Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Birth Of The 1980's NYC Ska Scene: Shot Black & White

Though it may have been short-lived, Britain's Ska Records (a sideline to its more popular cousin Oi Records) deserves credit for releasing albums by U.S. ska bands of the late 1980's. Label founder, Roddy Moreno, is a well known figure in the global skinhead community and led The Oppressed (a well-known Oi band) and The Rude Boys (a ska band) from Cardiff, Wales. While living in New York City, Moreno helped establish the Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP) movement in response to the growing number of racist skinhead attempts to hijack both the image and culture of ska loving skinheads.

The majority of the releases on the label stem from Moreno's time living in New York City in the late 1980's with all but one band (his own) being American. His goal (as part of a deal with Rob Hingley of The Toasters and Moon Records) appears to have been to bring the new third wave ska sounds blaring from the U.S. across the ocean and to expose them to the British ska market. All of the releases on the label received very small pressings and have become very difficult to find, particularly here in the United States where they were often sold as imports. Some of the records never got released by a domestic label here in the U.S. thus becoming collectors items. The label is probably best known for issuing the Skaville USA series of compilations which offer a great time capsule of early third wave ska here in the U.S.. Of note are the Boilers hard to find 'Rockin' Steady', Gangster Fun's 'Come See, Come Ska' and The New York Citizens 'Pounding The Pavement' as well as seminal releases by Bim Skala Bim.

Ska Records Discography

SKAR001 -- Various Artists -- Skaville USA
SKAR002 -- Bim Skala Bim -- Boston Bluebeat
SKAR003 -- Various Artists -- Skaville USA Volume 2
SKAR004 -- New York Citizens -- Pounding The Pavement
SKAR005 -- The Boilers -- Rockin' Steady
SKAR006 -- Various Artists -- Skaville USA Volume 3
SKAR007 -- Shot Black & White -- Understand
SKAR008 -- Bim Skala Bim -- Tuba City
SKAR009 -- Gangster Fun -- Come See, Come Ska
SKAR010 -- Various Artists -- Skaville USA Volume 4

12" Releases

SKAT001 -- The Toasters -- East Side Beat
SKAT002 -- The Rude Boys -- Rude Boy Shuffle

Of particular interest to me is the release by Shot Black & White. The band were unique because they were one of the few who added a healthy dose of rock and roll to their progressive rock/ska hybrid. While they were initially part of the NYC ska scene of the mid 80's playing shows with the other core bands of the scene (they were originally known as The Daybreakers and had a track 'Preying Man' on the N.Y. Beat:Hit & Run compilation), they set out to blaze their own trails outside the NYC ska scene playing shows with non-ska bands.

I first encountered Shot Black & White in 1987 when a band I was in competed against them in a battle of the bands competition at the Green Parrot club at the New Jersey shore which they won (my band Bigger Thomas won the contest the following year). First prize was 40 hours of free recording time which Shot Black & White used to record the album 'Understand' which to the best of my knowledge was only released and distributed on Ska Records.

Of all the Ska Records releases, Shot Black & White's remains one of the most obscure and difficult to find and there is little to no information available about the band. What I do recall is a band that had a great look with a high energy stage show and a very theatrical front man known only as Tome. The band's bass player Winston Roye has become a professional musician here in New York who has performed with Jewel, Lauren Hill, John Doe of X, Ace Of Base and is now playing with American Idol finalist and Broadway star Constantine Maroulis.

Shot Black & White
Bass - Winston Roye
Drums - Joe Mattis
Guitar - Michael Schwartz
Guitar, Harmonica - Joshua Simon
Vocals - Tomé

Below is the track list and download for the band's only release 'Understand'. The album is notable for fairly obscure lyrics (similar in tone to The Reluctant Stereotypes who recorded in the late 70's) but is a refreshing rock/reggae combination in the vein of the first General Public album with some smoking lead guitar and harmonica playing and very smooth backing vocals.

Track list:
Day in Day out
End Of Days
Far Off
Freedom
I Believe
Man Look Around
Put Down The Arms
Underprivileged Race
Understand
Win Instantly

Shot Black & White - Understand

3 comments:

JohnnyV said...

Thanks for the detail on this band, I would have had no idea they were previously The Daybreakers. I first heard them on Max The Dog says... compilation from George Marshall, which led me to it.

Anyway, 'Understand' also got released on CD in this country in 1988, a NYC label Conflict Records CON2002/ CON2000 (address looks like some dude's apartment - the matrix # differs depending on which spine you look at.) Not a lot of notes, just lyrics, and oh that awesomely dramatic cover photo!

Marco On The Bass said...

Thanks John. I never knew that this record was released on CD here in the US. I have the vinyl from Ska Records. There is amazingly little info about them online>

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