Sunday, March 29, 2009
This week's podcast is a joint effort with my fellow ska blogger Tone and Wave. Together we've put together a podcast that celebrates and pays respects to a variety of bands and artists from the 1980's who were responsible for establishing and helping to build the foundation for the American ska scene that exploded in the late 80's and early 90's. We've focused on bands that were playing ska and reggae either right before the advent of 2-Tone in the UK or at roughly the same time.
I've focused my podcast on ska and reggae bands that you may or may not have heard of before. What's striking is how many bands started popping up in so many different places around the U.S.. They include rarities from more popular bands (The Untouchables, Bim Skala Bim) and hard-to-find gems from bands you may have never heard of before (The Boilers, The Nails, Blue Riddim Band). While 2-Tone often gets the lion share of the attention for combining the energy and anger of punk with the rhythms of reggae, there were American bands who were playing their own variation of 2-Tone styled ska and reggae years before their British brethren.
Here are highlights about several of the bands in this week's podcast:
Heavy Manners - Caught the attention of Peter Tosh of The Wailers when they opened a show for him in Chicago. Impressed with their live show and musicianship he ends up taking them into the studio to produce their first album which includes the song 'Taking The Queen To Tea'.
The Boilers - One of the best live bands from the large and diverse NYC SKA scene of the mid and late 1980's. The band features a young Jeff Baker (AKA King Django) on trombone and vocals. He would go on to form Skinnerbox and lead the well-known Stubborn All-Stars. He is also a respected ska and reggae producer and solo artist.
The Nails - Boulder, Colorado-based band that moved to New York in the late 70's and recorded one ska single 'Transcontinental Ska'. The band morphed into a well-known alternative rock band and had an underground college rock hit with '88 Lines About 44 Women'.
The Terrorists - New York City's premiere reggae band. The band sold out shows all over New York in the late 70's and early 80's with their faithful reggae rhythms. The band were so good they attracted the attention of Jamaican producer extraordinaire Lee 'Scratch' Perry who joined them for a short time and produced the 12' track 'Love Is Better Now'. They also claimed Roland Alphonso of The Skatalites as a featured member for a few years.
Blue Riddim Band - Can undoubtedly claim the title of America's first reggae band. The truth is it's hard to describe Blue Riddim because they were so unbelievably good. Seven white guys from Kansas City who laid down reggae grooves so massive that the speakers shook on their bases. The first American band to be invited to play Reggae Sunsplash. I've included their rockin' live version of the satirical 'Nancy Reagan' from the 1982 Reggae Sunsplash.
Tone and Wave has included bands that were not traditionally defined as ska bands, but who included ska influences in their sounds or recorded ska songs that added to the growing canon on American ska. Have a listen to The Plugz and Crazy 8's for a great example. For more detailed information on the Tone and Wave play list go to the Tone and Wave blog.
Below is the track listing for both mixes. Enjoy!
Marco On The Bass Mix
Heavy Manners - Taking The Queen To Tea [Chicago 1982]
The X-Streams - Rhythm Of Life 7" [Arizona 1980]
The Boilers - Coeur A Voil [New York 1988]
Bim Skala Bim - Jah Laundromat [Boston 1985]
The Nails - Transcontinental Ska [New York 1980]
The Terrorists - Love Is Better Now 12" [New York 1981]
The Untouchables - Tropical Bird (b-side to The General 7" single) [Los Angeles 1983]
The Hoovers - I Got You Babe [San Francisco 1980]
The Uptones - Outback Master [San Francisco 1983]
Blue Riddim Band - Nancy Reagan (live at 1982 Reggae Sunsplash)[Kansas City 1982]
Tone and Wave Mix
The Plugz - Touch for Cash [Los Angeles 1981]
The Donkey Show - Insomnia [Los Angeles 1989]
Camper Van Beethoven - Skinhead Stomp [Redlands, CA 1985]
Talk Back - Rudy [Los Angeles 1984]
Kill Me - Mr. Potato Head [New York 1985]
The Young Executives - Original Sin [Bellvue, Washington 1982]
Cryin' Out Loud - Live it Up [Hoboken, NJ 1985]
Crazy 8s - Find Myself a Sunny Spot (live) [Oregon 1988]
Eddie Vedder - Reggae Woman [Los Angeles, 1988]
Marco On The Bass + Tone and Wave Podcast
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
In my continuing quest to document and chronicle the thriving ska bands and ska scenes that existed in the U.S. during the late 70's and early 80, my journey has taken me someplace completely unexpected: Arizona.
I've been to Phoenix, Arizona once before. What I remember was the searing desert heat and suburban sprawl. The only other thing I know about Arizona was its ongoing reluctance to ratify Martin Luther King Jr's birthday as a U.S. national holiday throughout the 1980's and 1990's. Its a fairly conservative place and home to Senator John McCain. Truth be told, Arizona was the last place I expected to discover a very talented and popular multi-racial ska band who were central to an early 80's Arizona-based ska scene. The X-Streams played 2-Tone era tinged reggae and ska. Sadly, the band's moniker said more about them than they might have intended.
The story of The X-Streams is a difficult one to tell. The band never achieved the kind of broad popularity or success that they deserved. Sadly, the band was plagued by infighting, drug addiction, a nasty love triangle involving the singer and the band's two guitarists and a penchant for self-destruction that seemed to keep them from ever reaching their full musical potential. Nevertheless, they made a mark for themselves in Arizona and L.A. and are best remembered for their raw and edgy take on new wave styled ska that was very reminiscent of The Selecter.
