Country music is a funny thing. While on the outside it seems like a pretty “Hee-Yaw!” simple, straightforward artform, country music boasts some of the best maestros that American music has ever seen. Right now there may be half a hundred fiddle players with half their teeth missing, living in the bowls of a Prevost bus rolling down the road with a country outfit that could beat out the first chair violinist of most any given orchestra.
Simply put, the amount of talent in the country music musician pool is sick. And one shining example of this is a 15-year-old girl named Ruby Jane.
When I bumped into her at a John Hiatt show during South by Southwest, I was as star struck as I would’ve been bumping into John Hiatt, or any big name artist. She was taller than I anticipated, probably because I’ve been following her career since she was 13 or so. Ruby Jane is as talented as any other musician out there today, simple as that. And her talent is well rounded. She’s not just a superpicking prodigy, someone like Derek Trucks that can wow you with one instrument but then is a dud of a personality on stage, staring at his fretboard and not engaging the audience at all. Ruby can play guitar, mandolin, banjo, drums, piano, harmonica, you name it, and is a top notch singer and songwriter. And believe it or not, she has a stage presence and can work a crowd as good as any.
Ruby’s real gift is the violin. We’ve all seen the story of the super kid; the child actor, the spelling bee winner or a violin whiz, whatever. They’re used as fodder for the cheezy human interest stories at the end of news programs, but once they hit puberty, more times than not they seem to dive head first into obscurity, never to be heard from again. At age 11, Ruby was already impressing enough people to land on the CBS Evening News, but four years later it almost seems like an insult to call her a “prodigy.” Ruby Jane is a bona fide top tier musician and band leader at any age. She’s not a marvel because of what she’s able to do at 15, she’s a marvel because of what she can do, period.
Ruby Jane has played with people like Willie Nelson, Ray Benson & Asleep at the Wheel, Lyle Lovett, Johnny Gimble, Dale Watson, Marty Stuart, Rhonda Vincent, and on and on. She’s played on the Grand Ole Opry (youngest violinist ever), Austin City Limits, and the historic Kessler Theater in Dallas.
And what does she play? Country and bluegrass, straight up. How about Folsom Prison Blues, or Hank’s Mind Your Own Business, or Cash’s Get Rhythm. Whether playing in Asleep at the Wheel with her mentor Ray Benson, or leading her own band “The Ruby Jane Show,” Ruby Jane is REAL musician that plays REAL country.
If you’ve been noticing, I’ve been linking to videos. You can blow hours after plugging “Ruby Jane” into YouTube. Yes, this comes from experience. The places she’s played, the people she’s played with, and the music she’s done in a such a short span is dizzying.
Ruby Jane is impressive on so many levels, from her playing to her natural confidence and adeptness at showmanship. Nobody looks more at home on stage than she does. But what strikes me most about her, what really draws you in and makes her a singular talent, is her passion. You can see it on her face. When she’s playing the violin she completely lets go of herself. There is complete communion between the music and her motion, her heart and her hands.
I will be interested to see what the coming years have in store for Ruby. As time goes on, the fascination with her age will have to be replaced with originality. However her skill set is so wide and so deep, she could be whatever she wanted. Maybe she will yearn for a simple life and have a mess of kids by 30, or maybe she will move to London and join a symphony. Or maybe she will become a queen of country. Either way, we are all blessed to have someone of such talent and passion call country home, for however long that happens to be.
And let’s stop prefacing her name with an age. The name Ruby Jane says enough.