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New York City, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 1996 | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 1996
Duo Blues Americana




"Mulebone Runs the Voodoo Down with Keep On Movin’"

by Tom Semioli
September 29, 2014

“You cannot mine this territory! The last thing I want to do is to sound like every other blues band! It’s not the just ‘blues!’ It’s art!”

Step back everyone. Hugh Pool is on a roll at the Sidewalk Café in the East Village – a noted hipster venue wherein he routinely raises the roof, oft times in tandem with songstress Lorraine Leckie as her Demons guitar god. When this master guitarist, songwriter, recording engineer, producer, and musical provocateur wishes to make his thoughts known, you can be sure that everyone in the joint is paying attention.

His partner, John Ragusa, is on a roll as well. However, the Mulebone flautist and woodwind virtuoso is distinctly low key and unequivocally cerebral on the topic of the duo’s brilliant new release, Keep On Movin’ – which seamlessly melds tradition with modernity. As for his decades-long relationship with his animated collaborator: “Hugh does not have an inauthentic bone in his body…” intones Ragusa. “His knowledge of music is very deep…there are lots of players out there who are derivative. The music of Mulebone is rooted in what Hugh does…this is not a white suburban kid singing the blues the way Eric Clapton did. He knows this music, then he ‘owns’ it!”

Unlike most “blues” ensembles, Mulebone dispatches with the essence of that which defines the genre as known by the masses – a rhythm section of bass and drums. Imagine a blues collective minus a bass line cobbled from Willie Dixon, coupled with a pounding back beat. Proclaims Pool: “A duo is very sympathetic to an audience! People tell me ‘God damn, that’s a lot of music coming out of just the two of you. Our sound is backwoods and fairly primitive. But it’s deep, and it’s fresh. There’s a lot of athleticism in what we do.”

Throughout the dozen tracks which comprise Keep On Movin’ , Hugh and John quarry the same aforementioned territory as Miles Davis during his electric years, and cats such as American jazz multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef (whom Ragusa briefly played with), who intuitively employed space as rhythmic catalyst while quoting motifs steeped in jazz, blues, African, folk, country, soul, and every permutation thereof. Ragusa explains, “I love flying without a net. What we do is similar to the way Mississippi Fred McDowell worked. There’s that ‘droning’ aspect that keeps you entranced…it keeps you in the moment. You do not miss the bass and drums, but you feel it.”

The checkered history of Mulebone is the stuff of documentaries or, if you will, television sitcoms. Mr. Pool revels in war stories that range from the hysterical to prophetic: driven by his passion for the blues and moving forward with Ragusa, he nearly blew off his first wedding anniversary for Mulebone’s debut; listing their home addresses and phone numbers on early indie releases; discovering that their music had scaled the American Music Association Reports sans their knowledge; their residence at New York City’s iconic Bottom Line wherein Mulebone won over audiences spanning gay cabaret to opening slots for Dave Edmunds, Al Kooper, and Commander Cody among many others. Pool still treasures legendary owner/promoter Alan Pepper’s letter of recommendation, which remains sealed. There's the tale of how their B.B. King’s Bluesville radio appearance inadvertently materialized into their 2011 gem Bluesville Sessions; John rescuing songs that Hugh had forgotten about in the Mulebone dustbins; their early cassette-only releases which helped them develop a following…and so on, and so on. When you talk Mulebone with Hugh, you learn about the real life of American indie music artists.

Keep On Movin’ – as you would expect – was recorded live in the studio on a vintage Neve console onto ½’ tape. No overdubs. The album is adorned with sepia photos of unknown origins: the cover depicts what appears to be a country squire in a bowler cap atop a hay bearing mule; the interior digi-pack reveals an image of a sympathetic pooch; and the back shot portrays a rural landscape. Declares Pool, “these pictures are over one-hundred years old! I discovered them in a treasure trove of junk in my attic.”

John elaborates: “this album actually came into focus when Hugh found these pictures. We don’t know who took them or where they came from, but they have a certain magical vibe about them that affected us. So we put these prints on a music stand in the studio to inspire us – to channel their spirits!”

Hugh’s world weary delivery defines the opening title track, which gradually builds with repetitive guitar motifs illuminated by Ragusa’s improvisations. Cuts such as “She Wants My Name,” and “Ain’t No Price to Pay” universally detail the human condition as it exists now and most definitely how it did whenever and wherever the above-mentioned album images were captured. Pool and Ragusa outpace each other on the rollicking “Million Miles from Nowhere,” among other highlights. For the record, Hugh’s tools include: guitar, National Steel, Cigar Box Guitar, Banjo, Harmonica, and Boot Board. John plies the C, Alto and Wood flutes, Fife, Tin Whistle, and Pocket Trumpet.

“Hugh and I have different styles in many ways, but we share common ground,” notes Ragusa. “And you hear that on this record.” Pool interjects – “John is poetic. He is smooth. He can play chamber music, you can put him on stage in a salsa group, and he can play legit jazz…”

The album title is equally significant as it represents the musicians’ collective and individual resilience – and commitment to their work. As an inebriated Sidewalk patron ambles over to our interview table, Mr. Pool commences his sermon: “Keep on Movin’ is not about avoidance! It’s not about acceptance! Even in death, your spirit is moving! Literally, what you have to do is keep on moving!”


