The Murder of Leo Frank, 100 years ago this week.

There's quite a few Jewish people involved in the study and performance of American old time musical traditions. As it happens, I'm one of them. I could do literally hundreds of essays about the curious nature of this strange truth, which I found to be not limited to the American experience but actually happens world wide; Jews seem to be at the vanguard of nearly every great cultural output around the globe. 

Well, yes, um, nearly every one save their own Yiddish culture it seems. Rather than address that confusing conundrum, I chose rather to focus on a dark chapter of Southern American history that I hope would bring context to this disconnect in a way that would have some resonance, and maybe give my fellow claw-hammer banjo slinging Hebrews a new lens with which to view their place in the narrative that created the "old time" music so many of us have participated in for so long.

Years ago I was reading a article on Georgia Fiddle styles. I was genuinely shocked when I came across an aside about the influential and media savvy fiddler John Carson, where it was reported that he would serenade the crowds gathered outside of the Atlanta Courthouse during the Leo Frank trial , composing songs designed to whip up the anti-Semitic sentiments of the crowd, including a little ditty sung by the assembled "Hang the Little Jew."


"Wonder how many folks know that story?" I thought to myself. So I looked up the YouTube video for John Carsons' "Little Mary Phagan," where I made the mistake of reading the comments section. 

OK, right. So here we are 100 years after the fact and nearly NO Jewish person I know knows literally anything about it, yet rage filled bigots are all over the interwebs using the the event as if happened last week and proves every evil narrative against the Jews that you could possibly imagine. It would be hilarious if it were not so real. What do you do when presented with that kind of hatred? Not "long ago" hatred, but RIGHT NOW TODAY hatred.

I'm a folk singer, so my only response naturally is a folk song:

Though it's only gotten less than 200 plays, Its already been singled out by the twitter account that runs www.leofrank.org as "Jewish pedophile convicted of murdering a child is romanticized by anti-Gentile Jewish activist bard." Classy.

As I note in the song, August 17th marks his yahrtzeit and by extension, the eventual founding of the Anti-Defamation League. I'll be singing this ballad this Monday at a local ADL meeting here in NOLA. Maybe somewhere, someplace else, there will be a landsman who will also sing of Leo Frank and maybe want to learn a nice Yiddish fiddle tune, rather than one more North Georgia tune. Maybe.


Danny Barnes "if I was you, I'd get this..."

Danny took time out his his touring schedule to scribble a few thoughts about my debut solo release "Southern Discomfort," now available on iTunes and CD Baby:

bad livers, 2000
"mark rubin is a very smart and talented fellow. i feel we are like brothers...that grew up together in a van, driving around the US. i've been really excited for him to put out these great songs because he's got a lot to say with his art and he has a great vision for it. we all have to just keep putting the music where our mouth is and keep putting stuff out, there's really nothing else to do. or that can be done, we have to keep working and improving. he sounds really great here and has a good eye for the overall effect. if i was you, i'd get this."

Keep up with Danny at his blog and check out his cassette Only label Minner Bucket Records.


Unsolicited Advice to a young American Jew

(Here's a new series, poetic responses. Some are song ideas, some just free verse. This was inspired by Bernie Saunders citizenship being questioned simply because he's a Jew.)

Unsolicited Advice to a young American Jew

When you’re better off rich and guilty than innocent and poor
Then it’s time to go

When they pass laws that directs who you can or cannot marry
Then it’s time to go

When terrible ideas about race and immigration are considered mainstream
Then it’s time to go

When the goyim no longer value art and culture, not even their own
Then it’s time to go

When they say that protecting a paycheck trumps clean drinking water
Then it’s time to go

When ignorance and stupidity are routinely rewarded and violence is celebrated
Then it’s time to go

When you’re forced to explain your stance on Eretz Yirsroel
Then it’s time to go           

When the privileged begin to  portray themselves as real victims
Then it’s time to go

When sexism is so deeply ingrained in culture, that you almost forgot to mention it
Then it’s time to go

