From the Bad Livers Archive: Live review, Cleveland OH 1999

Live review, Cleveland, OH October 21, 1999
Dirty Linen Magazine, Feb/Mar 2000 issue

Those bad boys of bluegrass, the Bad Livers, made an impromptu stop in Cleveland in October for a sparsely attended but well-received show. The Austin-based duo of Mark Rubin (bass and tuba) and Danny Barnes (banjo and fiddle) laid down a loose-limbed but driving 90 minutes of down-and- dirty, mildly subversive grass. They played a lively, fresh set despite coming straight from a nine-hour drive from Philly (where they recounted getting caught in the “Amish vortex" off the Pennsylvania Turnpike.) Barnes is a formidable banjo player, making the fast rolls look effortless. He has an ideal bluegrass voice, high and lonesome, but with a bluesy elasticity. Rubin put a solid bottom on everything and pumped the rhythm along nicely. 
The pair has a sharp, intelligent sense of humor. Unfortunately, their cryptic references to the work of Hovhannes and bajo sexto music floated over the heads of the bemused blue-collar Cleveland audience. They bantered with people shouting out requests, rejecting most in no uncertain terms. One obnoxiously overzealous fan's repeated request for “Chainsaw Therapy” was met with a shout of “Shut the fuck up!” by an exasperated Barnes. They closed out the concert with a languid, trippy rendition of Thelonious Monk's
“Blue Monk.” confidence. Unfortunately, only about a half-dozen earlybirds heard their set.

— Peggy J. Latkovich (Cleveland Heights, OH)


From the Rubin Archive: Austin's "Goodwill Ambassador" 1998

Austin Chronicle Best of 1998 issue
Best Ambassador of Goodwill (Music)
Mark Rubin

A person with this many opinions isn't usually this endearing, but it's hard to ignore Mark Rubin. Whether behind stand-up bass for the Bad Livers, tooting on tuba for his klezmer group, Rubinchik's Orkestyr, or sitting in for John Aielli on KUT-FM as he did recently, Rubin is disarmingly frank, charmingly opinionated, and enormously talented. Could it be we're just saying this because we like him? Yew betcha.


From the Bad Livers Archives : Sing OUT Magazine 1995


VITAL STATISTICS: Based in Austin, Texas, the Livers were formed in 1990. Trio members hail originally from Stillwater, Oklahoma (Mark), Belton, Texas (Danny), and Austin (Ralph). “We don't want our birthdays printed, and that's all the explaining you get.”

MUSICAL INFLUENCES: Mexican accordion music, Stringbean, and the Raging Lamos.

Give the Stanley Brothers tattoos and thrash metal attitudes, and you just might end up with the Bad Livers. Bad Livers is a punk bluegrass trio consisting of Danny Barnes - formerly of the Barnburners and Killbilly - on banjo and vocals, Ralph White on fiddle and button accordion, and Mark Rubin - another Killbilly alumnus – on string bass and tuba. They play an acoustic bluegrass/old-timey mix with the energy and contrariety of a garage band. In addition to their own songs – written in the old speed metal/bluegrass tradition – they cover material from the Carter Family to Motorhead, from Flatt and Scruggs to Iggy Pop and the Stooges. “Fast speed metal, after all, is only a medium-tempo hoedown,” says Barnes. What sets these guys apart from many others who have forayed into the realm of style-melding is their clear respect and love for the traditional music which they incorporate into their sound.

Witness their CD art homages to the classic Folkways Records jacket design, and you'll get an idea of what we mean. The band has toured, on separate occasions, with Michelle Shocked and the Butthole Surfers.

Delusions of Banjer (1992, Quarterstick #14). Horses in the Mines (1994, Quarterstick #20) Dust on the Bible (reissued by Quarterstick on cassette, #22)


From the Bad Livers Archives: "Bad Livers cross the line between Bluegrass and Punk"

Matty Karras, Longbranch Press, Longbranch NJ, 1995

As you might expect of a band that finds it appropriate to link a Johnny Cash (“Ring of Fire'') and a Motorhead song (“Jailbait”) in a medley simply because they're in the same key, the banjo-bearing, fiddle-flying, tattoo-toting Bad Livers sometimes find themselves on stage in rustic folk halls and other times in raucous punk clubs.
It's all a question of what club booked them first in any given town, according to upright bass and tuba player Mark Rubin.
“In a town like Denver, we played this little folk club the first time we played there, and from here on out we'll play that little folk club,” Rubin said.
At the Jersey Shore, on the other hand, the Livers debuted a few years back at the Fast Lane, a punk-rock cave, opening for the Butthole Surfers. Their gigs since then have all been at the Brighton Bar, the Long Branch punk haven where they will return Monday night.
“Have you ever been backstage (at a punk club)?” Rubin asked. “You know how there's graffiti all over the walls? This is the new thing we're gonna do now. We're gonna take a bucket of Lysol, we're gonna paint all the walls white and leave a potted plant. That's how punk-rock Bad Livers are."
But no matter who or what they're playing for, the Bad Livers sound and smell the same: like a banjo-and-fiddle based bluegrass band that writes sad ballads and happy banjo blitzkriegs with old-time Appalachian mountain flavors, and plays them with the virtuosity of great bluegrass musicians and the devil-may-care attitude of punk rockers. The fast songs on the band's most recent album, "Horses in the Mines,” are jumping testimonials to fingers flying on strings and blizzards of words sung lovingly through singer Danny Barnes' nose; the slow ones have a fervor that recalls gospel music.
The three Bad Livers are by now used to the sideways looks they get from new audiences, but those looks usually turn to foot-shuffling smiles once they start playing. “We're really happy about what we're playing, and I think the audience can see that," Rubin said. And now that the Austin, Texas, band has spent several years crisscrossing the country in their van, playing whatever small town would have them, he said, “We've got it down to where people know us and we don't have to explain ourselves every time”