Mulebone’s Keep On Movin’ is out now on Red Tug Records. For all things Mulebone, visit - No Depression

"Mulebone: Bluesville Sessions, Elmore Magazine Review"

Mulebone: Bluesville Sessions (Red Tug)

Though it clocks in at barely three minutes, Mulebone’s “In My Time of Dying” contains so much desirous urgency for deliverance, it leaves the listener fatigued in a trance-like Delta haze. Slide guitar sounding like it’s conjuring the ghost of Skip James, with flute accompaniment as spiraling as Ian Anderson’s mad-sorcerer best, such is the scope of Mulebone’s Hugh Pool and John Ragusa on Bluesville Sessions. This album is pure, muggy Mississippi afternoon passion, with inventive instrumental know-how and boundless blues expression.

Another venerable cover, Robert Johnson’s “Come In My Kitchen,” is given an expansive, slow-crawling treatment, Ragusa’s fife crying like a world-scorned Delta songbird, Pool’s craggy vocal the essence of cotton-field soul. The Pool-penned “Money and Keys” quakes with a John Lee Hooker-like foot stomp and a sinister air - “bone, blood and shadows, the world passes by.”

Mulebone seemingly multiplies every ounce of studio ambience on “New Morning,” the reverberating pop ‘n’ lurch of each low string on Pool’s guitar hums with steel presence, while Ragusa induces chills playing a conch shell. “Spiders Web” is a no-holds-bared, lunatic picking exercise and chirping flute frenzy, Mulebone’s gifted roots practitioners showing off their woodshedding-ripped wares.

Homespun artistry combined with hard-nosed Delta blues, Mulebone’s authenticity bleeds through.

Mark Uricheck, Elmore Magazine (March/April 2012 Issue #49)
- Elmore Magazine

"Mulebone @ The Eighth Step 11/10/12, Times Union Review"

by Michael Eck

SCHENECTADY – Hugh Pool and John Ragusa could virtually do no wrong on Saturday night at The Eighth Step. Together, the duo is known as Mulebone, and they fuse the raw energy of the blues with the sophistication of woodwinds for a sound that is utterly unique while never losing touch with the deep history of the form.

The men wowed a summer crowd at the Old Songs Festival of Music and Dance earlier this year, and it was clear that some of the fans they garnered there were in house at the Step.

Pool is tall and lanky. His rambling between song patter sometimes caught the cadence of Ted Nugent, but the guitarist is clearly on a different personal path. Similarly, his singing sometimes took the shape of John Hammond, but with a freer, easier lope.

Ragusa, a former Capital Region resident, might just be a genius. As the evening wore on he would momentarily muse before selecting a fife, a pipe or a bent bass flute from his armory. Often he would place one instrument under his arm and another to his lips, in case he wanted to change sounds mid-stream. At one point (during Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine), he casually played a bluesy line on a fife and then lowered his hands. When he raised them again, the fife was in the opposite direction, requiring a different fingering and technique. Ragusa didn’t even seem to notice, he just played.

The group’s selections are largely drawn from the classic blues canon, but Pool also dotted the evening with originals, and Ragusa egged him to include pieces that will feature on an upcoming album.

But it’s hard to define highlights. There were simply so many of them.
Pool, for example, shaking “every rhythmic subdivision” out of his 1930 metal-bodied Natianal Triolian guitar during “Spider’s Web.” Ragusa dropping a solo journey through “Amazing Grace” into Fred McDowell’s “Jesus on the Mainline.” And both challenging each other to one epic height after another on pre-modern reconstruction of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”

Pool also occasionally stepped outside the blues.

“Long Black Veil,” a 1959 country hit for Lefty Frizzell, opened the second set. A run through Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey” almost asked for a bit of Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears” to be dropped in, although it didn’t happen. And he seemed to surprise Ragusa with an impromptu R&B update of Bob Dylan’s own updated-take of “Corinna, Corrina.”

Ragusa surprised no one at the end of the evening by pulling out a Jew’s Harp. Heck, it seemed he could play anything. But when he inserted the ancient instrument into that winding take of “Mainline” it took things to an almost spiritual place, despite the instrument’s association with twangy novelty sounds.

At that moment, it just seemed to be another way of singing.
Don’t miss your chance to hear Ragusa and Pool next time Mulebone comes to town.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: The Eighth Step, Underground at Proctors, 432 State Street. Schenectady
Length: Almost 3 hours; one intermission.
Highlights: Wow, just about everything.
Upcoming: The Nields return to The Eighth Step on Saturday.

