Five years in the making, “Ruby,” the new CD by Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter Louie Ortega, features a couple different musical twists. The project marks the first studio collaboration between Ortega and his daughter, music educator and singer Talia, and the CD was co-produced by Stephen Hearst (Yes, that Stephen Hearst, who also does background vocals. Who knew?).
Oh, and the title track of the 11-song compilation is inspired by a chicken. More on that later.
Talia first shared the stage with her dad at the Cambria Pines Lodge when she was barely old enough to reach the microphone. They’ve done regular gigs together locally over the years and had often kicked around the idea of doing something together in the studio. Talia studied jazz music at Cuesta College, blossoming into an accomplished singer.
So what made the collaboration finally happen? Blame it on the rain.
“It was a rainy day,” Talia says. “We were just holed up at home, sitting on the couch. Suddenly, it’s ‘Hey, what are you doing right now? Do you want to write a song together?’ That’s how it started—two homebodies of the artistic persuasion meeting minds.”
That first song, the title track, led to more co-writing and still another song about animals. “Mi Perro,” sung in Spanish, with a distinct Latin vibe, is a tribute to a pet Talia had as a child, a dog Louie remembers as “so ugly that it was cute.”
Talia and Louie then reworked a couple of his more popular songs like “County Line” and “King City” from previous records, adding a flute to help create a jazz flavor. The eclectic music also features some well-known standards, including vocals by Talia on “Autumn Leaves.”
Despite taking five years, Louie enjoyed the father-daughter studio experience. “We both really stirred the pot for each other, which is really neat. It’s great to get that influence. We share.”
Local musicians Dean Giles, Greg Smith, and Ken Hustad, calling themselves the “San Simeon Bunkhouse Band,” also appear on the CD. Studio work was delayed unexpectedly because of COVID, but, in hindsight, Louie is thankful for the extra time in the studio to finetune the songs.
Hearst, a longtime fan, became involved in the project after hosting a number of shows featuring Louie in San Simeon. He wanted to know how he could support Louie’s music, and ended up coming on board as co-producer and doing vocals on the blues classic “Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out.”
“Steve really held his own,” Louie says. “When he was younger, he played guitar and this is one of his favorite songs.”
So what about that chicken who inspired the title track? Turns out that Talia indeed had a chicken named Ruby. To her, there’s sort of a parallel between chickens and sisters and that became the musical spark for the song.
“We wanted to write about a sister,” Louie says. “A sister, and she always had sisters around. They’d watch over her and not let anyone get into her world, or always ask questions.”
“The chicken was the inspiration,” Talia says. “We took the name from the chicken, but ‘Ruby’ is a love song from the man’s perspective. He’s in love with this girl. He wants to tell her that he loves her, but her sisters are always around. He never gets a moment alone with her because her sisters are like ‘Pock Pock Pock Pock.’”
Father and daughter will be announcing local appearances shortly. Meanwhile, Louie has begun regular gigs at F. McLintocks in Shell Beach, and his next performance is scheduled for Saturday, March 18, from 6 to 9 p.m. Future shows are posted on his website.