Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New York Ska Festival Slated For Friday April 23rd: Line-Up Highlights The Diversity Of Ska In New York City

The New York Ska Festival will take place at BB King's in the heart of Times Square in New York City on Friday April 23rd. This show comes at the end of a week that will see The Specials grace New York City with two performances at Terminal 5 on Tuesday April 20th and Wednesday April 21st. The Specials shows should give a boost to the NYC Ska scene by energizing hard core and casual ska fans alike who will hopefully come out to see some of their own homegrown bands in action a few days later.

What's interesting and exciting about this line-up is its diversity. First, is the mix of influences that the eight bands on the bill perform including 2-Tone, Latin, reggae and punk influenced ska. The line-up also includes several generations of bands that span 25 years back to the very beginnings of the NYC Ska scene (NY Beat!: Hit & Run compilation era bands Beat Brigade and Floor Kiss are on the bill) as well as newer bands that have only recently formed. More significantly is the cultural mix of bands performing together. Its rare for bands from the Anglo and Latino ska scenes to play shows on the same bill, but this is a case where fans will get a unique chance to see and hear some of the best bands in these two thriving city ska scenes come together to perform. The crowd that comes out for the show should mirror the cultural diversity of New York City where Spanish is spoken as a first language by millions of the city's inhabitants.

The show marks a special homecoming for the headliners King Chango, one of the premiere Latin ska bands in the world, who call New York City home. Led by Andrew 'Blanquitoman' Blanco, the band has only recently reunited to play shows again after a hiatus of several years. Starting off as a ska band, they now incorporate ska, reggae, dub, Latin and punk into a blazing mix that is both political and danceable.

Below is a video mix of the four headlining bands on the bill including songs by King Chango, Hub City Stompers, Bigger Thomas and Kofre:

There is a New York Ska Festival Facebook event page where you can get more information about the show. Tickets are available from the BB King Web page.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Specials May Record Comeback Album

According to a news story in Spinner, The Specials may be planning an 'incredibly great' LP of new material to follow their 30th anniversary tour. According to Terry Hall, "We've played around a bit, but we've all agreed that if we're going to make an album, it's got to an incredibly great album. If we're up for that, and we think that we have the parts in place, there's no reason we won't start recording. I think at this level [we need] to play for a while, like we did before we had a record deal." Interestingly, the news of the album comes out following the extensive video interview that Jerry Dammers conducted with The Guardian over the weekend.

An album of new material is really the only logical place that the band can go at this point if they plan to keep themselves relevant and avoid the label of nostalgia touring act. Without Dammers's involvement though, songwriting could be tricky – and Hall admitted that "nothing has been written" thus far. It will be very interesting to see how the song writing by the band will be divvied up. Hall, Roddy Byers, Lynval Golding and Neville Staple have all written songs for their own separate solo bands as well as for The Specials Mk II. I have always believed the 'Guilty 'Till Proved Innocent' LP to be a very solid album, with some great original songs and vocals from Neville, Lynval and Roddy that really come close to the first two albums by the original band. Adding in Hall's vocals could make it comparable to those first two albums.

Below is a radio interview that Hall and drummer John Bradbury conducted yesterday ahead of the band's appearance at Royal Albert Hall in London as part of the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Must Watch Jerry Dammers Interview With Paul Morley: Sun Ra and not Ska Are Jerry's New Passion

Late last week Jerry Dammers sat down with the noted rock'n'roll journalist Paul Morley (who writes and interview musicians for the UK newspaper The Guardian) for a fascinating and enlightening 21 minute video interview. Its a must watch for fans of Dammers, The Specials and anyone surprised or upset by his exclusion/refusal to participate (depending on your position) in the band's current reunion tours. The video is hosted on The Guardian Web site. You can watch it here as well as read Morley's essay on Dammers.

I can honestly say after watching this video that 1) I totally respect Dammers and his vision for his Sun Ra Tribute musical project The Spatial AKA Orchestra and 2) that it is a good thing that Jerry and his 6 ex-band mates in The Specials have gone their separate ways. According to a recent review of his band's current UK tour, 'To many Dammers will be perpetually frozen in time circa 1979 to 1981, but in many ways his current incarnation of arranger, bandleader and performer is producing more forward thinking and challenging material than that of his time as 2-Tone head honcho.' As much as I love The Specials, I accept that Jerry has moved on.

Watching the video is a time commitment in this age of 3 minute pop music interviews. It really is 21 minutes long. But in watching it and sticking with it all the way through you will finally see the real Jerry Dammers and not the one portrayed by the UK media as a spoiled sport who wanted to keep his former band mates from reuniting. He's funny, relaxed and clearly passionate about the idea and concept of Sun Ra as a way to reinvent himself post-Specials but also as the place he saw the concept of The Specials ultimately ending up. I say that without any prejudice or disrespect to anyone, but want to warn any fans of the band still holding out hope that some sort of reconciliation is in the cards. It is not. And that is a good thing.

Once you watch this interview you too should have a better idea of where Dammers real passion and interests lie. He has replaced his love and passion for Jamaican ska as a way to comment politically on the state of the UK in the 70's with a love of Sun Ra and his avant garde Jazz stylings as a way to make sense of the 21st Century. While Jerry still retains a wonderfully subversive sense about the power of music to change and expand people's consciousness and the political nature of music there is no way he would be happy on stage with his old band mates. Morley captures this when he writes of Dammers motivations in starting his new project: 'Dammers doesn't directly form a Specials tribute group, or even a tribute group dedicated to honouring a rock or pop or ska or blues or Britpop band. He forms a tribute band to the spirit that caused him to form a group such as the Specials. As the ultimate music lover, a lover of music as a ritualistic means of creating an out of body experience, of changing your circumstances, altering the parameters and textures of your immediate environment, positively affecting your mental state, he commits himself to forming a tribute band to the very idea of music as a way of inventing new selves and new realities.'