Michael Eck is a freelance writer from Albany and a frequent contributor to the Times Union. - Times Union

"Mulebone: Bluesville Sessions, Blues Revue Magazine"

By RIchard Skelly. If you miss the old New York City-based musical duo of Satan and Adam…you'll be interested to hear what Mulebone is putting down…a potent force with a very bright future in contemporary blues. Hugh Pool and John Ragusa...I see several summers crowded with festival performances in Mulebone's future. They're just too original sounding and interesting, by way of their instruments and musicianship, to not have on the bill of any blues festival.
Please click on the url link to read the entire article - Blues Revue

"Mulebone: Bluesville Sessions, Living Blues Magazine Review"

By Mark Coltrane "The album is a strong effort of modern blues interpretation with distinct acoustic Delta flavor also mixing elements of folk-rock, ethnic fusion, and pop." - Living Blues Magazine

"Top CD's of the Year, 2011"

By Don Wilcock

It seems the further away in time we get from “the classics” of popular music, the stronger they come into focus. Technology has taken the pops and crackles out of old 78s. Artists who became stars decades ago are dusting off old product and releasing it with new twists. And younger artists inspired by their father’s record collection are creating music that pays homage to their influences.

Today’s best music erases the generation gap, racial and ethnic prejudices and, with the reduced costs of producing recordings, allows a broader playing field of artists and better music for those willing to look for it. With that in mind, here are my 10 favorite albums of 2010.

10. John Mellencamp, No Better Than This: Determined to once and for all shake any latent Johnny Cougar pop/rock sheen from his image, Mellencamp stripped away every facet of the star product mentality. He wrote the 13 songs here by himself in 13 days. Then he took T Bone Burnett, the premier roots producer, and headed for three iconic locations to record in mono with no overdubs: Sun Studios in Memphis, Room 414 in the Gunter Hotel where Robert Johnson recorded, and at the First Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia. It’s real and like an ingénue in bare feet with no makeup, it’s pretty.

9. Chris Busone, The 9: A 30-year veteran of the Troy rock scene, Busone turns in a solid effort of all originals with influences ranging from Bruce Springsteen to The Byrds. He took a day job so he could concentrate his playing on only those gigs that make him happy, and that attitude shines through here. From 14 cuts created in the studio he narrowed it down to “The 9.”

8. Nick Moss, Privileged: After several albums that stuck close to classic electric Chicago blues reflecting his collaborations with such seminal figures as Jimmy Rogers, Jimmy Dawkins and Laurie Bell, Moss decided to let his teenaged influences marinate with his blues. Thousands of rock artists layer blues on rock, but few have brazenly started with a Muddy Waters mentality and then looked back at Paul Kossoff of Free, ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin for a cheap thrill that works on so many levels.

7. John Nemeth, Name The Day: He dresses like Frank Sinatra and understands the dynamics of the microphone like old Blue Eyes, but this guy is from Idaho, writes all his own music and sings in a three-octave range making him the hottest soul/blues crooner on the blues circuit.

6. Cee Cee James, Seriously Raw…Live at Sunbanks: She didn’t even place at this year’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis, but she should have won. For most artists having a voice and inflections like Janis would be a great advantage. For Cee Cee, it’s almost an obstacle because it takes the attention away from her originals that have as much pathos from real life experiences as Joplin had.

5. Paul Thorn, Pimps and Preachers: One of the best musical story tellers since Johnny Cash and just as gritty. He held a crowd of 30,000 who were waiting to see B. B. King at the King Biscuit Blues Festival in rapt attention with his excellent Americana band and his slightly off humor and right on candor.

4. Shakura S’Aida, Brown Sugar: I saw this Canadian singer/songwriter get a standing ovation for a Sunday morning sound check in the rain in Maine at the North Atlantic Blues Festival. She speaks several languages, and her eclectic blues underlines her type A personality with razor sharp guitarist Donna Grantis as her secret weapon.

3. Mulebone, New Morning: Guitarist/singer/songwriter Hugh Pool with former Capital Region wind instrument player John Ragusa takes old blues and folk music into space as well as anyone since Led Zeppelin covered Sonny Boy Williamson. Hugh does three Rev. Gary Davis songs fairly straight acoustic, but he takes Howlin’ Wolf’s “How Many More Years” into space and contributes five originals that show his experience running the tony Excello Recording Studios in Williamsburg has provided him some impressive tricks.

2. The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street: In 1972 I felt this was The Stones’ sloppiest album yet and my least favorite. It has over the years, however become recognized as their best, setting the precedent for the ensuing punk movement. This reissue not only re-masters the original but the deluxe edition includes outtakes of completely different songs with new lyrics. I still like Sticky Fingers and Beggar’s Banquet more, but Exile has moved up to number 3 on my list of favorites, and the 10 “new” songs are better than anything they’ve done in two decades.

1. Bob Dylan, The Witmark Demos: 1962 – 1964: forty-seven songs recorded on acoustic guitar basically to get them documented including early versions of “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “Girl From The North Country and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Yet, most of them are obscurities with Dylan even stopping mid-song to tell the engineer he can’t remember the rest of the verse.


“Today’s best music erases th - Troy Record/Journal Register, NY

"Mulebone: Bluesville Sessions, Big City Blues Review"

Mulebone: Bluesville Sessions
Review by Gary von Tersch - Big CIty Blues

"BluesWax Sittin’ In With Hugh Pool of Mulebone, Part One, Rev. Gary Davis in Space By Don Wilcock"

John Ragusa and Hugh Pool are Mulebone

Being cool is a designation others impose upon an artist. As soon as the artist himself thinks about being cool, he isn’t. Hugh Pool is clueless about his exceptional talent. He is very cool!

