassment. Or-
dering the wine with the maitre d' (not
the wine steward), forgetting to use the
snail fork on the snails, or merely not
knowing how to taste the wine may turn
the evening into a mortifying experien-
ce. Resentment with the restaurant
grows if one comes unequipped with the
social graces.

Hot harmonica blues

Fortunately, the legion of waiters are
neither aloof nor intimidating. They
don't act as if they're used to waiting on
a Hungarian crown prince rather than
an unwashed undergraduate; they're
willing to shepherd the inexperienced
customer through the hazards of fine
dining. From the maitre d' on down,
everyone seems happy to help decipher
the menu and recommend a
moderately priced item without snob-
bery or rancor.
But moderation-in either the
pleasures or the prices-is in short sup-
ply at Escoffier. A meal for two, in-
cluding a bottle of wine, hors d'oeuvres,
and dessert, may run as much as $70.
The least expensive entree is $17, the
most expensive $24. Entrees, however,
do include soup, salad, and a generous
basket of fresh bread.
Seven permanent entrees and one or
two chef's specials make up the heart of
the menu. Although the selection is
relatively small, the variety in cooking
style is large. Everything from
traditionally rich French cooking to the
simpler, lighter nouvelle cuisine is
Two dishes sampled at the restaurant
illustrated the wide range. The
Escalope de Veau Nantua was a
cholesterol dream-a cutlet of veal top-
ped with lobster meat and smothered
with a heavy cream sauce. The Saumon
Grille Florentine, however, was served
sparingly with a light lemon sauce on a
bed of fresh spinach.
The wine list runs from exorbitantly
priced bottles of seemingly ancient vin-
tage to California wines costing $12 to
$15. The soups and salads are simply
prepared, but the half dozen hors
d'oeuvres and desserts each are ap-
propriately flamboyant.
The food is impressive not for its
uniqueness, but for its freshness and
quality. The salad of the house is only
tomato slices and melon wedges plop-
are the way of life here, as Walker
prowls the pavement in search of a
fanatic cop-killer with more than just a
price on his head.
Two cops are dead already and a
sniper's bullets have turned a third into
a crippled wreck by the time Walker
gets on the case. The police have three
suspects, all part of an inner-city
revolutionary group bent on anarchy,
but two are wasted in shoot-outs before
the police can get to them. The third,
Alonzo Smith, is scared into turning
himself in, wary of an enraged and
vengeful police force itching to kill him.
It all seems simple enough-until a
revolutionary assault team armed with
M-16s springs Smith from the cour-
thouse and vanishes into the city.
The crippled man's wife hires Walker
to find her husband's killer and bring
him to justice; Smith's death would be
too quick a punishment for the man who
sentenced her husband to lifelong im-
prisonment in his own body. Walker has
almost nothing to go on, but he owes the
crippled cop a favor after he saved
Walker's life in an earlier case.
The trail begins with Smith's hotshot
lawyer, who knows the smell of a buck.
("What's in it for you, a book?" asks
Walker. "Movie of the Week. ABC
called my Saturday and made an offer

cowiboy harmonica, Madcat says, but
when he heard Sonny Terry play in
Chicago, Madcat was hooked. He star-
ted listening to blues harmonica
players the likes of Little Walter and
Junior Wells, then found a mentor in
Walter Horton who Madcat says taught
it all to him in a grand total of three
lessons. "He never told me how to play,
he just showed me," Madcat explained.
"It was up to me to take it from there."
That do-it-yourself spirit carries over
into other aspects of his music. There
are no roadies working for Madcat
because, forever tinkering and ex-
perimenting, he himself takes care of
the extensive electronic equipment
used on stage. That way, not only is he
sure the setup before a concert is
correct, but he also finds out how all the
gadgets work.
A current toy is a machine that
reproduces the sound of a bass guitar.
It is introduced during shows as Mad-
cat's "little robot." Once he bought a
kit and built his own drum synthesizer
just for the fun of it. Now it takes the
place of a human drummer in his one-
man concerts.
"More than anything else, I have fun
with music," he said. "I- experiment
and improvise. I have fun at concerts.
And I want the audience to share that
joy, to be uplifted by the music."
He avoids "sexist and bummer
blues," he said, "but we do have to face
the facts of life, so I try to touch on
reality. . . I guess I have an optimistic
viewpoint. For me, the real message in
blues is that someday the sun is gonna
shine in my back door."
That attitude takes practice-
practicing contentment, he calls it.

