"In this world, we all need to stand together, in as many ways as possible, as often as possible. We couldn't stand side by side with our brothers and sisters in North Dakota, yet we can offer this song and much hope and good mojo."
~ Ruby Dee Philippa
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.
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 …
“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.”