Pool is a partner in Excello Recording Studios in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, which a while ago replaced Greenwich Village as the affordable place for creative New Yorkers to hang. The studio combines the best of vintage recording equipment and has a modern ear for new musical ideas at an affordable price. Excello’s client list includes David Byrne, Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Richard Hell, Deborah Harry, and Taj Mahal.

Pool is also half of the duo called Mulebone, a Rev. Gary Davis-in-space outfit that this summer took New Morning, their second album, to number four on Bill Wax’s Bluesville charts on Sirius/XM. Pool has no idea how well or poorly it did on radio. “I really don’t pay close attention to that stuff. I mean, making the record I pay attention, but when it’s done, out and over, it’s kind of like, if nice things happen, that’s awesome.”

For eighteen years Pool has been my secret weapon when booking blues festivals with inadequate budgets. When I need a Derek Trucks, a Jorma Kaukonen, or a John Hammond, and can’t afford them, I call in Hugh, either as a solo act or with backup. On New Morning, with John Ragusa doing his best Andy Kulberg (Blues Project’s “Flute Thing”) on flute, cornet, pennywhistle, and conch shell, Pool plays in the same sandbox as Nick Moss does on Privilege. He starts with the traditional – there are three Rev. Gary Davis songs on the album – and he bends the music into another time zone. His version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “How Many More Years” is as electric as Led Zeppelin’s warped versions of Sonny Boy Williamson songs. His five originals play with studio effects but are rock solid 21st century extensions of the blues genre I would expect from an artist who is both creative and grounded in the techniques of the acoustic masters of the first half of the 20th century.

Even as a young man, Hugh had the attitude of a much older creative person. He knew it wasn’t about how much money he could make in this business, it was about following his muse to the outer reaches while making just enough to get by, even if that meant living in a red tugboat in New York harbor, which he once did. He performs for people like David Rockefeller and Bruce Wasserstein, but he’s his own man when it comes to his music. And if it takes ten years between albums, hey, his live gigs are to die for.

Don Wilcock for BluesWax: When I listen side by side to your first self-titled Mulebone album in 2001 and New Morning I see an evolution in terms of studio and being open to John Ragusa’s wind instruments and using production techniques to take Rev. Gary Davis into space.

Hugh Pool: Yeah, right.

BW: Talk to me a little bit about that evolution and was that a hard mindset to get to, or was it relatively facile for you?

HP: Well, the thing that’s funny is, you know this about me, I have the studio and it comes with a great deal of responsibility. I work for the damn place when I’m there, but the fact is it’s not booked all the time. And when it’s not booked, it’s at my disposal, and so I get little bursts of energy and I have a number of recording projects. John and I have recorded probably – I don’t know how much stuff we’ve recorded – we’ve recorded a lot over the last ten years, and we experimented with a lot of things. At one point I had his flute going through a Marshal Stack with an envelope filter, and it was crazy stuff that maybe some day we’ll put out.

BW: What would that sound like?

HP: It’s just really heavy with a wow-wow-wow-wow. Every time you attach a note it’s like a wah-wah. But every time we were done with the sessions, whether it was a day or two days or whatever, I’d fool around with them and distribute “rough mixes” and I’d listen to it in the car and just slowly lose interest in it. So nothing ever got completed, and a couple of years later, “Come on, John, we’re gotta do it,” and he’d say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

And we’d [make] the time, and we’d go in and record, and we recorded with a percussionist a couple of times. We recorded ourselves, we recorded by candlelight, we recorded – I don’t know – I have a lot of stuff on tape. And then I think the impetus for both of us to make the record was – I was feeling really crumby about doing all this stuff, and I’m playing, but I’m not writing any songs.

This is terrible, and I have a little shed out in back of the house, and I said, “Okay, I’ve got my writing book, I’ve got my thing. I’m writing some songs,” and I went out back to the tool shed to get away from the noise in the house and literally threw my keys on the workbench, put a coffee down, and opened up the notebook, put the guitar in my lap, and I was sitting there staring at it. It was like, “Oh, crap. I don - Blues Review

"BluesWax Sittin’ In With Hugh Pool, Part Two, Taking Yesterday’s Music into Tomorrow By Don Wilcock"

Hugh Pool is a partner in Excello Recording Studios in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, which a while ago replaced Greenwich Village as the affordable place for creative New Yorkers to hang. Pool also is half of Mulebone, a duo that recently put out one of my favorite CDs of 2010, New Morning.

“[The studio] is not booked all the time,” Hugh told me in Part One of our interview. [If you missed Part One in last week’s issue, you will find it on the “The Ezine” page of BluesWax.] “And when it’s not booked, it’s at my disposal, and so I get little bursts of energy, and I have a number of recording projects. John [Ragusa on wind instruments] and I have recorded probably – I don’t know how much stuff we’ve recorded. We’ve recorded a lot over the last ten years, and we experimented with a lot of things. At one point I had his flute going through a Marshal Stack with an envelope filter, and it was crazy stuff that maybe some day we’ll put out.”

