Obituary: Ronnie Tait, popular Edinburgh musician who formed the Rootsie Tootsie Blues Band

Ronnie Tait: formed the Rootsie Tootsie Blues Band
Ronnie Tait: formed the Rootsie Tootsie Blues Band
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Born: 20 November, 1946, in Edinburgh. Died: 7 February, 2012, in Edinburgh, aged 65

When Ronnie Tait’s family found him in the garden, dressed in a cowboy suit and belting out A Gordon For Me, it was evident the three-year-old had talent.

But it was just a snapshot of what was to come. Singing since he could walk, he won a certificate for musical excellence by the time was 14, went on to have a number one single in Europe and form Edinburgh’s legendary Rootsie Tootsie Blues Band.

All the more remarkable was that he was entirely self-taught, without any musical training. His powerful voice, accomplished guitar, piano and organ playing and his wizardry on the harmonica were all a natural gift, often showcased as a busker on the Royal Mile as well as on stages across the country.

Born in the capital’s Roseburn, he was the son of Roy and Rita Tait. After moving to Newington he went to Sciennes Primary School and then James Clark Secondary, where he won a Burns Federation award for excellence in singing Scots songs.

He left school at 15, the age at which he also marched up to the band at his elder sister Vanda’s wedding and demanded to be allowed to sing for her, promptly performing Teddy Boy and You Are So Beautiful.

He was an art lover, and his first job was at Edinburgh’s Aitken and Dott art business. But his main passion was music and at night he could usually be found at the city’s Gamp Club, listening to the blues and waiting for his chance to perform.

He was a huge Elvis fan and his early years were influenced more by The King and rock music than by people like Muddy Waters – that came later.

By the time he was 19 he was singing in The Cavendish at Tollcross with their big band. He then joined the Rapiers, began developing more of a blues side and became part of The Blues Brotherhood.

From there he moved to England, broadening his horizons, taking his chance doing more commercial rock material in Sheffield and Birmingham and gigging round the circuit with the band Bronco.

Then an opportunity arose to work abroad and he moved to Germany, where he sang under the name Ronnie Jack. His 1979 album Going For the Big One spawned his number one hit in various European countries with the track You Are No Angel.

After record deal difficulties he returned to Scotland and joined the rock band Brody, well known for their performances in Edinburgh’s Nicky Tam’s, before starting his own blues band, Rootsie Tootsie, in the mid-1980s.

They had a residency during the late 1980s and early 1990s at the Preservation Hall, in the city’s Victoria Street, where the diminutive, dark-haired singer could raise the roof. He loved the venue and was appalled when it became an Irish pub with what he referred to as “this damn folk music”.

He was joined in the Rootsie Tootsie band by guitarist Jim Condie and they formed the spin-off Rootsies Duo in 1989, quickly establishing themselves as the busiest blues act in the city, performing nearly 300 gigs in 1992. They recorded two albums and were the opening act for stars including Chuck Berry but split following a trip to Canada.

Fellow musician Stevey Hay first met Tait years earlier when he auditioned for his band: “As soon as he fell to his knees and started wailing on the harmonica, we knew he was a bit out of our league.”

They eventually began working together in 1994, playing in bands including the Auld Reekie Blues Band and latterly the Allan Pratt Blues Band.

“He was definitely a master of his craft,” said Hay, “and he knew how to work a crowd. He stopped drinking about ten years ago and enjoyed playing with a clearer mind and sounded better than he ever did.

“He didn’t blow his own trumpet very much and was a very unassuming guy but he looked after me, especially when I started out, and I learned 90 per cent of what I know from him.”

With a small studio in his house in Edinburgh’s Lawnmarket, Tait was still making a living from and constantly working on his music, producing a CD of his own material, Ronnie Rootsie Bluesman, last year. Latterly he played the city’s Whighams Jazz Club and a gig in Haddington.

But he also loved busking during the Edinburgh Festival and was regularly seen singing the blues on the Royal Mile near St Giles Cathedral, his performances stripped down to just his voice, his guitar and harmonica.

And whenever he popped into a pub to listen to blues music, he was always asked to get up and sing – and duly obliged.

“He was a one-off,” said his younger sister Pam, “He lived, breathed and slept music and he had no plans to retire – ever. He always said he would be singing the blues until he died and that’s just what he did.”

He is survived by his daughter Tracey, three grandchildren and his sisters Vanda and Pam.

ALISON SHAW