RUBY DEE & THE SNAKEHANDLERS
Ruby Dee’s is a tale of unbelievable resilience and drive in the face of struggles that would foil someone with less determination. She is a singer, songwriter, bandleader, and cook as well as a traumatic brain injury survivor. Her band, Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers make American music with rockabilly, swing, country and R&B inflections, and their latest album, LITTLE BLACK HEART is a tour de force of exemplary musicianship. Ruby wrote every song on it, with the exception of a Jack Scott chestnut that was a favorite of the band. This is amazing in itself, considering the aftermath of a terrible accident that left her with significant brain damage. Eight years ago, she was involved in a scooter accident that left her with sunglasses implanted in her forehead, a traumatic brain injury and other trauma. In previous years, aside from singing and writing songs for the Snakehandlers, she had owned and operated 3 restaurants in Seattle, quite successfully. Her trauma left her with vertigo, memory loss, nausea, mental confusion and language challenges. “I could picture an image in my mind, but couldn’t think of the word. I couldn’t finish thoughts or sentences or conversations, let alone write songs.”
Insurance difficulties left her with almost no aftercare, but she began doing lots and lots of word puzzles to stretch her brain, then started writing stories, but found she was cheating- if she couldn’t think of a certain word, she would substitute another for it. So eventually she began writing out her recipes, and 8 months later she had a book (Ruby’s Juke Joint Americana Cookbook). On it’s release, she began a 2 year stint writing episodes and recipes for her international Ruby’s Kitchen Radio Show. It was still 2 ½ years before she wrote another song, a dark time for her. Eventually she came to terms with her losses – “I’m as good as I’ll ever be, and I’m grateful for that,” Ruby remembers.
LITTLE BLACK HEART would be a fantastic album regardless, but with tight, catchy lyrics, it’s a testament to Ruby’s return to the level of musicianship she had to struggle to regain. Her smoky, expressive alto and the dynamic band lifts swing, rock n’ roll, R&B and rockabilly songs that cover everything from her accident to social commentary on certain music scenes and their cliques, to love gone wrong. The title track “Little Black Heart” is a classic old-fashioned minor-key murder ballad with steel guitar providing the spooky atmosphere.
With a reputation for high-energy shows that precedes them, Ruby Dee and The Snakehandlers deliver to capacity crowds in clubs, festivals and events, starting in the Pacific Northwest, where right off the bat, they were voted Best Band in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer People’s Picks 2005 & Best Signed Band in the People’s Picks 2006. The band’s first full-length CD, Uno-produced NORTH OF BAKERSFIELD, earned huge airplay in the United States, Europe and Australia, and charted repeatedly on the European Americana list.
The music has gotten a hold on audiences near and far: a combination of Ruby’s singing and songwriting, wrought from her childhood spent between the no-longer-wild foothills of Northern California and the long straight roads around Big Spring, Texas; her time escaping to South America, driving big trucks, working Alaskan fishing boats and more …
And Gretsch-endorsed guitarist Jorge Harada has poured heart and sweat all over his Tennessee Rose Gretsch guitar in such bands as The Spitfires and rockabilly giants DRAGSTRIP 77.
Providing the rock-solid honky-tonk groove backing Ruby and Jorge are Rick Watson on doghouse bass and Mike Smith on cathouse drums. Together, they have played ten successful European tours and two rockin’ Australian tours, as well as thousands of dates across the United States.
The band’s release LIVE FROM AUSTIN, TEXAS came out mid May 2011 on both CD and vinyl, showcasing a few new songs and fans old favorites cranked up with that live jumpin’ sound for which the Snakehandlers are so well known. Songs from the CD charted for three months on both the AMA and Texas Third Coast Music charts, and earned the band a 54th Grammy consideration for Best Americana Album.
Ruby and the gang released a fifth album, ROCKABILLY PLAYGROUND, a children’s rockabilly record. At the time, Ruby wasn’t able to write new lyrics with music just yet, so re-working existing songs to make them appeal to children was great therapy and appreciated by fans. The album charted at #15 on the FAR charts and #103 on the AMA Charts, and earned the band another spot on the ballot for the 56th Grammy Awards.
Most recently, LITTLE BLACK HEART has charted at #83 on the AMA charts, was listed at #2 Rockabilly Album by the Roots Music Report, and has earned the band eight slots on the 59th Grammy Awards primary ballot!
“Risky — and perhaps just a bit risqué — Ruby Dee and The Snakehandlers conjure forth all sorts of visions of another time,” said Metro Santa Cruz after a California show. “Rooted firmly in the classic country and rockabilly tradition, the band is an authentic backdrop for lead singer Ruby Dee’s blend of Wanda Jackson sass and Patsy Cline pathos. The band holds it down with the insistence of a chugging train while Dee, a pinup heartbreaker of yesteryear with thoroughly modern attitude, commands the stage.”