In the early 80's there were four local reggae/ska bands in the Phoenix area: Driftwood (strictly reggae), The Effects (reggae/ska), Tropic Shock (mostly ska)and The X-Streams (mostly ska). Bob Steinhilber (drums) co-founded the X-Streams with Peter Tessensohn (guitar), Steve Kriol (bass) and Lorraine Springer, a young black woman from Trinidad on lead vocals. Springer had met Kriol in California and travelled with him to Arizona to start the band. The addition of local guitarist Kurt Mayberry was the final ingredient that made things take off for the band, but also complicated its future. According to a 1995 interview that Steinhilber did with The Phoenix New Times, "We had Kurt come along, and from the git-go, it was just great. I've played in a lot of bands, and for some reason, this just clicked right away. . . . I didn't know him to be a heavy drug user; all of that was hidden from me. I guess he had a side of him that he was loath to reveal. He was so talented, he had a style, he played guitar like nobody ever did."
According to Greg Noiz, a Phoenix-based musician I contacted who played in Tropic Shock, The X-Streams were among the best bands he ever saw. "I saw the X-Streams in their original incarnation at a club in nearby Scottsdale called the Razberry Rhinoceros. These folks had a somewhat sinister reputation for drug use and onstage quarrelling. What I experienced that night was some really raw, edgy, rockin' ska and reggae. Lorraine had a great voice and incredible stage presence. I still remember her flashing eyes. Kurt Mayberry could just shred, he had a very unique and distinctive style of guitar playing. Peter seemed to be a most solid and pro player. If I remember correctly, Steve, the bass player was a bit patched up from a previous run in with Lorraine. He later came to one of our own gigs at the Razberry Rhinoceros to fill in on bass but never made it inside, spending the night nodded out in his car in the parking lot. Bob, the drummer, was playing a minimal and mismatched set, a bit on the nod, but never missing the beat. He was up there with snot running out of his nose but just chugging through. I once met him at a percussionist friend's house where he showed me this great gold plated snare he had. A nice guy and a very good drummer."
Yet for all the band's immediate success--the X-Streams were a huge draw in Phoenix and Los Angeles (see the picture of an LA show flyer from the top of this post) --its story is wracked by misfortune. From The Phoenix New Times: "I hesitate to use the word 'curse,' but it's like that," offers Steinhilber. "It just broke my heart over and over again." On the group's first trip to perform in L.A., rock luminaries like Tom Waits, Rickie Lee Jones and members of the Jackson family turned out to catch the set. The show was great, says Steinhilber, but things got ugly later. "We had just finished the gig, and Kurt and Steve were fighting over Lorraine," says Steinhilber. "It was just a jealousy thing, but they went behind the car, and when they got back in, Steve's head was kinda crushed in. It was pretty bad. The next day, I was at someone's house and our manager called up and said, 'Hey, Bob, Steve's in the hospital, he's not going to live. Kurt's in jail and he's charged with second-degree murder. And I quit as your manager.' Click." The gods were smiling this time; charges were dropped. "It turned out that Steve lived and he started playing with us again," Steinhilber says. "Here was this guy in a wheelchair onstage with his head all bandaged up, looking like he just got out of Auschwitz or something. But it was just one thing after another. As soon as things started going good--we'd be looking at a record contract or whatever--something terrible would happen."
But the problem didn't always involve Mayberry. From an early 80's Phoenix New Times column describing a Tucson performance by the band: "All went swell until the second set, when guitarist Steve Kriol started playing like he never had a guitar in his hands before. Not that that stopped him, but it did stop the rest of the band, who were so embarrassed they unplugged their instruments, left the stage and watched as he continued to bang away for another half-hour. . . . Kriol later chalked up his erratic behavior to an old cow-milking injury. Sources close to the band provide a more pharmaceutical explanation. Later that night at a post-show party in a record store, Kriol and Springer got into a bloody melee with a broken perfume bottle in a locked rest room." Steinhilber recalls, "We broke down the door, and there was blood all over the place; it was a big mess. It was always just stuff like that. We recorded an album in '85; I jumped ship then."
Amazingly, as I was researching this post, I was able to track down Lorraine Khan (formerly Lorraine Springer), the original vocalist for the band and she shared her recollections of the early days of The X-Streams with me.
Can you tell me about your introduction to music and ska music in particular?
Music is and always has been a part of my life growing up, at home in school, church and in our carnival/calypso culture in Trinidad.
What brought you to Arizona from Trinidad?
I went to Arizona to be with Steve, the man that put the band together, after meeting him in Beverly Hills, California.
How did the X-Streams get started? Did you know the other members of the band beforehand? Why did you decide to call the band The X-Streams?
Steve put the band together. It was him and Bob the drummer and myself. Bob brought in Kurt who came with Peter. In trying to decide on a name for the band I came up with the name The X-Streams and the guys liked it.
What was your first show at the ON Klub in LA like? How important were your early shows at the ON Klub to the success of the band?
Our first show at the ON Klub was a blast we were instantly booked to play quite a few more shows so we were like regulars at the club and that did wonders for us getting great reviews and more bookings.
Would you describe The X-Streams as a ska band, a reggae band or a mix of both?
We were more of a ska band.
Tell me a bit about the early song writing process. Who wrote the songs on your first two singles?
Kurt and I did the bulk of the song writing. With me as the lead singer I wrote my songs, and to be truthful I can't remember the songs we had on the first single.
What was it like to be in a racially mixed band in Arizona in the early 80's? This was a state that would not make Martin Luther King's birthday a state holiday for some time.
Our band in Arizona was great I don't know if anyone noticed that I was black except for Kurt's mom because I was with her son.
Why did you leave the band?
It was time for me to move on. My vision of what I wanted had changed.
Are you still in touch with any of your band mates?
I only recently found Peter on the net and we pow-wow a bit.
What are you doing these days?
