The Untouchables (The UT's) were the first U.S. ska band and Josh Harris, who joined the band after their founding in LA in the early 80's was an important creative force in the success the band enjoyed prior to and after their signing to Stiff Records. Harris who came to the band after stints in both The Fabulous Titans and The Shakers, who were both likely the first U.S. reggae bands, wrote one of The UT's most memorable songs "What's Gone Wrong". The band have always been an inspiration to many of us who came of age as fans of ska in the late 70's and early 80's. I was lucky enough to see the band open for UB40 in 1984 and they had a style and sound that influenced me to start my own band a few years later. After learning that many of the guys in The UT's started their band without knowing their instruments I was moved to pick up the bass and learn how to play it.
I asked Josh if he would answer a few questions about those heady days of playing in the band and he graciously agreed and provides an inside look into what it was like to be part of such a seminal U.S. ska band.
A friend named Roger Harris (no relation) was hired to produce a single for The Untouchables. After completing the "A" side "The General" , the band began preparing the "B" side, an instrumental called "Tropical Bird". Roger suggested to the band that they allow me to add a bubbling organ part. Since the band had no keyboard player, they accepted Roger's suggestion. They liked my contribution and later asked me to join the group. I then became a member of what may have been America's first Ska Band.
What was your first live show like and what was the California ska scene of the early and mid-80's like?
My first show with The Untouchables was on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, at a popular nightclub called The Roxy. I was totally honored to be asked to perform with The U.T.'s.. Although they hadn't been picked up by a major label, they were already quite well established in Los Angeles . The local mod scene was already happening when I met the U.T.'s. It was in pockets around the rest of California, but it's popularity was growing quickly.
EP that the band recorded in 1983. El Dorado Studios in Hollywood had been built in the early '50's by the R&B great, Johnny Otis. All of the songs on Live and Let Dance were eventually re-recorded onto Wild Child, but this EP gave us our first major recognition. Live & Let Dance was released on our own Twist label and distributed through Enigma Records. After releasing the LP, we then shot video for Free Yourself.. This won the 1984 Billboard Magazine's Best Indy Video of the Year.
The U.T.'s were the first US band to sign to Stiff Records in the UK. How did the label treat you? Any interesting stories about having a hit song in the UK?Dave (Robo) Robinson was the President of Stiff Records (Madness, Desmond Dekker, Elvis Costello). He saw the "Free Yourself" video and flew from London to Los Angeles to sign us. We were all greatly surprised and honored at his arrival. Robo asked where we wanted to record our next album and we all wanted to go to the U.K. Robo agreed and flew the band (sans horns) to England. Back in LA, local radio station KROQ was very much behind the band's adventure. For our first UK tour, we broadcast regular live radio feeds from London to Los Angeles. Clyde would report the progress of the band over the air to fans back home.Our first UK show was at Dingwall's in North London..This nightclub was created out of an old barge located on Lock 17, Chelsea. It was very cool... There was a lot of media in attendance and we were very excited about performing for everyone. Things went very well. After receiving a ton of endorsing press, "Free Yourself" shot to number #17 in the U.K. charts.
Here is the video for "I Spy For The FBI" featuring Josh on organ
I created the melody during a soundcheck, before a U.T gig at the famed Cookoo's Nest, in Santa Ana. I was just doodling around and came up with the groove. The next day, I went over to Dreamship Studios and started laying the basic tracks. Soon, Clyde came by to add guitar and we were performing it within a week.. Stiff Records shot a video for the song, but I've only seen it once. One of my fondest memory of alltime, is waking one morning to the radio/alarm playing What's Gone Wrong.
Here is a video for "What's Gone Wrong" without Josh
The Untouchables performed in San Francisco last year and asked me to join them onstage at The Great American Music Hall. A 10 piece dance troupe, "The Devilettes" joined us on stage in silver and gold go-go shimy-shimy outfits for "Free Yourself". That was really fun.