In 1984 they cut a four-song
demo at AAA Studios, which featured 'The Unicorn Song' and 'Keep Out.'
This demo received a favorable review in Metal Forces Magazine. Ruby
Topaz was ready for their first full-length album.
And with this positive write-up, several
offers came rolling in. They accepted a deal with California based Azra Records in 1985.
Their debut album, 'All Brand New', included most of their previously
released tunes as well as several new cuts. The set was highlighted by 'D's Song,'
'Jealousy,' 'Get Your Face Off My Head' and the title track, which was mastered by George
Marino (Queen, Billy Idol, Foreigner, etc.), and was all set to go in early 1986.
Unfortunately, due to financial and marketing differences, the album was never released.
Accepting that fate had dealt them a bad card, the band persisted in the face of
About a year later, when the world was
throwing support behind the Africa famine-relief funds, a musical project called Bandwagon
was put together by Big NOISE's Al Gomes. The proceeds from the record went to help the
homeless and hungry of Rhode Island. Having worked well together in the past, Gomes, who
wrote the lyrics, approached Mark Bram to compose a pretty pop song to support his lyrics.
Bram did so without hesitation. The result, 'A Piece of Our Hearts' was truly amazing and
inspiring, as hundreds of RI musicians and public officials joined together to sing the
song. The song received massive airplay and won numerous awards.
In 1987, Bram expanded his musical horizons
by producing and arranging a demo for local R&B performer David Parham (Owens) in
which Ruby Topaz played most of the music. After this session, the band took the
opportunity to lay down the basic tracks for their next album. This effort yielded six
songs, highlighted by 'Straight Ahead,' 'Magic Moments' and 'Blue Moon.'
In 1989, Ruby Topaz explored the realm of
music video for the first time with the song 'Magic.Moments.' The video was both humorous
and sexy, showing the band performing and having a good time, as they always did.
Later in 1989, Ruby Topaz laid down the final
six tracks which comprise what was to be their second full length album, named 'Change of Face'. Songs that stand out include 'Your Love,' 'Change of
Face' and 'Save Me.'
Although Ruby Topaz shines in the studio, the
true power of this band is the live show. Many people who see Ruby Topaz perform are
impressed by their musicianship and are intrigued by their showmanship. The music is very
important to this band, but Bram feels the audience deserves more than 'a bunch of guys
standing up there in jeans playing music.'
On occasion the band was labeled
'Rush-clones' because of Bram's vocal similarity to Rush vocalist Geddy Lee. 'Rush never
influenced us. My voice is the way it is because, vocally, I was heavily into Robert Plant
and Freddie Mercury (Queen),' said Bram. 'I got the power from Mercury and the highness
from Plant.' Bram's high-pitched vocals, which have on occasion made dogs squirm, is very
different from every other vocalist on the RI scene.
In addition to Bram, the early Ruby Topaz
consisted of bassist Jimmy Zisiades and percussionist Jamie Rizzo. Bram and Zisiades had
played together since 1974. Rizzo joined up in 1979 replacing original drummer Steve D'
Andrea, who occasionally sat in and performed with the band.
From 1992 to 1994 Mark went through a very
messy divorce and custody battle for his son (he was awarded physical custody in 1994).
During that time the band drifted apart. Jimmy and Jamie, because of obligations to wife
and kids, pursued careers that actually made money. For self-therapy during that time, he
recorded instrumental music at night when he couldn't sleep, on a 4-track cassette
For money, to live and support himself,
Mark teaches Tai Chi Chuan. He studied for twelve years with Lee Wah Yook, president
of The Eastern United States Kung Fu Federation, and when Sifu Lee passed away, Mark
inherited the Lee Wah Yook Qi Quan system of Chinese martial arts. One of Mark's students,
who was an exporter, heard the tapes, and convinced Mark that he could sell a toned
down new age version overseas. He said the tie-in to Tai Chi Chuan was a big selling point
(although Mark teaches it as a very deadly martial art and a way of life, not as a new age
'old men in the park' form).