I just finished recording a calypso record to be released in August at the beginning of the calypso season and I am remixing it to be released as a R&B Rap version. I have also completed the video for the calypso record and about to begin the one for the rap.
The departure of Springer and drummer Steinhilber was not the end of The X-Streams. They continued to soldier on playing a a more rock and reggae mix of songs and bringing Mayberry's wife into the band. From the 1995 Phoenix New Times story: Mayberry and Tessensohn continued to play together over the years, most recently as Cloud 10. The duo released a self-titled CD on their own Skintone label, but, as soon as the ball once again started rolling, tragedy on an almost unbelievable level reared its head. "I hadn't seen the guys in about ten years, and then, Kurt and Peter approached me with a new CD they wanted me to do the artwork for," says Steinhilber. "Then when Kurt and Peter were flying up to San Francisco to this independent record company convention looking for a distribution deal, Peter's wife OD'd on heroin on the plane, in the rest room with her little boy on her lap [Kathy Tessensohn was declared dead of acute heroin toxicity by a Nevada medical examiner]. Then about two or three weeks ago, Peter called me and said that Kurt had flipped out and attacked him, and he had to have him put in jail. I called Kurt and he didn't want to talk about it. I'd never seen any of this crazy behavior from him; he'd always been a perfect gentleman."
GregNoiz also remembered the bands later years: Fast forward a few years and I am playing in a ska/punk band called Skaface (a band I started with Jim Sauter, original rhythm guitarist for The Effects) and also filling in on drums and percussion with reggae band The Sons Of The Captivity (a band headed up by Rudy Chavez, original guitarist for Driftwood). Kurt and Peter are still playing but with a new crew behind them. I caught them at a Tempe club called Edcel's Attic and they were great. They played a ripping version of Delroy Wilson's 'Trying to Conquer Me'. I remember talking with Kurt's wife Debbie a bit that night. A nice lady, very pretty. Somewhere around this time I met with Peter and Kurt at his home to play some drums and practice with them a bit. I was a huge fan and I was so weirded out to find myself playing with these guys I could hardly hold on to my sticks. Because of complications in my personal life I couldn't take them up on their invitation to work with them further. A huge regret now of course. My final run in with Kurt was at the Sun Club. This was a notorious dive in Tempe that for a while was the Valley hot spot for edgy music. He had recently bought the club and I asked him if my current band, ToolBox (an alt rock trio where I played live drums along with a computer drum track), could play there. He of course said yes. Kurt was just a really good guy.
Sadly Mayberry's demons caught up with him in June of 1995. According to a story that appeared in the Arizona Republic's obituaries section, "Man Collapses in Struggle With Police" The "Man" was Mayberry, who had stopped breathing at a local hospital after an apparent cocaine overdose. The article said that Mayberry had been walking down the street, naked. He followed two boys home and broke into their apartment. Inside, he found a teenager and two other children; he told them to call the police. The police arrived to find Mayberry hiding in a bedroom, "acting incoherent, delusional and paranoid," according to an officer at the scene. Mayberry attacked the officers, who--the piece notes--did not use excessive force. During the struggle, he collapsed, and was taken to the hospital where he died.
Here is audio of a live performance of The X-Streams song 'Appeared To Me' in Tempe, Arizona in July,1986
Luckily, I have been able to track down the only single that The X-Streams recorded in 1980 with Lorraine Springer on vocals. It was part of a split 7" single with a new wave band called The Nervous and each band had two songs on each side of the single. The two songs are both fantastic slices of reggaefied ska and its clear that Springer is a vocal talent. Yet again I'm amazed at how the collective unconscious provided inspiration for so many talented musicians around the UK and the US in the late 70's and early 80's to create some great music. Many thanks to Tone and Wave blog for sharing the link
The X-Streams - Soldering/Rhythm Of Life 7"
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Marco On The Bass Podcast Series: Live Tracks and Rarities from The Specials, The Beat and Fun Boy Three
This week's podcast is dedicated to members of The Beat and The Specials and their varied, colorful and creative musical endeavors. As a fan of both bands, I've always sought out their rarities and oddities. Often, its these songs, off the beaten path of what causal listeners are accustomed to hearing. that tend to be the most interesting. The impact of music by both bands is also evident in the variety of cover versions other musicians have recorded of their songs, as well as the invitations they have received from other acts to add their unique imprint.
The genesis of The Specials current reunion may have its seeds in a short, one-off show that Terry Hall and Lynval Golding performed early last year with members of The Dead 60's backing them on bass, drums and organ at the 100 Club in London. The set included an inspired version of 'Friday Night & Saturday Morning'. This is followed by a rare live version of the 'More Specials' classic track 'Stereotype' from a show in Holland in 1981 that features Neville Staple's extended chat. It is interesting to hear the live performance which is much more musical than the 'muzak' version from the album.
Following the break-up of The Specials, Terry, Lynval and Neville recorded two albums as the Fun Boy Three. I've always loved their second album and feel that many of the songs have stood the test of time. One of my favorites is 'Going Home' which documents the confusion facing immigrants caught between the pull of their old and new homes. This live version was performed on the UK TV show 'The Test'. The impact of The Specials on subsequent generations of younger bands can't be overstated. The Dead 60's proudly wore their affection for the band in their songs and I've included thier note for note cover of 'Ghost Town' as a testament.
Both Neville Staple and Ranking Roger shared similar roles as MC's and toasters in their respective bands. This has given them each a unique ability to collaborate with other artists and one another to reinterpret their own songs or to work together as they did in Special Beat. The Fun Boy Three's recording of 'The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum) is given a Latin makeover by the Mexican band Los Del Abajo featuring a guest appearance from Neville Staple. This is followed by a rare studio recording by Special Beat featuring Neville and Roger singing the 60's ska classic 'Time Longer Than Rope'.
