Back in 1963, when Peter Madcat Ruth was a freshman in high school, he began taking guitar lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. In 1964, his interest in guitar led him to an album by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Sonny Terry's harmonica playing inspired Madcat to pick up a harmonica and play along. He's been playing harmonica ever since.
In his early years of harmonica playing, Madcat practiced along with whatever blues albums he could buy or borrow. He also listened to the blues live whenever he could at places like the University of Chicago, and Chicago's Regal Theater. Too young to listen to the blues in bars, Madcat was a devotee of the Pervis Spann radio program on WVON, and the Big Bill Hill radio program on WOPA, which featured occasional live broadcasts of blues performances from bars on Chicago's South Side.
In 1966, Madcat met the legendary Chicago blues harmonica player, Big Walter Horton. Madcat was able to arrange to take harmonica lessons from him periodically over the next few years. As Madcat put it, "He's the man who opened my ears and mind to the amazing potential of the harmonica."
During high school, Madcat played harmonica with several local folk groups, and later with several blues bands. In 1968 he met bass player and trombonist Chris Brubeck, son of the late jazz pianist Dave Brubeck. The two met at a jam session and an instant mutual respect sprang up between them. Madcat told Chris to let him know if he ever needed a harmonica player. Shortly after this meeting, a surge of wanderlust sent Madcat on a two-year hitchhiking stint. He studied Spanish in Mexico, played in a jug band in Albuquerque, and worked in a day care center for the children of migrant farm workers in central California. He also spent a lot of time by the side of the road playing harmonica. In the spring of 1969, Chris Brubeck tracked Madcat down in New Mexico and invited him to join his rock band, New Heavenly Blue, in Michigan. For the next two years, Madcat played with the band summers and weekends while attending Lake Forest College in Illinois. In 1971, he left college and moved to Ann Arbor to work with the band full time.
Playing with New Heavenly Blue enlarged Madcat's musical experience. Many of the tunes the group performed were in unusual time signatures such as 5/4 and 9/4. The group recorded two LPs: EDUCATED HOMEGROWN on RCA Records and NEW HEAVENLY BLUE on Atlantic Records.
In 1971, Dave Brubeck wrote the cantata TRUTH IS FALLEN which featured New Heavenly Blue. TRUTH IS FALLEN was performed with various orchestras, among them the Rochester Philharmonic, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. New Heavenly Blue also played the music for a touring company performing Jesus Christ Superstar; Madcat played all of the saxophone parts on the harmonica.
When New Heavenly Blue disbanded in 1973, Madcat joined the Darius Brubeck Ensemble, a progressive jazz group led by Chris's older brother, Darius. This was a tremendous education for Madcat, who found himself playing harmonica with a horn section composed of clarinet, trombone, saxophone and harmonica. The Ensemble was often billed as opening act for the Dave Brubeck Quartet. At these concerts the performers from both groups would usually jam together on stage to close the show. Now Madcat was performing with such jazz greats as Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond, as well as Dave Brubeck. In 1974 when the Dave Brubeck Quartet disbanded, Dave invited Madcat to join the his new group: Two Generations of Brubeck which featured Dave, and his sons Darius, Chris, and Daniel. At the same time Madcat joined Chris Brubeck's new rock group, Sky King. In 1975, Sky King released the album SECRET SAUCE, on Columbia Records, and made an extensive U.S. tour.
And so for a few years Madcat spent almost all of his time on the road playing jazz and fusion rock with the various members of the Brubeck family. One night, Madcat played at New York City's Bottom Line Cafe with Sky King early in the evening, dashed uptown in a taxi with Chris between sets to play with Dave Brubeck at the Newport Jazz Festival (held that year at Carnegie Hall), and made it back downtown in time to do Sky King's second set at the Bottom Line.
With Two Generations of Brubeck, Madcat performed in concert halls and at music festivals in the U.S. and in Mexico, Canada, Germany, Austria, Holland, Australia, and New Zealand. Mexico was delighted with "El Gato Loco," and Germany hailed "die Verruckte Katze." Madcat recorded on three Dave Brubeck albums: TRUTH IS FALLEN, TWO GENERATIONS OF BRUBECK, and BROTHER THE GREAT SPIRIT MADE US ALL, all on Atlantic Records. He also appeared with the group on the Mike Douglas Television Show on CBS, and on a National Educational Television Special filmed at Dave Brubeck's home in Connecticut.
In 1977, after ten years in other people's bands, Madcat realized that the time had come for him to do his own music, on his own terms. For the next few years he returned to his folk music and blues roots, playing his music at colleges and coffeehouses throughout the Midwest. Often he performed as a soloist and on other occasions he would be joined with various back-up musicians, including drummer Danny Brubeck, and the amazing electric bassist Jason Boekeloo. In addition to performing his own music, Madcat accompanied many other musicians and played in an impressive variety of musical styles.