Since Mark had been using a polished agate
pick (agate is a crystal) for almost twenty years, he named the album 'Crystal
Pick', as a kind of a new age joke. It was a total improvisation from
beginning to end, painting pictures with sound and then soloing over it, not caring where
it went. When the exporter disappeared, another one of his students released the album.URI
Radio personality Russell Redmond discovered Crystal Pick among some tapes from defunct
Newport jazz radio station WOTB. Saying that it was some of the most amazing guitar
playing he'd ever heard, he tracked Mark down over the internet, and featured him in an
hour long interview on his show 'The Best Jazz You've Never Heard'.
A short time after that, Mark
was approached by a producer to do a solo album in which Mark would play
all the instruments. They recorded three songs, including 'Knife In My Back'
for the Big NOISE collection 'Digital Mystery Tour,' which was distributed
globally. Then the producer went through some personal changes, and that
was the end of that. Determined to finish the project Mark went into debt
and purchased a digital 8-track recorder and with the help of Steve D'Andrea
(the drummer from his live band who, coincidentally, was the original drummer
of the pre-recording RUBY TOPAZ) he finished the project, now available
as 'Mark Bram/Ruby Topaz'.
At the same time, Mark's 1982
45 rpm single, 'Why/The Sack', that was popular in England,
France, Belgium Germany, and Switzerland, had been selling for $50 in collectors
mags, as well as bootlegs of 'All Brand New,' which were selling for $100...without
a cover !
In 1998, Mark decided to redo Crystal
Pick the way it was originally intended. The result is his newest jazz/fusion
release, 'Sountrack of Life: Crystal Pick II', a giant collage
of sounds and genres, an unadulterated, musically and technically fascinating
In 2000, Mark put together a 16 track digital studio. He decided that he wanted to do justice to some of the songs on Mark Bram/Ruby Topaz and re-recorded most of the tracks, as well as some new version, including a remake of 1982s The Sack (the b side of Why) done as a Led Zeppelin/Janis Joplin homage. Mark took Mark Bram/Ruby Topaz off the market and replaced it with Mark Bram/Ruby Topaz Again.
2002 and 2003 saw Ruby Topaz gain a following at Rhode Island School of Design (a very prestigious, well known Art and Design college) with the 2004 graduating class.
What a lot of record companies don't realize is that there are a lot of young people out there who are listening to Queen, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie and Alice Cooper. Mark was told by the RISD students that they felt like there wasn't any good music around anymore. No musicianship. They felt that Ruby Topaz was a throw back to a time when musicianship and showmanship mattered. "Ruby Topaz: New, Original Music From The Greatest Era Of Rock"
In 2004 Mark bought a house and decided to redo the studio. All through 2005 and part of 2006 Mark went on a quest for vintage style gear (Soundelux 251 microphone, Universal Audio LA-610 Channel Strip, vintage guitars and effects, etc.) to record the next CD. This CD was to include many new songs, as well as the songs from "Mark Bram/Ruby Topaz" that never made it on "Mark Bram/Ruby Topaz Again. Steve and Mark started working on the first new song, "Thanks for Nothing" and then Mark totally redid the studio...again. Chris Hallam, who was in Ruby Topaz in the mid 70s, has rejoined the live band, on bass, and that band did it's first gig making an appearance at Mark's wedding in 2007. They did their first full show in 2009 at AS220.
The new studio has loads of vintage clones with NOS parts ( transformers and tubes for mics and preamps) and tons of vintage emulation plugins. Things were going great. A few songs were recorded and mastered at Abbey Road Studios in London...and then Mark lost his voice. He went to a specialist in Boston and was diagnosed with Acid Reflux and had damaged his vocal cords. He went for rehab and, after more than a year, he got his voice back. Mark updated all his software and then everything in the studio started crashing. The three major companies that developed the software blamed the "other guy." After over (yet another) year, most everything has been resolved and recording is about to resume. It's spring 2014. Mark, Steve and Chris are ready go...they'll see you out there.
As of November 2017, Chris is no longer in the band.
Stephen Fassbender, from Noll Guitars, is now our official live bass player. Definitely one of the best bass players (along with Mike) that we've ever had. We click and he's an amazing, intuitive player. He can take anything you throw at him. Mike is still an "honorary" member of the band and is there to fill in when we need him (always comes through in a pinch).