Like Neville, Ranking Roger has been an active collaborator and contributor on a number of rare and unique tracks. His reinterpretation of The Beat classic 'Twist & Crawl' with help from the UK duo Death in Vegas rivals the original in its driving intensity. Roger also recorded a number of freestyle chats on the extended versions of a number of rare tracks by The Beat. One of the rarest is his chat 'Cool Entertainer' over the instrumental 'Which Side Of The Bed' which is a song the band rarely performed live.
One the rarest and most interesting tracks on the podcast is a version of 'Rock The Casbah' with a lively chat from Ranking Roger that was recorded by Mick Jones for inclusion on the double album version of 'Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg' (later called 'Combat Rock') that never saw the light of day. Finally, I've added a hard-to-find live version of The Beat's punky 'Two Swords' as performed by Dave Wakeling and his band Bang!, during his hiatus between the first and second incarnations of General Public in the mid-1990's.Here is the podcast play list:
Terry Hall & Friends - Friday Night & Saturday Morning (Live at 100 Club)
The Specials - Stereotype (Live 1981)
Fun Boy Three - Going Home (Live on 'The Test' 1983)
The Dead 60's - Ghost Town (Cover)
Los Del Abajo w/Neville Staple - The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum)
The Special Beat - Time Longer Than Rope
Death In Vegas w/Ranking Roger - Twist & Crawl
The Beat - Cool Entertainer (Rare remix of 'Which Side Of The Bed')
The Clash w/Ranking Roger - Rock The Casbah (Mick Jones' Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg mix of Combat Rock LP)
Dave Wakeling & Bang - Two Swords (Rare live recording of Dave Wakeling's 1990's LA-based band)
Marco On The Bass Podcast #4
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Monday, March 16, 2009
King were always a guilty New Wave pop pleasure for me. I happened to be living in England at the time they were popular in the mid-80's. They were a uniquely British pop creation and sensation featuring an amalgam of new wave haircuts, day glow colored suits and spray painted Doc Martens. They were the pop music equivalent of a Jackson Pollack painting come to life. However, if you listen carefully to their biggest hit "Love & Pride" (which hit #2 on the UK charts) you can hear a distinct ska/reggae bass line and upbeat ska guitar. Well it turns out that's no surprise given the band's namesake Paul King, had been a member of Coventry art rock ska band Reluctant Stereotypes.
Riding on the back of the 2-Tone wave and the Coventry sound of The Specials and The Selecter, Reluctant Stereotypes — which not only contained King on vocals but future Primitive/producer Paul Sampson on guitar, Steve Edgson on clarinet, Colin Heanes on drums and Tony Wall on bass — played reggaefied jazz rock. The songs include pointed-but-arty lyrics, prominent clarinet work, ska/rock rhythms and jazz level musical standards. However, unlike their 2-Tone bredren, the songs include a more free-form, less-soulful approach and stricter adherence to Police-like white reggae rhythms. The band signed to WEA and recorded and released their first and only album called 'The Label' which included the singles, "Plans For Today" and "Confused Action." They even got a shot of fame when they appeared on the UK music TV show 'Old Grey Whistle Test' and toured with The Specials.
Here is video of the song 'Reverend Green' featuring the original singer Martyn Bates who was later replaced by Paul King:
The band's clarinetist Steve Edgson (who sadly passed away late last year) shared his memories on a BBC web site called "Were You There for Two Tone" dedicated to collecting people's 2- Tone experiences. Edgson says of his days in the band: "I was in a band called Reluctant Stereotypes and we went on a seaside tour with The Specials and Bodysnatchers in June 1980. It was great fun playing to packed houses and getting a good (mostly!) reception. One thing that stands out is travelling to the gigs on the coach with the bands and Rico (the trombone player ) muttering about the sins of alcohol as we were kept waiting for various pastey faced band members who had overdone it the previous night! I also remember singing Frank Zappa songs with Horace and Paul Sampson! Heady days of youth.... "
The band's drummer Colin Heane's shared his recollections with 2-Tone historian and archivist Pete Chambers in an article in the Coventry Telegraph:
THE road to success can sometimes be littered with casualties. Take Pete Best and The Beatles, a perfect example of "right place, wrong time". Like Pete Best, Colin Heanes was a drummer, also like Pete, Colin was asked to leave a band on the edge of success. The band was Coventry's flamboyant King.
The late 70s early 80s - what a great time to be in a band from Coventry," reveals Colin. "Of course we all owed this to The Specials. "What a pity they can't collectively sort out their differences and do some more shows. "Around this time I joined a band called Reluctant Stereotypes. I had learned to play drums on a very active club scene around Coventry.
"Wisely my parents had encouraged me to do an apprenticeship as a carpenter, which has stood me in good stead. "Around the time we signed a deal with WEA Records Jerry Dammers offered to release our first single on 2-Tone. "The Specials were just about to release their fifth single Stereotype. You don't have to be Einstein to realise that the publicity generated by this would have been massive for us. "That would probably have got us on our way chart-wise. I'm sure Jerry could see this too, but we chose not to jump on the bandwagon."Jerry to his credit didn't push us too hard. Although at the time I'm sure he was too busy to push too hard anyway."
The Reluctant Stereotypes were one of those local bands who were on the cusp of success, no one at the time would have bet on them not making it. The band consisted of Paul King (vocals), Paul Sampson (guitar and vocals), Steve Edgson (clarinet), Tony Wall (bass) and Colin on drums. They even appeared on the Iconic TV show, the Old Grey Whistle Test.
