For the past 20 years, Indiana roots-rocker Rusty Bladen has made his living playing shows between Indianapolis and Louisville. He takes the occasional trip anywhere else someone pays enough for him to load up his white van, to play a private party, bar gig or Saturday night campground blowout.
Bladen’s musical ground is the area between a cover song highway going one direction, and an original tunes road going the other. The Madison-based singer/songwriter, whose energetic live show has carried his career, has released seven albums of his own music. His live show mixes those songs with a healthy helping of “Brown-Eyed Girl”, “Jack and Diane” and more obscure-but-meaningful country-rock tunes
He knows it’s the live show that pays the bills. But Bladen has a strong sense of his own happiness, and that is how his show artfully makes room for his own tunes. Maybe the best description of who he is came from the Kentucky Headhunters, headliners for a show that Bladen opened for them, who complimented him with a description as a “hillbilly Tom Petty”.
ROB: You’ve been playing to Indiana music fans for more than 20 years. How do you still do it, and what is the key to having some local and regional success?
RUSTY BLADEN: Just like one of my favorite songwriters, Guy Clark said, “It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work.” I just do what I do and fortunately for me, a lot of people like it. I am so grateful to the folks who support my music. I can’t think of a more rewarding way to make a living than playing music. Independent artists have to work hard at promoting their music. One key to longevity is to balance the music with plenty of family time, avoid burning out, and taking care of your health.
ROB: You played with Jennie Devoe at Rathskeller on July 15. How did that come about?
RB: I met Jenny in the late ‘90’s when she was singing backing vocals for Larry Crane. I was opening for Larry one night in Indianapolis when, midway through my show, I heard this beautiful voice harmonizing with me. I looked over my shoulder and there was Jennie. We’ve been friends ever since.
ROB: How’s do you see the Indiana scene for folk/Americana/alt-country performers?
RB: Indiana’s live music scene, in general, is getting better. Live music is more valuable now than ever before. A lot of recorded music can be downloaded free on the internet. But you can’t download the experience of standing three feet from a performer, pouring his heart out for you in the flesh. You can’t download one-on-one eye contact and the personal interaction between a performer and an audience.
ROB: How do you use new media and social media to stay ahead, since those things weren’t around when you started playing shows?
RB: Facebook is a must for any serious artist. In the old days, we spent days hanging up posters in store windows and on telephone poles. Now you can reach ten times as many people with the click of a mouse. My website has been very valuable. Club owners and talent buyers don’t have to leave their office or home — they can see what I sound like and what kind of show I put on by watching videos at rustybladen.com. I also have plans to begin a “Live In The Living Room” webcast on Wednesday nights where I’ll sit chat with friends online and play songs, sometimes solo and sometimes with other guest musicians.
ROB: What have you been listening to? Any music that excites you? Performers you have recently seen?
RB: J. Roddy Walston, Ponderosa, Brett Dennen, and Hayes Carll are some of the new artists that I really like.
ROB: When you record, how do you do it? Are you at home? Studio?
RB: In the past never I recorded many demos. I’d write, rehearse, then hit the studio to make a record. I recently bought a Zoom H4 hand held digital recorder that is amazing. I’m currently performing a couple of new original songs. One was written with Mickey Clark called “Bakersfield Wine”, which placed 3rd out of 1,500 songs in this year’s Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest in North Carolina.
ROB: What concerts from others have you seen recently that resonated with you?
RB: Robert Randolph and the Family Band. They are loaded with talent and soul. See them when you get a chance. You’ll be blown away.
ROB: What’s ahead for you in the next year?
RB: Lots of live shows and lots of miles on the road between Indiana and Florida. I am signing people up at my shows and at my web site for a drawing to win free house party concert where I go the winner’s house and play a private show for them and their friends. It’s a great way to meet new people and I have a lot of fun. I’m also writing some new songs and arranging some songs from my recent live solo acoustic album, Homegrown Treasures, to be recorded in the studio with a full band that includes some of John Mellencamp’s band members.