BRITAIN HAS always been a happy hunting ground for the more soulful American singers and though they may not all see their name in lights, the select band of true soul singers have a small but solid collection of supporters on this side of the Atlantic.
Over the years, it has been my pleasure to track down virtually everyone that I would feel is worthy of the title of ‘soul singer’ and so my satisfaction was guaranteed when finally we had Ruby Andrews on other end of a telephone.
To the uninitiated, Ruby Andrews has a string of soul classics behind her that date back some seven years to when ‘Casanova’ gave her a first taste of success on the small Chicago label, Zodiac. Though born in Hollingdale, Mississippi (on December 3, 1947), Ruby has lived in Chicago since 1952 and considers it to be her home now and it was in the city’s church system that she first became involved in singing – at the tender age of 8! During her high school days, she branched out into more pop singing with various little and local glee groups and after dropping out from school, she took a residence at the Club Delise in Chi-town. And it was here that she was discovered by Rick Williams, who had just started his own Zodiac label.
At the same time and immediately before going into the studio under her own steam, Ruby had done a little background singing and numbered a session with her street friends, the C.O.D’s, among her jobs. The record in question was, of course, ‘Michael (The Lover)’ and it went on to be a hit for the group – their only one.
Singing with Zodiac meant the beginning of a very frustrating few years for Ms. Andrews. Frustrating because despite having several good selling records, she never actually got paid a penny for her efforts. “But then I didn’t know a thing about the business,” she laughs poignantly. “In a way, it was seven years wasted but then I figure that it opened a lot of doors for me and I try to be philosophical about it now. The song, ‘Casanova’, was actually written by Jo Armstead about Rick – he was my man and so only I could really sing it, I guess.”
After a string of hits and an album on Zodiac, Ruby took time out to find herself and ended up spending two months in Paris in 1973, working in an international theatrical project. Ruby was part of the entourage that represented the U.S.A. but when the whole thing disbanded she decided to return home to find a new way for herself. However, those two months on European soil made her aware of the potential in the old country – “I found it all so fascinating and the business bewildered me. The thing that amazed me was the Europeans’ willingness to try something new all the time. It would take a year to accomplish something that would take up to ten years in the States.”
However, on getting back home, she promptly set about making a new record deal for herself. “It all came about when the guy who played drums on those early sessions for Zodiac, George McGregor, suggested I contact them. They liked the initial single I did, ‘I’ve Got A Bone To Pick With You’, and contracted me to record an album. Ronald Dunbar co-produced the album – you remember him, he used to do all of the things for Holland-Dozier at Invictus. The album is now out on ABC (and called Genuine Ruby and heartily recommended to soul freaks!).”
All of this recent activity is really only the beginning for Ruby because she has high hopes for herself. “I’d like to get into producing a little if possible,” she asserts. “I’m looking for material now for the next album and I may use different people this time. This album is perhaps a little too obviously commercial for what I’m trying to do. I’m more into the Billie Holiday/Dinah Washington thing. Still, I have to say I’m pleased with the album although I feel now that I could have sung a little better. Still, when you think I haven’t been in the studio for something like four years, it’s not bad. And there’s such a difference between singing for an audience in a club and singing in a studio. Perhaps the most important thing is that it’s selling!”
For lovers and purveyors of our music, the most important thing is that it has allowed Ruby Andrews to simply surface again. Her talent will take her over the other hurdles that present themselves. And Genuine Ruby is only the first step.
© John Abbey, Blues & Soul, June 1977