produces first Regatta theme song
Madison native defies odds
in establishing his own music career
(July 2002) MADISON, Ind. Whenever Rusty Bladen
sets up to play, his fans come out of the woodwork.
They know his music, they know the words to his original songs and they
know Rusty many on a first-name basis. In fact, his gigs are
often like mini-family reunions, with everyone singing along, requesting
their favorite Rusty Bladen songs and dancing to the music.
The Madison, Ind., native has a loyal following among residents of several
southern Indiana communities. Now the 42-year-old singer-songwriter
has taken his career one step further.
In April, a song he wrote about the Madison Regatta titled,
Ride That River, was selected as the official theme song
of this years Budweiser Madison Regatta, Presented by Cruisin
Auto. Regatta board president Tony Steinhardt made the announcement
in early April. It is the first time in Regatta history that the event
has designated a theme song.
Bladen had originally penned the song in September 1999 during the filming
of the hydroplane racing movie, Madison. The movie is tentatively
scheduled for national release Oct. 25, and Bladen had hoped the producers
would have selected his song for use in the soundtrack.
That didnt happen. Meanwhile, Bladen was playing the song wherever
he performed throughout southern Indiana, Indianapolis and Louisville.
He even recorded it on his third CD a year ago.
In April, Bladen managed a coup by Indiana rock music standards by organizing
a recording session in Carmel, Ind., for a new release of Ride
That River with two members of John Mellen-camps band. Drummer
Dane Clark and bass guitarist John Gunnell, who goes by Jon E.
Gee, joined Bladen and Indianapolis guitar instructor Tony Burton
at Ryan Adkins Azmyth Studio to lay down a three-song
special edition CD to include a rockin version of Ride That
River, Bladens song, Red, White and Blue and
their own version of Hoyt Axtons Never Been to Spain,
made famous in the 1970s by Three Dog Night.
Everything went great, and it was really an honor for me to have
these guys sit in on the recording, said Bladen of the four-hour
recording session April 7.
Bladens association with the 52-year-old Madison Regatta is a
natural, considering Bladen grew up attending nearly every Regatta,
plus the fact he lives with his wife, Andre, and 1-year-old son, Jackson,
a half block from the Regatta office on Vaughn Drive in downtown Madison.
Bladen also has a 14-year-old son, Neil, and 12-year-old daughter, Annie,
from a previous marriage.
Bladen often performs in Madison at The Wharf, a floating barge restaurant
on the Ohio River in Madison. Last year, Bladen took over as organizer
of the musical entertainment at the Regatta and again plans four night
of live music, including Bladens own concert Saturday night, July
6, following the fireworks display on the Ohio River.
Much of the year he is booked for private parties or bars and clubs
in Louisville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and as far north as Kokomo,
Ind. His music is played on radio stations in Madison, Seymour and Kokomo.
After 23 years of writing songs, performing and promoting himself, Bladen
says he is comfortable with his success. The next step for him is a
breakout song or CD that will expand his fame beyond the realm of southern
Im looking for that one song or that one big break that
will elevate my career beyond southern Indiana, Bladen said.
Currently, Bladen is helped in his own promotion by his 40-year-old
brother, Rick. Rick attends nearly all of Rustys performances
to work the crowd for song requests and sell CDs. Its an important
part of the business, Rusty says.
Most people dont even know about the business side of things.
They just see Rusty Bladen up there singing and playing music. But I
spend a lot more time contacting people for bookings, mailing out demo
tapes and trying to get my music played on the radio, Bladen said.
Bladen realized early on that he had musical talent. But he admits that
it took guts to actually do it for a living.
Like many youths in Madison, Bladen took guitar lessons from instructor
Charlie Humphrey. Unlike many of those young students, Bladen stuck
Rusty was outstanding on the guitar player from the very beginning
he loved it, said Humphrey, who at age 76 still teaches
guitar lessons in his home. I wish him all the luck in the world
because thats his talent.
Humphrey, who himself performs on Saturday nights at the Milton (Ky.)
Opry, said he recently heard Bladen play at The Wharf. I dont
know any of his songs, but I recognized his talent. If youre going
to learn a trade, youve got to stick with it, and Rusty has done
From those early guitar lessons, Bladen eventually honed his guitar
skills, then hooked up with some friends and joined a band. Over the
next few years, he was in several different bands before deciding to
go it alone in 1979. Occasionally, he asks other musicians to join him
on stage, but for the most part, Rusty Bladen is still a solo act.
Since branching out on his own, Bladen has recorded four CDs: Are
You Happy Now in 1993; Live at the Hoosier Theater
in 1995; Everything for Everybody in 1998 (with Mellencamp
band members Gunnell and Moe Z); and Rockin Your House Party
Rusty seems to have come a long way with his music, and its
obvious he has talent, said Clark, who performs in the Indianapolis
area with his own band when he is not on tour with Mellencamp.
Burton, a musician since childhood who teaches guitar lessons in Indianapolis,
says making as a musician professionally is difficult because its
like running your own business. Its difficult to promote
yourself, no matter who good a musician you are. But youve got
to go out there week after week and play and promote. Its a tough
business; only the strong survive.
For that reason, Burton says success in this business is a relative
term. It depends largely on what goals you have set for yourself.
Bladens goal is to continue expanding his base. Rick Bladen believes
more people would fall in love with his brothers music if they
ever heard him perform.
Its the energy Rusty puts into his show that brings the
crowd alive, Rick said. They come out not just to see a
guy playing music in a bar or restaurant, but to take part in the show.
His songs touch everybody because they are about real events in peoples
Bladen says he writes songs about things hes experienced and people
he knows. And in a small town like Madison, that could be anyone.
Sometimes I might overhear a conversation and come up with a title,
then Ill build it into a song, Rusty said. Other times,
Ill just be up in my room playing music and come up with a tune,
then write words to it later.
Already, Bladen has surpassed the level that many local musicians attain.
In addition to bars and restaurants, Bladen has opened for Tim McGraw,
Hootie and the Blowfish and Don Henley, all at Deer Creek in Indianapolis.
He also performed at Mellenfest 2000 in Seymour, Ind.
Above all, Bladen says the music business has allowed him to do what
he loves best and be his own boss. I enjoy performing and the
gratification of hearing the crowd applaud and seeing them have a good
time while listening to my music.
Bladens three-song CD, Ride That
River, sells for $6 and is available at more than a dozen stores
in Madison, at his live shows or from his website: www.rustybladen.com.
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