The studio combines the best of vintage recording equipment and has a modern ear for new musical ideas at an affordable price. Excello’s client list includes David Byrne, Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Richard Hell, Deborah Harry, and Taj Mahal.

On New Morning, with Ragusa doing his best Andy Kulberg (Blues Project’s “Flute Thing”) on flute, cornet, pennywhistle, and conch shell, Pool plays in the same sandbox as Nick Moss does on Privilege. He starts with the traditional – there are three Rev. Gary Davis songs on the album – and he bends the music into another time zone. His five originals play with studio effects but are rock-solid 21st century extensions of the blues genre as I would expect from an artist who is both creative and grounded in the techniques of the acoustic masters of the first half of the 20th century. His version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “How Many More Years” is as electric as Led Zeppelin’s warped versions of Sonny Boy Williamson songs.

“We recorded that one completely live. We actually recorded that song into the computer. Most of the songs, most of the stuff was recorded to tape. That song, assistant engineer Nathan, the guy that recorded everything, he tracked that, and I don’t know. It was just something. You know, the conch shell is just so trippy, and when we play it live people just kinda shut up. We can be playing and people will be playing, and John blows on the conch shell and everybody goes, “Huh? What the hell!”

Don Wilcock for BluesWax: Do you think about things like success and how different people measure success? I asked you whether New Morning had been on the Top 100, and you didn’t even know. I mean, do you ever think like that?

Hugh Pool: Yeah, of course I do. We got a lot of good accolades on the record. I don’t think it charted on the national chart, but I don’t know what the actual deal was, what terrestrial radio is doing. I use the same radio promoter and I don’t know that his business is good enough that he’s actually paying for the subscription so that he gets the national reports. You have to pay for that, and I don’t know that he’s still paying for it. We got adds at like thirty-five stations. We were a medium rotation at most of them.

BW: That’s not where I wanted to go with that question.

HP: I know that. I’m just telling you that. I’m just saying that’s where it was. There’s something sick in me where I still like getting in the van and going and bringing it to the people.

BW: Why is that sick?

HP: Well, because sometimes it doesn’t work out very well financially. Sometimes it does.

BW: But it’s the contemporary paradigm, isn’t it? People don’t make money off of selling CDs anymore.

HP: Yeah, that’s right.

BW: So, what did you offer to some of those high profile acts that have recorded in your studio that made you more than simply the last guy on the block to stay in business?

HP: Amongst people who know, which is definitely a group of record producers and engineers, Excello is probably value-wise for a musician that needs to have moving air, drums, and stuff miked. Excello is probably the best value in New York, because we have a huge live room and we have a lot of really great sounding sought-after vintage gear.

We have an EMT plate reverb. They’re big four-by-eight sheets of brass that everybody from Dean Martin to Frank Sinatra [used]. They’re old, old, beautiful-sounding reverbs. They occupy a very large physical space and therefore not everybody can have them. And we’ve got two of them, and they’re eight-and-a-half-feet by four-and-a-half-feet boxes. Taj Mahal ended up there because the producer of The Harlem Project Aaron Levenson, who trusts me and he wanted a studio in town and as soon as he got the green light to do the record, he called me on the phone.

He was, “Listen, I’m doing a marquis jazz project. We’re gonna track it in three or four days and I’m gonna take it back to Philadelphia and mix it at home, and your place is perfect and you’re perfect. And do yo - Blues Revue

"Mulebone to play Eighth Step at Proctors"

Duo finds new ways to enliven Americana sound
By Michael Eck
Published 1:13 p.m., Wednesday, November 7, 2012

John Ragusa's name might seem familiar to Capital Region music fans. It should. He spent many years playing alongside guitarist Jeff Gonzales as part of the popular duo Not Necessarily the Blues.

These days Ragusa, a stunningly talented multi-instrumentalist, is standing beside guitarist Hugh Pool as part of the blues-based Americana duo, Mulebone.

The group, which wowed acoustic music fans at this summer's Old Songs Festival of Traditional Music and Dance, returns to the area Saturday night for a performance at The Eighth Step at Proctors.

Ragusa, who was born in Port Chester, Westchester County, says he was very involved in the human rights scene during his decade in the Capital Region.

"I was a peace activist, and I ended up in Albany and in fact helped to establish the Social Justice Center on lower Central Avenue."

It was around the time that he moved farther down the Thruway, in the mid-'90s, that he met Pool.

Ragusa was booking some music at a bar in White Plains, when a mutual friend suggested Pool for some fill-in work. An admiration was formed, followed quickly by a friendship.

"In my gut, I knew that we could take this somewhere," Ragusa says.
Pool, a Pennsylvania native who has long called Brooklyn home, says, "There's a genuine chemistry, back and forth. There's an electricity between the two of us."

The first real Mulebone date took place just across the state line, at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Mass. Pool was inking the late July entry in his calendar when his wife pointed out that it was the same night as their first wedding anniversary.

Ragusa, thinking fast, spoke to the venue, which offered the couple a room, making it into a weekend getaway as well as a paying gig.

Pool, who had learned a valuable marketing lesson while playing with street bands in Europe, didn't miss a beat. He thought the still-nameless duo should have something to sell. He assembled a mix of some tracks he and Ragusa had laid down at his home studio and made up a few cassette tapes. He used a quick drawing for the cover and, in a moment of inspiration, scrawled the word Mulebone across the top.