I hope Dammers will consider bringing his band over to the U.S. at some point. It makes sense as Sun Ra was an American and his musical and political vision was based on his own experiences as an African-American in the early 20th century.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

NY Beat: Hit & Run 25th Anniversary Celebration Podcast Mix

To celebrate the upcoming NY Beat 25th anniversary reunion at Dusk Lounge in New York City on April 10th, I have created a podcast that includes songs by nine of the bands that featured prominently on the original 14-track compilation (the tenth song is by Legal Gender who later went on to become The NY Citizens). Most of the songs on the podcast come from long out-of-print records that were available shortly before the release of the compilation or come from albums recorded after its release. A few songs come from 7" singles that were released on Moon Records in the mid-80's. A few more (like songs by The A-Kings and Second Step) are drawn from rare demo recordings that were never widely released or distributed.

The period of 1985-88 was a very fertile time for the bands that featured on the N.Y. Beat: Hit & Run compilation. Hot on the heels of the release of the compilation record, Moon Records honcho Rob 'Bucket' Hingley made bold plans to release a series of six split 7" singles that would highlight the best of the New York ska scene. Sadly the '6-Pack Series' only made it to two 7" single releases in 1987. The first featured The Toasters and Beat Brigade on what may be one of the best American ska 7" singles ever released. The Toasters are in amazing form on their fiery classic 'Talk Is Cheap' backed by Beat Brigade's playful and rocking 'Try And Try Again'. The run was limited to just 1,000 copies which makes originals incredibly hard to find collectors items. The second split 7' single featured Legal Gender with their unique new wave ska sounds on the song 'Overcast'. The flip side of the single is the catchy mod rock of The Scene with 'Bruise in Me' featuring the stellar vocals of Melanie Rock. This single was also limited to just 1,000 copies.

Other bands that were featured on the compilation also recorded EPs and full albums, including Cryin' Out Loud who self-released their EP 'Live It Up' in 1985. The video for the song of the same name was featured on MTV's 120 Minutes for a time giving the band a short taste of the lime light. Urban Blight recorded 'From The Westside To The Eastside' on a mobile recording unit at their rehearsal space near New York University and released it in 1987 leading to local radio airplay around the New York region. The Boilers followed suit as well with 'Rockin Steady' which they recorded at Jeff Baker's parents house in New Jersey. The record was slated for release on Moon Records, but a disagreement with Hingley over the artwork and title prevented that from happening. It remains a lost gem of the American ska scene. Finally, Shot Black & White (formerly The Daybreakers) won a 'Battle Of The Bands' competition at the New Jersey Shore in 1987 that gave them the free studio time to record their full-length LP 'Understand'.

Below is a podcast featuring some of the best songs that NY Beat-era bands recorded. Enjoy and listen to them often!

NY Beat 25th Anniversary Podcast Mix
Talk is Cheap - The Toasters
Try and Try Again - Beat Brigade
U Must Be - Urban Blight
Beckoning- The A-Kings
Two Men In Suits- Second Step
Pounding Heart - Cryin' Out Loud
Bruise In Me- The Scene
Overcast - Legal Gender
Trouble Me - The Boilers
Understand - Shot Black & White (formerly The Daybreakers)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

After Parties following The Specials New York City April Gigs to feature 'This ART 2 Tone' exhibition & Pama International Listening Party

Though I'm not a religious person, I do worship at the Church of 2-Tone and as such I have deemed the week of April 19-23rd 'Specials Holy Week' here in New York City. While the centerpiece of the week will be the band's two shows at Terminal 5 on Tuesday April 20th and Wednesday April 21st (sold out), there are also some additional activities planned that should satisfy the appetites of fans of the band and 2-Tone who are looking to celebrate all week long.

I'm incredibly excited to announce that I've partnered with 2-Tone Posters in the UK to present 'This ART 2 Tone' at the Dusk Lounge in Chelsea following The Specials shows each night in New York. The mini art exhibit/after parties will showcase iconic album covers, newspaper and magazine ads, posters and other media that were designed by Chrysalis Records graphic artist John "Teflon" Sims when he worked with 2 Tone Records. Full-size prints of several of his original work for the label (see some of them below) will be displayed and postcard-size versions of the more popular ones will be offered for sale--with a percentage of the proceeds being donated to ongoing Haitian Earthquake relief efforts.

Since Lynval Golding and Horace Panter are both prominently featured on the new Pama International album, the events will also serve as listening parties for 'Pama Outernational' (arranged through Jason Lawless of the Lawless Street blog and Gabe Pressure of Dancing Mood and Musical Occupation). Pama Outernational is being released on Lawless Street Records in the U.S. this April.

While there is a chance that members of the band and The Specials entourage may stop by each night, the real reason for the parties is to give fans of the band and 2-Tone music a place to meet up after the shows to enjoy a drink, talk shop with other fans, hear a great mix of ska and reggae and take in the amazing diversity of John Sims 2-Tone design work that remains as vibrant and exciting today as it was 30 years ago. There is a Facebook page for the event if you want more information or want to interact with other fans who may be attending.

The week long celebrations wrap-up with the New York Ska Festival at B.B. King's in Times Square in New York City on Friday April 23rd. The show may feature one of the most diverse line-ups of ska bands in New York with the goal of bringing together the different generations and cultures of ska in New York. The show is being headlined by a recently reformed King Chango, who are one of the top Latin ska bands in the world featuring a mix of hard-charging ska, Latin rhythms and reggae.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Birth of the New York Ska Scene: Interview with Jamie Carse of Urban Blight

As part of my ongoing quest to document the origins of the NYC ska scene of the early and mid-80's, I am profiling key musicians and bands who played an important part in giving birth to one of the most vibrant ska scenes in the U.S. One of those musicians was Jamie Carse who was a member of the 7-piece funky reggae band Urban Blight.

By late 1986 and 1987 what is now considered the core of the old school New York ska scene had quickly coalesced. Urban Blight along with The A-Kings, The Boilers, The Toasters, Second Step and Beat Brigade helped to create one of the most vibrant, creative and important ska scenes in the U.S. which in turn helped to galvanize scenes across the country. Urban Blight were unique in that the band had formed when many of the members were still in elementary school in the early 1970's and went on to become one of the most popular live bands in all of New York City throughout the 80's and early 90's.

