One of the most surprising secrets in today’s Canadian blues scene is the voice and presence of Ruth McGillivray. Simply stated, she’s an amazing talent. Her deep, rich tone turns heads when she starts to sing, but it’s the emotion that stops people in their tracks–she’ll take you from aching tenderness to power and fury in about a verse and a half.
The electricity, freedom, and honesty in her delivery are reminiscent of Janis Joplin. She does it for love and the audience can tell. Tom Harrison of The Vancouver Sun says of her signature rendition of Piece of My Heart, “She makes the song her own.”
“Everyone asks me when I started singing,” says Ruth, “And I always tell them it’s the classic story. Dad was a preacher and I grew up singing in the choir.” As a teenager, Ruth performed throughout Canada with her musical family, and started writing her own songs. She developed her ear, range, and keen sense of melody singing along with the Canadian jazz fusion band, Uzeb. From a bootleg tape of Etta James, she learned to tell a story with soul. The day she finally walked into a blues club, she put up her feet and knew she was home.
Voice lessons with Vancouver jazz singer, Jennifer Scott, gave Ruth the technique and confidence to begin fronting Vancouver-area bands. For years she performed the music of Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight, but grew tired of copying others. When Sheldon Bradley joined her R&B cover band, they began to pursue a mutual interest in songwriting. In 2003 they released their first independent CD, River of Soul, under Ruth’s name.
River of Soul showcased a wide range of influences, demonstrating Ruth’s ability to write and sing blues, funk, gospel and jazz with equal proficiency. These days, her diverse musical tastes are being fed by artists like Jon Cleary, Ernie Andrews, Keb Mo, Susan Tedeschi and Warren Haynes.
Ruth and Sheldon renamed themselves the Bradley/McGillivray Blues Band and released a second CD, Livin’ This Way, in 2008. It features the drop-to-your-knees abandon fans have come to love in Ruth’s live shows, and was cited by Canadian Musician and Real Blues Magazine as “one of the best Canadian blues albums of 2008.” A third band CD is currently in the works.
Ruth returned to her gospel roots with her first solo CD in 2012, Abide With Me. Through the generous donation of IncarNATION Ministries and Whitewater Productions, she had the opportunity to record 11 blues-jazz arrangements of classic hymns. Her unusual interpretation of these songs came out of her own tough times, when her best solace was found alone at the piano. They are songs of comfort and hope, shared with the intent to bring the same to others.
With a voice and talent like Ruth’s, people always ask why she’s not out touring the world. Ruth says, “I like to think I’m on a path to the blues like Jimmy Rogers or Saffire & the Uppity Blues Women. They had love, passion and talent, but chose to finish raising kids before hitting the road. Lucky for me, blues get better with age and experience. A few more years, then we’ll see…”