"The Reluctant Stereotypes were an incredibly hardworking band," continued Colin, "as our tour schedule from the time would prove. "So through a lot of hard work on the road we did build a reasonable following around the country. "An appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test enabled us to play to bigger audiences which was also good. "Unfortunately, just after we signed our deal with WEA the company received a lot of bad press about hyping new acts.
"They were a big enough company to say okay we won't hype anyone for two years. All the record companies did it. it was just bad timing for us. "This could sound like sour grapes on my part. "It isn't, I'm just trying to give an accurate account of what we went through at the time. "Some of the most stick-out memories of being in the band for me were, as I'm sure most musicians of the time would tell you, being stuck in the back of a transit for hours on end. "I can still see Steve Edgson now with a paper bird's beak wedged in his glasses pecking on the window of the van at other motorists. "I'm surprised we didn't cause a lot of accidents. It's amazing what you will do to break the boredom when you are stuck on the motorway for hours on end."
Sadly, after a lot of record company support the Reluctant Stereotypes failed to hit the big time and called it a day. Paul Sampson and Steve Edgson went off to form the Pink Umbrellas. As for the others well, here's Colin again. "After The Reluctant Stereotypes split Tony Wall, Paul King and myself formed Raw Screens later to become King. King did go on to have chart success. "For me that came at a price. I was sacked just before the success came (I was sacked for many reasons, but I suppose mainly because I speak my mind).
"I was very bitter about this for a long time. I couldn't, it seemed at the time, go into a pub in Coventry without someone calling me an idiot for getting kicked out of the band."I emigrated to Australia in 1987. I didn't come here to escape the stigma of being the drummer who was sacked by King. "It was more to do with warmer weather. Plus my wife has always had an adventurous streak. It was good to be in a place where no one knew who I was. "I did come back to live in Coventry in 1997 for a few years but the cold weather didn't agree with my family. We now live back in Brisbane and have a great life here in the sunshine.
"I still look back nostalgically on those times and have a lot of fond memories. I miss the music business even now and would have loved to have been more successful but it wasn't meant to be. "There are a lot of elements that fall into place to make a band successful I think we had a lot of them. But some bad judgment calls put us behind the eight ball so to speak."
I was amazed to learn that the Tone And Wave blog recently found the band's very hard-to-find and out-of-print LP 'The Label'. I've been on a quest to find it for some time and now that I've found it, I'm happy to report that I've never heard anything like it before! It's very unique and definitely an acquired taste, but the musicianship is top-notch and the clarinet adds a unique sound to the songs. Edgson is clearly the 'Saxa' of the band and his melodies along with King's vocals are what you remember most. I'm happy to include a download of the album below. I know a number of hard core ska fans who have been looking for this album for some time. Enjoy!
The Reluctant Stereotypes - The Label
Sunday, March 15, 2009
This weeks podcast is an homage to a variety of bands and performers who were all inspired or reinvigorated by the advent 2-Tone. Kicking things off are Desmond Dekker and Laurel Aitken who both helped to popularize ska and reggae in the UK in the 1960's and early 70's and were able to re-launch their careers during 2-Tone by partnering with young up and comers. For Dekker it was backing by The Akrylykz from Hull, while Aitken connected with The Ruts who were successfully combining punk and reggae.
21 Guns was a short-lived 2-Tone styled band from Coventry signed to Neville Staple's Shack Records label. Fronted by ex-Squad singer Gus Chambers (he replaced Terry Hall when he joined The Specials) backed by roadies from The Specials, this difficult to find single shows some interesting flashes. It's followed by Rico & The Special A.K.A's 'Jungle Music'. This single was released in 1982 after the original line-up of The Specials had split and marks one of the rare occasions that the legendary trombonist performed a vocal track.
Eddy Grant may well have been the original father of 2-Tone. As the leader of multi-racial 60's band The Equals, he was on the forefront of melding black and white music. Later as a solo artist he enjoyed success in the late 70's with his singles 'Walking On Sunshine' and the political rocker 'Living On The Frontline' which chronicled the everyday difficulties of living in inner city Brixton. The Members were another band on the outside of 2-Tone who were also experimenting with reggae. Their lament about how the rich were able to hide money from the tax man was a full on reggae workout. This version captures them live from the soundtrack to seminal music movie 'Urgh'. The original studio version was recorded with Rico Rodriguez on trombone.
While not busy behind the drum kit for The Specials. John Bradbury started his own record label called Race Records and quickly signed two 2-Tone inspired bands. Night Doctor, was a 10-piece reggae band and The People which featured ex-members of The Selecter who had left the band shortly before the band recorded their second album 'Celebrate The Bullet'.
Pauline Black With Sunday Best was a short lived collaboration between Pauline Black of The Selecter and Lynval Golding and Neville Staple of The Fun Boy Three/The Specials. The song is very difficult to find and is considered a collectors item. Finally, The Ruts were at the forefront of the Rock Against Racism movement. Along with Misty In Roots, they spearheaded the partnership between punk and reggae bands that took off at the same time that 2-Tone was ruling the charts. The song 'Jah War' is taken from their album 'The Crack'.
Here is the podcast play list:
Work Out - Desmond Dekker (Black & Dekker LP)
Jesse James - Laurel Aitken & The Ruts(Peel Session)
21 Guns - 21 Guns (Shack Records 7" produced by Neville Staple of The Specials)
Jungle Music - Rico & The Special A.K.A.