Singer, songwriter and drummer/trombonist Keene Carse founded the downtown Manhattan group in the early '70s as "Urban Blight: a rock band of 12 year-olds". In 1978, brother Jamie and friends Danny Lipman (guitar, trumpet and vocals), Paul Vercesi (alto sax) and Tony Orbach (tenor sax) joined Keene and Jere Faison - who would later be replaced by Wyatt Sprague (bass) - to form the line-up that went on to perform their original blend of Funky R&B and Reggae.

Urban Blight headlined all the major clubs in NYC, regularly played throughout the Northeast and did well-received U.S and European tours. Winners of the WLIR-FM and K-Rock battles of the bands, and recipients of a New York Music Award, Urban Blight shared bills with dozens of groups including national headliners like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, UB40, Duran Duran, Cyndi Lauper and Kid Creole. The band even headlined a performance at The Ritz in New York City on October 26th, 1984 for which the Beastie Boys opened.

According to an interview that bassist Wyatt Sprague did with the New York Daily News in 1995, Urban Blight had its origins in a band he started with elementary school classmate Keene Carse called Black Lightning. "We were the only 12-year-old band playing originals," he said. They were stars of block parties and regulars in their school auditorium. They spent one weekend being driven around the city, helping draw audiences for 1972 U.S. Presidential candidate George McGovern. "We'd get paid, maybe $50, and our parents were the roadies," he said.

Most of the band members, went to Stuyvesant High School and then New York University from which they based themselves in their early years. Weekday nights, Urban Blight rehearsed. According to the New York Daily News article, they weren't like other local bands whose members played in a number of groups or chased studio jobs. "Urban Blight," Sprague said, "we were obsessed by it, like a religion. We thought if we kept at it we'd get what we deserved."

My first introduction to the band was when I saw them open for UB40 at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City in March of 1984. I was immediately struck by the fact that the singer was playing the drums and that he was at the front of the stage. Next I was amazed at the pure energy and musicianship on display. What was even better was the band really seemed to be enjoying themselves. The fact that they were friends was clearly evident. This was a band who trusted one another and the performed like a well oiled machine. The crowd was behind the hometown boys and they gave UB40 a run for their money.

I was always intrigued by Urban Blight. While they were considered a part of the New York ska scene, they were also separate from it. They certainly incorporated elements of ska into their sound, but they also brought in more funk, jazz, pop and RnB than their NYC ska contemporaries and they sought to blaze their own trail which took them very close to being signed to a major label record deal. Sadly that opportunity eluded them. Nevertheless, their horn section was considered one of the best in New York City and they featured on several early Beastie Boys LPs including 'License To Ill'.

Jamie Carse was kind enough to take time to answer all my questions and shares his memories and experiences of playing in one of the most popular live bands in New York City in the 1980's and early 90's..

What was it like growing up in New York City in the 70's and how did that influence you musically and artistically?
New York City in the 70s was a lot different than it is now. The city was separated into neighborhoods that had invisible boundaries that everyone knew. If you entered into a neighborhood where you weren’t supposed to be you were subject to whatever happened. In fact, if you got beat up somewhere where you shouldn’t have been and went to the cops, they would just tell you “you shouldn’t have been there”. I grew up in Greenwich Village, which bordered on the Italian neighborhood that sort of centered around Carmine Street and Pompeii church. We were all influenced by that environment and still have strong friendships in that neighborhood.

The other thing was that most of our parents were pretty liberal about our social activities. I was hanging out on the streets from the sixth grade on. I used to take myself to school in the fourth grade. Basically we formed groups of friends that were like family. We looked out for each other and created bonds that were deep rooted.

There was a lot going on artistically and musically. Artistically, we had all started writing graffiti. Mostly led by Keene and Jere (our original bass player, who was best friends with Keene at the time). Musically, there were several different things inspiring us. Jere’s dad was the road manager for Country Joe and the Fish. He and his sister had been at Woodstock and his father used to let Keene and Jere go backstage at the Filmore East and get close to a lot of the best rock bands of the time. That inspired Keene and Jere very early (11 years old) to start a rock band, that eventually got the name Urban Blight.

We all went to the same Junior High school in the seventies and this is really where we became close friends. We all had interest in music in different ways, but at that school there was a jazz band run by Jerry Sheik. It was known as Sheiks Freaks. So many amazing musicians were born out of this band and from this program. It was in Sheiks Freaks where we all had our introduction to Jazz and Latin Music, which Sheik loved. I played Sax at the time and really got into jazz. In fact I originally played sax in Urban, along with Tony and Paul. We started with three sax players and two guitars. Danny also played the trumpet and Keene who started on the drums, also played the Trombone. It was only Wyatt who never played some kind of Horn. I later started playing keyboards and eventually that became my only instrument.

When did you make the conscious decision to be a musician? When did you first begin to play piano and keyboards?
I had taken piano lessons in the 3rd grade and played through Junior High school. It was classical and I liked it, but wasn’t really that inspired by the piano. Then I started playing the Sax in the 7th grade and that is when I really started the path to becoming a musician. It was my first year at Stuyvesant High School, when I started playing with Urban Blight. That was the year when Danny, Paul, Tony and me joined with Keene, Jere, and Wyatt. In high school I played in two to three school bands at a time, besides playing in UB after school. By my senior year at Stuyvesant the band had started playing at CBGBs and I was really loving it.

What were some of your earliest musical influences?
I really liked Average White Band. I saw them live a couple times and used to listen to their albums all of the time. I liked a lot of other music as well. Earlier in my life I listened to a lot of Rock. My first two albums were Jimi Hendrix, Are you experienced and The Beatles, Sergeant Peppers. I also really liked the Who. For a few years I only listened to Jazz. Charlie Parker, Coltrane and Lester Young were some of my favorites, and then I started listening to a lot of fusion. The Brecker Brothers, Ronnie Laws, Weather Report and the Crusaders. In fact, Joe Sample from the Crusaders, is still one of my favorite piano / keyboard players. Keene turned me on to Ska when he brought home a single of Stand Down Margaret, by the Beat. We were blown away by the sound. Then he bought Signing Off by UB40. That was recorded on an eight Track. That really began my love of ska. I listened to all of the English Bands, The Specials, Madness, The Beat, UB40. We saw all of them live, whenever they were in New York. I also liked the Jam and XTC. They were big influences on me and I saw them both several time live. They were unbelievable.

