Gary Ruley and Mule Train
|Origin||Rockbridge County, Virginia, United States|
|Genres||Folk, Country, Americana, Bluegrass, Jazz|
Ann Marie Calhoun (née Simpson)
Ronald "Rooster" Ruley
Gary Ruley was born into a musical family in Lexington, Virginia, and first performed publicly at ten. He has performed with his father, Pat Ruley, his brother, Ronald "Rooster" Ruley, and his son, Jeremiah Ruley. "Sisters Sandy, Sue and Kathy . . were strong musicians in their own rights." The strong musical tradition of his hometown rooted the musical Ruley family in bluegrass and mountain music. The Ruleys were "ahead of the curve that became the explosion of bluegrass popularity commencing in the mid-1970s." Gary's musical journey was launched by many performances at a young age singing and flatpicking in and around Lexington, which was at the time a "hotbed of nightly entertainment of live acoustic music. Many nights would feature four or five different bands performing at various venues."
Gary Ruley's flat picking has earned him honors and awards at numerous festivals, and made him much sought-after regionally.
He has played with many of the greats of the bluegrass genre--including those associated with the "first-generation" bluegrass legends, such as Bill Monroe's fiddle player, Bobby Lester, as well as Buddy Pendleton who performed with Monroe, and Mac Wiseman who played with both Monroe and Earl Flatt and Lester Scruggs. He's also played with Ricky Lee--Will Lee's father--who played with Ralph Stanley, as well as Doc Watson's partner Jack Lawrence. He's appeared with John Starling of Seldom Scene, Mike Seeger, Tony Rice, and the late Vassar Clements. He has also picked with some of the newer generation bluegrass greats such as Darol Anger, two-time Grammy Winner Curtis Burch of New Grass Revival, and opened for Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder (Skaggs himself joined Ralph Stanley's band as a teenager).
Ruley has performed at major regional venues and music festivals, including: Lime Kiln Theater in Lexington, The Homestead in Hot Springs, Garth Newel Music Center in Warm Springs, The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, and FloydFest in Floyd County. In North Carolina he's appeared at Black Mountain and Union Grove
Gary Ruley and Mule Train serves as a vehicle for bringing together the best musicians in the area for specific shows (or recordings). As Gary states, "There's so many great pickers who live in or near Rockbridge County that it's not difficult to get a bunch of friends together and make music." The musicians who appear with Ruley come with long musical pedigrees and from a number of other groups they've formed themselves. Will Lee's father joined the legendary Stanley Brothers as lead guitarist after playing with Bluegrass Tar Heels, special protegées of Bill Monroe. David and Danny Knicely's grandfather, A. O. Knicely, played old time guitar, mandolin, and fiddle as leader of the Knicely Family Band. Danny and Will perform as a duo. Larry Keel, "arguably one of the greatest flat-picking guitarists in the world", has headed up The Larry Keel Experience--now renamed Larry Keel & Natural Bridge--and also performs in Keller and the Keels with his wife Jenny. Will Lee, Larry Keel, and Danny Knicely were all founders of legendary Magraw Gap, a band that took first place at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 1995.Brennan Gilmore originated Walker's Run, Kantara, and most recently Borden Grant. Ann Marie Calhoun (née Simpson) has toured with Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson and performed with Ringo Starr. Her sister Mary Simpson also plays fiddle and sings with the group when not performing with her own Whisky Rebellion. She joined Yanni in September 2010, for his South American tour, also performing with the composer in Puerto Rico.
They are known for Thanksgiving and Christmas shows at the Southern Inn in Lexington, Virginia. Their latest release, The Southern Inn and Out (2010), is a recording of the 2009 Christmas show there. Since the Southern Inn burned in July 2010 other locations are used. The 2010 Christmas show, on December 30, takes place at the Southern Inn's new temporary location across town, and will feature regulars Danny Knicely, Will Lee, David Knicely, and Brennan Gilmore (with others).
They were the 2010 winners of the Rockbridge County, Virginia Chamber of Commerce Rockbridge Community People's Choice Awards "Group Arts/Entertainer of the Year". Individual members have won a number of performance awards at music festivals through the years; some as a part of other groups.
Shenandoah Bluegrass was the group's first recording. Gary Ruley & Muletrain was released in 2002 with Ruley on guitar and performing lead vocals, Daniel Knicely on mandolin, Larry Keel on guitar, and Jenny Keel on upright bass (all three providing harmony vocals). It also featured Will Lee on banjo, Ann Marie Simpson-Calhoun on fiddle, Jeremiah Ruley, Brennan Gilmore, Mark Shimmick, and Mitchell Davis. Their next recording was Pickin' Tradition also features Ruley, Knicely, and the Keels, but brings in Ronald "Rooster" Ruley on banjo, and Steve Hoke on fiddle. Then came Live at the Troubadour Vol. 1 and Live at the Troubadour Vol. 2 in 2005, recordings made from a live performance at the Troubadour Theater in Lexington, "which served Washington and Lee University as its campus theater for decades." These recordings feature Ruley, Will Lee, the Keels again, but this time with the Simpson sisters--Ann Marie and Mary--adding fiddle and vocals. Most recently they've released a live recording of their 2009 Christmas show titled Southern Inn And Out in 2010. In addition to Ruley, Keel, Lee, and Knicely, it also features brother David Knicely on bass. It also features fiddle player Nate Leath of Old School Freight Train, and Shannon Wheeler (with The Churchmen and The Blinky Moon Boys).
Known as one of the finest acoustic flat pickers, Gary Ruley plays mostly vintage Martin guitars. He was born in western Virginia and raised on bluegrass and old-time mountain music. Influences include Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Don Reno and Red Smiley, as well as the Beatles.
. . even if the programs from these two volumes of live recordings mix bluegrass standards with the likes of Ellington, Grisman, and the Beatles, they are all delivered with drive and precision, while the vocals project an informal geniality."-- review of Live at the Troubadour, Volumes One & Two, Bluegrass Unlimited
Ann Marie Calhoun on violin, playing with Gary Ruley and Mule Train at The Southern Inn in Lexington, Virginia, Thanksgiving 2008
Gary Ruley and Mule Train on January 16, 2005 -- (top) Gary Ruley, Will Lee, Brennan Gilmore mandolin; (bottom) Mary Simpson, Ann Marie Calhoun.