Daily yoga and meditation sessions
calm Ruth, and being a
"househusband" contributes. Ann Ar-
bor is home because "it's a peaceful
world away from the rest of the world
... Sure, people recognize me here, but
that's part of being me. In Ann Arbor,
there are no real hassles; no one takes
my picture in restaurants! "
T HESE DAYS Madcat is on the road
at least one day of every week,
playing solo around the country. His
latest group endeavor ended last July
when he himself dissolved the band he{
organized exactly one year before. The I
drummer, Danny Brubeck, lived in
New York, making it difficult to hold
the group together.
Every now and then, he thinks about
moving to the east or west coast-
centers for the music business-and
taking a stab at making it big. They're
still mostly idle thoughts, however. A
balanced life is a top priority, not one I
where a career takes precedence over
all else; "I have the talent, but not the
driving ambition," he said, shrugging
his shoulders and chuckling.
Then, too, he thinks he may have,
spotted a pattern: The people who
make it big are the ones who follow
their hearts, doing what they like until
it finally catches on. If he ever hits the.
big time, he says, it's because he is
playing music the way he wants to play
it. In fact, his only definite plan is to "go
on trying new things for the next 40
years or so!"
And to continue sharing. "There's a
basic joy in life within each of us," he
said, leaning back in his lawn chair
See MADCA T, Page 12

By Steve Miller
The Midnight Man
Loren Estleman
Houghton Mifflin, 230p.
T HE MIDNIGHT men are out
tonight, so lock the door and stay
inside. Hide in your cozy suburbs; shut
out the night and the world you can't
begin to understand. Let Loren
Estleman explore it for you-it's much
more entertaining that way.
The Midnight Man is Estleman's
third thriller about Amos Walker, a
streetwise, city-smart private-eye for
hire. The action'goes down in the town
that invented seediness-Detroit-
where the cops aren't safe, let alone the
people. Fast cars and violent crimes

Fscoffier: Conspicuous consumption
ped on lettuce, but it is unimpeachably
fresh. The coffee is the richest and
smoothest around-the sort that would
put Folger's to shame in any com-
It's the details that make Escoffier
memorable-unimpressive details to a
jaded sophisticate, but pretty hot stuff
for a campus type. Would Escoffier
rank among the great restaurants of
for my account of the trial. Provided I
get him off.")
The lawyer sends Walker to the
slums, where a tenement house serves
as home base for the revolution. But
Walker is not a welcome guest, and the
beating he gets slows him down for half
of the book. To make things worse,
more dead bodies start showing up
wherever he goes-the 18-year-old girl
in his trunk, the hog-tied rebel who
strangled himself to death as his
strength slowly gave out-and Walker
gets himself shot, beaten some more,
and threatened by hitmen and the
police in an effort to scare him off a
case he doesn't want anyhow.
Walker is tough, though, as only a
Detroit shamus could ever be. He's got
more lines than Amtrak and a punch
like Tropical Red and Everclear.
He is going to solve the case if it kills
Estleman's other characters are also
tough, and as memorable as your own
fist. There's Lieutenant Alderdyce, who
hates Walker like a best friend. There's
Bum Bassett, the bounty hunter from
out West with more guns than it's safe
to shake a stick at and a shadowy past
that's best not to ask questions about.
There's Iris, the hooker with a heart
of gold. Finally, the doc who lost his


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After a
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Peter "Madcat" Ruth I

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4 Weekend/September24, 19929829--

. . . : . ,

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