BY PETER DORFMAN
Back in the day, Ransom Haile was among Bloomington’s busiest musicians. Most notably, he played lead guitar for the Dynamics, one of the Midwest’s most celebrated funk bands. These days, though, poking at a fire and sipping kombucha, Haile seems much more attuned to the birdsong in his wooded yard southwest of downtown.
A 30-plus-year veteran of Bloomington’s music scene, Haile, 62, sounds content to be one of its elder statesmen. His assessment today? “Bloomington is a bit of an oasis for the Midwest,” he says. “But it’s not what it was in the ’80s.”
Haile grew up in Indianapolis. “I played in funk bands there for two years before moving here when I was 30,” he recalls. Excited by the raucous club scene, he started in Bloomington as a punk rocker in a band fronted by John Barge. But Haile had a bigger vision. “I wanted to do a fusion of jazz and heavier rock with a little beat poetry, all merged into the punk genre,” he explains.
Eventually, he joined the Dynamics, a “horn band,” playing blues, R&B, and funk. In Haile’s eight years with the band, the Dynamics achieved national recognition. In 1990, it won Band of the Year at the W.C. Handy Awards competition in Memphis, Tennessee, where Haile took home an individual B.B. King Lucille Award.
He also managed to squeeze in a parallel career as a tattoo artist. Haile says he bought the equipment a couple of years out of high school after seeing it advertised in Rolling Stone magazine. Sporting multiple tattoos himself, he started inking people as a hobby in the 1970s. In the mid-90s, he went to a tattoo convention in Miami, Florida. “I thought, okay, this feels like a door opening,” Haile says. In 1997, he opened a tattoo studio in a 700-square-foot space at 11th Street and Walnut. The business lasted until 2005, when the building was sold and the owner evicted its three tenants.
These days, Haile continues making music and art, including photo collages. “I play music when I want to, mostly fundraisers for Hoosier Hills Food Bank or Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard,” he says. “I used to make a very good living playing guitar. But the scene in Bloomington has lost some of its focus. It’s hard to know who’s playing where unless you listen to WFHB a lot. It’s still the best music scene in the state, though.”