Songwriter, musician and producer Vic Ruggiero of the Slackers has played in several ska/reggae bands including the Stubborn All-stars. The Bronx native is also associated with Rancid and Crazy Baldhead, has released three solo albums and has played with acoustic ska musician Chris Murray.
While he is mostly known as an organist, he also plays piano, bass, banjo, guitar, harmonica and percussion. Not exactly a slacker…
Ruggiero’s voice has a unique raw quality with a Bronx accent. His songs follow various themes, from political issues to love and loss. Some of his primary influences are Bob Dylan and Pete Townsend. Ruggiero also acknowledges that punk music influenced his career, especially artists such as Minor Threat, Iggy Pop, Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls and Johnny Thunder.
According to Ruggiero, all music can be influential to some measure. Boogie-woogie and Motown music influenced his life as well. He points out that a musician can still play reggae even if they don’t have dreadlocks, meaning stereotypes may come with music, but music is music. Even the Beat Generation has played a role in his inspiration as a way of approaching writing and life: “People make life interesting,” he said.
Ruggiero also takes a little bit from various musicians and musical styles — such as Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughn, the Rolling Stones and Johnny Cash — and combines everything to create his own unique sound. “Without guys like that, the Slackers would not exist,” he said, “and everyone who comes before you sets a path. As a performer, live music is his primary focus.
Ruggiero explained the origin of the band’s name, which came from some graffiti someone saw: “If Louis is a Slacker than you all are Slackers.” The name the Slackers just stuck with the crew and the band picked up some gigs under that name, he said.
The Slackers are currently doing some cover songs and Ruggiero said the current creative process has made him notice there are some songs out there that he didn’t realize were a part of him artistically.
All the band had to do to create a new cover was to take lyrics and change the song into a rock steady tune that has a good beat. “It’s not better or worse — just different,” he explained.
Ruggiero’s interest in music was piqued around the age of 12. He knew he liked music and felt it was a gift and talent to enjoy and pursue in life. While in high school, he played in a couple of ska/punk bands at parties and other gigs, honing his craft.
He likes the sound that cassette players produce and claims there is a significant difference between cassettes and the current music sound systems such as MP3s. There is a certain sweet sound that may only come from older forms of conveying music, he said.
Ruggiero feels there are both positives and negatives to the sharing of current music. Even though the quality of the sound may vary, the ability to share music increases the number of people who can hear music. MP3s allow people to hear music without much effort, unlike the past when people had to wait for what felt like forever for tapes to come out.
Music spreads much more quickly now and because of that, more people can hear more music. The sharing of music via MP3s has curbed some of the record companies’ power and given the musicians a little bit more power and creativity.
Ruggiero’s learning experience in performance has broadened because he has done solo acts and played in several different bands, working with a range of other musicians. Through collaboration he has become skilled at teamwork, communication and the ability to speak to a crowd and get through to the audience. On the other end of the spectrum, when he performs solo acts, he works like a one-man band, usually playing kick drum and harmonica while singing.
One of the many challenges a musician faces is being courageous, and convincing people his or her job is real, and that they take their work seriously. Ruggiero’s words of wisdom to aspiring performers are to loosen up and not take things too seriously all the time. “It’s important to still try hard but to also not take things too seriously,” he said. “Everything in life is an adventure. You’ve got to keep it from getting boring.”
Ruggiero also advised, “It’s important to take a shot. It’s better to try than it is not to try and miss out on a great opportunity. All risks are relative. Even if you don’t like something, you give it a shot and learn something from it and come away a better person. All people who come in and out of your life have an ability to have a big effect on you. Even when there is negativity in life, you can learn to take away positive perspectives,” he said.
For more information, visit vicruggiero.com or www.theslackers.com.