Local Rhythm and Blues singer Ruben Exum was recently a featured performer when Kerrville’s “New Buddy Holly Band” appeared at a Cailloux Theater performance. He says it was great to once again perform with the 10-year-old group.
He says he typically performs two or three times a month with the band RBQ. He also sings in church at Barnett Chapel United Methodist, Mount Olive Baptist, and occasionally First United Methodist’s contemporary service.
His local performance history includes three plays at the Hill Country Arts Foundation’s Point Theatre; the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Oklahoma!” and the biographical musicals “The Hank Williams Story;” and in 2001 “The Buddy Holly Story,” where he first performed with what became the New Buddy Holly Band.
“I started singing when I was five or six,” Exum says. “I mimicked the artists I heard on my father’s collection of albums. I can still listen to Stevie Wonder all day long, and I love Donny Hathaway. They set the mark for me, and make me want to study and perform.”
Exum says while he’s a singer, he’s also learning guitar and keyboard. “But performing with them is a ways off yet.”
He says RBQ includes Larry on the bass, Matt playing drums, and Rob as lead guitar. “RBQ sort of stands for ‘Rob Bartel Quartet.’ We’ve been busy, playing the 290 Corridor winery circuit the third and fourth weekends, like at the Fat Ass Ranch and Winery, and the Wine Garage in Fredericksburg. Other weekends, we appear at Pier 27 River Lounge & 8 Ball Pizzeria in Kerrville, and private parties.” He adds that the other band members are all older, so they call him “the Kid.”
Exum says, “I grew up a military brat. My father, William Exum, had a career in the Air Force, so I was born on Shaw AFB in South Carolina, and we moved all around. I went to junior high and high school in Korea, Texas, Virginia, and California. My mother, Cloteal, moved to Kerrville in 1983, and I spent time with both my father and my mother, so in Texas I went to Tivy High School, but I graduated from Albert Powell High School in Yuba City, California, in 1993.”
He says Cloteal worked for many years in the Peterson Regional Medical Center laboratory, before retiring.
Exum says he started at Yuba College, “but then I took a 20-year break.” He worked construction, then got into airplane construction and design, working for Mooney and on contract. In 2008 he decided on a career change, and went to work for Hill Country Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Center in 2009. As the housing coordinator, he helps clients find decent, affordable places to live.
“In 2010 I decided to go back to school,” he says. “I started at Alamo Colleges, and first earned my associates degree. Then they told me I should keep going, and about the Texas Tech University campus in Fredericksburg. Between working and music and raising my youngest son, it took me 11 years, but in December of 2021 I’ll graduate with a bachelor of arts in sociology and psychology.”
Exum says along the way he raised four children. Ruben Exum Jr. is a surveyor here in Kerrville. Naomi Gildersleeve and her new husband live in San Angelo. Ethan Exum just graduated from high school in Wylie, about 20 miles from Dallas, and will enter the University of North Texas in the fall. Exum’s youngest, James, lives with him and just completed his freshman year at Tivy.
In his spare time, Exum says he likes to walk the River Trail and participate in Kroc Center activities. “And I always try to treat others the way I want to be treated.”
As a singer, Exum says his forte is soul and Motown. “Soul is music that touches your heart. It has deep roots in the church, and I go back to those roots when I sing in church. Motown was a record label, which produced the essence of all the soul music you hear today, but now soul is bigger than Motown. It’s my goal to sing rhythm and blues and soul so the music will move audiences, and they’ll feel something special.”