Country music leads to folk for instructor

Eric Hann and Eric Hann

While growing up in Bloomington, Ind., Joe Ruff always seemed to know more about the music scene than his friends. He was listening to popular bands such as Deep Purple before he turned 11 years old.

“I always knew more than my peers, and still do,” Ruff said. Ruff, a popular culture instructor, attributes his early knowledge of music to his four older brothers. As a child, Ruff was constantly surrounded by great music.

Ruff always liked to be different than everyone else when it came to his musical taste. It was very uncool to listen to country music in his group of friends, so Ruff was naturally interested in finding out more about country music.

After listening to country music for a couple of years, Ruff became interested in what the roots were for this music. “I started looking back to where the music came from,” Ruff said.

In Ruff’s search he discovered that the roots of country music came from a genre called folk music. He found that folk music is all different kinds of music that can range from Cajun to Blues. Ruff began to dig deeper into folk music by reading liner notes on albums, talking to musicians and reading books. When Ruff went to college in New Orleans, he found out that he could major in American Culture Studies and American Folklore.

“The idea that you could study country music in college blew me away,” Ruff said. Now Ruff teaches folk music and folklore classes at the University.

For Ruff it was a dream come true when he got a job teaching music — what he loves. He says, it is a pleasure and privilege for him to be able to teach students.

In Ruff’s spare time he is a bluegrass and old-time musician. Ruff’s band is currently playing straight old-time music, and whenever he gets a chance he enjoys playing bluegrass.

If Ruff could go back in time to see any folk musician he would like to see Allen Wolf, an electric blues musician. “He was so raw he sounded like he was from a different planet,” Ruff said.

There are three main aspects that Ruff enjoys the most about folk music: The fact that people are doing it themselves, the connection to the past and the connection between the people.