“Rueben deGroot has a vast arsenal of themes and ideas for a seemingly endless amount of excellent songs. His phrasing and melodic ideas are as strong and flawless as his clever lyrical choices and although comparisons can be made and influences seen, there is nothing predictable about his music and approach to songwriting. He is destined to make a lasting impression on many listeners in what will surely be a long and fruitful career.” – Luther Wright
“What a voice!” – Sarah Harmer
“Don’t let this cowboy-hatted hottie fool you, he ain’t just country. DeGroot infused his tunes with elements of folk and jazz to create music that most country nay-sayers could enjoy.” – iheartthemusic.com
In recent years, performer / songwriter Rueben deGroot’s audacious musical eclecticism has won over audiences throughout Canada. Born and raised in Vancouver, Rueben learned to play guitar after falling in love with the music of Janis Joplin, Steely Dan, and Little Feat. After high school, he spent six years in Edmonton, where he played in bands and started songwriting. Rueben’s chance encounter in 2001 with songwriter Cameron Latimer led to their formation of The Seams, a Vancouver-based roots rock band that also included Steve Dawson and Adam Dobres (later of Outlaw Social). Following his departure from the band in 2005, Rueben continued to refine his craft over the next few years, writing dozens of songs.
In 2007, he settled in Kingston, Ontario, and gradually assembled his current backing band, consisting of guitarist Dan Curtis, bassist Elijah Abrams, drummers Rob Radford and Mark Fraser, and keyboardist Josh Lyon. The band is sometimes joined by a killer horn section featuring Bunny Stewart and Benjamin Perosin. They have been joined on many occasions by vocalist Christina Foster, as well as by other guests including friends Sarah Harmer and Spencer Evans.
Rueben’s high-energy, marathon concerts at the Living Room and at other Kingston venues soon established him as a local favourite. His well-received 2008 EP, The Winter of Our Discotheque, brought him even more popularity. Since then, Rueben and his band have averaged one hundred performances per year, and they’ve shared stages with Sarah Harmer, The Jack Grace Band, Michael Kaeshammer, Hey Romeo, Chris Brown (Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, Chris & Kate), and Daniel Lanois and The Derek Trucks Band. Rueben has also produced albums for Kingston performers The Gertrudes and Christina Foster.
Rueben’s songs, which have been featured on the television shows jPod and Robson Arms, encompass a wide variety of musical genres, including outlaw country, jazz, soul, folk, boogie woogie, western swing, garage rock, southern rock, and early 60s pop. He explains, “I have no respect for generic boundaries. They’re silly. Each of my songs is every genre it needs to be. Sometimes that means cramming a lot of genres into a given song. I want to evoke the whole range of feelings in the listeners, and you can’t do that by limiting yourself to one kind of music.”
The narrators of Rueben’s songs are as varied as the musical genres he draws upon. “I never write about myself,” he notes. “My characters most often originate in overheard conversations. They come from disparate walks of life and cultures. The only thing they share in common is that they’re almost always underdogs. From some perspectives, they’re life’s failures, but not from my perspective.” Whether he’s writing about a forlorn operator of a cement mixer, a rogue Wall Street trader, or a down-on-his-luck con man, Rueben sets himself apart from his songwriting contemporaries by balancing the poignant with the whimsical, the profound with the quirky.
2010 saw the release of his first full-length album, Hey!, co-produced by Canadian alt-country icon Luther Wright. Reviewing the album, one critic wrote, “Hey! contains echoes of John Prine, the Band, early Bruce Springsteen, Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakham, even Buddy Holly. And yet his music is so much more than the sum of his influences. It represents an ongoing dialogue with them, and through that dialogue, he realizes an artistic voice of singular power. . . For all the strengths of the album, it is chiefly deGroot’s exuberance that wins us over — an exuberance for the musical traditions his songs embody and frequently transcend and for the cast of assorted vagabond who populate those songs. Hey! is one of the finest roots albums of recent years.”
Rueben has followed up Hey! with Pine (2011) and Rocket Surgery (2013).
Photos on this page: Galit Rodin, Christina Macaluso