Is it true that Urban Blight got its start when the band members were in elementary school in New York City and that you played all original songs at neighborhood block parties?
Yes. Keene, Jerry and Wyatt played with two other guys, Clay and Andrea. They formed a rock band that used to practice in a club house we had at The Brittany (NYU Dorm), where Keene and I lived for a few years. They were originally called Black Lightening, then got the name of Urban Blight from Wyatt’s uncle. I used to hang out and listen to them play. I was only 9 at the time.

Did you meet most of the other band members at Stuyvesant High School?
No. We met earlier. At IS70. But we started the band there. Keene and Wyatt didn’t go there. Keene went to Erasmus in Brooklyn and Wyatt went to Riverdale in the Bronx.

Whose idea was it to call the band 'Urban Blight'?
Wyatt’s Uncle came up with the name. That was when they were really young . I remember that he promised to make them business cards with the Band name on it if they used it. I didn’t even know what it meant. But it stuck and became more powerful for us as we got older and really identified our music with our home. NYC.

When did things really start to take off for the band?
There were a couple things that happened along the way that sort of helped us grow and identify our sound and also connect more with our following, which I have to say became the biggest success we had. First, we came to a major decision in style in direction when we decided to throw Jerry out of the band. It was really hard, especially for Keene, because they were best friends and had gone through a lot together. But we had decided we wanted to go in a new direction musically. Keene began to sing and write more of the music and Wyatt who had left and gone to College, came back and took over the bass. At that time we really started to get serious and we packed up our gear and went to London and played a few shows there and tried to meet up with some of the ska bands and producers that influenced us. The year after that, which was 1982 I think, we went back to England, then to Holland. We lived there as a band for 5 months, playing clubs and having a blast. That was a big step for us.

The next big step was when we decided to bring Keene from behind the drums and make him a lead singer. That was how the band ended up. I can’t remember exactly when that was, but it was not long after we returned from Holland.

How would you describe the early sound of the band? When and how did you hit on the original Urban Blight sound of funky reggae influenced music?
I think the thing that separated us from other bands was the mix of influences that we had. I also believe that this is what tied us to the New York sound more than anything. New York is a melting pot of cultures and people. All of us grew up here and we all had open minds to everything around us. We studied Jazz, we listened to Rock and Urban Funk. The pop sound of the 70s was really Funky, including James Brown, The Temptations, Sly & The Family Stone, Parliament. All of that added to our sound. We loved the Ska sound because it was positive and was really fun to dance to. That was really important for us. We loved to dance and love to have the audience dance. Even when we played in new areas where no one knew us, we knew we were successful when the few people at the show got up and started to dance.

What was the New York music scene of the early and mid-80's like?
New York was an amazing place to be in the 80s. There were so many clubs and the music scene was great. I remember seeing the Bad Brains destroy CBGBs and that was my first hardcore experience. There were other bands like The Toasters, Second Step, A-Kings, 3 Colors, Beat Brigade and so many other local bands that we used to play with and hang with, but then the other shows were amazing. The Clash, the Jam, UB40, XTC, Madness, The Beat. Everyone played in New York. We played at the Ritz all the time, in fact we were the house band for a while and played every Monday Night. I could see any show there I wanted. I even remember seeing bands like the Thompson Twins and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, I didn’t really like them, but I loved seeing the live shows.

The first time I saw the band was when you opened for UB40 at the Roseland Ballroom in March of 1984. You also played a lot at CBGB's and other NYC clubs around NYC right? I think you were also popular up in Ithaca and down in Washington DC right?
We loved playing a CBGB’s. It was really where we started. But it was also small and the shows were super late and Hilly was a pain in the ass sometimes. We started playing the Ritz a lot and it was such an amazing stage and club that we moved away from CB’s. Once the Ritz closed we played a lot of different places in NY. The Lone Star, SOBs, Tramps and then of course we opened up for and played with so many cool bands over the years. UB40 we played with 4 or 5 times. We played with Bad Manners the Neville Brothers, Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and the biggest show ever was us opening for Duran Duran at a sold out Nassau Coliseum. That was actually kind of strange. We also played consistently upstate in Ithaca, Rochester, Albany, that circuit. We played in Burlington VT a lot. And at the Paradise in Boston amongst a lot of Colleges and clubs in Boston.

We had a real connection to Washington D.C. and Baltimore. We played some of our best shows at a club called the Bayou in DC that is no longer there. In fact, we ended up with a Drummer, Brandon, who is from DC. He used to play with Chuck Brown and brought a funky Go Go Beat to the band. He was amazing.

Tell me about being part of the N.Y. Beat: Hit & Run compilation that Moon Records released twenty five years ago. Was the song 'Escape From Reality' recorded for the comp?
I don't think we recorded that song for the album, I think we had just recently recorded it when Rob asked us to put a song on the compilation. Rob was amazing. He was always organizing bands and shows and then he put together this compilation. So many bands were always kind of competing for who was better, but he was always bringing bands together. All of us in Urban Blight, really respected him for that.

Did you consider the band part of the NY Ska scene?
I think that we were always unsure if we were a ska band or not. We loved ska and we were certainly one of the first New York bands to play ska, but I think we always looked at ourselves as being a melting pot of styles and sounds. We liked to make good music and liked to see people dance. I think that other bands, like The Toasters and Second Step were more central to the ska scene, but we certainly were part of it and we also loved the styles and the music.

Can you share any unusual stories about any live shows in the 80's and 90's that were particularly memorable?
There were so many great experiences and just playing live with a full house and everyone dancing was an indescribable feeling. But here are a couple good memories.

We opened up for The Chilli Peppers in Buffalo. It was a small club, sold out show, we were not that well known to the audience so most people were just watching us. We starting playing Pick Up the Pieces (our AWB cover) and all of a sudden, Flea comes running out from back stage, goes to the middle of the dance floor and starts dancing like a mad man. The crowd went crazy. Later he told us that was one of his favorite songs and he couldn’t hold back.