Not that there should be that much to explain. Despite the Appalachian flavor, Rubin's basic explanation for the Livers is: We're from Texas. (Or, in his case: "I'm from Oklahoma. And everyone from Oklahoma moves to Texas as soon as they can.") In the Lone Star State, he said, “We speak a particular language, and it's the kind of environment we fit in. We're students of history and students of music. And you can devote yourself to Texas music and spend your whole life and never get tired.
"Look. We're playing the Old Settler's Bluegrass and Fiddler's Convention in Red Rock, Texas (at the end of the current tour), and once a month we're at Emo's (Austin's reigning punk-rock joint). We are the house band. You can't get more disparate than that."

The band's records and live reputation have won it some prestigious spots on its current tour - opening for Los Lobos in Detroit and for the Band at the legendary Wolf Trap in Virginia – but it has remained loyal to tiny Quarterstick Records, where its label mates include punk's veteran commercial failures the Mekons.
“In Detroit, a good quarter of the the audience was already familiar with us, and the other three-quarters was exceptionally receptive," Rubin said. “That validated a concept I've had for a long time: Our music could compete on a much higher level, on a commercial level, without changing anything."
But he said he doubts any major record label is ready to agree. There have been offers, he said, “but it's business, and in business you make someone the sucker deal right off the bat."
For now the Livers are all working part-time day jobs - Rubin is a computer systems operator for Ticketmaster (but thinks Pearl Jam is right on the mark" in its crusade against the ticket agency's high prices) — and collecting ideas for future records and side projects, such as a third Bad Livers album, due about a year from now.
"It takes time,” Rubin said, “when you've gotta go work 20 hours a week, and then you've got fishing. For every hour of work, you've gotta fish at least 20 minutes."
Rubin, the band's resident gabber, who has played bass and other rhythm instruments ever since picking up a sousaphone when a marching band coach pointed to a pile of instruments and said, "Pick up the biggest instrument you can,” hardly has to explain what he's usually after when he casts his rod.
Largemouth bass, of course.


From the Bad Livers Archive: Telluride Bluegrass Festival Program 1994

Bad Livers : Expect a Full Meal
David Owen, Telluride Bluegrass Festival Program 1994

A lot of different terms have been used to describe Bad Livers – everything from acoustic, speed-metal, bluegrass, thrash to cowpunk. All these terms, however, mean little to the Livers, whose focus is on just playing what comes naturally and relying on the principle that good music cannot be kept down for long.
Born from the Austin, Texas, gig scene, Bad Livers came together in 1990 as much out of attrition as out of any master plan. Banjo player Danny Barnes began booking himself as the “Danny Barnes Trio” around the town. The established sound of this title was misleading, because the trio consisted of whomever Barnes could scrape together to play that night. Over time, Ralph White and Mark Rubin fell into place to round out the group, as the three discovered their mutual influences and interest in musical history.
While all three have backgrounds that include forays into the punk, reggae and Cajun scenes, Rubin says it is their collective interest in history and their respect for their instruments that keeps the music pure.
“Some musicians who play the traditional instruments play almost as if they are apologizing for them,” Rubin said while pumping nickels into a Lake Tahoe slot machine. “We like and respect the instruments and the music we play. We don't feel any need to lose any of that."
The other thing that stands out about Bad Livers is that they are committed, above all, to making the music that feels right to them with no concessions to those who would try to pigeonhole them into one industry slot or another. Whether paying homage to Flatt and Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Metallica or the Stooges, the band is true to its roots and will not adjust its musical focus at the expense of . any of its other foundations. As one journalist once put it, “Listening to Bad Livers is like entering a parallel universe, where bluegrass is the only musical language. But it's expansive enough to accomodate everything from Johnny Cash to Jimi Hendrix.”
“We have had all sorts of temptations dangled in front of us by people who wanted us to become something we are not,” Rubin said. “The compromises have been too great.
We have a friend who is a blues player and record companies are always asking him to ‘put on the blues suit.' Those are allowances I just can't make. I am absolutely incapable of putting on the suit."
Fortunately for the band, they have found a record company, Touch & Go – the label for bands like Therapy? and Pegboy – that is willing to take them for what they are and make no demands.
“They give us just enough rope to hang ourselves with,” said Rubin. “We send them a tape and they put it out backed by whatever resources they have available."
Despite the frustrations of classification and the occasional novelty act tag that follows them, Rubin said the band knows what is most important is the music, and ultimately, that is what makes the difficult times worth it. “The only reason the greats like Bill Monroe ever made it, was because they were bullheaded and stayed in the ballgame," said Rubin. “They realized that you can't keep good music down. Our one accomplishment is that we are still here after three records and over 1,000 shows."
Their latest album, Horses in the Mines, was recorded in a wood shed on an old analog 8-track. “We didn't do it that way because we thought it would sound special or to be cool; it was because it was all we could afford," Rubin said. "But, the end result is something we are really proud of. I think it captured more of our live feel than our last album. It sounds a little like we set up in your living room."Bad Livers will also continue to tour as long as it remains feasible, knowing that the stage is their most powerful ally.
"We have had a range of experiences few can boast, from playing established folk rooms to premier punk clubs — and that has allowed us to touch a lot of different types," Rubin said. “It has also given us the opportunity to turn younger audiences on to the older artists who we respect and admire, turn them on to what turns us on."
"No matter what draws people in or what preconceived notion they have of us, it will not change how we act on stage. They are still going to get two full hours of Bad Livers," Rubin concluded. "We have never had an audience we didn't like, regardless of how they showed up. Good music cannot be denied."

