Monday, June 13, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #126

The history of Punk Rock is littered with tales of tortured, misguided souls who destroyed themselves with drugs.  The most well-known cases (Sid Vicious, Darby Crash) were particularly sad because it seemed no one ever tried to stop them, and they were certainly incapable of stopping themselves.  A third case, one which gets considerably less press, at least saw his bandmates make it clear to him that there was a problem, but it was too little, too late.

Malcolm Owen formed The Ruts in 1977 with Paul Fox, Segs Jennings and Dave Ruffy.  They infused their take on UK Punk with Funk, Dub and Reggae, creating a sound that landed about midway between The Sex Pistols and The Clash.  After two years of playing the pubs and clubs circuit, they had their first single in the record shops, 1979's "In A Rut," which remains one of the best singles of the era.  In a bit of eerie foreshadowing, the b-side was a song called "H-Eyes," a warning against the dangers of heroin addiction in which Owen sings, "'s gonna screw your head, you're gonna wind up dead..."

The popularity of "In A Rut" got The Ruts signed to Virgin Records, who promptly issued two more singles, "Babylon's Burning" and "Something That I Said," both of which became decent hit records in the UK, and demand for a full album began to grow.   That album, The Crack, appeared in September of 1979, with the two Virgin singles re-recorded for the LP, as well as some new material.  One of the new tracks, "Jah War," was released as the next single; its Dub Reggae sound was an abrupt shift from the sneering Punk of the earlier singles, and helped The Ruts reach a wider audience (especially since The Clash had already begun to blaze the trail from Punk to Reggae).

The following year, The Ruts released the outstanding single "Staring At The Rude Boys," but Owen was becoming unreliable due to increasingly heavy drug use.  After a sixth single, "West One (Shine On Me)," the rest of the group fired Owen, giving as reason their inability to work with him in his addicted state.  After a short period of inactivity, the band and Owen reached an accord and reuinited.  One would assume that part of the reconciliation would have had to include Owen getting the help he needed, but it never happened.  On July 14, 1980, Malcolm Owen was found dead of a heroin overdose at his parents' home, only 26 years old at the time of his death.

Later in the year, The Ruts released a second album, Grin And Bear It, as a tribute/goodbye to Owen.  Containing the new singles as well as an assortment of demos and live material, it's a brief window into what could have been.

The rest of the band continued on for awhile under the name Ruts D.C. ("da capo," a Latin musical term meaning "from the beginning"), following the Reggae/Funk path the band had begun to explore and adding bits of Jazz to mix, but the fire was gone.  Had Owen not destroyed himself with heroin, The Ruts may well have evolved into the equal of The Pistols or The Clash; the potential was certainly there.  As it is, we are left with an album and a half's worth of material and the question, "What if?"

Our clips this week nearly bookend The Ruts' recording career. First up is the classic "In A Rut," and then the excellent "Staring At The Rude Boys."  Enjoy.

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