And thus a band was born.

The Mulebone sound fits its name, sort of rural and jagged, but hip at the same time.

Pool is as likely to sing one of his own earthy compositions as he is to reach into the songbags of Son House, Robert Johnson or Mississippi Fred McDowell. But this not mere re-creation. Pool and Ragusa get inside the songs. They manipulate them and make them new for new ears.

After all, when was the last time you heard a conch shell or a pennywhistle play the blues?

Ragusa — who lives in Manhattan — also employs classical flutes, wooden flutes, jaw harps and fifes, all with the aim of making the music unique and true.

For those who fondly remember Not Necessarily the Blues, Ragusa says the concept is similar, but the delivery is altogether different.
Both combos placed various wind instruments alongside six strings with a blues bent. But where NNTB tended towards the genteel, with Gonzales' intricate ragtime fingerpicking nodding to Piedmont stylists like Blind Blake and Rev. Gary Davis, Mulebone goes for the grit.

"Hugh just has a huge dynamic range," he says, "and a really nice balance between refined, sophisticated playing and raw energy."

Michael Eck is a freelance writer from Albany.

At a glance
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: The Eighth Step, Underground at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
Tickets: $20-$22
Info: 434-1703;

Read more: - Times Union

"Mulebone takes album in stride"

By John Benson

Albums come from the most unlikely of places. That’s what acoustic blues-roots act Mule Bone — Hugh Pool (vocals, guitar) and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire John Ragusa (conch shell, Jews harp, cornet, flutes, tin whistle) — found out recently with its latest effort, “Bluesville Sessions.”

“When we released our last album, ‘New Morning,’ the record got up to No. 4 on Sirius/XM’s ‘BB King’s Bluesville’ channel,” said Mars, Pa., native Pool, who has called New York City home for the past 25 years. “At one point, we were invited to their studios to do what we thought was an interview. But when we got there, they had a full studio with engineers waiting. The problem was we didn’t have anything prepared. It was a little bit of, ‘Ah geez,’ but then we just looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s just play like we’re doing a gig.’ So we ended up recording for hours, and that’s basically the record.”

The 11-track affair, which was recorded live without any overdubs, is a hodge-podge effort with a few “New Morning” tunes, a few more Pool originals from his past and choice covers (Led Zeppelin and Van Morrison). Pool laughs because he had no intention of releasing the impromptu recording session. However, the more he listened to it, the better the material sounded.

As for the next proper Mule Bone studio release, the plan is to start recording next winter. Pool already is road-testing the politically charged “Toe That Line” track.

“It’s a song about The Man trying to keep the common man in an impoverished state,” Pool said. “It’s a song about increased service fees, increased interest rates on your credit card, the top 1 percent having the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50 percent. It’s a song about fiduciary injustice in the world we live in.”

The new track might get played at his return to Youngstown tonight at Cedars Lounge.

Pool said he’s created quite a fan base in the Northeast Ohio area over the past decade.

“They’re coming out because we throw out a damn lot of entertainment for two guys,” Pool said, laughing.

Something that has proved entertaining for Pool of late is simply people watching from outside of his Williamsburg home in Brooklyn. Over the past few years, Williamsburg has become the epicenter of trendy for hipsters and up-and-coming musicians.

“There’s a lot of kids walking around here looking like I did 15 or 20 years ago, wearing T-shirts and flannel, and drinking PBR,” Pool said. “It’s sort of humorous. These are kids from the burbs trying to get a little taste of New York. I think they’re just searching for some kind of American-type of authenticity.”

When Pool is asked what kind of authenticity he possesses, his answer in part explains why his music continues to find a home in the Rust Belt.

“Dude, I dyed the wool,” Pool said. “My dad worked for U.S. Steel; my grandfather worked for Heinz. I grew up with a chain saw. I’m there. That’s what I am.”

"LIVE: Mulebone @ Shepard Park, 8/31/11"

Hugh Pool’s guitar pick jabbed at the strings of his resonator guitar while he ran up and down the fretboard, a slide around one of his fingers. The whoosh of his guitar was in harmony with the beat, his foot tapping on a board with a microphone attached. The pulsating rhythm ran on, paving the way for the eventual wail of the harmonica wrapped around his neck. Pool was in the groove, and the blues were flowing from him out into the audience in a tidal wave of embraceable sound.

The words Pool sang that night were not only from his own original songs, but also those of his heroes and mentors, Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley, among many other blues legends. Yes, Shepard Park in Lake George was ablaze with the sound of Mulebone’s blues performed by the dynamic duo of Pool and flutist/multi-instrumentalist John Ragusa.

Pool is no stranger to Nippertown, having performed solo or with a trio way back when at Schenectady’s Takin’ It to the Streets Festival, as well as Schenectady’s Central Park Summer Concert series. Most recently he played mesmerized the crowd in Shepard Park as part of the now-defunct Blues Blast fest.

