PLATTSBURGH — Left Hand Black. Not a Danzig song. Not a San Diego Tattoo studio.
Just four Plattsburgh grown-and-honed musicians — Ray Ruffin (vocals and drums), Jeremy Humiston (vocals and guitar), Steve Nolan (guitar) and Ernie Burl (light and sound) slinging their own brand of rock ‘n’ roll, country R&B, pop and funk on the Lake City and beyond. On Jan. 18, Left Hand Black takes the stage at 8 Ball Billiards on Route 9N in Plattsburgh.
Over the years, Ruffin, Humiston, Nolan and Burl have played with each other and others in different band configurations, but this time around, it was band leader Ruffin’s thing and he wanted to do what he wanted to do.
“I started with totally different musicians,” Ruffin said. “I’ve been the core of the band. It’s not a democracy. It’s not a dictatorship. We focus on music that’s danceable that everybody knows. They used to know this song and haven’t heard it in a long time. When we play out, we want it to be more about people moving or bopping their head or a child dancing on the floor because the beat is so obvious.”
Born in Greenville, S.C., Ruffin came to the Plattsburgh when the U.S. Air Force transferred his family from Spain to Plattsburgh in 1962.
Mid-century musical icons the Beatles and Monkees riveted his attention to music. Locally, he played in a few different bands such as Kicker and Enp before he went on the road with R Factor.
“We did a show with Shirelles in Lake George,” Ruffin said. “They were traveling around and did a rehearsal with them and two shows in the evening.”
Opportunity knocked, Ruffin answered and auditioned for Junior Walker & the All Stars. He had a chance to go on tour with the legendary Motown artist.
“I was expecting my daughter at the time,” Ruffin said. “I couldn’t travel as much.”
The farthest afield he gigged was California but he never put down his drum sticks. He began playing with friends behind the house on upturned garbage cans. The barbecue grill was the cymbal.
His mother, Ollie, purchased his first drum set from King’s Department in Skyway Plaza. Now, he’s recruiting his brother, Bill, to play bass.
Ruffin’s built his lifestyle around music and eschewed a 9 to 5 and worked for himself.
“I’ve taken time off and worked as a deejay and working on computers. I used to have a repair business with a partner. I learned a lot of things; I can basically do stuff on the side.”
His musical influences include Al Green, Herbie Hancock and Billy Cobham. As far as contemporary bands, he’s a Maroon 5 fan but he’s listens mostly to jazz. If he could, he would play it out if there were more venues for the genre.
Burl’s magic makes Left Hand Black look and sound good. A bassist since 1974, he was a regular at the Office, Jackie’s Pub, Nectar’s in Burlington, and the NCO Club on the former Plattsburgh Air Base. His former bands include Flyer and Click.
Professionally, he worked for a sound company contracted to worldwide concerts for Billy Joel, Van Halen, Pat Benatar, Billy Idol, John Mellencamp, Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen.
“It’s my hobby now,” Burl said. “It used to be a profession.”
He’s known Ruffin and Nolan since boyhood.
“At Classic Four, we were the house band there,” Burl said. “Steve and I have played in different bands over the years.”
Nolan bounced around 10 different states before the U.S. Air Force assigned his family here.
After hearing the Beatles on the YMCA jukebox at 10, the guitar became his destiny.
“I’d been playing several other instruments before that … piano, trombone, coronet flute,” Nolan said.
Though he had a few guitar lessons, he is mostly self-taught. His music influences include Jimi Hendrix, John McLaughlin and the Stones. His former bands include Krypton, Kicker, Crackers, Hawkeye, Esthesia, Stranger I and II.
“Most recently, I was lead guitarist for Glass Onion, which most people will know,” Nolan said. “I retired for six, seven years after that.”
He’s since made mad changes in his equipment and instruments.
“So, I wanted to get them out on stage after barricading myself in a studio for the last five or six years,” Nolan said. “I’m rapidly approaching my 50th anniversary playing guitar, it seemed about time.”
Left Hand Black is down with making every cover their own, and with Humiston’s lyricist skills, doing original stuff.
Hailing from New Milford, Conn., Humiston has ancestral roots in Westville, Constable and Chateaugay.
He relocated to Plattsburgh with his family six years ago bringing along his bass skills.
“I learned guitar when I was 10 years old,” Humiston said. “Then, when I hit 17-18, my father bought me my very first bass guitar, Then, my father also showed me how to play drums. My dad is my biggest influence. He’s a musician, too. He’s a piano player right now. He’s been playing piano for the last 16 years.”
Humiston’s musical influences include Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, the Bee Gees, Elton John, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson.
“I love R&B,” Humiston said.
For a decade, he played with Brother Cuz & the Swags.
“I went into hibernation for a long time,” Humiston said.
He was working at Charter Communications when he met Paul Donivan, a guitarist for Ruffin. He auditioned for Donivan and later Ruffin.
“Ray loved the way I played,” Humiston said. “I love the way Ray plays. We’re amazing together.”
Left Hand Black is looking for a front woman.
“We’re auditioning a few,” Ruffin said. “ We’re looking for that little extra depth, a lead singer, someone who could play an instrument, too.”
Email Robin Caudell:firstname.lastname@example.orgIF YOU GO WHO: Left Hand Black. WHEN: 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Jan. 18. WHERE: 8 Ball Billiards, 7202 Route 9N, Plattsburgh. WEBSITE: https://www.facebook.com/LeftHandBlackLHB