Born in Thorsby, Alberta, Bob Ruzicka grew up singing and playing piano and guitar, but moved to Edmonton in the late ’60s and studied Dentistry at the University of Alberta.
After graduation, he was dubbed ‘the singing dentist’ as he continued performing on the side while specializing in children’s denistry in the Northwest Territories. He moved back to Edmonton after only a couple of years, continuing to perform and eventually caught the attention of CBC reps, who invited him on to Peter Gzowski’s radio program, “Homemade Jam” in 1971. From there he was offered his own series, simply called “Ruzicka” which ran from January to April ’72 and featured an array of Canadian country and folk stars of the day. When the show ran its course, reps at independent Signpost Records were intrigued, and signed im to a recording deal.
He travelled to Nashville and recorded his debut album with producer Danny Davis, WHAT THE WORLD’S ALL ABOUT, in 1972. His hybrid of country and folk earned him a pair of top 10 hits – “Storm Warning” and “Down and Losing.” He made some live appearances throughout the year, and although Signpost was bankrupt and the doors were closed by the end of the year, MCA offered him a new deal.
He returned to the studios in Nashville for his follow-up album, COLD HANDS WARM HEART in ’73. New producer David Briggs was brought in, and a bevy of studio musicians was used on ten self-written tracks. Again he served up major hits on the Canadian country charts, albeit for short periods, including the top 20 singles “Lately Love” that fall and “Cardboard Cowboys” the following spring.
Music City was once again the venue when he recorded SOFT ROCKER, released in the summer of ’74. Aptly titled, it featured not only the light country sounds he’d become known for in songs like the title track as the only single, it also contained a raucous rockabilly feel in songs like “God Almighty Mama,” about music’s heyday. His time in Nashville had also been well spent by his stock as a songwriter also rising. Outside of his own recordings, he’d made an impression with other artists, and several others were beginning to record his songs, including George Hamilton IV recording “Can’t Remember, Can’t Forget” and pop/folk artist Judy Collins with her version of “Down and Losing” (from his debut album). Hamilton would go on to record two other Ruzicka songs – “It Must Be Love” and “Time Runs Out On You.”
That same year, CBC Records featured Ruzicka as one half of a talent showcase album, along with Dianne Brooks. He wrote and recorded seven new songs in the Edmonton studios especially for the occasion – “Slim Slimmer,” “Strangers From A Strange Land,” “Big River,” “Bushplane,” Sweet Prairie Rose and the Midnight Sun,” “Old Man Tell Me Your Story,” and “Mackenzie Road.” Although none of the tracks were released as singles, CBC DJs were allowed to pick and choose which cuts they wanted to play, and “Big River” (about the North Saskatchewan River) and “Mackenzie Road” quickly became favourites in pockets around the country. They were also later recorded by fellow Albertan Ted Wesley.
In 1975 Kruzicka released DUDE after signing with RCA. Co-produced with Gary MacDonall, it featured the singles “Sunshine Lady,” “Rodeo Red,” and “Midnight Blue,” all which hovered around the top 40. For the first time, the record also featured a song he didn’t write himself – the lead-off “Yes Sir That’s My Baby,” written by Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn. It also contained the title track and “Hey Daddy (There’s A Hippo In The Tub),” later recorded by Anne Murray, and the moody “The Blues Keep Comin’ Back.”
During this period, he also made several appearances on TV, performing on other artists’ variety shows, including Tommy Hunter’s and Ronnie Prophet‘s. Now living on the West Coast, he recorded FRESH TRACKS in ’76 in Vancouver, co-produced again with MacDonall. The single “Everybody’d Love To Know” was released but received a lukewarm response. But his move also cemented his reputation as one of Canada’s premier songwriters.
He struck up a friendship with Valdy, who recorded his own versions of two of the tracks – “Yes I Can” and “Dirty Old Man” (also recorded by John Allan Cameron).Ruzicka and Valdy would also go on to compose several songs together, including “Leaving Ain’t The Only Way To Go,” recorded by Henson Cargill, as well. Along with the funky lead-off “String Along,” the album also contained another pair of songs from outside writers – “Maybe” by Robbie MacNeill and Adam Mitchell’s “Cowboy of Rue St. Germain.”
Disappointed in lack of sales (despite minimal push), RCA dropped Ruzicka from its roster. Still living on the West Coast but spending much of his time back in Edmonton, he resurfaced in 1979 on Mustard Records with the new album, LANDFALL. Recorded at Damon Sound with an impressive cameo list that featured drummer Stu Mitchell (Wes Dakus & The Rebels, Barry Allen), Nancy Nash, and The Good Brothers, the only singles were “Golden Oldie” and “Can’t Remember, Can’t Forget.” Although they both failed to crack the top 40, the album itself was still heralded by the critics for its purity and lack of fakeness stemming from studio tampering, evidenced by “Lovers and Strangers,” the reflective “Streets of Whitehorse,” and “Guilty Times.”
His last album came in the form of LOOSE TALK in 1982, recorded again at Damon Sound. Without any label support, due in part to Mustard’s impending bankruptcy, the album came and went with little notice, but featured the critics’ faves “Skin and Bones” and “For The One You Love” (both co-written by Valdy) and the title track, as well as a re-recording of his first ever hit, “Down and Losing.”
With Mustard now out of business, Ruzicka found himself on the outside looking in. Never having been an artist to make a living on the road, he settled back into his role as ‘the singing dentist.’ Around the same time, he purchased The Transit Hotel (home of the famed Sunday Gopher Races) in Edmonton, then sold the hotel later in the decade, and eventually retired from dentistry, as well as music.
Dozens of artists have recorded Bob Ruzicka songs over the years, many of which he didn’t record himself. Valdy himself recorded a few, including “Peace of Mind,” “Easy Money,” and “Shining Times,” among others. Stompin’ Tom Connors, Ted Wesley, The Rhythm Pals, Paul Hann, Brian Sklar, Cormier Country, Carlene Friesen, Diamond Joe White, and Thomas Alexander are all on the list of artists that took advantage of Ruzicka’s songwriting gift.