One of the most peculiar aspects of life on the Outer Banks is how many amazing musicians live here. Not just really good, but world-class.
There’s not enough space on these pages to write about all of our favorite Outer Banks musicians, but there are two who deserve special note.
Ruth Wyand and Mojo Collins play the blues, and they play it as well as anyone—no…actually better than just anyone. They’re the kind of musicians that if they lived in a major city would probably have minions of followers. But they live here, and we are so much the richer for it.
Here’s a brief rundown of Mojo Collins’ career.
He started playing with his father’s band around 1960. Joined the Air Force and kept playing. Got out of the Air Force in time for the 1967 Summer of Love in San Francisco and ended up playing in bands that opened for some of the iconic names of the era.
Ask Mojo about Janis Joplin—he knew her. Or the Grateful Dead. Or Jefferson Airplane.
He never did quite get to the top, but he almost did. In 1971 he was in the band Sawbuck, a group that included Ronnie Montrose as well as other musicians who had full careers in the world of rock and blues.
The group broke up, though, just before its national tour.
Mojo had come back to North Carolina because his father had a heart attack. His father’s heart attack may have saved Mojo’s life.
In comments about that time in his life, he mentioned that the San Francisco world he was living in was heavily infected by drugs. When he looked the situation over, he decided that he would rather marry his high school sweetheart, Bonnie and stay in North Carolina.
And a good thing for us he did.
His contributions to the composing and preserving the music of the state have been so significant that in June he was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest state award for service to the state.
But none of that tells the story of how good he is on guitar.
In performance, he plays his own music. Playing with his band Triple Vision, sometimes he’ll get out his electric guitar and he’ll play a raucous, in your face blues-inspired rock and roll. When he does, it’s easy to see why he was on the cusp of national fame.
He is so clean as he whips out the notes, creating individual patterns that merge with his chords, and he sings in an absolutely perfect voice that brings the story of the song home.
Yet as good as that is, his best work may be on acoustic guitar. He’ll get out his 1948 Harmony F-hole guitar and play slide guitar and suddenly it’s as though you’re back in some southern roadhouse bar, in a smoke-filled room with sawdust on the floor.
Amazing stuff. Check him out. He’s in his 70s but just can’t stop playing.
Ruth Wyand is a one-woman band. Really. That’s who she is. Ruth Wyand and Her Band of One.
On stage, if she is touring with her band of one, she is there with her guitars and a small drum set that she uses to beat out her rhythm with her feet. Complete with cymbals and a mini-bass drum.
That alone should give some indication of just how gifted Ruth is, but it doesn’t even come close.
Ruth has won a number of national and international fingerpicking awards. It’s a style of guitar playing that uses fingers instead of a pick. Sort of like Spanish or Flamenco guitar, only blues.
But Ruth is far more than a blues guitar maestro.
Like Mojo she writes most of her own material and sings it with a powerful, bluesy voice that hearkens back to some of the best singers of the 1940s or 50s.
Slide guitar? There’s not too many out there better than her.
Aside from technique and skill, what sets her apart is how effortlessly she can go between different kinds of music. Blues, jazz, rock—it doesn’t seem to matter when she’s performing. All of it is done with her distinctive touch and that throaty gutsy voice.
Then there’s the movie she helped to create—“Mama’s Got the Blues.” This isn’t just any movie though. It is a compelling journey through the history of women performing the blues, from the early 20th century until the more modern recordings of the 1970s.
And what makes it come alive, is Ruth plays the soundtrack live during screenings of the movie. A remarkable tour-de-force and it calls out to be seen. She doesn’t get to perform “Mama’s Got the Blues” very often, but if the opportunity comes up, check her out.
We should also add that Ruth is the musical director of the Mustang Outreach Program that helps them kids their stage skills by learning about music and performance. The first set of kids in the program just graduated from high school and quite a number of them are continuing their career on stage.