During the early 80's, producers Don Dixon and Mitch Easter were best known for their iconic work with R.E.M, but they did some of their best work wrangling an infectious ska/rock/pop sound from a group of 2-Tone loving high school kids from Chapel Hill, North Carolina called The Pressure Boys back in 1983 and 1984.
Amazingly, The Pressure Boys including Rob Ladd on drums and vocals, John Plymale on lead vocals and trombone, Byron Settle on guitars and vocals, Greg Stafford on saxes, Jack Campbell on bass and Stacy Guess on trumpet had formed just a few years earlier during the fall of 1981 at Chapel Hill High School. Early on, the band relied heavily on their youthful energy and enthusiasm to get by playing covers by Madness and The Specials at local college and high school parties. But by 1982, they were putting together original ska influenced songs with some weirder elements that echoed both early XTC and Oingo Boingo. Within a short time the band were at the top of the local alternative-music totem pole with a lot of support from the fan base they had built up at Chapel Hill High School.
The Pressure Boys didn't sound much like anyone else in the southeast music scene but they fit right into the burgeoning rock underground that was coming together in Chapel Hill, Athens, Gerorgia (Home of R.E.M. and The B-52's) and other Southern college towns. According to Trouser Press, the band "deliver hot'n'sweaty horn-inflected ska-beat rock. The sextet's gangbusting, headlong enthusiasm recalls the early Specials (without the accents or trebly sound) but songs like "Tina Goes to the Supermarket" undercut any seriousness that might have been intended."
What was it like growing up in Chapel Hill in the early 80's and how did that influence you musically and artistically?
My dad was a clarinet player in the Marine Corp band. I did not decide to become a musician, I decided not to get my arse kicked. Was a huge fan of reggae but only got turned onto ska because of the band.
We sounded as much like whatever band we were covering as we could. It took a while to mature enough to develop a sound. A lot of critics complained that we did not have a set sound and we were to varied to be placed in a specific genre.
That was a funny story but the real, more boring story was how much fun it was to travel and how much I learned from the rest of the guys. They are truly gifted and I feel it was an honor to play with them.
Duran Duran was cool because it was our first huge show. I can remember the sound of 20,000 pre-pubescent girls screaming as we came out...and the groan of 20,000 girls when they realized we were not Duran Duran. It was a ton of fun though. Their sax player stole my neck strap. We played with Missing Persons, Billy Idol, Fishbone, REM, Bow Wow Wow.
You had a video that aired on MTV's 120 Minutes back in 1986. What was the story behind it?
It was a blast. Again, it was an honor to play with those guys. I had not played since the Pressure Boys years so I had to practice a ton to get ready. I was so happy that my kids could see me play and it was a blessing. God let me have that moment and I am thankful. John is a truly special person and I guarantee he is the only person who could have talked us into doing that.
As for the people there it was great. It was crazy how many folks I recognized. I did not look at them as fans though. They were friends who's faces I still know. The club was packed both nights and I owe every person there for helping me have the night of a lifetime. My biggest fear was that we would play to an empty house. They paid the money to make sure that did not happen.
Below is a video for 'Round The World' that was played regularly on the MTV show 120 Minutes in the mid-80's.
Below is a video for 'Where The Cowboys Went'. This video give you a sense of the band's sense of humor and why some fans called them the American version of Madness
You can listen to a story about The Pressure Boys reunion that was produced by North Carolina Public Radio