by Steve Dollar | April 5, 2024

Food Trucks and Soul Funk: On Beat With Orlando’s The Sh-Booms

How this Orlando group evolved from motown muse to garage-soul tunes.


The Sh-Booms’s founder and guitarist Al Ruiz and lead singer Brenda Radney are based in Orlando. Photography by Mike Ortiz.

Driven by rhythm, funky horns and the powerhouse vocals of frontwoman Brenda Radney, Orlando’s The Sh-Booms brings hurricane force to its repertoire of original garage-soul tunes. Although tracks like “Drop ‘em Dead” and “Detox to Retox,” from their 2019 album “The Blurred Odyssey” punch up perfectly on an imaginary jukebox alongside kindred rockers like The Black Keys, Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Radney and founder Al Ruiz have worked hard to dial in a distinct identity for the group. “The point of joining or starting a band,” said Ruiz, “is you want to eventually carve your own lane.” The two performers hopped on a Zoom session with Flamingo recently to talk about the band’s exciting evolution.

How did you land on the band’s name?

Al Ruiz: It’s really dumb. There’s just a funny scene in (the HBO hit television series) “Eastbound & Down.” At the time, we were doing Motown, and it made sense. You can look at a band name and immediately know what style of music it is. I don’t know if that’s true anymore for what we’re doing.

What music first made an impact on you?

AR: The band was kind of an homage to my parents. My mom used to dance on “Connecticut Bandstand,” and then she would go to record hops every day after school. It was always soul music … Motown records and a lot of Latin music, too. Hispanics like that rhythm. Rhythmic stuff has been instilled in me since I was a child. That’s why I play bass.

Brenda Radney: I always joke and say that music is my first language and English is my second. When I was much younger, I had a speech impediment.  And so in order to communicate, I would hum all the time and sing all the time. My dad was a musician and really encouraged me to know how to play piano. And from there I was just in. I wanted to know how to play everything, so I just started playing all the time. I didn’t grow up on soul music. My father was the biggest Police fan, and he loved Sting. He loved gospel music, too. So that’s also where you can probably hear the soul influences, because I grew up in a Baptist church. But my dad was into Genesis and U2. You would never know that his CD changer is full of a ton of Caucasian artists. One of my favorite songs was “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2. I was really into Peter Gabriel. 

Brenda, before you joined the group, you had a solo deal with Justin Timberlake’s label. What was that transition like?

BR: My biggest thing is that I always wanted a band. When I was signed to Justin, I was crying about how I was not the kind of artist that does the choreography. I’m not a Britney. It’s just not my jam. Because I’m a musician myself, naturally I’d want a band. 

The band has been together, in one form or another, for more than a decade. How have Your Florida roots shaped things?

AR: I’m just going to say something stupid. I feel like we’re a big group of “Florida Men,” right? 

BR: I was thinking it. When I first joined the band, I was a little crazier than I am now because I’m a mom.

AR: We were just wild, you know? You’re traveling with pretty much some of your best friends, and you’re playing bars and clubs. You get kind of … involved. I remember we came back from tour and my buddy told me, “Man, it’s 5 p.m. My body’s telling me I need a sound check and a Miller Lite.” That wraps up into our passion for the music we write—it’s supposed to get your heart pumping.

“The Blurred Odyssey” is The Sh-Booms’s debut album, a mix of garage and soul music.
What’s happening with the band right now?

BR: We have music that we’re looking to drop. I’m not going to say it’s a departure from what our last records were, but it’s definitely an evolution sonically. We had another changeup of (band) players, so they all bring something different to the table. I always joke when we’re rehearsing, I’m like, “Now we sound like a real band.” But seriously, there’s just something there now that was missing before. I think we’re all doing our own thing this time.

Al, when you’re not playing music, you’re a sushi chef. When did that start?

AR: I’ve been making sushi since I was in my early 20s. When Brenda and I met, I owned a food truck. I morphed from a kid that worked for somebody who found a way to work for himself to now having a restaurant. It’s called Sushi & Seoul, like Seoul, Korea. We partnered with a craft bar called Celery City Craft, in historic downtown Sanford, Florida. 

What’s your signature bite?

AR: The avocado tower has been paying my rent for 12 years!