The Local Music Makers: The Synchronicity of Souls
Let me introduce you to my marvelous friends, Andy & Ruthie Hunter. These two have been making music together in some way shape or form since she was 14 and he was 18. Their love story is for the ages and could easily be made into a movie.
Ruthie’s desire to purchase and learn to play the banjo was the magic force behind some truly significant life changing serendipity.
Native Ashevillian Andy’s musical interests, pursuits and affiliations puts him at the beginning of what is considered the local music “heyday.” He is an instrumental character, one of our founding fathers in the history of live music in Asheville.
Sadly, one of our iconic music stores is closing soon after 56 years in business; and this is especially poignant to mention since Andy & Ruthie’s story begins at one.
Ruthie began taking banjo lessons with (Rev) Bucky Hanks (Midnight Plowboys, Piney Mountain Boys) over at Moritz Music (which co-owner John Moritz would change to Musician’s Workshop). But she needed to purchase a banjo first.
While still in high school Andy worked at Pick ‘n’ Grin Music Store which was located over at Westgate Shopping Center that the infamous Pruett brothers, Marc (banjo player and founding member of Balsam Range) and Matt owned. Ruthie and her “hippie” mother (who is just over 100 years of age now) entered the store back in 1974.
“My mom purchased my first banjo from Andy over at Pick ‘n’ Grin ten years before we could have imagined we’d be married one day!”
For a decade, the two would see each other in passing, make small talk. But when Pick ‘n’ Grin moved to Merrimon Avenue, so did Bucky the banjo instructor, and Ruthie followed him there to continue her study in banjo and guitar. It was Ruthie’s desires yet again that would finally get them together.
“I wanted to buy a Gibson Banjo RB250 and they had one over at the store that I kept eyeing until one day Charlie Hyde sold it to me for a price I couldn’t pass up. At the same time my cat had had kittens and I had just two more to find homes for.
"I was juggling a lot, going to UNCA evening classes, working all day and I needed to get rid of these kittens.” So before she walked out the door, she made an adoption pitch to both Charlie and Andy. They both turned her down.
Still, Andy mustered up the courage to call her later that evening on the pretense of finding out how she liked the banjo. “She thought I’d changed my mind about the kitten,” says Andy.
Finally after several minutes of chit-chat Ruthie finally asks him, “Are you calling about the cat?” Andy says, “No….I was just wondering if you’d like to go with me to see a movie.”
It was on that first date that they discovered that her favorite movie To Kill a Mockingbird was his favorite book. Thirteen years into their marriage their son came along and they named him Atticus.
During and after high school, Andy played in different bands and one he remembers fondly was called Southern Fried. They were the ‘house band’ at a dance club, The Derby, five nights a week 9pm-1am for two years. “As young musicians we all realized what a great boot camp it was to land this gig.”
While she loved learning music, (later taking banjo lessons from Marc Purett’s wife Anita Pruett) singing (in private) and playing, Ruthie’s stage fright kept her at first, from pursuing anything more than porch picks and high school string band.
Her shyness was so profound that it wasn’t until many years into their marriage that Andy discovered Ruthie could sing.
The “hippie churches” they were members of on and off were where they would marry their styles and join together, their love of playing music.
Though you will find the two of them in a duo configuration at bars and breweries around town, you can also find video footage of their intimate living room songs by visiting their Facebook profile pages. Their renditions of songs by a myriad of 70’s hit makers run the gamut between Country Classics, Country Rock Classics, Soul tunes and Blues.
Their full band Soul Blue is a six-year-old cover band playing here and in Atlanta.
Founding members of Soul Blue include Peter Chakales on drums and Phillip Ashley on bass.
While Andy, Phillip and Peter still play together in the popular band Zydeco YaYa and Phillip plays in Twinz with Jack and Jim Mascari, their current bass player is Jeff Lautier and they’ve added Rick Callahan on guitar.
The Cork & Keg is our “Home”, Ruthie says and owner/operator “Hunt (Mallett) is so kind to us.” Hunt, Andy and Ruthie have known each other for nearly 25 years.
The dance community in Asheville and Hendersonville are highly supportive of bands like Soul Blue. So if you go to hear them play, you’ll be entertained by some fine area swing dancers too.
Playing a “charismatic and entertaining” mix of Classic Soul/Blues & R&B, their approach to the music of the iconic artists they cover creates a chemistry of love and fun. Ruthie’s beautiful voice is nostalgic and unique sounding at the same time, as she adds her special sauce to songs we know and love.
The musicianship of the band is golden and these top-notch players will buoy your blues to soulful heights whether you come to dance or just come to listen.
Look for them at The Cork & Keg of course, Asheville Guitar Bar, Jack of the Wood, Sierra Nevada Brewing and more venues to be added. You can keep up with them via their Facebook music profile page: https://www.facebook.com/BlueBird6917/
“It’s still so funny to us, how Andy was there when both of my banjos were purchased, and he changed my strings and repaired my instruments for years before God’s unbeknownst-to-us plan unfolded.”
Soul Blue Schedule: Cork & Keg:
February 17th, March 16th and April 13th
Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach,
song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at