We had a show at the Ritz where we played Low Rider and the Beastie Boys (who are friends of ours), came out and rapped and splashed beer all over the place. That was really cool. I still have a recording of it. It sounds great.

We were trying to make a video, but we had no money. A friend of ours was making a Ramones video and he snuck us in an hour before they showed up and recorded us on their set with their film. That was fun and had that feeling of mischief that also was a part of our roots and upbringing. That was fun.

But mostly, we played a lot of shows for big crowds, many that had never seen us before and we always got really good feedback. I think that was my favorite thing. Rocking the House when we were the back up band.

Why didn't the band got sign to a major label? You certainly had the live chops and the following to warrant it?
I think that it came down to our really mixed style and maybe a little of our stubborn New York ways. We had a few offers to sign with management agencies and record labels that had always wanted to control the band and our image. In retrospect, we could have gotten a lot more notoriety and maybe even made some money (ha, ha), if we had conformed a little more, but in the end we are all still great friends. We have amazing memories of our times together and we feel that we never really sold out our roots and our attachment to each other. So none of us are upset about that.

Tell me about recording the 'From the Westside to the Eastside' LP from 1987 which is the quintessential Urban Blight record.
Because we were all so dedicated to our music and the band we always saved our money from shows and we used this to record our own album. We had also made so many connections and friends in the industry that it wasn’t too hard for us to get cheap time in studios or sneak in and out on other peoples time. I think we recorded 'From The East Side to the Westside', in our practice studio. We had a friend, Randy Ezzratti, bring a mobile recording unit to the house and we recorded it all over the house. It was pretty cool. I think the horns were recorded right by the front door in a 5 foot square entrance, because Randy said it had great acoustics….

When and why did the band stop playing out regularly?
For me, I can remember one of the last trips I went on. We went to California to play some shows. I had just had my second kid. I was away from home and I started realizing the type of life I was beginning to lead. We were playing almost every weekend, I was getting home at 5 am and sleeping all day and I knew that as hard as it was, I needed to face some realities in my life. We also weren’t really making money, not enough to live on or raise a family on even though we could play all over the place and entertain almost any crowd. I also had started to get burned out. I left the band about a year before Urban stopped playing shows. I think it was a really hard thing for all of us, but like I said before, we are all still great friends and we all had amazing times playing in the band.

What are your lasting memories of performing with Urban Blight?
The most obvious is playing live. Some of the shows at the Ritz or at the Bayou in DC will always be strong in my mind. But one of the things that may not be as obvious is the memory of the bond we all had as a band. The hours spent driving in vans, sleeping on peoples couches or floors and all of the Red Roof Inns. One of our roadies once said “ on the road, every meal is a feast, every paycheck is a fortune.” I have to say that I really had a lot of fun on the road and being part of a band. I still love music, it is a part of my soul and my essence. That could not be replaced by anything.

Below is video of the band rehearsing for a 30th reunion show they performed in New York City in 2008.

I'm hoping that a few members of Urban Blight will be in attendance at the NY Beat 25th anniversary reunion scheduled for Saturday April 10, 2010 at Dusk Lounge in New York City.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Madonna A Rude Girl? - Rare Demo Song From 1979 Reveals Penchant For Ska

The impact of the sound of ska in the late 70's is difficult to overstate. Like Hip-Hop in current American music culture, ska was the now sound of the late 70's and early 80's. Remember when Blondie had a hit with their cover of the rock steady classic 'The Tide Is High'? How about Todd Rundgren's flirtation with ska on the song 'Bang On The Drum All Day'? For those of us who came of age in the late 70's and early 80's ska and reggae was the sound du jour.

Apparently one future pop superstar was also drawn to the sound of ska while she was a member of The Breakfast Club. The band formed in New York in the late 70's around the brothers Dan (the singer) and Eddie (the guitarist) Gilroy, bassist Angie Schmit, and two recent arrivals from Michigan, Stephen Bray and his girlfriend, Madonna Ciccone (she played the drums). After a brief fling with the singing Gilroy, Madonna departed from the band on a mission of world conquest. Later The Breakfast Club had a quick hop up the charts in the mid-80's with a forgettable pop song called 'The Right Track'.

The evidence of that quick foray into ska is below. Its a simple demo with skank guitar and syncopated ska drums and Madonna's unmistakable voice which is a bit rough around the edges but has a chirpy and upbeat quality. The song almost sounds a bit like very early No Doubt take on ska.

Here is a short video about Madonna's time in New York as a punk rock drummer in The Breakfast Club:

Madonna later went on to re-record the rough demo above with her next band The Emmys. The version below has a full band including steel drums. Not a bad song.

Thanks to Tone And Wave for download of the song and the heads up on this piece of ska music history.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rare Video Footage of Bigger Thomas (A.K.A. Panic!) Live & Direct from City Gardens in September 1989

As a young suburban New Jersey ska aficionado in the early to mid 1980's, I had an ongoing love affair with a big ugly hulk of a building in a blighted area of Trenton, New Jersey known as City Gardens. What I loved most about City Gardens was the number of ska shows the club's promoter Randy Now booked. He was clearly a fan of the genre and he went out of his way to bring in local and regional bands from NYC and Philly. It was always easier to wait and see these bands when they came to Trenton then to trek into CBGB's or The Ritz in New York City and it made me love the club even more that they came to us in New Jersey.

My love and passion for ska led me to start my band in New Brunswick, New Jersey while I was a student at Rutgers University. In fact, it was a chance meeting that the band's singer Roger Apollon and I had with Steve Meicke (our original sax player) at a Ranking Roger show at City Gardens in August 1988 that took our band (then known as Panic!) from the planning stages to reality. Somehow Randy Now heard about our little ska band making some noise in New Brunswick and New York in the fall of 1988 and spring of 1989 and he offered us an show opening for Boston's Bim Skala Bim in March 1989. We must have made an impression because he kept on booking us for the next 2 1/2 years until the original band split after a bittersweet gig opening for our musical heroes The Special Beat in September 1991.