When you’re the racist whenever you correctly identify racism
Then it’s time to go

Either pack and expatriate, or register and vote, either way
It’s time to go


Shinyribs chimes in on "Southern Discomfort"

There are few people in music that I've known longer than Kevin Russell. Way back in the late 80's, he lead the Picket Line Coyotes in Shreveport, then Dallas where we neighbors. I had just joined the brand new Killbilly and both bands found ourselves playing together often, even sharing a booking agent for a time. When Dallas seemed to lose its steam, we we both landed in Austin around the same time where I founded Bad Livers with Danny Barnes and not long after he got his Gourds rolling. Always close by, always doing something cool. 

I always tried to doing something musical with my buds, and he had me come and play on his first solo outing for Sugar Hill Records when he was still transitioning as "Kev Russell," not fully Shinyribbed yet. Even took me to Holland to play a festival, where the show was running late and I played the tuba for three tunes; to date the furthest I've gone to be paid so well to do the least. Years later I've played a few dates with him in a fun acoustic trio version of Shinyribs before he found his current groove and recorded another record. He's expanded into more of a rock and roll show these day and has released a fine CD "Okra Candy" you should check out. Seems like he's on a roll lately and it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. However he took time out from his mighty busy schedule to listen to my debut release and here's what he had to say:

"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."

Thanks Kev!


Slaid Cleves on "Southern Discomfort" "Delightfully disturbing, or disturbingly delightful?"

I don't have the kind of finances that allow me to hire a publicist to "work" the release of my solo CD, I just have myself and my friends to rely on. But that doesn't really worry me, because even if I did the whole music industry is so confused right now I could just be setting the money on fire for all I know. When I started out making music, we were entirely on our own with no infrastructure or roadmap, making venues where we could find them and printing up our own 'zines. We didn't get our music out to everybody, sure. But we got it out to the other music freaks, just like us, and that's who we wanted to be connecting with in the first place.

When the internet came along, we jumped on it (Bad Livers had a website up in 1993, before I had a browser to even see it.) It was a great tool to communicate directly with our fans and circumnavigate the normal channels that were, and are, frankly toxic to good music making.

Oh how the times have changed, and the disruptions of the web based economies have made what once looked like a great way to connect appear today to be a swampy morass, with its once flowing pipes now choked with pap and dreck and the good stuff seemingly just as hard to access as ever. Sometimes it feels like its built that way on purpose.

Good thing I have such great friends who I'm hoping with turn their friends on to my music. Slaid Cleves is one of those friends. I sent him a copy of my debut CD, with trepidation as Slaid is a wonderful storyteller and songwriter and this was my very first songwriting effort. Here's his response:

"Hey Mark,

Great job, man.  That's one to be proud of.  I don't know if you were looking for quotes, but it certainly did inspire a few:

That's the least boring album I've heard in a long time.  Jam packed with sweetness and angst, it's delightfully disturbing (or maybe disturbingly delightful).  One thing it's not is subtle.  Recommended for any roots music/Americana fan who's been a little bored lately."

Thanks Slaid!

(I have another really great review from my pal Papa Mali, but that's going to be published in the Austin Chronicle soon!)

Here's me backing Slaid singing a Don Walser tune at the Broken Spoke:


Before there was YouTube and the interwebs, there was 3 Mustafas 3.

Many of you are too young to even understand what it was like way back then, but it was nearly impossible to find music from other places unless you yourself went there. Seriously. If you were into Reggae, you had to know someone who went to Jamaica, it really was like that. I had a Reaggae radio show on KGOU in Norman OK in 1982-3 and I literally relied on spring breakers bringing me back the latest dancehall 12". Hard to imagine these days.

That's what made the Mustafas such a big revelation, being Europeans who could get across to points East and bring stuff back with them, they became a gateway to a whole generation of world music pioneers. The show was campy to the hilt, playing upon the ignorance of cultures behind the Iron Curtain, they always approached the music with genuine respect and affection. In point of fact, they were touring the US before we here even had a "world music" infrastructure, groundbreaking in another respect.

