Like the Dead and the Fillmore, the Stones and Altamont, or Johnny Cash and Folsom Prison, a band and a venue can harmoniously converge. Such is the case on the new CD by Ruthie and the Wranglers, which also has the best album title in memory: Ruthie and the Wranglers Live at Chick Hall’s Surf Club.
But the band isn’t just engaging in fanciful ironic pomo hyperbole. There really is a Chick Hall’s Surf Club. It’s in Bladensburg, and it’s been there for years, showcasing just the kind of rockin’ American roots music that the Wranglers specialize in. “It’s D.C.’s best-kept secret,” says Wrangler Mark Noone of the club. “It’s like the last real honky-tonk.” And the band plays there every Wednesday. The CD is a rocking document of a hot night out. As Noone says, “This is what happens at the club on Wednesday night.”
The CD is arranged in two “sets.” After Ruthie announces a break, there is an “intermission,” with four studio-recorded songs before the “second set.” Kinda like turning on the jukebox when the band leaves the stage. Noone admits, “It was my brilliant idea to insert [the studio tunes] between the two sets.”
In tiny print on the CD booklet is written the obscure “TGIW.” This band in-joke stands for “Thank God It’s Wednesday.” “That’s when our weekend begins,” reveals Noone. “Wednesday is Friday at the Surf Club.”
The band—singer-rhythm guitarist Ruth Logsdon, husband Noone on bass, guitar, and vocals, lead guitarist Phil Mathieu, and drummer Joel App—recently won Artist of the Year at the Wammies. Though the Wranglers been together for a decade, Live is only their third release. “We didn’t get serious until about four or five years ago,” explains Noone.
But seriously serious they have become, and the disc captures a very tight and confident band. The first “set” features mostly well-chosen covers by such notable writers as Leiber/Stoller (“Dirty Dirty Feelin’”), Doc Pomus (“Boogie Woogie Country Girl”), and Hammerstein/Romberg (“Lover, Come Back to Me!”), as well as Tex Rubinowitz’s “Ain’t It Wrong.” The second “set” and the “intermission” feature mostly originals by the band members, including Logsdon’s rave-up “If It’s the Last Thing I Do” and guitarist Mathieu’s blistering instrumental workout, “Mt. Airy Stomp.”
The band’s release party this Friday, however, will not be at Chick’s but at the recently rehabbed State Theatre in Falls Church. Says Logsdon: “The reason we’re not having the official release [at Chick’s] is we wanted to do it on a Friday or Saturday. And that’s when [house band and club owner Chris Hall’s group] Heroes and Friends play.”
For Logsdon, there is an extra appeal to the unassuming night spot: “For me, I love music and everything, but it’s the mirror ball that pretty much makes my life. I couldn’t live without it. I see those spots on the floor, and that keeps me sane. One night it was broken, and [we thought], ‘God, this night is so weird. What is it?’ ‘It’s the mirror ball!’” Fortunately, the spinning orb was fixed by the next week.
“If that place ever closes,” says Logsdon, “I’m going to put the mirror ball in my living room.”—Dave Nuttycombe
Ruthie and the Wranglers perform at the State Theatre, 220 North Washington Street, Falls Church, Friday, April 7, at 9 p.m.