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Tulsa swag

Tori Ruffin brings the funk at Juicemaker Lounge

Tori Ruffin, owner of Juicemaker Lounge, plays guitar at the venue sporting a jacket with his band’s name.

Greg Bollinger

Torrell “Tori” Ruffin is a longtime guitarist, composer, arranger, producer, performer—and, now, full-time bar/club owner. Originally from Los Angeles—“to make a long story short,” he says—Ruffin met Charlie Redd of the Full Flava Kings while playing in cover bands in Austin in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. Years later, while on tour with the legendary Morris Day & the Time, he again ran into Redd, who encouraged him to move to Tulsa for the great venues and happening bar scene.

“I was like, ‘Where’s Tulsa?’” Ruffin reflects. But Redd was adamant, and eventually Ruffin came to town to play a show with his band Freak Juice—and he fell in love with the place. “In L.A. there’s not much of an original scene—it’s bleak, more of a pay-to-play thing. Here they paid me.”

After making a habit of visiting Tulsa for a couple of weeks at a time every few months, Ruffin finally rented a place here about four years ago, making Tulsa more of a home base. He developed a friendship with Max Steininger, owner of Utopia Bar & Lounge and BlockHouse Grill & Pub. When Steininger announced he was selling Utopia a few months back, Tori was curious about taking over the space—especially when offered a good deal.

Step one for Ruffin was to consult his younger brother, Greg Ruffin, one of many businesspeople in their family. “I’m the musician,” Tori said. “I’m kinda like the black sheep. I didn’t go the business route. I was more of the artsy type.” Greg, an entrepreneur who owns three charter schools in Florida, said taking over the club was a great idea, so Tori made the leap into new and unexpected territory. Juicemaker Lounge (3508 S. Sheridan Rd.) was born.

“I’ve been a touring musician all my life,” Ruffin said. “I just wanted to do something special for Tulsa. The opportunity just kind of fell in my lap.”

Step two for Ruffin: Create a little more “LA/Florida swag vibe” at the club—think couches, ever-changing visuals on the walls, mood lighting. Then, most importantly, bring in the talent. “When you’re a musician, you always think, ‘Man, if I had a club …’ My goal first was to have an environment that catered to musicians. I want them to feel like we’re in partnership.”

Ruffin treated the walls of Juicemaker for sound, got a full set of instruments to keep onstage so musicians can just show up and play, and installed a quality PA system to ensure both the players and the listeners would have a great experience. “I think if you bring that synergy together, you’re gonna have an awesome time. It’s a great, clean environment I’m trying to create for Tulsa. Everything is centered on the music. It’s a live music venue, not an afterthought, for the musicians. Tulsa too is on a new upswing—I’m seeing a lot of new developments, and I think it’s gonna be a good place to hang.”

But owning a club is a full-time job, Ruffin has learned quickly. “It’s a lot more involved than I realized—a lot of moving parts. But I’m older now and it’s fun, a new challenge.” Freak Juice is and has been Ruffin’s labor of love for years, and he’s had to work to juggle his artistic life and his business life since taking on this new role. “Now, here recently, I’ve gotten things calmer. Now I have the day to get into my music, focus on Tori Ruffin the artist. But it’s a balance; it’s a dance. Tori Ruffin’s life as he once knew it is not over—it’s just a new beginning.”

Ruffin is also passionate about promoting all genres at Juicemaker. He’s played and/or composed within almost any style you can think of—he’s toured with not only Minneapolis R&B funk icon Morris Day but also afro-punk pioneers Fishbone and the one and only Prince. He’s also worked with Mariah Carey, Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson—the list goes on and on.

“I love everything, so I wanted the lounge to reflect that.” Among the acts Juicemaker has offered so far are Jared Tyler (catch him Wednesdays), Mike Cameron, Faye Moffett (catch her Tuesdays), Paul Benjaman, and the “Juicemaker All-stars,” for whom Tori plays guitar.

“It’s all-inclusive, but it’s a pro lounge. When you go to Juicemaker, I want to make sure it’s quality pro action—no matter what night of the week, no matter your genre, no matter what, it’s gonna be a great, quality show.”

And so far Tulsa musicians have responded well; it seems Ruffin is offering something Tulsa desperately needed. “We’re really trying to do this the right way,” he said. “The musicians deserve it.”

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