The formation of Jack Ruby started in Albany, New York, during the summer of 1973. That was when vocalist Robin “Robby” Hall and guitarist Chris Gray hatched the idea of forming a band. By year’s end, Hall had relocated to New York City and Gray followed suit. The duo soon became a trio when Randy Cohen, an acquaintance of Gray’s, joined. Cohen had the distinction of being one of a handful of people who created the Serge synthesizer, one of which he himself owned. Cohen, in turn, recruited Boris Policeband, who, according to Hall, was “a crazy but talented viola player who amplified his music through a small FM transmitter.” Hall was the one who came up with the band’s name.
“The name came mainly because it had a ring to it, and because I thought we could use the famous picture of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald as a memorable visual shortcut in ads, posters and record covers,” Hall recalled. The idea worked: “A year later, a cab driver asked me the name of my band and when I said ‘Jack Ruby,’ he nodded and said, ‘I heard of you.’”
In early 1974, the quartet entered a Times Square studio to record a trio of songs: Gray and Cohen’s “Hit and Run,” Policeband’s Captain Beefheart-inspired “Mayonnaise is Made of Eggs,” and a third number that has, apparently, been lost to the ages (even the title can’t be recalled). Gray played guitar and bass, Cohen handled drum and synthesizer duties, Policeband played viola, and Hall did the singing.
The strength of their first demo caught the attention of Steve Paley, who worked in the A & R department of Epic Records, part of Columbia Records. He commissioned another demo from the group, which he arranged to have them record at Columbia Studios. Shortly before the recording commenced, Boris Policeband left rather abruptly. The remaining members sequestered themselves in Cohen’s parents’ house in rural Pennsylvania for a couple of weeks in order to work up some new material. They returned to New York and recorded “Bored Stiff,” “Sleep Cure” and “Bad Teeth.” Epic passed on the young prospects, who then shopped their demo around to a variety of labels, none of which were interested.
George Scott and Robin Hall
Cohen was the next to leave, after which Hall and Gray decided to recruit a bassist and drummer. Sometime in 1975, they hooked up with George Scott, a former thespian who had gotten caught up in the New York music scene and started playing bass. Although the band spent a lot of time rehearsing, the revolving door of drummers and lack of original material kept them from playing any live gigs.
In May of 1977, Hall left Jack Ruby (and New York City). Gray and Scott recruited Steve Barth (a friend of Scott’s) as lead singer, and this line-up played at least one gig (at Kenny’s Castaways). For the most part, though, Gray handled the vocal duties following Hall’s departure. By year’s end, George Scott was working with James Chance in the Contortions, and little – if anything – was being heard from Jack Ruby.
Chris Gray eventually moved back to Albany. Randy Cohen developed a career as a writer, working for the likes of David Letterman and Rosie O’Donnell, before landing a gig at The New York Times as “The Ethicist.” Boris Policeband remained on the New York scene before disappearing in the mid-1980s; rumors of his death abound, though no concrete evidence has emerged to support them. Robin Hall currently resides in Brooklyn.
Note: A special thanks to Robin Hall for providing the majority of the information used to compose Jack Ruby’s biography.
To listen to the 1974 demo version of “Hit and Run,” click here. For information on Jack Ruby’s lone CD release, consisting of eight songs culled from demo and rehearsal tapes, click here.
Other Jack Ruby-related links:
Boris Policeband: A MySpace tribute page, and a blog memoriam
Robin Hall’s blog
Read WFMU’s review of Jack Ruby’s CD