Living On The Frontline - Eddy Grant
Offshore Banking Business - The Members (Live from Urgh! Soundtrack)
Just Enough - Night Doctor (Race Records 7" produced by John Bradbury of The Specials)
Musical Man - The People (Race Records 7" featuring ex-members of The Selecter)
Pirates On The Airwaves - Pauline Black & Sunday Best (Pauline Black with Lynval Golding and Neville Staple)
Jah War - The Ruts
Marco On The Bass Podcast #3
Saturday, March 14, 2009
I'm a fervent believer in the concept of a band. The coming together of individuals from different walks of life, different cultures, different musical influences and perspectives is often an amazing thing to behold. The mixing of these elements in a musical cooking pot has created some of the greatest music of the rock and roll era. More often than not, the parts are never stronger than the whole that is created.
To that end, I have always believed that the secret ingredient that made The Specials the band they are has been Roddy Byers inventive and creative guitar parts. Listen to any Specials song - Dawning Of A New Era, Long Shot Kick The Bucket, Rat Race, Hey Little Rich Girl -- and its usually Roddy's guitar licks that stick with you. In fact, the interplay between Roddy's punk/rockabilly tinged licks and Lynval Golding's ska and reggae infused guitar playing is as important to the band as the partnership between Keith Richards and Ron Wood. Roddy's singing voice is just as valuable as his guitar playing. Its a voice that that can tell a story but one that includes shades of vulnerability that draw the listener in. Have a listen to 'Concrete Jungle' - always one of my favorite song by the band - and you will hear just how important Roddy was to making The Specials more than just a ska revival band.
Here is live video of 'Rat Race' from The Specials tour of Japan:
Roddy came to The Specials as a well known musician in the Coventry music scene. Jerry Dammers has often said that he knew exactly what he was doing when he invited Roddy to join the band for a recording session in London after meeting him in a pub the night before, He was aware of Roddy's first band The Wild Boys, who were one of the most popular bands in Coventry in the mid-70's before The Specials. While Dammers and Roddy never saw eye-to-eye on many things, it was this creative tension that fueled the energy of the recordings and live performances. Watch any live show and you will see what a live wire Roddy was on stage.
Thirty years on, Roddy remains a creative musical force. He has never rested on his 2-Tone laurels. In fact, he's continued playing music since the band broke up in 1981. He actually started his next band The Tearjerkers before The Specials called it quits. The Bonediggers and The Raiders followed. More recently he started The Skabilly Rebels who are the embodiment of Roddy's combination of Kingston ska and Memphis rock and roll. .
Roddy was kind enough to take time to answer my questions. He's always been very approachable and is a regular online presence on The Specials web site's community forum. I was interested in learning more about his early days before joining The Specials and his approach to guitar playing. The interview is below. Enjoy.
What are you earliest memories related to music?
My earliest memories? Well hearing The Beatles at the local fair. Seeing Elvis on T.V. the usual stuff I guess.
How old were you when you got your first guitar? What kind of guitar was it?
I was thirteen when i bought my first guitar off a school friend for 8 quid. It was a Selmer Spanish type acoustic.
What was the first record you ever bought?
Not quite sure? Either a Monkees record or The Kinks.
What was it like growing up outside Coventry? How did a young man from outside Coventry end up such a big fan of American rock n' roll and rockabilly?
I grew up in a coal mining village from the age of 4 to 18, which was pretty tough in those days with many different miners family's from all over the U.K. living there. I liked all the rock n' roll originals -don't know why really. But seeing Jerry Lee ,Elvis, Johnny Cash, Buddy, Gene, Eddie on T.V. -- I just wanted to be like them.
Tell me about The Wild Boys.
I formed the Wild Boys about 1975, with guys i had been playing with in working men's club type show bands. We played mainly covers -- Bowie, Lou Reed, The Stones and other rock,n,roll standards plus a few songs I had recently started writing.
What was Coventry music scene of the early 70's like? How did the advent of punk effect you musically after 1977?
The early 70's scene in Coventry only had a few free and easy jamming places like The Smithfield Hotel, where you got up with your mates and bash out a couple of cover songs. It wasn't until punk came along that venues and a thriving local music scene happened well for me anyway,i guess. There was also a local Black music scene, but i hadn't connected with it at the time.
Did having two Wild Boys songs on the Coventry music comp "Sent From Coventry" help the band's career?
Not for me as I had passed on the name of the band to my brothers band and joined the Coventry Automatics.
Your guitar playing makes The Specials sound like The Specials. What kind of guitar and amp did you use in while you were in the band? Do you still play the same guitar?
I've been told by Lynval and other musicians that my sound is instantly recognisable! It's just the way I like it to sound? I guess its a late 60's sorta sound? I still use the same type of equipment -- a Gibson Les Paul and a Vox AC 30 amp. I've tried all sorts but keep coming back to those two.
How did you and Lynval work out who would play lead and who would play rythym on songs in the recording studio and live?
Like the early Stones there isn't always a strict lead and rhythm. We interchange it, but I tend to play most lead parts.
I've always wanted to know more about the single 'Braggin and Tryin' NotTo Lie' which was credited to Roddy Radiation and The Specials and was distributed with the 'More Specials' album. Its it fair to say this was the first ever skabilly song?
First Skabilly song? Well I used to put ska rhythms to country songs for a laugh, but i guess "Braggin" was the first serious effort to merge Kingston Jamaica with Memphis Tennessee!
You started The Tearjerkers towards the end of The Specials right? The band seemed to form very quickly after the The Specials broke-up? Any memories of those days?
I formed The Tearjerkers before The Specials split. It was obvious to most of us that the end was near. I also hoped that I could do my own thing successfully at that time.
What are your fondest memories of playing in The Specials Mk2? I've always enjoyed the 'Guilty Till Proved Innocent' record. Do you perform any of the songs you wrote from that album?