With his pony-tailed hair and laid-back attitude, Pool, by all appearances, looks like a guy who should be playing jam-band music, but once he opens his mouth and that emotion-filled, road-weary tenor voice rushes out, you know he has an intimate understanding of the blues because he’s lived it. During one area visit, he, his wife and kids were living out of station wagon. For real.

Pool’s fashion-model-gorgeous wife is still with him, and his two kids were aggressively manning the merch table, so things aren’t that bad for him these days. In fact, he and Ragusa have been surfing on a wave of blues success.

Touring in support of their brand new album, “Bluesville Sessions,” Mulebone needed only one thing at their Shepard Park tourstop: more people to have witnessed the concert. Yes, a hundred-plus people were there, but where was the regional blues community that night? Asleep at the wheel, for sure.

Who among them remembers a decade or so back when Pool – performing solo – opened for Muddy Waters’ guitarslinger Bob Margolin, who stood in the wings watching Pool perform? Or the 20-minute Robert Johnson monster jam between Margolin and Pool that ensued? Ditto for Pool being somewhere in the middle of the line-up at the Blues Blast, where he blasted the blues out of the park with his power trio, making many in attendance wonder why he wasn’t the headliner. Pool’s performance that day was in Technicolor with the volume turned up, way up.

This time around in tandem with John Ragusa – formerly of the popular Nippertown folk-blues duo Not Necessarily the Blues – Pool was sharing the spotlight. And Ragusa wielded an assortment of non-traditional blues instruments, including the pennywhistle, the flute and the conch – really, no joke – which he effectively used in syncopation with Pools’ guitar, harmonica and foot drum.

It’s safe to say that other than jazz trombone legend Steve Turre, the highly talented Ragusa is the only other conch player around. And after hearing him play the big shell on Chester Burnett’s “How Many More Years,” you’d have to consider him a conch virtuoso.

All in all, Mulebone was a magnificent pairing of talents under a cloudless sky in one of the loveliest outdoor venues anywhere around. Kudos to the Lake George Arts Project’s director John Strong for having the insight to closing the outdoor venue’s summer series with this superb duo.

Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk - Nippertown

"Mulebone and Chris Bergson: Blues at 92Y Tribeca"

Mulebone and Chris Bergson: Blues at 92Y Tribeca
Saturday, November 26th, 2011
by Alex DiBlasi on Playing Around

Tucked away in Tribeca on Hudson Street, 92Y’s downtown location is an impressive non-profit art space, featuring a full artistic showcase of theater, film, performance art, and live music. On November 4th, 92Y hosted a night of blues and roots rock, featuring two performers who are keeping the blues alive: duo Mulebone and Chris Bergson with Tony Leone.

Led by bluesman Hugh Pool, Mulebone offers a unique fusion of traditional roots music with some interesting twists. Backing up his excellent singing and guitar playing was multi-instrumentalist John Ragusa, who during Mulebone’s set used some unexpected choices for accompaniment, including several flutes, mouth harp, and an amplified conch shell. This unorthodox setup made for some exciting takes on old blues tunes. In his own right, Pool is a terrific guitarist, showing off some wonderful equipment to match his playing. He also boasts a charismatic stage persona.

After warming up the crowd with some stomping crowd-pleasers, guitarist Chris Bergson and drummer Tony Leone took the stage. Opting for a more traditional approach, Bergson and Leone showed just what a guitarist and drummer – no bassist, no keyboardist, no backup dancers – are capable of. Kicking off with “Down In The Bottom,” a throbbing cover of a tune by one of my favorite blues singers from yesteryear, Howlin’ Wolf, Bergson and Leone served up an exciting set of straightforward blues rock.

Along with having a complete mastery of tone on the guitar, including a great natural distortion on his heavier tunes and some fantastic slide playing, Bergson is an incredible singer. His vocals have the rustic charm of Levon Helm from The Band (who, funny enough, Bergson shared a stage with at Helm’s upstate Midnight Ramble concert in October), but with a shot of gravel not unlike Leslie West, powerhouse vocalist from the hard-rocking blues band Mountain. To his credit, Leone is a totally solid drummer, favoring steady, almost relentless rhythms over the flashy showmanship that has befallen most modern rock drummers.

Fans of the blues should not fret about the future of their beloved music; between Mulebone’s pleasantly bizarre choice of instrumentation and Bergson’s less-is-more aesthetic, modern blues appears to be in the best of hands.

Opening photo of Chris Bergson by Mr. Bjorn Fuldseth

Photo (from left) of : John Ragusa, Chris Bergson, Hugh Pool, special guest Tami Lynn, and Tony Leone at 92Y. Photo by David Pambianchi. - Woman Around Town

"Mulebone: Oct 19th @ The Rodeo Bar"

Mulebone: Oct 19th @ The Rodeo Bar

Mulebone is an “American roots music” duo that features Hugh Pool on guitars, harmonicas and lead vocals and John Ragusa on just about anything he can blow into, including flutes, cornet, tin whistles, and even conch shells and backup vocals. They do a mix of original tunes with an assortment of traditional country blues, boogies and rags.

