Rooster Ruley remembered at Rooster Fest

Rooster Ruley - photo by Jerry TovoThis weekend, family, friends and fans of Rooster Ruley, a popular banjo picker in central Virginia who passed away on February 13, will gather to remember the man and his music at the Washington & Lee Pavilion in Lexington.

It will be a combination concert and posthumous CD release party for Rooster’s Ruckus, an album recorded several years back with Wyatt Rice, March Schatz, Danny Knicely and Nate Leath. That band will re-congregate for the show, with Sammy Shelor stepping in to Rooster’s spot.

Ruley was something of legend among bluegrass musicians in Virginia, not least for his regular attendance at the Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention each year. And for his distinctive arrangements of blues and swing tunes for roll style banjo.

But probably most of all, folks remember Rooster as a character. What you might call “a real character.” He was raised a mountain man and remained one all his life, as simple and unassuming a man as you might hope to meet.


Rooster’s family were mountain musicians, and he learned to play from them as a boy, until seeing Flatt & Scruggs live turned him hard to 3 finger style. In fact, it was the Dobro guitar that really captured his imagination at that time, but his family didn’t have one, so he focused on banjo until he got out of the service and bought his first hound dog.

Rarely did he work as a professional musician, doing auto and air conditioning repair, and trying to live as simply and self-sufficiently as he could. Music was always a part of his life, though, right up to the day he died from lung cancer, a few short weeks after being diagnosed on December 31, 2012. He was 60 years old.

Rooster FestSunday’s (4/21) concert will feature performances from The Bluegrass Brothers, Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, Nothin Fancy, David Via and Corn Tornado, Grass Associates Reunion Band, Maury River Bluegrass and several others. A donation of $10 is requested, with proceeds donated to the Rooster Ruley Memorial Fund at Rockbridge Area Health Center.

The Memorial Fund will go towards general clinic operations, including their recently expanded dental program, which Rooster used a good bit during his life. Friends who can’t make the show can make a donation in his honor at the clinic web site.

The show is scheduled from 2:00-10:00 p.m. More details can be found on Facebook.

Rooster's Ruckus - Original art byJeremy LeadbetterRooster’s Ruckus will also be available for sale at Rooster Fest, and through a number of retailers near Ruley’s home (Rockbridge Music, Books and Company, The Bookery, Pumpkinseeds, The Rockbridge Farmer’s Co-op, and the Rockbridge Area Health Center). In the next few months, it may be available from national and digital retailers as well.

Thanks to Rooster’s wife, Ruth Huffman, who agreed to let us share this track from the album, Interstate Rag.


R.I.P., Rooster Ruley.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.