I recently liberated and digitized video of a show the original band played on September 29, 1989 at City Gardens. Known at the time as Panic! (we later changed our name to Bigger Thomas), we had been together about a year at the time of this show. The band line-up included Roger Apollon on vocals, Steve Parker on guitar, Jim Cooper on drums, Sean Moore on trumpet, Kevin Shields on trumpet, Steve Meicke on saxophone and yours truly (with a ridiculous amount of curly hair and 80's eye glasses) on bass.

Randy Now, had taken us under his wing and tapped us as the openers for reggae legend Yellowman. There was a sizable crowd at the show (a mix of punks, dreads, mods, rockers, hippies and skinheads) and we took full advantage of the opportunity to bring our 2-Tone inspired mix of ska, reggae, punk and calypso to the diverse audience who warmed to us as our set went along. We definitely worked up a head of steam as we went along and this footage includes the last 3 songs we played that night including 'Telling Time', 'Chaos' and 'I'm Not Waiting' which all featured on our first self-titled album that we would record in early 1990. I think its fair to say that this show was the turning point for us and as we built a crowd at City Gardens, we also started to play more shows at clubs outside the area. Though we played more and more shows outside New Jersey and New York, we were always happy to come back to City Gardens which we considered our home away from home.

Last year I was interviewed about the ska scene at the club for a book that is being written about City Gardens. 'No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: How City Gardens Defined An Era' by Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico which will chronicle the club's key role in alternative music history. An excerpt from my interview that will appear in the book was published in the Charlotte Indie Music Examiner. The book will be available for sale shortly. In the meantime I hope to convert the entire show from 9/29/89 to video and will make it available here and on YouTube for viewing.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Rob 'Bucket' Hingley of The Toasters reflects on the beginnings of the NYC Ska scene and the N.Y. Beat: Hit & Run compilation

As the reunion to celebrate the release of the iconic ska compilation N.Y. Beat: Hit & Run draws closer, it was high time that we heard from the musician, who by all rights helped to give birth to the NYC ska scene, and who was the brainchild behind the very first American ska compilation. I'm speaking of course of Rob 'Bucket' Hingley, founder of The Toasters, head of Moon Records (RIP) and one of the people most responsible for making ska music an important part of the American soundscape of the last 25 years. Unfortunately, Hingley will be unable to attend the reunion on April 10th at Dusk Lounge in New York City (he will be on tour in France with The Toasters), but he was happy and willing to share some important history about his own early days as a musician in the UK, the start of the NY Ska scene and his thoughts on the NY Beat compilation.

'NY Beat: Hit and Run' was the very first compilation of U.S. ska ever. Released by Moon Records in 1985-86, it captures a snapshot in time of a vibrant New York ska scene that was notable for its musicianship, cultural diversity and its relative youth (average age 17-20 years old). While the music on the record is influenced by the British 2-Tone movement, its a diverse mix of ska, reggae, pop, punk, funk, rock and soul. Artists include A-Kings, Beat Brigade, The Boilers, City Beat, Cryin' Out Loud, The Daybreakers, Floorkiss, The Press, The Scene, Second Step, The Toasters and Urban Blight. Amazingly, many of the musicians who started and played in these bands are still actively playing and performing ska and reggae (including Hingley).

The original issue of the record was celebrated with a big show at Danceteria in 1986 featuring all the major bands who were part of the NYC ska scene at the time. In many ways it was the high point for the NYC ska scene which really exploded both in the New York City area and outside the northeast, particularly in California. I was at the launch party show, and it inspired me to pick up the bass guitar and start my own ska band Bigger Thomas.

Below is the interview Hingley did with me where he shared memories of the NYC ska scene and the NY Beat compilation record. Enjoy!

Before you arrived in New York in 1980 you were in a band called I-Witness in the UK right?. Can you tell me about the band? What did the band look and sound like? Is it true you had a song in the UK charts? Is it fair to say the roots of The Toasters are in I-Witness?
The roots of The Toasters run much further back than that to a band called The Klingons that I played in whilst at York University in 1975-78. It was at that time that I went to see most of the 2-tone bands playing at Leeds Polytechnic, amongst other venues. The song 'Run Rudy Run' was a Klingons song as was 'Social Security'. I was only in I-Witness for a cup of coffee, alongside the late Jimmy Scott (of Bad Manners). Their song 'Portabella Cheryl' did achieve a small degree of commercial success but the band didn't stick together. I'd characterize that group as a reggae band with 2-tone influences.

The Toasters started playing shows in New York as early as 1983. When did you become aware that there were other ska bands playing out? Did any of these bands make a particular impression on you? When would you say that a 'NYC ska scene" took root?
We released our first 7 inch record in 1983. The band was "formed" in 1981 and played out already quite a bit in 1982. By 1983 we already had the residency at CBGB's which allowed us to start putting on the ska nights regularly. That ska night and the scene it created was the basis for the compilation as it assembled the NYC ska posse who were regulars on the ska nights not only at CB's but also Danceteria and other venues. If i had to put a date on it I'd say that late 1984, after the release of the 'Recriminations' EP was when it can be said that there was a nascent ska scene in NYC. The Second Step and the A-Kings alongside Beat Brigade are the first names that come to mind. Urban Blight had been playing a lot of Madness influenced tunes (and covers) earlier than that in NYC but by that time they had moved more into a whiteboy funk/hiphop style that ultimately undid them.

You've mentioned that you were struck by how young most of the other ska bands in New York were at the time (most were 16-19 years old and still in high school). Why do you think young people in New York were drawn to the sound of ska and then to starting ska bands in the mid-80's? Was it a fashion thing or a music thing?
I'd say a bit of both. It takes a while for anything to trickle down and I think that what happened in NYC (and in LA at the same time more or less) was a natural residual effect of 2-tone. There wasn't much else to choose from in the USA if you weren't into hardcore and the hip-hop phenomenon still hadn't broken yet. Since 2-tone was such an attractive mix of style and politics as well as the music then there was a lot to offer to kids in terms of identification and true roots.

