Detroit may me bankrupt, but its musical legacy lives on in one of the most unlikely metropolises in America—Orlando, the home of boy bands and breakbeat and Shamu and Disney World, the plastic tourist fantasyland where that bushy-tailed missionary in The Book of Mormon hopes to realize his dreams. None of this comes across in the music of The Sh-Booms, the exciting soul band that formed in Central Florida in 2011.
A lot of bands can make retro-sounding garage rock, punk and Britpop these days, but recreating the Motown sound circa 1965 is a more ambitious gambit. Founded by bassist and songwriter Al “The Thump” Ruiz—all of its members have succinct nicknames, such as “Spark Jiver” and “Skin Blaster”—The Sh-Booms have done just that, much to the surprise of Ruiz himself.
“My parents grew up in the soul scene of the ‘60s in New Haven, CT,” he says. “My teens and early 20s were rock and roll/indie stuff, anything to get away from what my parents were into. As I got older, I started looking up to my parents a lot more and going through their records. I started falling in love with the music I knew so well as a child, and took a stab at songwriting.”
The result, once Ruiz recruiting nine other musicians, including the dynamic lead singer Emily “The Chirp” Patterson, conjures sock hops and jazz clubs and cabarets, where big bands will huddle on small stages, and the charismatic female singers would wear dazzling dresses and her male players would don matching collared suits and ties and move in choreographed unison.
You get all of this at a Sh-Booms concert; listening to the band on tracks like “123,” (their first single, released last year) and “X to your O,” it’s as if the last 50 years of musical evolution (soul purists might say devolution) never really happened. In an era where most pop music is composed on computers and written by one- or two-man songwriting factories, the Sh-Booms have stood out among their peers.
“Many promoters, radio people, or whatever find this refreshing,” Ruiz says. “Not many bands are doing this type thing. It’s been three years now, we’ve gotten a lot tighter as musicians and honed our craft.”