Tori Ruffin of Freak Juice answers 5 Questions from MLL contributor Todd Farrell Jr. about Coming 2 America, Schecter Guitars and the upcoming 420 on 424 Jam at Mercury Lounge.
MLL: You have a club here in Tulsa called Juicemaker Lounge. Why was it important to you, as a lifelong touring musician, to get into the club business, especially at a time when clubs are having so much trouble in the Covid-19 era? What makes opening a club in Tulsa so special to you?
TR: Honestly, I had no idea what I was undertaking or doing [laughs]. We simply were playing that bar a lot, and the previous owner asked if I knew someone who wanted to buy the bar. I asked, “How much?,” and he replied, “I’d basically give it to you.” I thought, “How hard could it be?” So, I called up my younger brother, who has been in business all his life, and the next thing ya know I’m running a bar. It’s been the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I never physically worked so hard [laughs], but with the help of my lil bro Greg Ruffin, we’re still here two years strong, in spite of the pandemic.
MLL: You have a rather famous cameo as the band Sexual Chocolate in the 1988 Eddie Murphy/Arsenio Hall movie Coming to America and are back for the sequel. Can you take us through what it was like on set, and how you got the call to appear in the sequel?
TR: Coming to America was one of those things that happened out of being in the right place at the right time. As luck would have it, 30 years ago I was in a band with my childhood buddies Bruce Sterling, Melvin Davis, Karl Denson, and Jeffery Suttles. They turned out to be very accomplished musicians themselves, touring with Rolling Stones, Chaka Khan, Beyoncé, etc. Anyhoo, Jeffery was driving John Landis (the director) around, and John asked if he knew of any band he could use for his upcoming movie with Eddie Murphy. Next thing, we’re on set cracking up to Eddie, who was riffing and coming up with the name Sexual Chocolate, basically doing stand up. Everyone was laughing so hard that it took us two days to get the shot.
The movie over the years became iconic. When it came for the sequel, Eddie, I’m told, wanted all the original cast. We knew the movie was being shot, but hadn’t received any calls. It turns out they had been looking for us. At the last minute they found us, and then we were on set [filming] at Tyler Perry’s studio with Eddie. This time it only took us one day, but I can tell you there are some hilarious scenes left on the cutting room floor.
MLL: The newest Freak Juice record They Call Us Juice runs the gamut on genres, covering everything from R&B to jazz to roots music to heavy metal. As a musician, do you feel that it’s important to incorporate all of your various inspirations into your playing, regardless of label tags?
TR: As a touring session musician, I’ve basically been rooted in R&B and rap recording sessions. There is a whole other side to me that I needed to get out. Charlie Redd and I also played together when we were kids and lived in a house with other bandmates in Austin. We listen to Fishbone, who I got a chance to play and record with. We also listen to Miles, Beastie Boys, Ice Cube, Zep, Marley, Scofield, I mean everything. So, Freak Juice feeds the other half of my soul. I play and write what I like, and put it on a record regardless of the genres. But, I’m aware of the need of some continuity. Since I earn my living in R&B I tend to lean on the heavier side of things with some funk, jazz, hip-hop, and reggae thrown in the blender to make that special tincture we call Freak Juice. While today’s record companies feel the need to categorize and make genre-specific records for marketing purposes, I can remember a time when everyone was on the same station: Elton and Stevie, Isley Brothers and Led Zeppelin. Most people like more than one style of music. Freak Juice fills that void! Juicemakers United!
MLL: Tell us a little about how your Schecter guitars endorsement came about, and the instruments they build for you.