The MK2 Specials as I call them started off with great optimism, and I was pleased to be out front doing the majority of the lead vocals. But here in England the press never accepted us as The Specials, whereas in the States they didn't seem to mind us not being the total original band. So we mainly toured America, Europe and Japan . The first MK2 Album "Today's Specials" I was totally against reforming to record a covers album! But as I was the only ex-Special with any new tunes I guess they didn't want a Specials Skabilly album. But I wrote 'Bonediggin', 'The Man With No Name', 'Tears In My Beer', 'Keep On Learning' for the second Guilty CD. I play those songs with The Skabilly Rebels plus my early Specials songs and a few favourites from the first and second original Specials albums.
You formed The Skabilly Rebels a few years ago and continue to tour and record. Is it still as much fun to play music now as it was when you started?
Like Neville Staple, I'm very busy with both The Specials and my own band. I still love playing live and like my father and grandfather will continue to perform until they throw the sod over me!
Here is a video history of Roddy's musical career:
You can read more about Roddy at his website and MySpace page.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Hopefully if you are fairly regular reader of this blog you know that I love ska music in all its combinations and permutations. My passion for the music started when I heard The Specials first album as an impressionable 14 year old. From that defining experience I was off and running. Album shopping and seeing shows in New York City filled my late teens and early 20's. It finally lead me to start a band 21 years ago in New Brunswick, New Jersey while I was attending Rutgers University. There I met a group of like-minded souls and misfits and together we embarked on a musical journey that continues to this day.
The New York Ska scene was in full effect in the late 1980's when we started and to the best of my knowledge we were the very first ska band to come from New Jersey (which for those of you living in the UK is the equivalent of being from Essex). Initially we called ourselves Panic! (after The Smiths song) which was later changed to Bigger Thomas (after the main character of the Richard Wright novel 'Native Son') and to our astonishment quickly built up a fan base in the New York/New Jersey music scene. Soon we were sharing stages with more and more well-known bands and playing further and further from home. We have certainly had our ups and downs, but that has made the whole experience more interesting. I consider all my band mates (past and present) the brothers I never had and a musical family who have made my life what it is today.
Part of my interest in starting this blog almost one year ago was to share my love for the music that has made me who I am today. It seems fine time to finally share songs from my own band. We have recorded three albums (we are finishing up work on our fourth one titled 'Pure' at the moment) and each one has had a distinct sound. Here is a quick rundown on the albums:
Bigger Thomas (1989): Self-titled and recorded by the original line-up of the band. We won the studio time to record this album by winning a battle of the bands competition. We recorded and mixed the whole 9 song album in 40 hours and pressed an album (vinyl was in its death throes as CD's were starting to make in-roads). I still have a few copies of the vinyl. We re-mastered and re-released the album in 2004. It remains my favorite.
Resisting Success (2004): It took nearly 8 years to finish this album. The band had gone through significant changes and had endured a nasty split. We reconciled and soldiered on, but life hqd a way of getting in the way of making progress on this one. The basic tracks remained un-mixed for years while we concentrated instead on playing the somewhat lucrative bar scene to make money. This record reflects the diversity of sounds and influences we all brought to the table. Probably the best recorded record of the three. Well engineered and well produced.
We Wear The Mask: (2005): A return to form and to our roots. We brought the one and only Kind Django on board to produce this one. The songs were a mix of old chestnuts that never made the first record and new songs written during our wanders in the wilderness of the New York and New Jersey club circuit. The album includes most of the current line-up and features our MC/Toaster Roy Radics who has added a new dimension to our live sound. We also experimented with more reggae and dub sounds.
Here is the podcast playlist:
Fun - Resisting Success
Ska In My Pocket - Original demo recording from 1988 featuring our first MC/Toaster
Telling Time - Bigger Thomas
Something You Should Know - Resisting Success
How It Has To Be - We Wear The Mask
Chucks - Resisting Success
Loose Threads - Bigger Thomas
Say It Again (featuring Roy Radics)- We Wear The Mask
Simple Man - Bigger Thomas
Dub The Mask - We Wear The Mask
Marco On The Bass Podcast #2
My band will be making our new 10-song CD titled 'Pure' available for download through this blog. If you are interested in receiving a teaser mix of songs from the album before its released and later get access to a download link where you can pay what you want for it (The Radiohead model of $0 to whatever...) then please send your e-mail address to the address below:
Rest assured that I will not share or sell your e-mail address to anyone (I'm a big advocate of online privacy) and I'll remove you from the distribuition list at any time.
Finally, if you liked what you heard in the podcast and want to hear more, all three of our albums are available via Amazon.com and on iTunes. Enjoy!
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Not since the family feud involving Ali Campbell and UB40 last year, has a musician used the media to air his dirty laundry more than Jerry Dammers. His ongoing, pull out the stops, all hands on deck media blitz continued today, this time in the Comment Is Free section of The Guardian (which is the equivalent of a letter to the editor in the U.S.) which had published an interview with Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and John Bradbury a few weeks ago. The NME also carried coverage of Dammers open letter.
While Dammers recycled more of the same that we have heard from him over the last few weeks, in even greater detail (we now know the intricate details of discussions between the band which should have been kept private) today's new message was one of reconciliation: Terry says: "Hand on my heart, this is what I feel is a bit sad for Jerry. He's fucking missing out." Whether that is supposed to be his way of trying to say I'm still welcome in the band would be hard enough to work out if, at our meeting, he had not also said to me of the reunion: "I promise I won't do it without you, hand on heart." Despite all this I never give up hope of some sort of reconciliation
Sadly this is all starting to smell very desperate. Indeed, Jerry may want to consider ending his daily media barrage and pick up the phone to make nice with Terry Hall and his band mates. Too much fighting in the media!
One comment following Dammers letter in The Guardian nicely summed up the whole tawdry affair. It was a parody of Dammers 'Free Nelson Mandela" called "Feel Sorry For Jerry Dammers".
