Musical custodian is putting the ‘Jah’ back in ‘job’

Rudolfo "Rudy"  Covarrudias, Pierce College custodian and Reggae bass player. Photo by: Alan Castro
Rudolfo “Rudy” Covarrudias, Pierce College custodian and Reggae bass player. Photo by: Alan Castro

Every day, thousands of Pierce students walk through the campus, many of whom are so focused on their own busy lives and schedules that they may not even notice the man with the dreads.

Rudolfo “Rudy” Covarrudias is 31 years old and aside from his eccentric hairstyle, appears to be an otherwise unassuming custodian, visible most days while he cleans and maintains classrooms and offices around campus.

Few people ever stop and wonder about the lives of those around them, but if they did, they might be amazed at how much more there is to a person than his or her job or appearance.

In his life, Covarrudias has been an activist, sous chef, student of political science and culinary arts, custodian, union representative, and for the last five years, the bassist for Arise Roots, a Los Angeles-based reggae band.

“Arise Roots has been around five years. We’re based out of Central LA, but we rehearse either in Maywood or in the Valley sometimes,” Covarrudias said.

“I’ve been playing music for over 15 years. I’m heavily influenced by world folklore. All folklores are essential,” Covarrudias said. “Folklore is the community’s music, and that’s the most important thing.”

Covarrudias, or Rudy, as he prefers to be called, said that folklore in the modern age isn’t limited to spoken word or creation myths, but is what the people make it.

“To me, hip-hop is folklore, reggae is folklore, punk rock is folklore,” he said. “I consider that new-age folklore.”

The band’s music reflects that philosophy, though he said the band isn’t so much hip-hop or punk as it is reggae.

“We specialize in old-school, neo-classic roots reggae,” Covarrudias said. “We’re just reggae though. But if you want to get all nitty-gritty.”

This week, Arise Roots will embark on a tour throughout the U.S. that will last through May. The band’s stops will include venues in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Missouri, Ohio and even Montana.

A town like Billings, Montana may not be a likely stop for a California-based roots reggae band, but Covarrudias said he expects the locals to come out to see the show.

“A lot of small cities like that don’t have a lot of things going on for them, and when the circus is in town they come to check it out,” Covarrudias said. “And we’re the circus.”

In his day job, Covarrudias cleans the office of political science associate instructor Denise Robb, among others.

“I remember him saying he’s starting to make some money, and he’s starting to tour other countries,” Robb said. “It’s hard to make it in LA, or anywhere, so that’s great.”

Robb is one of several Pierce faculty members who praised Covarrudias’ hard work.

“He’s here Monday through Thursday, everyday,” Robb said. “He’s very good.”

Covarrudias said he does his job with pride, and believes that whatever job a person does, they should do it to the best of their ability.

“Every work has its value. Even a small thing as taking out the trash, you have to have dignity,” he said. “Everything you do man, even if you’re cleaning the floors, picking up [stuff], be the best at it. You might as well.”

It would be simple for him to finish up his custodial shift, go home and spend a few hours practicing and playing gigs with Arise Roots, but simple doesn’t seem to be in his vocabulary.

Several years ago, Covarrudias worked nights in LA as a sous chef, in addition to his work with his band and as a custodian.

“I would get up at 3:15 a.m. everyday, for four years. And after shows I didn’t sleep, I would just come over here, knock out for an hour and come to work.”

In addition to working as a custodian, he currently acts as the campus representative for SEIU Local 99, the union that negotiates on behalf of the gardeners, teachers’ assistants, maintenance workers and custodians at Pierce.

“I’m part of the CPC, the CCC and the facilities committees,” Covarrudias said. “I represent Local 99 for the campus.”

As the union representative and a student of political science at LA Trade Tech, he knows the importance of his duties and takes his voting privileges on those committees very seriously.

“Since I’m the lead representative of Local 99 on the campus, I get a chair vote on everything that goes on. So I’m taking that to full advantage, and making the campus better for both students and workers,” Covarrudias said. “It’s not only academics. People everywhere, you know.”

Even before his work at Pierce, Covarrudias was involved in the politics of community activism.

“I always was interested in it. I grew up working-class, so it was always part of my life, seeing people struggle and trying to help people better themselves,” he said. “I did activist work, I did pro-immigration rights. The outfit was called Southern California Immigration Coalition, which was a merge of many pro-immigrant rights activists.”

Margarita Pillado, assistant professor of Spanish, also spoke highly of Covarrudias, whose custodial work currently has him assigned to her office. She also sees him regularly at committee meetings.

“This semester, since he is part of the committees that I also serve, I had the opportunity to see him in those committees,” Pillado said. “And now he’s working in the faculty offices so I see him everyday.”

Pillado said she was confused when first asked about “Rudy.”

“I don’t know him as ‘Rudy,’ because I always call him ‘Rudolfo,’ and I always speak in Spanish with him. I take pride in doing that,” Pillado said.

Covarrudias first impressed Pillado with a speech he delivered last year.

“I was very impressed when he gave the public address at the Board of Trustees [meeting] that we had here in November. He was speaking on behalf of Local 99, and this was in connection with the contract negotiations that were going on at that time,” Pillado said. “I was very impressed with his eloquence, and the professionalism with which he delivered his address to the trustees.”

His work ethic was also praised by Pillado, who said she holds him in high esteem.

“His poise impresses me, his conviction that what he’s doing is important to the institution. The pride in his job,” she said. “It is one of probably the most important jobs to make sure that our campus is offering a viable environment where both students and professors can work together toward achieving their educational goals.”

Before he was assigned to the offices of Robb and Pillado, Covarrudias’ custodial work was centered primarily in the South Gym. Athletic Director Bob Lofrano mirrored both Robb’s and Pillado’s comments about Covarrudias’ dedication to his work.

“We like to treat the people who work in the athletic department as family, regardless of what their role is,” Lofrano said. “He had a good work ethic, which obviously helps. To say ‘it’s good to see Rudy, we know Rudy’s going to take care of us, we take care of Rudy.’ It’s a two-way street.”

Covarrudias and Arise Roots will be playing in Bakersfield on Thursday, March 26 at the Elements Venue. The music of Arise Roots can be heard and bought on iTunes, Pandora, Citybaby and Spotify.