The Rubinoos, from left, are Tommy Dunbar, Jon Rubin, Donn Spindt and Al Chan. (Courtesy photo)

Rubinoos play not far from home

Berkeley-bred pop rockers join forces with SF’s Chuck Prophet

Pop rock veteran Tommy Dunbar really takes the lyrics to his new song “Do You Remember” to heart.

“The line, ‘This could be the last time, better make it count’ — that could be our saying at this point,” says the guitarist of The Rubinoos, the band he co-founded in Berkeley 49 years ago that’s playing The Chapel in The City on Friday.

“I feel lucky every time we get to go out,” adds Dunbar, who wrote The Rubinoos’ 2019 album “From Home” with San Francisco rock great Chuck Prophet.

Though they knew of each other as kids in Berkeley, Dunbar formally was introduced to Prophet’s music years later by his friend, the late Gary Phillips of Earth Quake (a Beserkley Records label mate) and liked it a lot.

After seeing Prophet — a self-described Rubinoos “super fan” — in concert in Sacramento, where he lives, the pair chatted about writing music together. It became a reality after the second time Dunbar saw Prophet (whom he calls “the most pro-active person I ever met”) at another show in Sacramento.

Though at first they weren’t necessarily composing tunes for the Rubinoos, they nonetheless were fruitful.

During their first session in Dunbar’s basement, they wrote two songs that ended up on “From Home”: “Miss Alternate Universe,” with the typically droll lyric, “She’s a hurricane in reverse/Albert Einstein meets Patty Hearst” and “Rocking in Spain.”

Dunbar says that touring in Spain is the reason the Rubinoos — who hit U.S. pop charts in 1977 with a cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” and had a cult hit with “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” in 1978 — are still around.

Next year, the band will go on its 15th tour there, hitting clubs across the country, including two dates in Barcelona, their “home base.” They’re also slated to play England, with shows London and Manchester, “home of the Hollies,” Dunbar says.

But for the first time since 1979, when they opened for Elvis Costello, Dunbar says, “We actually have gigs in the U.S,” with upcoming tour stops in Southern California, Oregon and Washington.

While the band has self-released CDs in recent years, “From Home,” on Yep Roc Records (thanks to Prophet’s connection with the label), represents a return to the form of its first few recordings, with their tight “Beach Boys backed by a garage band” sound.

Dunbar attributes the success to the fact that he and bandmates — lead vocalist and co-founder Jon Rubin, drummer Donn Spindt and bassist Al Chan, who live in different cities — had a real budget for the project and time to practice together (like they did in the old days) before they went into Hyde Street Studios in the Tenderloin.

“We had 37 rehearsals before doing the album; it’s the way to make a record,” says Dunbar.

And despite advances in technology over the decades, with “people sitting around staring at a computer screen,” contemplating “too many choices,” Dunbar says he’s glad that he and the group, just “guys around the mic,” had enough self-restraint not to do that. He says, “‘Sgt. Pepper’ isn’t going to be done in that style. But we’re not trying to make that album.”

IF YOU GO

The Rubinoos

Where: Chapel, 777 Valencia St., S.F.

When: 8:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1

Tickets: $20 to $25

Contact: (415) 551-5157, www.thechapelsf.com

 

From left, Tommy Dunbar, Chuck Prophet and Jon Rubin visit at The Rubinoos record release show in The City in August. (Courtesy Jon Bauer/Yep Roc Records)

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