“Jack Ruby may be the most influential punk band from New York City
that no one ever knew about.”
“Jack Ruby occupy a place right between early seventies street rock,
post-Roxy/Hawkwind synthesis and the future sound of Punk and No Wave.”
Seen and heard by just a precious few, Jack Ruby made only five studio recordings and played an equal number of gigs between 1973 and 1977. None of their music was ever released and, until now, they have existed solely as a word-of-mouth legend among peers. Yet their legacy and influence can clearly be heard in bands that followed in their wake like Sonic Youth and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. They have been variously described as “the Velvet Underground in a car crash” and the “art-punk Steely Dan”.
Formed in 1973 by vocalist Robin Hall, guitarist Chris Gray, multi-instrumentalist Randy Cohen, classically-trained viola player Boris (also known as Boris Policeband), and later joined by bassist George Scott (James Chance and the Contortions/8-Eyed Spy/John Cale) and new vocalist Stephen Barth, the first incarnation of Jack Ruby demoed two tracks in a Times Square recording studio in 1974; their signature tune, the nihilistic proto-punk “Hit and Run”—sounding like some unholy blend of Raw Power-era Stooges, Velvet Underground and J.G. Ballard’s Crash—and a bizarre number entitled “Mayonnaise”, based around Boris’ amplified viola and primitive electronic ‘beats’ sequenced on Cohen’s Serge synthesizer.
These two cuts were used to hustle additional studio time from Epic Records through Sly Stone’s A&R, Stephen Paley. Three more maniacal songs of arch art-punk with killer pop hooks—“Bored Stiff”, “Bad Teeth” and “Sleep Cure”—were all recorded in one five to six hour session at Columbia Studios in May 1974. With Cohen patching musique concrete sounds through the Serge, set against Gray’s banshee guitar-playing and Hall’s snotty vocals, the Jack Ruby sound was formed. But a record deal evaded them. Cohen left and started a new career as a writer for Late Night With David Letterman and, later, as The Ethicist, a columnist for the New York Times solving readers ethical problems.
In 1976, Hall and Gray reactivated Jack Ruby as a live-performing unit with George Scott on bass. They played harder, faster and louder than any other band in New York at that time. Their rehearsals at Matrix studios, and dusk-to-dawn parties at the Bowery apartment behind CBGB’s shared by Gray and Scott, became a cult draw for other NYC punk and no wave musicians. Hall quit the band unexpectedly in 1977, days before their first scheduled gig. Jack Ruby continued on as a power trio with Gray, by now the only original member, taking over vocal duties for a couple of shows alongside Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and the Fleshtones, before disbanding for good after one last riotous show with new vocalist Stephen Barth at Max’s Kansas City, formerly stalking ground of the band’s idols, the Velvet Underground.
“Hit and Run” is a two-disc set of everything Jack Ruby recorded between 1973 and 1977 (across four incarnations of the band) that should see them acknowledged as one of the most radical and brilliantly original groups to emerge from the 1970s New York City music scene. Remastered from recently-discovered master tapes, the first disc collects all five of the band’s studio recordings, which although forty years old still sound thrillingly-urgent and modern, alongside a 1977 cassette of a band rehearsal, and a 2013 remix by producer Don Fleming. Disc two contains another side to Jack Ruby; a series of largely-electronic, avant-garde pieces from 1972 and 1974—nine short tracks that play like a library record, book-ended by two longer ones—some of the earliest extant recordings made on a Serge synthesizer. What Jack Ruby left is a remarkable legacy of recorded music—hidden for decades, now-revealed—constituting a previously-unheard secret history of the New York City music scene of the early 1970s.
HIT AND RUN (CEC002) – 2-CD set in gatefold digisleeve with 48-page booklet and poster of exclusive cover art by Japanese artist, Ken Hamaguchi. Mastered from original tape transfers.