On August 22, at the age of 74, Birmingham concert promoter Tony Ruffino suffered a stroke and passed away. We asked Genie McElroy to gather some recollections from those who knew him best.
“This above all: To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
—William Shakespeare, from Hamlet Tony Ruffino was singularly, deliberately and honorably Tony Ruffino, a man who stayed true to himself throughout his life. Birmingham’s legendary concert promoter and producer is remembered with the utmost affection and admiration by his colleagues, friends and family.
“Tony lived by two guiding principles,” says Michael Trucks, whose 41-year friendship and business relationship with Ruffino taught him much about life. “Always do the right thing, and always tell the truth.”
Ruffino not only touched other people’s lives but changed them. Trucks says the most memorable thing he learned from Ruffino’s example, beneath the layers of the concert business, was “to be a better person.” “Tony truly was one of the best people in the world I’ve ever met,” Trucks says. “Somebody’s got to be at the top of that list, and Tony was it.”
As a result of just being himself, Ruffino’s naturally magnetic personality attracted virtually everyone with whom he came into contact. Gary Weinberger, Ruffino’s longtime friend, right-hand man and business partner, says, “When Tony would walk into the dressing room where a popular rock band was preparing for a concert, fans and other interested parties would gravitate toward and gather around Tony instead of the band.”
“People wanted to be like Tony,” Weinberger says. “He always kept things in perspective, even under pressure, and showed unconditional love toward his family and friends. He treated everyone from roadies and truck drivers, to agents and bands, as friends, and with equal respect. He set a great example in how he balanced his life and found and maintained contentment.”
Ruffino is renowned not only for putting Birmingham on the map as a center stage for big-name rock concerts like Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd and The Allman Brothers, but for the countless opportunities he gave to others.
According to local musician and artist Steve Lowery, who first met Ruffino in Long Island, N.Y. before Ruffino and his family moved to Birmingham in 1977, “Tony did so many kind things for so many people in and out of show business. Careers were made and honed, lifetime friendships were built, and business relations were developed based on loyalty, honesty and trust.”
Loyalty to his family, friends, colleagues and employees was one of Ruffino’s primary personality traits. “Tony was of another time, when a man’s word was his bond and loyalty was of the utmost importance,” Lowery says. “Few men in this day and age are of his caliber, and I believe we won’t see many like him ever again.”
Ruffino often did not attend the bigname concerts he promoted and produced at the venues he owned over the course of nearly 30 years, preferring to stay home with his wife, Doris, and their five children. Sadly, Ruffino and his wife lost their son Nicky to a brain tumor when Nicky was only 13.
“Tony’s top priority was his family,” Weinberger says. “His second priority was his friends, and his third, business. Every day at 5 p.m., Tony would call it a day to go home to eat supper with his family. He’d say, ‘Whoever calls today after I leave will call back tomorrow, and the work will still be here.’” Ruffino’s son, John, now 40, began working for his father at the age of 16, while attending Berry High School. He continued to work for him until age 35, in 2006, when his father retired. John describes his father as a keen planner who stayed a step ahead of circumstances. “He always thought things through and considered the potential consequences of every situation,” John says.
Ruffino was not a procrastinator. “My dad knew you had to be there when the band and everyone else associated with the band’s tour got off the bus,” John says. “ He knew not to show up late but to be there first thing and ask, ‘What can I get you?’ He was not above anything.”
John recalls his father’s unique ability to remain calm under stress and deal with diffi cult situations. When Tony Ruffino was still living in New York, he and Larry Vaughn, his original partner, were producing a show at Madison Square Garden, but the band didn’t want to go on. “My dad went in and disarmed the police, the building manager and the band without being forceful, to the point where the band ended up performing after all,” John says.
Tony and Doris Ruffino were married for 52 years. John attributes the success of their marriage to the fact that his parents were “best friends and true partners.”
“Tony was a great cook, and loved to cook for his family and friends,” Weinberger recalls. Indeed, Tony Ruffino, spent the last morning of his life cooking breakfast for his grandchildren.
Genie McElroy writes about music for Birmingham Weekly. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.