The Bitter Southerner asked Ruby Velle to pick 10 songs that influenced her.
She couldn’t do it. “I'm sorry,” she told us, “but picking 10 songs for a person's whose influences span many genres was way too challenging.”
That’s fine with us. The more music, the better. Ruby’s gives us interesting insight into how the musical world of a soul singer born a generation after the advent of the genre is built.
1. Paul Simon
“The Obvious Child”
This is first on the list because I've listened to Paul Simon since before I recognized what hearing was. My mom would play his music through the womb, and then later in my crib growing up. He has been a lifelong inspiration in both songwriting and performance, and I cannot say enough about his ability to bring cultures together and just get lost in the music.
2. James Brown
“It's A Man's, Man's Man's World”
Who could not possibly be influenced in some way by the Godfather? This song has so much emotion and soul; it's a great tune for a solid foundation in soul. I loved watching Christina Aguilera totally slay this tune at the Grammy Awards ... best cover of the song I've ever heard.
3. Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple has been a strong influence in my life as a songwriter and also a soul singer. She is, at root, a soulful being, and I always enjoyed how that took form in her songs. “Criminal” was the first cassette tape I owned, along with LIttle Richard's "Tutti Frutti," though there are so many songs on (Apple’s) "When the Pawn..." that have inspired me to make my writing more weighty and ambiguous. Her lyrics truly resonate with me.
4. Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye is someone I've always admired for his tenacity and unbounded courage. I love the breadth of content in his songs, and his ability to sound seamlessly beautiful in multiple genres. This song in particular is my favorite Marvin Gaye song and was the basis for my song "My Dear."
5. Cold Blood
“Kissing My Love”
Cold Blood is by far the most underrated soul band of the century. They are that good. Their lead singer, Lydia Pense, is as teeny as I am and belts out the tunes like there is no tomorrow. I've learned a lot from this San Francisco Bay outfit and continue to cover their songs in our set. This song is actually a Bill Withers cover, who appears as an influence in this playlist a little further down.
6. Ani Difranco
“In the Way”
This song is a perfect mix of indie infused with jazz. I love Ani Difranco as a person, what she stands for and what she has stood for. I got heavily into her music in college and have had it on constant rotation ever since. She has influenced me to remain an independent artist, self-sufficient and proud of it.
“Just a Phase”
This band is probably the most underrated rock band of our century. I have listened to and followed this band since I was 14 years old. Funny to think that a soul singer could relate, but I think Brandon Boyd (the lead singer) is somehow responsible for developing my alto range as well as my positive outlook on life. No small feats! He is a true artist, philanthropist and genius, I'm so happy his life has had a positive impact on the world, and their music has helped me through a lot. I encourage anyone who thinks this is a fluff alternative band to have a closer listen to all nine of their albums.
“Voodoo” is the one album I have constantly played over and over since it came out mid-2000s. D'angelo is a huge influence on me; his cadence and delivery are unmatched. Sure, he is pulling from Curtis Mayfield, whom I also adore, but D'angelo has a signature vibe that cannot be touched. “Voodoo is in my top 10 albums of all time list too.
9. Cee- Lo & Timbaland
“I'll be Around”
This song is just fun and reminds me not to take myself too seriously when writing. I love the line in Cee-Lo's verse, ".. It is then instant vintage, and it has been, ever since." I think about my music in these terms, how to make something classic and relevant simultaneously. I love Cee-Lo for his bravery and freedom in expression. And Timbaland just makes everything he touches sound like gold. Mad respect!
10. Etta James
“I'd Rather Go Blind”
Etta is my soul! She had the ability to express in song what most people only dream of telling others. Her secrets were kept in the songs, and her voice told every secret with a truth that no one could deny. Her journey was a tough one, but she never gave up on music. She will always inspire me to tell a story with my voice.
11. Ike & Tina Turner
I love when classic rock and soul get together and make beautiful-sounding tunes. This one is a classic. I love the Creedence Clearwater Revival version, but this one has such a solid roots sound about it. Big fan of Tina here, not so much of Ike, but thankful that he put Tina on the map to become the superstar that she is. I read her bio when I was young, and it changed me.
12. Jimi Hendrix
“I Don't Live Today”
Some of the most insightful quotes on living have come from this man. I liked that although he only needed the guitar to express himself, he really spent time with his lyrics and pushing a message. He was the ultimate king of covers, too, I think he really knew how to make a song his own. I love so many Jimi tunes, but this one gives me an energy I can run miles to. "It's all freedom."
13. Hiatus Kaiyote
This is one of my newer influences, a band from Australia that has the likes of Erykah Badu and Questlove promoting them. They cannot go wrong. They are part of a genre that I long to be accepted into, Future Soul, and they push me to be more creative and expressive. I just love their sound and bold soundscapes.
14. Stevie Wonder
“We Can Work It Out”
This one counts as two influences, because this is a Beatles song, and after Paul Simon, the Beatles were the second thing I ever listened to (and then Joni Mitchell). But Stevie's delivery and soulfulness is supreme and sublime. He embodies soul music in a way I could only dream of. This tune is an example of that unique delivery.
15. Little Dragon
I love this tune and band for their unique approach to music. They seem to have a never-ending supply of ideas and stay busy touring, making music and spreading joy. This song is a great one to play daily. You will never grow tired of it.
16. Joni Mitchell
“Down to You”
Growing up with this whole album (“Court and Spark”) really helped me (my aunt and uncle had a great record collection) to understand vocal style and folk music. Joni has the smoothest voice and most poignant lyrics. Although I started singing these tunes before I really understood them, they are now engraved in my soul. I know every word and often listen to this album when I go home for the holidays.
17. Aretha Franklin
“Today I Sing the Blues”
Aretha is queen and will always be. When I first started studying her music, I thought to myself, "It just doesn't get better than this." Her ability to let loose and reach the top and bottom of her range with ease has had me mesmerized for years. I love this song as it is a perfect representation of the blues.
18. Luther Allison
“Little Red Rooster”
Uncle John and my late Aunt June were best friends with the late, great Luther Allison. June and John used to listen to hours of Luther's music with me so that I could dissect it — strip away the lyrics and the beat and listen to some of the finest guitar playing we had ever heard. I owe a lot to the late Mr. Allison. He really showed me what a performer does on stage: Leave it all out there for the fans to gobble up with joy. This song helps with that mission; the crowds really did love Luther. I remember him well along with my aunt, I know they are in heaven rocking out together.
19. Bill Withers
“Lean on Me”
When it comes to songwriting and teaching life lessons, I don't think it gets better than Bill Withers. He wrote his first single at age 30, which I find wildly inspiring. His lyrics and music were so soulful that I've covered a few of his tunes with the band and will continue to do so. He is still alive, well and a living legend! Much love, Bill!
20. Bob Marley
“Sun Is Shining”
Where would the world be without this revolutionary being? I am forever changed by Bob Marley and his life in music. The hardships that he endured I can only imagine, but what he stood for is what I stand for in my music — one love, unity, respect for others, and peace. This is by far my favorite song of all songs, for its simplicity, positive message and reggae rhythms. This genre in general is a huge influence on me as a person. Maybe I will make a dub reggae playlist next!