Bad Livers will be performing at 12:30 p.m. Saturday..


From the Bad Livers Archive : fRoots UK Review of Industry & Thrift, 12/1998

BAD LIVERS Industry & Thrift,  Sugar Hill The nucleus the Bad Livers may now just be two guys, Danny Barnes and Mark Rubin, but with the aid of producer Lloyd Maines they're finally producing a mighty, full and cohesive sound. Working on the fringes of old-time and bluegrass, but crossing over with all sorts of raw roots from klezmer to country blues and honky tonk, they've finally got away from their earlier lo-fi fetish and do full justice to their singular vision. Whether it's driven by tuba and banjo (Lumpy, Beanpole & Dirt) or totally manic flat-pick guitar and slapped string bass (Brand New Hat, or the Doc Watson-on-uppers Cannonball Rag), they've now worked out how to capture the energy and fertile imagination that previously seemed to be the wishful thinking of the press release. Elsewhere, mandolins, clarinets, fiddles, squeezeboxes, bottleneck and pedal steel guitars layer in and out, and the only regret in the whole package is the complete lack of who-plays-what credits. Oh, and there's the obligatory uncredited extra track on the end, where banjo and bass go wiggy.
An important, landmark album from a band long admired more for their absence of rules than what they actually achieved.


Jews of the Golden West : Max "Bronco Billy" Aronson

Here's a fun series.

I'll be introducing you to Jews from down South "Yellow Stars of Dixie" and out West "Jews of the Golden West." Many of which you may not have known here Jewish I'll reckon. Despite the institutionalized (and oft times open and personal) anti-Semitism of American nationalism, these men and women made outside contributions to American society and culture. Here's our first installment:

Every hear of the early Western movie star Bronco Billy? Turns out he actually born Max Aronson, the son of sucessful Jewish merchants in Little Rock Arkansas. To make it in the business he adopted the English name "Gilbert M. Anderson." One of his 300 short films featured the very first recorded example of the "pie-in-the-face" gag and played 3 different roles in the very first "western" movie "The Great Train Robbery"

Astonishedly, here's "Bronco Billy's Christmas Dinner" from a German Silent reel:

Learn more about him at his Wiki page. 


Thanks for visiting! Feel free to listen or download my latest release for free. I'm really proud of it and I'd like you to have it!


The odd tale of the "Jewfish"

A fellow small town Jew named Gary David Grossman found me online and sent me his article. It's about one man's curiosity about an strangely named fish and how it didn't occur to anyone that it might be a tad anti-Semitic in practice.

It's also the story illustrating how one person can affect positive change in the world. And further an example of the Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam. our responsibility to repair the World.

Spend 8 minutes reading about the "Jewfish."


Sick of palaver about "Milennials" yet?

Here's the POV of two commentators I trust and appreciate.

Give them both a listen and maybe have a more nuanced understanding of the topic.

I know I did.

Arguing from one perspective:

Arguing another: 


Goodnight Facebook

If you're reading this its a good chance you got my note about shuttering my Facebook account. I appreciate that you took the time to follow me over here. Here, Master of my own domain. I get to set my own rules and I'm not sharing your info with anybody. Promise. (If you should take issue with my posts, note that I'm factually incorrect or have some relevant commentary that you feel like sharing, please feel free to contact me.)

Before I start cranking out observations and opinions here  that would have gone over there, please do me this one favor. Check out my new website, www.JewofOklahoma.com. When you're there you can find a link to my latest release. I'm super proud of it and I'd like you to hear it at least and download it free for nuthin'.

So! Welcome to the place I used to share my stories with before I got derailed by MySpace, er, I mean Facebook.


New Orleans LA