I first encountered them at “The Bottom Line” back in the 90s as one of the acts in The Downtown Messiah, a Greenwich Village interpretation of Handel’s Messiah, where an assortment of artists each did a song from the Messiah but in their own discipline. It was performed as jazz, blues, country, rock, folk and gospel with the choral parts done in a traditional fashion with an 18 person choir. It was becoming one of New York’s budding Christmas traditions before the demise of that establishment. Mulebone was always one of the highlights of that show and always blew the roof off the place.

I’ve seen them in an occasional tribute show since then, but thought it was time to catch one of their own sets. They proved to still be a unique and dynamic act with a mix of traditional tunes like “Jesus is on the Mainline” and “I’ll be Alright” with some new material from an upcoming release. These guys should be getting more attention.

Big Bill Hopper – October 2009
- HoppersMusic.Com


Mulebone (self titled), Red Tug Records, 2000
American Lullaby (compilation) Ellipsis Arts 2005
New Morning, Red Tug Records, 2010
Bluesville Sessions, Red Tug Records, 2011

Keep On Movin', Red Tug Records, 2014



"Mulebone was a huge hit at the Old Songs Festival. Our audience was blown away by their innovative musicianship and by their ability to carry the blues tradition into new yet utterly authentic territory." - ROGER MOCK, OLD SONGS FESTIVAL, ALTAMONT, NY

"Hugh Pool and John Ragusa are a potent force with a very bright future in contemporary blues. They're just too original sounding and interesting, by way of their instruments and musicianship, to not have on the bill of any blues festival." - RICHARD SKELLY, BLUES REVUE

Mulebone is a partnership comprised of multi-instrumentalist John Ragusa and roots music specialist Hugh Pool. The launching pad for their musical expression is traditional blues. Equally at home in the worlds of Blues, Folk, and Roots music, Mulebone breaks new ground with an original sound that is soulful, agile and adventurous. Sometimes the Duo plays close to the source, at other moments they seem to float above it and take a new look as one seeing their home for the first time from a distant land.

Mulebone's repertoire includes original songs that are poetic, hard driving and entertaining, slide guitar boogies, 1 chord trance riffs a la Howlin Wolf and Fred McDowell, the uplifting rags of Reverend Gary Davis, and country blues of all shapes and colors.

Hugh plays National Steel, electric, acoustic and cigar box guitars, harmonica, stomps on a boot-board, and sings lead vocals - all with a mouth full of whiskey and a giant heart. John plays all manner of flutes, fifes, tin whistles, cornet, conch shell, jews harp, and chimes in on the harmony vocals - with a sound all his own that transcends his instruments.

Mulebone's self titled first record spent 15 weeks in the top 100 on the Album Networks National Roots/Americana chart. Their second release "New Morning" received significant airplay and reached #4 on XM/Sirius radios Bluesville chart which earned them an invitation to come to Washington and record at the XM radio studio. The outcome of that session is the duo's third release, "Bluesville Sessions" which made the Top 100 of the Roots/Americana charts within a few weeks of it's release. Mulebone 4th album, "Keep On Movin'" hit the radio in the fall of 2014 and has spent over 5 months in the Top 100 and 10 weeks in the Top 40.  After hearing it, legendary Rock DJ Pat St. John declared: "Holy Crap what sound! You guys have made a great Record's over the top! Love this all over. Authentic. This is Art!"

Others have said:

 "Some of the best blues you're likely to hear this side of 1925. Hugh and John don't just rehash classics from the blues greats, they recreate them as their own, and write originals that fit in seamlessly with that repertoire. The real deal." - JEFF RASPE, WBJB 90.5 "THE NIGHT", LINCROFT, N.J.

"Mulebone takes old blues and folk music into space as well as anyone since Led Zeppelin covered Sonny Boy Williamson."
DON WILCOX, Troy Record "Top CD's of the Year" 2011

"Jump-out-of-your-seats! The NYC-based duo known as Mulebone is a self-contained showcase of American roots music. Hugh Pool is a soulful singer and blues-based guitarist, and John Ragusa can literally make music with anything he puts to his mouth from bass flute to jews harp to conch shell."

"Homespun artistry combined with hard-nosed Delta blues, Mulebone's authenticity bleeds through."MARK URICHECK, ELMORE MAGAZINE

Form more information on John and Hugh, read on!

Hugh has played his brand of blues in clubs and at festivals from Jakarta, Indonesia to North Cape, Norway; From Vienna, Austria to Ottawa, Ontario and has been critically lauded by The New York Times, New York Press, The Village Voice, Pittsburgh Press, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and Blues Revue Magazine. He is a noted recordist and producer who has worked on hundreds of records at his Williamsburg, Brooklyn studio, Excello Recording including sessions with Taj Mahal, Debbie Harry, and The National.

John is a member of accalimed Nashvile singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman's band and performs regularly with Spryo Gyra founder Jeremy Wall. He has also been featured alongside authors Shahram Shiva and Deepak Chopra. Amongst dozens of studio credits are contemporary jazz luminaries Joe Taylor, Jeremy Wall and world music icon Tom Ze. Paul Horn calls John "one of today's finest improvisational flutists" and Hugh adds, "One time we were in Lexington, Kentucky at an outdoor cafe and John played me a bunch of melodies sliding a straw up and down in a cup of ice water" get the drift.

Band Members