Into the digital age

Posted 12/23/10

Jim Ratts, co-founder of the group Runaway Express, promises the Jan. 7 show won’t be a typical album release party. While the show celebrates the …

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Into the digital age


Jim Ratts, co-founder of the group Runaway Express, promises the Jan. 7 show won’t be a typical album release party.

While the show celebrates the anniversary of the release of “Yeah, Buddy” album that was a tribute to Buddy Holly and the release of the new, remixed version of the album, he said the play list won’t be all Buddy Holly music.

“Yes, there will be some Buddy Holly songs,” Ratts said. “But that won’t be all we play, because we are going to have a lot of fun too, as we do at all Runaway Express shows. We will play some country, up-tempo bluegrass and a little classic rock and roll. That is all music we draw with from the 25-year history of the band, and includes some cuts from the ‘Howlin’ at the Moon’ album and the ‘Woodstock’ album and some original music, too. Since the next day is Elvis Presley’s birthday, we’ll just have to include some tributes to the king. Of course, we’ll try to do as many of the requests as we can fit into the show.”

The Runaway Express album-release celebration will be at 8 p.m. Jan. 7 at Swallow Hill, 71 E. Yale Ave. For information or tickets, call 303-777-1003.

Ratts and his wife, Salli, are leaders of the seven-member group that has been among the most popular local bands for the last quarter century.

“We boast we have a repertoire of more than 2,000 songs, so we have a lot to chose from,” Ratts said as he talked about building the play list for a show. “I always try to build a play list for a show that includes some original songs we always want to include, a lot of the audience favorites plus one or two songs most people have never heard us do.”

He notes the group is made up of outstanding musicians so he arranges the play list to make sure there are plenty of opportunities to showcase the individual talents of each of the members of the band.

While the Jan. 7 is celebrating the 10th anniversary of “Yeah, Buddy,” Ratts said this latest version isn’t really the same album.

“You may recognize some of the songs and even some of the arrangement but this is very new and every cut is significantly better,” he said.

Ratts said this party marks the culmination of more than a year’s work to make all the music on “Yeah, Buddy” even better.

“Ten years ago, I was working with analog tape with only eight tracks,” he explained. “I recorded eight tracks and then did what is called a sub-mix, transferring all eight tracks from one tape onto two tracks on a second, blank tape. Then I recorded the remainder of the material on the remaining six tracks on that second tape. At that time, I felt we had a very good album.”

However, he said ever since he graduated to using digital equipment for recording, he dreamed of redoing “Yeah, Buddy.”

“I finally decided to tackle the project, and it proved to be beautifully time consuming but I loved every minute of it,” he said with a smile. “Basically, I redefined each of the tracks on the digital equipment. Then I balanced and timed each track to flow will all the other tracks as I readdressed every cut. I added drums and some vocal parts so we have a new, more elaborate presentation of great music.”

He added that, just like the music on the album, the album cover had been redone to create what he calls, “an eye-popping package.”

Jim and Salli both grew up in families where music was part of their lives almost from the time of their births. Both pursued music and formed a bond on and off the stage, as in addition to being co-founders of Runaway Express, they are husband and wife.

Musically, Jim had some success in the early 1990s as he joined forces with Jim Ibbotson of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Jim Salestrom as they formed the group the Wild Jimbos.

“We had a lot of fun and we had some success as the Jimbos,” Ratts said. “Our biggest single, ‘Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian’ did well for us in the early ’90s.”

Ratts also started writing music early in his career.

“I guess when someone is as fanatical about playing music as I am, it follows logically that I would want to incorporate my own ideas into the tunes,” he said.

His music has been recorded by the Kingston Trio, the Limelighters and the Dillards.

One of his most recent successes was the title tune of a recent Runaway Express album, “Howlin’ at the Moon.” Ratts wrote the song in collaboration with John McEuen a number of years ago and decided to use it again on the 2009 album.

Well-known bluegrass musician Sam Bush recorded the song and made it a single release that went to the top of the bluegrass charts.

One of the results of the song’s success is Ratts has began corresponding with individuals who program radio stations all over the world.

“Our music, including cuts from ‘Yeah, Buddy’ and ‘Howlin’ at the Moon’ are getting air play in Europe, New Zealand and even in Japan,” Ratts said. “I find it amazing that, in the Dutch lowlands ‘Howlin’ at the Moon’ was recently album of the week.”

His work also has been recognized in this country. He and the group have been invited to the tribute in Amarillo, Texas, the hometown of Buddy Holly, and were guest celebrities earlier this year at the Kingston Trio’s fantasy camp.

“In February, we have been invited to the three-day celebration at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. That was the location of the last Buddy Holly performance before the plane crash that claimed his life,” Ratts said. “It is a big deal with a long list of guest performers. I think it is going to be a blast and I’m looking forward to it.”


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