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Vic Ruggiero Of The Slackers Playing Cafe Stritch

In Music
Fifteen years into his solo career Vic Ruggiero is still finding ways to keep his material fresh

Fifteen years into his solo career Vic Ruggiero is still finding ways to keep his material fresh

Sometimes things just click. And sometimes it takes a while. “I wrote a song back in 2000,” Bronx-born singer and songwriter Vic Ruggiero says. “I’m telling you—I was on stage last year and it was the first time I ever understood one of the lyrics I wrote.”

Such a breakthrough explains Ruggiero’s focus on getting lost in the moment while performing. If he hadn’t remained open to where the song was leading him, he says, he may never have discovered what that line—written 15 years ago—was all about.

Performing solo sets only by request nowadays, there’s no telling what Ruggiero may discover during his performance next Tuesday at Cafe Stritch. As a special treat, he’s bringing along musical buddies Jessie Wagner and Kepi Ghoulie. Wagner is the frontman for L.A. reggae veterans the Aggrolites, while Kepi Ghoulie formerly played bass for the Groovie Ghoulies.

“This tour is the first of its kind for me. I got to combine two or three of my favorite people to play with,” Ruggiero says. “It’s a really unique experiment for me. I hope people see it as one of those great combinations.”

Ruggiero arrives in the Bay Area once he concludes his Midwest tour with the New York City ska group the Slackers—his main gig and a project he’s been a part of for close to 25 years. Unique to this tour, Ruggiero will feature songs from his upcoming record, Reggae Workers of the World, which he worked on with Wagner.

Compared to his ska- and reggae-based output with the Slackers, Ruggiero’s solo output falls more in line with roots Americana, punk and blues, even revealing hints of that doo wop and boogie woogie he internalized as a child. The music is beautifully centered around his voice, which is clear, yet rough around the edges.

Ruggiero recalls listening to a lot of music in his house growing up, laughing when he mentions that most listening happened while his dad was out of the house. He heard a lot of boogie woogie and doo wop in those early years, and lovingly remembers being inspired by his mother, a former member of a doo wop girl group, harmonizing with her friends on weekends when he was younger.

Their musical ability inspired the young Ruggiero, whose interest in Frankie Ford’s “Sea Cruise” and Fats Domino made him want to play piano in a group that sounded like Little Richard. Later, his passion turned toward a love for reggae and ska.

Though he didn’t see the connection immediately, he always felt like he recognized that ska beat from somewhere. He eventually drew the connection back to boogie woogie and doo wop.

“It snuck in there,” he says of the connection, once he realized how his early love bled into a new musical passion. “It was like a long lost friend.”

His latest album, This, released last October, re-imagines a number of his former tracks and gives them a proper studio treatment.

The project came about when a good friend offered to record Vic in a studio on the West Coast. Ruggiero didn’t initially take him up on the offer, but when an upcoming tour was cancelled, something told him his new-found free time was the magic moment to bring the two together.

But instead of Ruggiero taking charge, he gave control over to his friend—who had chosen all the songs he wanted to hear Vic record.

“It was a new experience for me,” he says of the process. “I’m used to calling those kinds of shots, so it was nice to have somebody do it for me, because it gives you the ability to just be the artist you want to be.”

While he wasn’t opposed to trying things differently, he also says he doesn’t believe in recording dozens of takes to find the perfect moment.

“To me, music is something that you can do in a hundred different ways,” he says. “I’m not married to one performance. I don’t think the performance you get on one record is the beginning and the end of the song. I’m gonna play that song 100 times.”

Still, Ruggiero recognizes when he’s not doing a song justice. Sometimes, he may cut a song short and tell the audience to remind him to revisit it later in the set. Such moments provide him with a chance to discover or re-discover work—sometimes even his own. You never know what you’ll find when you’re living in the moment.

Vic Ruggiero plays Cafe Stritch on April 28 at 9pm. More info.

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