How did you experience the punk and post-punk music scene in the UK from 1978-81 and how did that influence your approach to organizing the NYC ska scene in its earliest incarnations?
Well it was true to say that NYC in 1981 was a hardcore city. We shared our rehearsal space at 181 Avenue A with the Bad Brains and the Cro-Mags. Agnostic Front, Murphys Law, and later Warzone were all household names on the lower east side. Jimmy G worked the door at the Pyramid. Therefore there was a huge spill over into the ska scene and we normally teamed up the ska Saturdays with hardcore Sunday matinees at CBGB's. I wasn't into punk music that much in the UK, although i did go to see the Anarchy in the UK tour in '77 and I played in a punk band called The Blades at Uni. I would however certainly say that The Toasters sound incorporated elements of punk into a more aggressive sound built on 2-tone foundations.

You had a decidedly socialist approach to how the NYC ska scene should organize itself early on. Was the NY Beat compilation an attempt to show competitive and independent minded New Yorkers the benefits of banding together?
Well if the INS knew more about my political background they probably wouldn't have let me in. The NY BEAT project was an attempt not only to capture what was going on in NYC from a musical/scene standpoint but also to harness the energy towards working towards a common purpose which was to big up the massive. Of course there was competition amongst bands, after all everybody thinks their group is better than everyone else but in unity lies power and that's what we achieved with the NY Beat comp, which to my mind was the first real 3rd wave ska record released in the USA. That release opened the doors to many greater things.

How did you go about selecting the bands that ended up on the compilation? From The A-Kings to Urban Blight it's an incredibly diverse selection and representation of 80's era ska with some rock and Oi mixed in, but still seems to hang together.
It's a snapshot of what was happening in NYC at the time. Apart from the usual ska suspects we also bought in rockers like Richie Thomas as well as The Press (streetpunk) and The Scene (mods). these were all bands who were appearing regularly on the CBGB showcases. I actually produced The Press demo and I was a huge Melanie Rock fan. She could have been the next Deborah Harry! so there are underlying links to all those bands.

What were the shows at Danceteria like to celebrate the release of the album? Would you agree that the NY Beat comp and those shows kicked off interest in the the larger NYC Ska scene that helped give birth to ska scenes around the U.S.?
I had a relationship outside of the ska scene with Rudolph, who owned Danceteria. I helped organize some art shows there, such as the Liberatore exhibit (he was the French artist who drew The Toasters 'Beat Up' 7 inch cover) and I was his contact at Forbidden Planet sorting out his European graphic art collection. He was always on the look out for an event and so it was natural that we did the NY BEAT launch there as he was very supportive of what we were doing. I think it's absolutely true to say that those happenings kicked off a national ska scene as it were.

What were your expectations for the NY Beat compilation and how did it do in comparison?
I thought we could shoot the moon and we did.

Do you think the record stands the test of time?
Yes I do. There are some great tracks on there

Do you have any favorite tracks from the record?
I like all of it

What are your lasting memories of the NYC ska scene of 1985-86?
The shows at CBGB's which just kept getting better and better (yes that's Joe Jackson on stage with Hingley and The Toasters at CBGB's in the picture above). The NYC SKA LIVE recording (recorded March 26,1990) at the Cat Club was also great and in many ways a much better representation of the NYC scene at it's height. Too bad we couldn't finally get the video component working.

Visit The Toasters Web site for more information about Hingley or the band's extensive tour schedule.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Birth of the New York Ska Scene: Interview with Sid Reitzfeld of The A-Kings & Thick As Thieves

As part of my ongoing quest to document the origins of the NYC ska scene of the early and mid-80's, I am profiling key musicians and bands who played an important part in giving birth to one of the most vibrant ska scenes in the U.S. One of those musicians was Sid Reitzfeld who was a member of the 3-piece NYC ska band The A-Kings. With Reitzfeld on the bass, Andy Atlas on guitar and Anthony Johnson (who later played in 24-7 Spyz) on drums, The A-Kings fused reggae, ska and funk as evidenced by Reitzfeld's slap technique on '7259' featured on the 'NY Beat' compilation. Sadly, the recorded output of the band was limited to one demo tape they sold at shows.

By late 1986 and 1987 what is now considered the core of the old school New York ska scene had quickly coalesced. The A-Kings along with Urban Blight, The Boilers, The Toasters, Second Step and N.Y Citizens helped to create one of the most vibrant, creative and important ska scenes in the U.S. which in turn helped to galvanize scenes across the country. The A-Kings were a quintessential New York band, notable for their relative youth at the time (the members were all still in high school) and for the speed with which they went from forming the band, to playing shows around New York to opening shows for Fishbone and The Untouchables.

Reitzfeld later formed Thick As Thieves with members of different New York ska/reggae bands including The Boilers, The Second Step and The Toasters. Thick As Thieves built upon the A-Kings roots and blended different musical forms including funk, R&B, Latin and rock to create a unique sound. The band cut its teeth playing venues around New York City including CBGBs, Tramps, Wetlands, the original Ritz and toured the region. Album credits included 'Ska Face: An All American Ska Compilation' on Moon Records (1988). The band also had a cameo role in the 1989 major motion picture, 'New York Stories', directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese.

Below is the interview Reitzfeld did with me where he shared memories of his days as a part of the NYC ska scene and as the bass player for The A-Kings and Thick As Thieves. Enjoy!

What was it like growing up in New York City in the 70's and 80's?
It was f#&%ing cool. New York was a very different place back then. No chain stores. It was gritty, sometimes you felt as though the city was going to boil over, but you always felt like it was yours. It's funny- those old '70's movies that took place in NYC were one way people who didn't live here could see New York; and now they are the only way that people who grew up here can see it. I grew up on the upper west side and I can remember, as a kid, hearing the pimps and hookers screaming at each other on 89th street between Broadway and West End! I haven't lived there in more than twenty years but my guess is that ain't happening there now. The 80's were fun, there was a lot of new stuff coming out to listen to and discover. That was how you found music back then, it seemed more like you discovered it. I remember hearing the English Beat for the first time, and thinking: "what IS THAT!".... "Just Can't Stop It", perfect title. I think I wore out my vinyl and when I listen to those songs today, they still sound fresh.

When did you first get into music?
I got into music when I was very young. My mother always had it on when my brother and I were kids. My dad was the one who turned me on to the Clash, Elvis Costello, and X.