Speaking for myself, I can honestly say that were it not for having seen their show with Brave Combo in Dallas TX back in '89, I assure you no one in the Yiddish music world would have ever heard about me. I'd most likely be in Nashville hustling a Bluegrass career like I had originally planned, having never toured all over Eastern Europe with Boban Markovic or recording with Frank London's Klezmer Brass All Stars, joining the Other Europeans Project, etc...

There seems to be an explosion of of interest in Balkan and World music here in the US, but for some reason no one seems to remember 3M3 at all. So, here's a public shout out to Ben Mandelson for being the conduit for so much wonderful music and experience in my and so many others lives.


My 1st ever review

So, here it is. There very first words written about the very first music I have released under my own name. The author is Devon Leger and its from his "5 Artists to Discover at Folk Alliance" blog posting at his popular Kithfolk Blog. (Look for a full interview in a future issue of his Kithfolk Quarterly Roots Music Magazine.)

Mark Rubin

Mark Rubin is another uncompromising voice in American roots music. An endlessly curious musical explorer, it would be impossible to catalogue all the bands he's been a part of and all the American musical traditions he can basically call his own. He's well known for his work in The Bad Livers, an early punk-grass band that paved the way for a lot of underground roots music to this day. He's also well known now for his brutally honest voice on the scene, calling bullshit on hypocrisy in the folk scene. At Folk Alliance, he'll be running their extensive music camp, so I don't think he'll actually be performing that much, which is why he gets bonus mention here. Mark's releasing a new solo album in 2015, Southern Discomfort, and it is a brutal and unflinching, but ultimately fascinating and deserved, look at American culture today through the prism of American roots music. A few songs come over from Mark's fabulous and under-rated earlier band The Atomic Duo (a bitter ode to rental warfare and classism with "Key Chain Blues" and a pure genius cover of Gil Scott Heron's "Whitey's On the Moon" as a jug band song), but the rest are new.

The most brutal song is "The Murder of Leo Frank", a murder ballad written in the old broadside style that chronicles the horrific mob lynching in 1915 of Northern Jewish factory superintendent Leo Frank in Georgia. You can read the details on Wikipedia, but the gist is that Frank's murder casts a light on the bitter reality of anti-semitism in the 20th century. Aside from the topical nature of much of Mark's songwriting, there are songs here that are just great fun. "Seriously (Too Much Weed)" is a ridiculously big band jass romp through weed lovin' and kudos for the sweet and charming "Don't Wake Up Jesse Lege" about touring with great older masters like Cajun accordionist Lege. Mark's a great writer aside from his songwriting, and I recommend his blog for interesting asides and opinions. Any way you cut it, Mark's voice cuts deep but is necessary in a roots music industry that's become increasingly complacent and self-congratulatory. Ignore him at your peril.


Rubin’s First Dictum of Cultural Arts:

There’s a poseur version of every great cultural output on Earth. 

And, given the option, the public uniformly prefers it to the original.


"Southern Discomfort" Radio Documentary, now in English!

Producer Paul Brody of Berlin has graciously provided me with an all English version of the WDR Feature on yours truly called "Southern Discomfort," not coincidently the title of my debut release. 

We travelled from New Orleans and Austin and back, listen to KBON, played at a bluegrass jam at the Hi-Ho Lounge, remember life changing nights at an Einstunzende Neubauten gig, my recent diagnosis with BiPolar 2 (and the ugly public scenes that lead up to it,) hit the road with the Hot Nut Riveters, record my new CD, and talk extensively about my life growing up Jewish in small town Oklahoma. Fun times.

Follow THIS LINK to listen in, and then after that if you would be so kind, maybe order the new CD (info below) as well!





  1. a short sentence or phrase chosen as encapsulating the beliefs or ideals guiding an individual, family, or institution.

After much consideration, I have found mine:

"a klog tsu di ale blofers"

(Thanks Micheal Wex.)