In 1984, Madcat released his first solo record called MADCAT GONE SOLO, and for the next few years continued to pursue a solo career, performing at night clubs, civic auditoriums, college campuses, and music festivals throughout the United States. It was also during this time that Madcat started performing children's concerts and school assembly programs.
In 1987, Madcat was an invited guest performer at the First World Harmonica Festival, held in England. Other guest performers included Larry Adler, Cham-Ber Huang, and Jerry Murad of the original Harmonicats. Two years later he was an invited guest performer at the Second World Harmonica Festival held in Trossingen, Germany. During the past thirty years, Madcat has led dozens of harmonica workshops for music schools, blues societies, and harmonica festivals in the United States, Europe, South America, and Asia. These include "Blues Week" and the "Advanced Harmonica Class" at the Augusta Heritage Arts Workshops in Elkins, West Virginia, The Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, Elderly Instruments in Lansing, Michigan, The Dixie Harmonica Festival in Birmingham, Alabama, the Detroit Country and Classic Blues Society, The Memphis Harmonica Festival, The Kerrville Folk Festival, The Bristol Harmonica Festival in England, the National Conventions of the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica, the First and Second World Harmonica Festivals, and the Asia Pacific Harmonica Festival.
In 1990, Madcat teamed up with blues guitarist, Shari Kane, to form the duo, Madcat & Kane. In 1992, Madcat & Kane was voted one of six finalists in the Long Beach Blues Festival National Talent Search Contest. Their CD, MADCAT & KANE - KEY TO THE HIGHWAY, was released on the Schoolkids' Records label in December of 1993. In 1994 and again in 1995, Madcat & Kane was featured on the National Public Radio program, BluesStage, which was broadcast on over two hundred radio stations nation-wide. The second Madcat & Kane CD, UP AGAINST THE WALL, was released in 1999, and LIVE AT THE CREOLE GALLERY was released in 2009. Madcat & Kane toured extensively throughout the United States. They also performed in Canada, Spain, Brazil, Poland, and the Cayman Islands.
On August 23, 1997, Peter Madcat Ruth was named Harmonica Player of the Year by The Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica (SPAH). The award was presented to Madcat at the 1997 SPAH Harmonica Convention held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Romulus, Michigan. SPAH is an international, all volunteer, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the rich heritage of harmonica music, and advancing the appreciation of this very versatile musical instrument. SPAH currently maintains a membership of over 3000 harmonica players from all over the world.
In 1998, Madcat again joined forces with his old buddy, Chris Brubeck. Along with guitarist Joel Brown, they formed the trio: Chris Brubeck's Triple Play. Triple Play has performed in concert all over the USA, and has performed with several symphony orchestras. In the year 2000, Triple Play released their first CD: TRIPLE PLAY, LIVE which was recorded live at Skidmore College. Their second CD: WATCHING THE WORLD was released in 2003. TRIPLE PLAY LIVE AT THE ARTHUR ZANKEL MUSIC CENTER was released in 2011, and TRIPLE PLAY WITH THE SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA (recorded in Singapore) was released in 2014.
Also in 1998, Madcat hooked up with the Big Joe Manfra Blues Band of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That first tour was a great success, and between 1999 and 2014, Madcat returned to Brazil to tour with the band twelve more times. In 2006 the CD, MADCAT LIVE IN RIO, was released on the Brazilian Bluestime Records label. Also during this time, Madcat appeared on the Jô Soares Television Program (the Brazilian equivalent to the Tonight Show) three times.
From 2012 until 2020 Madcat fronted The Madcat Midnight Blues Journey. This band featured Drew Howard on guitar and lap steel guitar, Mark Schrock bass, and Michael Shimmin on drums. Our, recording, MMBJ@SOTE, was released in 2014.
Madcat's solo recordings include: MADCAT'S HARMONICOLOGY (1994), MADCAT'S HARMONICA & UKULELE PROJECT (2006), MORE REAL FOLK BLUES (2008).
In 2006, Madcat won a Grammy Award for being a featured soloist on William Bolcom's CD, SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND OF EXPERIENCE.
Madcat has also released two instructional DVDs distributed by Homespun Tapes: ANYONE CAN PLAY HARMONICA and THE INS AND OUTS OF RHYTHM HARMONICA.
In the year 2021, Madcat started playing music with The C.A.R.Ma. Quartet. He also plays solo concerts, and as a guest artist with numerous other groups.