Michael Rubin

Michael Rubin

Having distinguished himself as a sideman for many years, Michael Rubin finally steps into the spotlight, not only as a harmonica master, but also as a singer-songwriter on his debut album, I’ll Worry If I Wanna, on Many Hats Records. The cartoon cover, as well as the title itself, assures the listener that the blues they’re about to hear will be laced with humor. Lots of it.

Co-produced by Josh Fulero and Rubin (many hats indeed!), the album features nine Rubin originals. The core backing band includes Mike Keller on guitar, Michael Archer on bass, and Mark Hays on drums, along with several memorable guest players. This impressive assemblage provides a crisp, economical yet powerful setting for Rubin’s superlative harmonica and quirky vocals. His voice is often reminiscent of David Bromberg’s with its talky, idiosyncratic phrasing and loose delivery, which oddly enough provides a remarkably effective counterpoint to the incredibly tight band. Rather than seem disjointed, to the contrary this coupling draws the listener in.

‘Little Rabbit’ kicks off the album. This randy little tune gives new meaning to “harebrained” as Rubin sings “I wanna get you hoppin’, make you feel real loose/Let you nibble my carrot and taste my carrot juice/I’m a little rabbit/You’re a little rabbit too/When I burrow baby, I know what to do.” The marriage of swirling harp and slide guitar is irresistible, and the quick musical nod to the 1950’s ‘Bunny Hop’ is inspired and smile-inducing (providing you’re hip to the Hop).

Rubin shifts from leporine to bovine eroticism in the udderly catchy ‘Go Milk Your Own Cow.’ Copping a New Orleans feel, the arrangement includes a fowl-mouthed harmonica imitating a chicken, followed by some superb, spirited fiddling around by one Dr. Sick. It’s followed by the poignant ‘Old Radio Dreams,’ a throwback to yesteryear’s Country & Western genre, with the emphasis on Western.

There’s still a lot of meat on that funny bone, however, as evidenced by the next four offerings. ‘Kama Sutra Girl’ is a three-chorder about a woman who knows just how to position herself in his life, while the shoulda/woulda/coulda ‘Can We Break Up Again’ finds the singer armed with fresh zingers he wishes he’d unleashed when he had the opportunity. In the exuberantly masochistic title track, ‘I’ll Worry If I Wanna,’ the chorus line “’Cause worryin’ makes me feel all right” says it all, and the non-fat-free ‘Beer Belly Baby’ as Rubin revealing himself as a middleman: “I got a Beer Belly Baby and I love to watch her shake that thing.”

‘Chain Letter Blues’ is a molasses-slow tune with a fittingly weepy harp underscoring the subject’s sad dilemma: to be superstitious or not to be. Rubin’s unorthodoxy extends to the final track, in his choice of closing with the album’s sole non-vocal number, ‘Fourth Coast.’ As with all nine songs, Rubin generously and wisely allows his musicians to shine as much as he does, and that plays no small role in making this album a praiseworthy debut.

Jim George


Michael Rubin was conceived in Memphis in 1969. He went to Woodstock in the womb, sealing his love of music. Born in New Jersey in 1969, his family moved to Pittsburgh, PA and ultimately to Marin County, CA (the home of the BLUES!). He picked up a harmonica at 15 years of age and immediately knew it was his future.

While at college in the Bay Area he had easy access to his true classrooms, outstanding music clubs, including The Cotati Cabaret and Slim’s in San Francisco. The blues was undergoing a tremendous resurgence and players such as Charlie Musselwhite, Norton Buffalo and Mark Hummel lived and played nearby. California has been a celebrated harmonica mecca and legends passed through regularly, most notably Rick Estrin with Little Charlie and the Nightcats, who not only mentored Rubin on the harmonica, but showed him that blues can be both excellent music and hilarious. Rubin took that knowledge to heart, studying Estrin, Rice Miller, Mose Allison, James Harman, Louis Jordan, and non-blues musicians The Coasters, David Bromberg, and Jonathan Richman.

After college Rubin moved to New Orleans where he became an original member of Irene and the Mikes and was mentored by Andy J. Forest and Anders Osborne. From there, Rubin spent a half of a year busking on the streets of Europe, before moving to Austin in 1993. There he joined the blues scene and was mentored by Gary Primich, who knew that crafting a song was as important as blowing harp well.

Rubin focused on being a sideman, finding steady opportunities with many bands. Throughout he kept writing, his songs became hidden gems, only appearing to the world on special occasions. He learned that there was more to music than blues and began to deeply explore a myriad of styles, including folk, rock,  jazz and classical music. As his harp skills became widely known, he was recruited to be the featured harmonica player in the musical, The Civil War, which he helped launch in Houston. Rubin would move to New York when the show debuted on Broadway in 1999 and received multiple Tony Award nominations. Every night, to the accompaniment of his harp, the North won, and the slaves were freed.

Returning to Austin after a year in theater, he performed with such luminaries as Ruthie Foster and Cyrille Neville. He also played with popular Austin acts, such as Seth Walker, The McMercy Family Band (who sing backup on Rubin’s new album), That Damned Band, Kalu James, Sick’s Pack and many others. He is a sought-after recording session artist, appearing on dozens of albums. Through the years he continued writing his original music. At 50, it became clear to him if he did not put out his own music soon, it might never happen. So, he began working with harmonicist, guitarist, and singer Josh Fulero on producing his solo debut album, I’ll Worry If I Wanna on Many Hats Records.

Rubin now lives in Austin with his wife, their two daughters, and their dog. The dog loves Rubin best, so that’s nice.





APRIL 29, 2022