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    Monday, July 31, 2006

    The Greatest Band You Never Heard...

    The day The Beatles called it quits was a dark day for me. The months and years that were to follow lead me in search of music that could bring the same thrill. I was hooked, and I needed another fix...bad.

    The void left by the breakup resulted in a journey that would define a large part of my life. Immediately afterward, I began digging way deeper into the Beach Boys' catalog and soon became enchanted with the unimaginable genius of Brian Wilson. I had always been a Beach Boys fan, mind you, but in the sixties I was too obsessed with The Beatles to give them enough of my personal musical bandwidth.

    While all my high school pals were moving forward to Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin (admittedly, great bands), my musical tastes went off in a different direction. In addition to The Beach Boys, I began listening to Badfinger, The Hollies, The Raspberries, Emitt Rhodes and Todd Rundgren. I don't think they called it Powerpop in those days, but that's what I was into.

    I was always "in search of", and a typical Saturday afternoon would usually include a trip to Tower Records, where one day in 1977, I discovered the debut album of The Rubinoos. Never heard of 'em. I'm not sure what impulse made me pick up the album, but I never looked back.

    I got home, plopped the vinyl on the turntable and was instantly smitten. The LP included every ingredient for a Powerpop birthday cake, with icing and spreckles and candles that you can't blow out. Everything about it was world class: the songwriting, the vocal harmonies, the incredibly hooky guitar riffs, and that captivating feeling of joy you get when you hear a great pop song. The album was eclectic -- some songs were edgy, some were breezy and some showed a knack for irreverent charm and humor. It gets better. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area, I was happy to learn that The Rubinoos hailed from Berkeley, and the entertainment section of the Sunday paper, I learned they were playing the following Friday at The Keystone Berkeley, a legendary rock club from the good old days. The live show was mind-blowing. Up on the stage were four lads, not looking old enough to be in a bar, and singing and playing with a musicality and effortlessness that seemed impossible for anybody that young.

    On lead vocals was Jon Rubin (the Rubinoos name was actually a play on Buck Owens and The Buckaroos), with a pure soprano voice that even Eric Carmen would envy. Royse Ader was a tall, nordic-looking fellow who played bass ably and sang harmonies. Donn Spindt, a remarkably talented drummer, also sang harmonies. Their secret weapon was Tommy Dunbar, who played guitar like a world-class evil genius, wrote most of these wonderful pop songs, and whose between-song banter and mischievous smirk were eerily reminiscent of a young John Lennon.

    Not unlike The Beatles, The Rubinoos possessed an irrepressible irreverence and charm that was spellbinding. In my opinion, it seemed like nothing would stop them from becoming the next big thing.

    As often happens, I was wrong. As the rock music scene evolved in those days, it was essential that you MUST BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY (oooh!). Well, The Rubinoos threw that notion out the window with reckless disregard, and I applaud them for it. As legend has it, they once opened for Jefferson Starship at Winterland, and were booed off the statge for playing the Pepsi Generation song from the TV commercial. The Rubinoos were throwing a bit of comedy into their act, and the uptight San Francisco audience did-not-get-it.

    In true Rubinoos style, they carried on, undaunted and unflinching. They were subsequently hand-picked by Elvis Costello to be the opening act for the Armed Forces tour of 1978. Their second album, BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD, yielded the Powerpop classic "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend".

    Soon after, as the story often goes, record company and distributor foul-ups threw a spanner in the works, and the most deserving band from Berkeley were out on the streets, and for the most part left unpaid by the smarmy label. By this time, bassist Royse Ader had decided to leave the band, and was replaced by Al Chan, a monstrously gifted singer and bass player.

    The road to follow was a bumpy one. They disbanded, then Rubin and Dunbar continued on with Warner Brothers, and then briefly with Epic. Over the years, the Rubinoos have issued previously unreleased rarities from their archives (Basement Tapes, Garage Sale), reunited and recorded new material (Paleophonic, Twist Pop Sin), and released a wonderful collection of covers (Crimes Against Music). Some thirty years after their debut album, they are no worse for the wear.

    Now, your average Joe on the street may have never heard of The Rubinoos. Real Powerpop fans regard them as icons. And most of the rock stars that were trying to be taken seriously in the 70's are either long since forgotten, or if not, probably embarrassed at the red leather pants they were wearing.

    So, you have to ask yourself this question -- what is the difference between a band that made it big and a band that didn't? It could be pure luck of the draw. In the case of The Rubinoos, I firmly believe that they refused to play the game, and held true to their particular art instead of re-fashioning their image to the flavor-of-the-month. And for that, they will have my undying respect.

    If you've never heard their music, listen to Michael McCartney's show -- he's bound to give them a spin with great regularity, because he's in on the secret. The secret is that they are one of the greatest bands ever, and if you haven't discovered that yet, consider yourself lucky, because there's soooo much good stuff just waiting for you.

    Marty Rudnick
    July 2006, Sunny California

    The Rubinoos

    Singer-songwriter Marty Rudnick's debut release "More Songs About Cars And Girls" has been getting tons of spins on our playlists. Marty's album was produced by the multi-talented Michael Carpenter.

    Marty Rudnick's Official Website

    Marty Rudnick's MySpace Music where you can sample four of his songs

    We would like to also mention the newest additions to the band; Kit Potamkin (keyboards), Nick D'Virgilio (drums and vocals) and Susie Davis (keyboards). We don't have any photos of Kit but here's one of Nick and a few of Susie:

    Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, keyboardist Susie Davis is the daughter of FM radio pioneer Norman Davis. Here is a list of some of the acts that have benefited from her talent on the road and in the studio: Prince, Sheila E, Billy Idol, Pat Benatar, Mick Jagger - and, of course, The Rubinoos.


    At 10:04 PM, Blogger Erik Mann said...

    another great blog from you guys. i'd point you to mine but it isn't yet the way I'd like it. i do have a website that I think is cool, kind of almost about martial art type

    At 9:51 PM, Blogger Lawn Vultures said...

    Wow, just stumbled on this post... I loved the rubes and your words really capture what made them so good. I saw them live many times in the bay area, and never once saw a bad show... The live it, and love it.

    My band has covered Rock and Roll is Dead for many years, but I never once had the nerve to try and sing one of the pure pop harmony songs... I would not dare.

    Chuck d

    At 10:27 PM, Blogger The Time Machine said...

    Chuck, mahalo for the kind words. You might find this radio interview that we did with The Rubinoos of some interest as they discuss music of the past along with their most recent album. :-)


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