"I've never been wealthy with it but I've managed to raise a family and get by, which is enough for me, because I do a job I love."
In another universe, The Ruts are one of the biggest bands in the punk canon. Formed in 1977, the quartet imbued razor-tight punk rhythms with a reggae sensibility and impeccable musicianship. More nuanced than The Clash and more attitudinal than Joy Division, The Ruts were shaping up to be the flagship band of the next wave of punk.
Thanks to a deal with Virgin and support from legendary BBC Radio presenter John Peel, their first album, The Crack, reached #16 on the UK charts. But in July of 1980, frontman Malcolm Owen was found dead of a heroin overdose. The remaining members shifted musical direction and continued on as Ruts DC for a couple of years, but the momentum was lost, and they disbanded in 1983. And that was it for The Ruts. Another formidable frontman lost too young to drugs; another band's potential extinguished just as they were getting started.
"I'm very much a working class boy, and when I say poor, I mean really poor [laughs]."
But in July of 2007, the surviving members reunited, recruiting Henry Rollins to sing at a benefit show to raise money for the band's cancer-stricken guitarist, Paul Fox. Though Fox would pass away only months later, the show sparked a renewed interest in The Ruts. Under the name Ruts DC, drummer Dave Ruffy and bassist "Segs" Jennings — now on vocal duties — recruited guitarist Leigh Heggarty, and the trio have been touring steadily since 2011. Now, almost four decades after their formation and with a new record in the works, Ruts DC are set to tour Australia for the first time this November.
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Now in his 60s, Dave Ruffy is humbled at the opportunity to add to continue The Ruts' storied legacy. "The thing with music, for me, I mean, music kind of saved me from the ghetto," Ruffy says. "I'm very much a working class boy, and when I say poor, I mean really poor [laughs]. If you can avoid being cynical — and I'm lucky enough that I've been working ever since I started doing it — you kind of get better at it and you keep an open mind."
Yet Ruffy seems firmly against retreading old ground. After we speak, Ruts DC will open their London show with a new song — a ballsy move when the newest song audiences want to hear is from 1980. In fact, there are three new numbers in the current set, and a total of 12 in the works slated for a record that's expected mid-next year. "I use the term rock'n'roll loosely, but it's not going to be a dub album. It's going to be a guitar and drums-based album. So I use the term rock'n'roll for want of a better term. I'm really, really happy with what we're coming up with. It's natural and quite organic. Segs really opened the Pandora's Box and done a lot of soul searching and he's really coming up with the goods. As a frontman, he's improved to no end.
"I'm older than I've ever been, but I've never been busier than I am right now. And I feel really happy with what I'm doing and I'm writing well and The Ruts are writing well. It's great. I feel extremely privileged for that. I've never been wealthy with it but I've managed to raise a family and get by, which is enough for me, because I do a job I love. That's the main thing."