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"There's Jews in Oklahoma?" Yup. It's BBQ, not Bagels. And we're not a punchline.
Yihkes (yiddish for "my story")
Oklahoma-born, Texas-reared, and now living in New Orleans, multi-instrumentalist Mark Rubin is an unabashed Southern Jew, known equally for his muscular musicianship and larger-than-life persona. Over an accomplished 30+ year career, he has accompanied or produced a virtual who’s-who of American traditional music, while straddling numerous musical genres, including Country, Western Swing, Bluegrass, Cajun, Tex-Mex, Polka, Klezmer, Roma, and more. He is perhaps best known for co-founding the notorious proto-Americana band Bad Livers, though his more recent work as a first call tuba and bass player in the klezmer music scene has now earned him equivalent notoriety.
His credits in the Jewish music world include long time collaborations with Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars, The Other Europeans, and Andy Statman, as well as two decades on faculty at KlezKamp. He has been featured performer and instructor with multiple appearances at Yiddish Summer Weimar, KlezFest London, KlezMore Vienna, Klezmer Festival Furth, Festival of Jewish Culture Krakow among others. Jew of Oklahoma debuted as a special feature at Toronto's Ashkenaz Festival in 2016.
Today, he lives and works as a professional musician in New Orleans and makes a study of the musical traditions and cultures of South Louisiana.
Here's his Wiki page for more:
- Chris Strachwitz, Ahoolie Records
Born and raised to educator parents in Stillwater Oklahoma, Rubin experienced the kind of small-town institutional anti-Semitism that ranged being relatively benign being barred from social and country clubs to the more active bricks through windows and a cross burning in the front yard. Entranced however by the Bluegrass and Gospel heard on the AM car radio on the trips to Oklahoma City for Sunday school, Rubin grabbed hold of the music of his neighbors and eventually made it his own taking up the bluegrass bass in the early 80's.
Concurrently, he was involved in the local Oklahoma punk rock scene working closely with the Flaming Lips as a roadie/tech along with other regional touring acts, eventually moving to Dallas and road managering acts in the "Deep Ellum"scene of the mid-80's. After a stint with punk-bluegrass pioneers Killbilly, Rubin relocated to Austin to join with banjoist Danny Barnes to form Bad Livers.
From the time of that Rock Against Regan concert the way to his protest folk group The Atomic Duo in the late 2000's right up to today, Rubin has been "a man at the forefront of America's culture wars," performing on picket lines and Union Halls. His very first political action was hosting a "Rock Against Reagan" concert in his hometown of Norman OK. He hasn't let up since.
A veteran of the music business for 35+ years Rubin’s first project, “Southern Discomfort,” was only released in 2014. And 2017 he released his "solo" project ("Songs for the Hangman's Daughter") performing 11 original tunes played utterly live, just voice and one instrument. "Criminally overlooked and underrated," said Andy Langer KGSR Austin, TX.
Rubin's songs are couched deeply in the Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam, to heal the broken World we find ourselves in. Asking what is the Jewish response to the questions that confront our society today? How do you react in an environment like the American South where no one around you holds the same values that your tradition teaches? What makes a Jew anyway? Bagels and poor Eastern European stereotypes?
These questions are made all the more relevant but recent events of open anti-Semitism and a rise in hate crimes across the US and around the world.
Suitable for any situation from coffee houses, house concerts to the International festivals stages he is comfortable on, Rubin performs either solo, duo or with a small ensemble, often featuring one of many young Jewish musicians who have joined Rubin on this trail of musical and cultural reclamation.
Criticism and Reviews
Some comments from colleagues
“Everything Mark Rubin does is done with no compromise. He is fearless, fearsome, and most of all, completely musical!”
- Gurf Morlix
"Mark Rubin has created a masterpiece of American dark humor and grief. A bucket of personal history thrown into the wagons,mixed with the southern subterranean gravy of love and loathing. Since leaving Austin for New Orleans he has somehow managed to position himself as the Godzilla of Gypsy Juke N' Tuba Two-Step."
-Kevin Russel (shinyribs)
“With Passover beginning tomorrow night, I can't think of a better time to listen to Mark Rubin's fabulous "The Dark Side Has Doughnuts" over and over and over again, along with all the other songs on his really remarkable (and often very funny) new album, "Songs for the Hangman's Daughter." Check it out at Band Camp, where Mark's selling it on a pay-what-you-can basis. It's the best singer-songwriter album I've heard in a very long time.”
- Michael Wex NYT Best Selling author
"The best way to be faithful to musical traditions is very rarely to go for the slavish copy. Slavish is never a good look. It invariably sounds like what it is, a copy of something. For my money, the artists who come closest to capturing what I love about old music are not the ones who have worked for years to get every note just right, to sound exactly like their examples, but the ones who seem to have an instinctive grasp of the energy of the music, of it’s heart, of what makes it special; those who have the ability to channel that understanding into the music they make. You can include Mark Rubin’s work in that category" - Lyons Recorder, Lyons CO, 2010
"Songs for the Hangman's Daughter"
Offbeat Magazine, New Orleans LA 2/28/2018
"To live in New Orleans is to master the art of juggling.
On the one hand, that’s a great thing. Residents fighting to keep various food traditions from hitting the floor lead to the city’s famously blended culinary culture. On the other, you have a locale with terrible transit and neighborhoods that will flood if the faucet’s left on. You take the good with the bad, the bowling pins with the chainsaws, and you do your best to not make a mess of it.
With that said, it’s not surprising that Mark Rubin ended up here. It’s actually a wonder he didn’t land here sooner. The member of defunct folk-punk icons the Bad Livers is both outspokenly Southern and proudly Jewish. He’s been juggling all his life, y’all.
On his sparse new collection of tunes, Rubin doesn’t mind letting you see him sweat as he struggles to keep both sides of his identity balanced. The cuts are rough—often the first take—but Mark’s skilled playing and Catskills wit keep the whole enterprise aloft as he cycles between stories of cultural appropriation (“Royal Street Shuffle”), the War on Drugs (“Single Joint”) and parking lot fights (“Ballpeen Clawhammer”)."
Sights & Sounds
"Murder of Leo Frank" from Southern Discomfort
Jan. 22 2018 New Orleans, LA
"Key Chain Blues" from Southern Discomfort
December 26 2011, Austin TX
Belorussian Jewish Old Time Tunes
October 30 2017 w/ Craig Judelman, fiddle. Blackpot Festival, Lafayette LA
"Whitey's on the Moon" from Southern Discomfort
April 2009, The Kennedy Center, Washington DC