Over the past year and a half, since I’ve been able to start writing songs again, I’ve been constantly amazed that this has come back- even though it’s harder than it used to be- and so appreciative, so grateful for any of it at all. That being said, I thought I would give a little idea of what the song writing process is for me- every song writer has a different approach, and this is mine.
First off, a little history: the way I used to write songs was entirely through some sort of ‘comes through me’ process: a little ditty or piece of tune would start thrumming through my brain, so I would have to stop whatever I was doing to record the melody or write down the words. Then I would either right then and there write the song, or work on it pretty easily later on within a few days. I wrote a lot of songs this way.
After my accident that left me with a moderately severe TBI, I wasn’t able to write at all for some time, let alone speak, finish sentences, or communicate easily at all. After a few years of this, I tried to write stories to help bring my cognitive condition back, but found I was cheating when I couldn’t think of the word I wanted to use- referring to the thesaurus or just using a different word altogether. So I wrote my recipes out that friends and family had been asking me to share with them for years. It would sometimes take the better part of a full day to write out one recipe- that’s how impaired the language side of my brain was- but I did it. After a year of writing, I was able to write a book’s worth of recipes and tales to go with them, found a publisher, and released my book ‘Ruby’s Juke Joint Americana Cookbook'(that comes with a CD of sample Americana music to cook by!).
Even after that, songs didn’t come to me. I re-worked a passel of of our songs for children’s ears for our album Rockabilly Playground that was on the primary ballot for a Grammy in 2013 the lyrics at least were able to come with some dedicated concentration now- but no new music.
Over the next few years, I continued to write- as a result of my cookbook, I had a radio cooking show that aired on over 500 stations in 200+ countries around the world. For two years, every week I wrote a new episode and series of recipes. And my brain did what brains do- it re-routed signals to new places
Which leads me to this past year and some change. About a year and a half ago, one day, as I was watching a movie about the bomb girls of WWII, I saw a poster in the background of one scene that was like a line of a song- as I sat there and watched the movie, the line kept repeating itself over and over again until I realized- oh my gosh! I have to write this out! And… there was music behind it
Which led to a whole series of songs that began burbling up through me again- I never know when I will be inspired- I’ll read something, or hear something on the news, or someone will say something, or I’ll be puttering around doing something and hear a line of music going around and around in my head- and realize- I have to stop what I’m doing and capture this!
The difference between how I used to write though and how I write now is that now I have to work hard at a song. It doesn’t just come to me almost fully finished. I get a snippet of a line of music, and have to work at the remainder- the verse, the chorus, the bridge, how they all connect. Or I have a lyric and work out what the story is- what the song is about. And then figure out what musical line goes behind the lyrics to buoy them up, to help the message come across- is it an upbeat feel? Or sad? Or loving, or something else? Cha-cha? Waltz? Shuffle? I often end up re-writing portions of the song as I go, and it can take months now for a song to work out.
And then I bring the song to Jorge, who makes comments and puts in his two cents’ worth- maybe changing something about the song, maybe adding a bridge, maybe leaving it as is. Once we’ve worked out the song together, we bring it to the full band, and it blossoms from a 2 dimensional idea into a 3 dimensional chorus of sound with the guitar, bass and drums fleshing it out. And last, once we start playing the song in front of audiences, it becomes something else- 4th dimensional? The song begins to take on a life of it’s own and may even change with the energy of a live show and the audience interaction with it.
Sometimes, I end up re-writing portions of the song even after we’ve been playing it out in public for a while. As my friend Tjarko says, NOW I’m a song writer- using more perspiration than inspiration
So that’s my song writing process these days. Thanks for reading along, and hopefully you enjoyed hearing about the process. So now I look forward to playing the new songs for you at a show sometime soon! Make sure to check our website to find out where and when we’ll be playing near you soon, and we’ll see you there!
We have so many exciting events and projects coming up that we figured we’d just list them here all in one fell swoop:
1. European Tour in August and September, of course
2. Waterloo Productions movie about my accident, TBI, recovery and ability to write songs finally again in this past year, leading up to our heading back into the studio at the end of the year
3. Talking to new record companies (2) for the new album (!)
4. Writing new songs, rehearsing and starting to play them out for folks
5. Quick trip down to South Padre Island for AJ and Christina’s wedding in October!
6. Quick trip out to Seattle to play at Slim’s Last Chance Saloon and a farewell show for Highway 99 at it’s current location in mid-November!
7. Finally! Coozies! Get yours at a RDSH show soon!
8. And of course, the much-talked about studio time in December…
Make sure you check out where and when we’re playing next on our website so we can see your bright and shiny smiling faces at a show soon!
Happy to be here,
Ruby and the gents
Ok yeah yeah yeah, you’ve heard about the movie here’s the NEW news though: the director has decided to give the film a storyline- so rather than simply being a concert film, it’s about my accident and resulting head injury, the years of hard work and struggle to regain my ability to finish sentences and remember words let alone write (!), and then of course being able to write songs again- resulting in the album we will be recording at the end of the year.
So we’ll be filming more shows, interviews, and other footage over the next few months, including concert footage in Europe. The director also wants to insert images of me/us right after the accident, since we continued to perform as per doc’s orders. If anyone has any photos or video of Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers right after my accident, please send it our way! We’ll make sure you get credit in the movie
Well, that’s all the news we have for today. I’m off to rehearse two of the new songs we’ll be playing tonight for the first time ever for folks. And pretty soon, we’ll be packing to head across the pond on tour! Life doesn’t suck
Make sure you check our website to see where and when we’ll be playing next. We look forward to seeing your bright and shiny smiling faces sometime soon!