Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Ruben V Band heats up a frosty College Station night at The Canteen

The most beautiful part of discovering great music is when you least expect it, specifically in between semesters at a venue so brand new that it’s still a best-kept secret in a college-based community that has long awaited such an outstanding establishment.

For us, Ruben V (guitar,vocals), James Pickens (bass), and Steve Mendez (drums) performed blues classics plus Ruben’s original songs that show why this band defies categorization into just one genre. (Photo L to R: Bob Bilberry, Susan Adams, Ruben V, and Rhonda Brinkmann at Cavalry Court)

Our musical search party of four congregated at The Canteen on Friday, Jan. 6, the local restaurant arm of Cavalry Court, a dynamic boutique hotel sure to please Aggies who will discover it upon their return for Spring 2017 classes. Retro military style lettering, serving trays with generous portions of tasty food, atop long parachute-folding style tables are a throwback to those who’ve worked or lived on military bases. Hi top chairs and tables are also available in the true canteen style. For most Aggies, that means “home.” High ceilings and a warm fireplace made this venue most welcoming as it was 28°F and windy outside but it felt like home inside.

If you don’t know the story of Ruben V’s music journey, it’s worth checking out at www.rubenv.com, and please don’t try to categorize his style as “just blues,” because he’s a man whose muse crosses boundaries and barriers. He loves all kinds of music and plays whatever he loves. Ruben generously took the time to visit with us during a break in his sets last night and by the end of the conversation, we were all old friends, so gracious and engaging is his personality.

His music career began at a young age, but just because he idolized his dad. His father had been in a band, performing favorite country standards, and Ruben grew up hearing Hank Williams (Sr.) and others. A young Ruben would get up on stage and play guitar for a song or two with his dad, and guitar-wise, you’d almost be tempted to recall that a young Joe Bonamassa had hopped onstage about that same age and showed the crowd it was about woodshedding rather than age that made a performer worth a listen.

Ruben’s teenage years during the 1980s found him playing heavy metal guitar in the land of big hair and crowds who were still quoting “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” down around Corpus Christi, Texas. Over the course of his career, Ruben has created great original songs in addition to mastering blues, rock, soul, and Latin music alike. Acoustic or with full band, he’s built a loyal following over the years and his first success came playing a lot of heavy metal for audiences. If you’re wondering where to find Ruben V CDs in a record store, the answer is “somewhere, everywhere or nowhere.”

Ruben said, “I used to work in a record store and I remember what it was like when there were artists’ CDs that didn’t fit into any one genre. They weren’t rock or country, blues, or jazz, they were…unique.” Now, Ruben says, “I find myself in exactly that same group of “We don’t know where to put him,” but today that’s more of a fun memory than a true issue of concern. He shifted one major genre, from heavy metal to blues, on the occasion of performing at a beach festival in Corpus on one supremely classic Texas summer day of heat.

Says Ruben, “We were all out there having a great time and it was a typical beach day, and all of a sudden, here’s this guy dressed in a full red suit that looked like velour or suede, playing his guitar, and he was larger than life.” More to be heard than watched, the music of this gentleman would forever change Ruben’s life he said. It was…Stevie Ray Vaughn. “I want to play like him,” Ruben said. And he did. From that point on, Ruben V’s music would expand genres, and potentially confuse some folks along the way as they’d go to one concert and hear one kind of music and then sequential concerts marked additional progress and travel across styles.

Actually, defying categorization into a single genre of music pleases Ruben. He’s just fine with creating his own sound, defining his own brand of music and he’s been fortunate to work with multiply gifted producers, including Richard Mullen (Eric Johnson, Joe Ely and Stevie Ray Vaughn) as well as Jim Gaines (Santana, Blues Traveler and Stevie Ray Vaughn) on his music to date. Yet, Ruben’s original music should not be considered strictly blues. He has his own style and his delivery in performance last night was consistently strong and felt groundbreaking in the vibe, as though he was recreating the joy of when he first learned to love the genre.

The journey for band and patrons alike to locate Cavalry Court’s Canteen was a bit challenging last night, especially since the construction around the venue is in full force, but he said he had not been to College Station in 25 years. The place he’d played then was The Tap. Ruben asked if it was still around and we all shared that it was, though none of us had been there. He laughed as he shared his memories of one night, 25 years ago, he’d just come here to visit a friend who was in a band booked to play The Tap. They were a typical 80s band and yet when they saw him in the audience, of course, they asked him up on stage to do a song. Ruben chose to play a song by Stevie Ray Vaughn. That didn’t really fit in with the genre of those favoring 80s electronic/hair bands, not at all.

One disagreeable patron took his position at the front of the stage, yelling, “That’s terrible. Play Depeche Mode!!” There was another nearby patron who like Ruben’s song selection and he showed just how much by powering back his right arm and slamming it into the face of the Depeche Model fan, the blow landing the dissenter onto the ground.

And that was all it took for the fracas to begin. The entire inside of the bar, stage included, was a wreck, thanks to the fighting that broke out. Blame it on Stevie Ray Vaughn? No, blame it on Ruben, at least that’s what his friends in the band said, “It’s all your fault we can’t keep playing our music tonight, man.” Ruben said, “The band was so mad at me.” Everyone was ushered outside where a group of guys who looked as though they were all part of a football team were waiting for them.

Rather than get pummeled, Ruben said, “These big guys looked at us and said, ‘We really liked your song, man. You’re great.’” And then Ruben laughed as he recalled, “That made the guys in the band hate me even more. I was doing great that night, ha.” Ruben, the band and the football-built guys all went back inside and helped clean up the mess and restore order so the professionals could come in and work to restore the stage et al. the next day. And Ruben left town and he hasn’t been back in 25 years.

He was really glad to be performing at Cavalry Court on Saturday, rather than The Tap, one thinks, but his music has remained the same, only expanded, and this time it’s his band and his friends and his audience who came to see him and hear his music. The good news is that, even though it is between Aggie semesters, he still pulled in a nice crowd of our local townsfolk who wanted music and food on a cold night out.

Here's a quick snippet as a sampler (thanks to YouTube user ChicagoGold66):

The Valencia Hotel Group has properties in College Station, Austin, San Antonio and Houston, and Ruben will be playing at the other properties as well in days to come, so be sure and check him out wherever you are. And, as some in our party did that night, buy one of his CDs or two if you want. They’re only $15 and with his signature, they’re even more valuable. Check out his web site at www.rubenv.com and see his discography; very cool.

The laundry list of famous recording artists and beloved musicians of the blues genre with whom he has shared a stage, whether opening or just on the same bill, is impressive. The producers he’s been working with on recent records have a boutique clientele and a track record for commercial recording success.

Ruben isn’t impressed or moved by any of that. He is just happy to be playing music and traveling the road, taking his songs to appreciative audiences. That, and he’s glad not to be stuck in a job in a record store trying to figure out where to place his own CDs in the stacks. Just don’t try to categorize him in one single genre and you’ll be right at home with Ruben V, friends for years to come. It was the perfect evening out of the cold, warmed by the blues and the musicians who brought them to us.

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