Yep Roc Records has unearthed a piece of history from Berkeley, California’s power-pop heroes The Rubinoos. On November 3, 1976, co-founders Jon Rubin (vocals) and Tommy Dunbar (guitar) entered CBS Studios in San Francisco with drummer Donn Spindt and bassist Royse Ader to get a feel for the studio prior to the recording of their first album. Now, that session is being released on June 25 as The CBS Tapes.
Although they hadn’t yet recorded their debut record for Berkeley indie label Beserkley Records, The Rubinoos had already been performing for more than six years. Dunbar and Rubin started the group to play a school dance when they were both just thirteen; Spindt joined the band in 1971 and Ader followed in 1974. Tommy’s brother Robbie was affiliated with Beserkley as a member of popular Bay Area band Earth Quake, the label’s first signee. Through Robbie, The Rubinoos were introduced to the label. The Rubinoos’ cover of Canadian pop group The DeFranco Family’s “Gorilla” appeared on the 1975 Beserkley compilation Chartbusters.
At CBS, the quartet was greeted by engineer Glen Kolotkin (Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix) who brought his experience in capturing the band’s sound in the studio. In the press release, Jon Rubin remembers that the session was a “‘set up and get comfortable in the studio’ kind of affair.” Dunbar recalls that the situation was “something like, ‘okay, the tape is going to run, just go ahead and play anything you want’.” And they did. The previously unreleased 11 tracks on The CBS Tapes run the gamut of R&B (King Curtis’ “Memphis Soul Stew,” The Meters’ “Cissy Strut”), pop (The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar”), and rock-and-roll (The Beatles’ “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”). The Rubinoos tapped the DeFranco Family songbook again for “Heartbeat, It’s a Love Beat” and tore into the surf classic “Walk Don’t Run,” best known via The Ventures’ seminal 1960 recording. They also paid tribute to Bay Area pal Jonathan Richman with The Modern Lovers’ “Government Center” (which they had previously performed with Richman) and played three original songs: “All Excited,” “I Want Her So Bad,” and “Nooshna Kavolta.”
The press release makes clear what The CBS Tapes is, and isn’t: “This isn’t a lo-fi sloppy rehearsal tape, a stripped-down demo, or a polished finished product. Done without second takes and overdubs, the band’s loose, unencumbered live performances exude a joyful energy that embodies the band’s spirit.” Before long, The Rubinoos would return to CBS Studios to begin sessions in earnest for their 1977 self-titled LP featuring ten unique tracks including the cover of Tommy James and The Shondells’ evergreen “I Think We’re Alone Now” that would earn them a moderate chart hit.
Today, The Rubinoos remain active with their two founding members as well as Donn Spindt (who returned in 1999 after a 14-year hiatus) and Al Chan (bassist since 1980). The CBS Tapes promises to be an illuminating look at the band’s roots. It’s due June 25 from Yep Roc in CD, LP, and digital formats. You’ll find the track listing and pre-order links below.
- All Excited
- Sugar Sugar
- Memphis Soul Stew/Pepsi Generation
- I Want Her So Bad
- Nooshna Kavolta
- She Loves You
- Walk Don’t Run
- Heartbeat It’s A Lovebeat
- I Want To Hold Your Hand
- Cissy Strut
- Government Center