Feel sorry for Jerry Dammers
Feel, feel, feel Jerry Dammers
Feel sorry for Jerry Dammers
30 years without a song
Shoes too big to fit his feet
His body abused, but his mind is still free
Hes so blind that he cannot see
Feel sorry for Jerry Dammers
Promotes his cause on CIF
Only one man in a Small army
Hes so blind that he cannot see
Hes so deaf that he cannot hear you
Feel sorry for Jerry Dammers
30 years without a song
Shoes too big to fit his feet
His body abused, but his mind is still free
Hes so blind that he cannot see.
Monday, March 2, 2009
The band's Web site is the location for a mean spirited debate that continues to play out and where Dammers (or someone posing as him or working for him) under the name 'Ice Rink' (see avatar above) makes his pointed and passionate case to other members of the band (namely guitarist Roddy 'Radiation' Byers who regularly posts on the community forum as 'Jett Rink' - see avatar below). While I have no direct evidence that 'Ice Rink' is actually Dammers, a quick review of this persons online profile shows the poster is a musician interested in 'space travel' (a hidden reference to Dammers Sun-Ra inspired band 'The Spatial AKA Orchestra perhaps?). The Ice Rink String Sounds were credited to Jerry as part of the song 'Do Nothing'. Further, the 'Ice Rink' name can also be seen as a dig at Byers online profile 'Jett Rink'. Again, I'm using some junior detective conjecture here, but it seems fairly plausible.
The sniping between Dammers and Byers within the online confines of the band Web site has taken on legendary status. It reached a fevered peak last September prior to the band's performance at Bestival on the Isle of Wight. In fact, the war of online posts by Dammers and his supporters criticizing the reunion got so heated that the Web site administrators decided to shut down the threads drawing further criticism from some fans and Dammers supporters. Dammers has also called Byers out in the statement he released when the band announced the reunion tour in January, that "Radiation’s claim on the internet that Jerry wanted to do “slowed down jazz versions of Specials songs” is a complete lie."
The latest clash of online posts between the two came quickly on the heels of Dammers latest interview published in yesterdays Sunday edition of The Independent. Dammers latest interview differs little from his other recent interviews. Indeed, Dammers continues to claim he has been unfairly prevented from re-joining his band mates for the reunion. "I think I've been completely reasonable, rational and level-headed throughout this entire thing. I haven't expected anything unreasonable from anybody. I have been treated in the most despicable manner." More intriguing was Dammers critique of the band's decision to be outfitted in suits from a well known UK-based maker of Tonic Suits. As an avowed radical he is disturbed by what he sees as the "extremely conservative" musical approach of his peers and alarmed by their plans to dress in tonic suits made by a company that boasts of the exclusively British origin of its garments. "Is that what The Specials was about? I don't know," he asks rhetorically.
Dammers online avatar 'Ice Rink' continued the the critique online posting: "As for suit comment.. Who would of thought it The Specials kitted out in Designer suits and sponsored by a mobile phone company !!, it all smells of some sort of corporate branding!! What next Pepsi or butter tv adds? This brought a response from Byers who posted: "The suits were my idear some of us had suits some of us didn't so when a friend of mine put me in touch with Ace suits and they said we could have one each i for one was very pleased-(maybe we should of got them in China? i think not!!) And so Gerald has finally admitted he did want to change the old tunes.. funny he called me a LIAR the other month? Poor sad Jerry." You can read the thread on The Specials community forum here.
While this continued drumbeat from Dammers may help sell newspapers and stoke the raging debate among fans of the band who have split into pro and anti-Dammers camps, sadly it only seems to paint him into a corner as a difficult personality who feels entitled to run the whole show without input from his band mates.
If there is a bright spot in all this war of words, it's in The Independent article where Dammers hints at his desire to extend an olive branch to his nemesis Terry Hall (though it is still couched in some need to take credit for Hall's success). "Obviously I made loads of mistakes in The Specials. I'm not trying to take all the credit. But Roger Daltrey stuck with Pete Townshend through his development as a human being and I think Terry [Hall] owes me that, given it was my songs that brought him to the attention of the public in the first place."
The saga continues. Enjoy it while you can.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
This first podcast focuses on some of my personal favorite songs from bands I've profiled over the last year. For this first podcast I've made an effort to include out-of-print and very hard-to-find singles and unreleased songs. All the songs on this podcast were recorded immediately prior to or during the height of 2-Tone in the UK and US. I included a number of bands on the periphery of 2-Tone in the UK, namely The Ammonites and ska-punks The Piranhas from Brighton, The Ska-Dows from London and The Akrylykz from Hull. I also added a nascent version of 'Ranking Full Stop' by The Beat recorded for a Peel Session in late 1979. Of particular interest to reggae fans will be songs by Capital Letters and the original reggae punks Basement Five. Finally, leading off the podcast is mod band The Lambrettas with a bouncy 2-Tone take on the 50's classic 'Poison Ivy', Los Angeles ska icons The Untouchables with their early single 'The General and the hardest working man in ska, Mr Mark Foggo with a tale of the choices facing an unemployed man in early 80's England (though it is sadly relevant today here in the U.S, for millions of people)
Here is the playlist of the first podcast:
The Lambrettas - Poison Ivy
The Untouchables - The General (7" single)
Mark Foggo - The Choice
The Ammonites - Dressed To Kill (1980 rehearsal tape)
The Ska-Dows - Apache (7" single)
The Akrylykz - Gunslinger (Unreleased studio track)
The Piranhas - I Don't Want My Body
Basement 5 - Silicon Chip (7" single)
Capital Letters - Smoke My Ganja
The Beat - Ranking Full Stop (Peel Session Recording 5/11/79)