TR: I had my eye on Schecter for a minute. Good left-handed guitars are so hard to come by, but they do ‘em right. I got the endorsement when we were filming Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back with Morris [Day]. Freeze, the bassist, got a bass, but my guitar wasn’t ready in time. Then some miscommunication happened, and I ended up with ESP. Years later, we’re doing shows with Prince and we’re headed out on the Musicology tour. I called up my ESP rep but he was over at Schecter. I was so excited because they do such fine work. Ever since then, Michael Ciravolo, Anthony, Adam, and Colin have really treated me well, filling all my crazy requests, trying different pickups, colors, configurations, reverse headstock, etc. They really do great work. I mainly have custom Teles but I’ll be doing some Strats and another 7 for some new juice.
MLL: We've read that you used a Fractal Axe-FX II when recording the new Freak Juice record, They Call Us Juice. Can you talk a little bit on “real” vs “modeler” amps, and why you ultimately decided to stick with the Fractal?
TR: There comes a time when technology surpasses, replicates, or is so close that only the nerdiest of nerds with supersonic hearing can tell [laughs]. For me, Fractal is that technology. I was doing the traditional miking up my amps for the record. I got the Fractal and it was right there with the real amp sounds, and in a lot of instances blowing them out of the water. So there are real amp sounds, but half way through it I was like, why? I can record my sound in the Fractal and I’m good. So yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever use it live, but never say never. It's kinda like how recording digital was not good at first but now it’s fantastic sounding, and you can give it that warm analog sound. Again, only nerds and die-hards can tell, but they’re not at your shows and they don’t buy your records or shirts, now do they?
MLL: How does one acquire Freak Juice and is it organic? Should you Uber after ingesting it?
TR: Freak Juice has been my passion, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have some really talented world-class Tulsan musicians with me. Tulsa legend Charlie Redd on bass; I can’t do a gig without Stan Fary on drums--one of the finest drummers in the world, I know ‘cause I have had the opportunity to work with some of the best; and co-lyricist, songwriting partner Chris Simpson, AKA Pimpson. It’s been hard for everyone during the pandemic. With streaming services and no live shows, all musicians have been struggling. So if you could please support us at freakjuice.bandcamp.com, download one song if not the whole cd, it could really help feed a band of four. Also, thanks to Horton Records, Maggie Poulos, Julie Watson, and of course Brian. You can find a lot of great artists at
Support the Tulsa live music scene, vaccinate, mask up, go see a show. Juicemakers Unite!!!
The event kicks off at noon on Saturday, April 24, 2021, with an open-air market, good tunes floating, and opportunities for sweet giveaways. The 420 on 424 Event open-air market will have a great variety of Mercury Lounge staff picks including records and merchandise by Josey Records, artisan-made jewelry, vintage clothing, and small-batch craft coffee from Black Forge Coffee. Many other vendors will be present, and of course, there will be cannabis industry brands at 420 on 424. Ruby Mae's will be set up for the duration of the festival giving away promotional products. Bring your OMMA card along with your personal stash to medicate and fully immerse yourself in killer music and good times at the best dive bar in Tulsa. Mercury Lounge is super excited to have Funk-rock collective Freak Juice, oozing out some R&B, funk-infused with a sprinkle of riff-heavy hard rock. Tori Ruffin of Freak Juice has been the lead guitarist in Morris Day and The Time for twenty-five years. Notable people he's also played with include Prince, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Mick Jagger, Fishbone, and Lenny Kravitz. He's even dabbled in film, making memorable appearances in the 1988 Eddie Murphy comedy, Coming to America, and in the newly released; Coming To America 2. Local Tulsa music staple, The Stylees are an all-original Reggae/Rock/Funk/Fusion band. Toe-tapping, feel-good vibes to get you smiling and feeling mighty fine. Think warm sun on your skin and super positive energy. In between bands, Thom Self, Mercury Lounge House DJ and Graphic Artist will be doing his much-loved weekly Sip n' Spin. He will be bringing 420 curated selections from his extensive and eclectic record collection, spinning everything from chill Reggae to Heavy Metal stoner jams.
Event times: Festival from noon until 2am Vendors from noon until 6pm Set times: The Stylees 2pm Thom Self spinning records in the interim Freak Juice 9pm