Do you remember the first record you ever bought?
Yes, well sort of, it was Deep Purple. I don't remember the name of the album but it was the one with “Woman From Tokyo” and I think “Smoke On The Water” on it as well.

When did you pick up the bass?
I was fourteen of fifteen. Maybe a little earlier? I remember long before that being a little kid going to block parties. There’d be a band playing and I wanted to know what that thing was that was rattling my insides. When I found out that ‘thing’ was something called “the Bass” I was done.

How did The A-Kings get started? Where did you meet your band mates?
I guess technically The A-Kings got started at a club called "RT Firefly" (if I remember correctly, RT Firefly was on Bleecker St. with a downstairs entrance just off Broadway) Andy and I saw a "City Beat" show and we said to each other (with no disrespect to the guys in “City Beat” ie: George Parker- drums, Jon Artz- bass, Gopal Varahdan {R.I.P 9/11} - guitar /vocals, Lance- keyboards) if these guys are doing this so can we. We got together, he put guitar parts to my bass lines and I put bass lines to his guitar parts. And we wrote songs. We'd play those riffs and Andy would come up with lyrics & melodies. He always had a strong, great voice; he's a very talented guy.

Originally we had George Parker as our drummer. (George from City Beat.) We played a party and one or two gigs with him before we got ‘our own drummer’; Anthony Johnson. Anthony was (and still is) a great drummer. We connected with Anthony through his sister. She and I went to the same high school and, I think, Andy knew her as well. Andy and I met on a bus going to a summer camp and, by coincidence, he was transferring, that coming September, to I.S.44 where I had been going to junior high school. We became best friends.

How would you describe the early sound of the band? Did you make a conscious decision to play ska and reggae influenced songs?
I would describe the early sound of the band as definitely Ska and Reggae influenced – it was as conscious / unconscious / subconscious as anything kids in high school do. That was the music we were listening to. For me; Marley, Steel Pulse, Desmond Decker, Madness, the English Beat, The Specials, Selector, Bad Manners, and on the punk side of things it really didn’t get any better than The Clash though Stiff Little Fingers was close.

Were you aware that there were other ska bands forming in NYC at the time? Had you seen or heard The Toasters, Second Step, Urban Blight, The Boilers? What was the time line from the formation of the band to first gig?
I had heard of the Toasters from, and met Rob (Hingley) through, Matt Davis. Yes, that Matt Davis. (and yes, Virginia, there really is a Matt Davis). I remember the line up with Vicki on bass, Gary on percussion, Steve on keyboards, and Rob as the single front guitar/ vocals. It doesn’t need to be said, but, they were very cool.

Urban Blight I had heard of through the ether, they were almost legendary in stature. If Rob has become the godfather of the NYC Ska scene, then the guys in “Urban Blight” were definitely “the big brothers of the NYC scene”…. the kind of big brothers you’d want to show up at the school yard if you were getting picked on. For me, as for most everyone else back then, it was mandatory to see them both whenever possible.

The Second Step started a little bit after The A-Kings. I remember talking to Andrew Lee and Ross (Zac) Morgan in our high school cafeteria, and Andrew saying something like: ‘what do you think of the name “The Second Step?” ‘ I don’t think it was too long after that conversation that we were going to their shows and playing with them. Their bass player at the time was Tom Manno. He was excellent.

The Boilers grew out of a band called The Unseen. We used to play with the Unseen a lot. They were great and I remember we used to have a lot of fun when we played together – from sound check through load out. I think the bands both liked and had a lot of respect for one and other. The Unseen were: John Mathiason, - vocals, Danny (Chein) Kwok - guitar, Johnnathan McCain – Drums, Eric Knight – Sax, Michael O’Neal - bass (a nasty futhermucker). I’m forgetting, but I think John Patterson and Victor Axelrod were in the Unseen as well- it’s been a long time - I apologize if I don’t have that right. The Boilers were (and still are) great. Jeff Baker and Olivier Rhee really did a lot to make the sound of that band.

As far as a time line, I honestly don’t remember how long it was from the time Andy and I got together to our first gig.. hmmm.. nope still don’t remember. But somehow I do remember the shirt I was wearing at that gig.

What was the New York ska scene of the mid-80's like? I always got the impression that it was very tight knit scene.
The ska scene in the mid 80’s was tight knit. I don’t know that we thought of it as a “scene” back then, it just was what we were doing. Thinking back to it, there was an almost tangible energy - whether you were playing or not. There was no texting, no IM so if you wanted to stay in touch and in the loop, you went out. Out to a show or a club; CBGB’s, Danceteria, The Mudd Club, SNAFU.

As cool as the gigs were, hanging at Blanche’s was just as cool. Blanche’s was a bar on Avenue A where a lot of the Ska bands hung. Almost any night, at any time you could find at least someone from one of the bands there. And after a gig that was the spot. I remember getting hammered one night with the singer from the “Waitresses” – not exactly stuff that Ska-lore is made up of, but a fun night. It’s now called Lucy’s, (Blanche’s bartender, Lucy, bought the place, I guess.) and they still have band photos from back in the day hanging above the bar.

Can you share any unusual stories about any live A-King shows that were particularly memorable? Did the band tour at all outside NYC?
The early A-Kings gigs were crazy. We played SNAFU a lot. We’d pack this place on 21st street and 6th av with high school kids. It seems weird to me now, but the drinking age, at that time, was 18 so we weren’t that far off. We were 16 or 17 years old (I guess that made Anthony 14 or 15 then) and that just seems young to be playing in a club in New York City. But really, the remarkable thing to me now is how unremarkable it was to us then.

Opening for Fishbone was great. And two gigs at CB’s stand out. They don’t stand out to me because of any ‘amazing story’ or anything, they just come to mind. One was the very first time we played CBGB’s – it was a Saturday night, we opened for the Toasters. I knew that was a good gig but I don’t think I really appreciated the fact that our first gig at CB’s was a Saturday and that we never had to play an audition night or anything like that. The other CB’s show comes to mind because; during our set I broke three strings.. As it happened, some time before that gig a bass (that I made) was stolen from a car. - I guess everyone has their own way to learn not to leave their shit in a car even if they’re “gonna be right back”... Anyway, I bought a new (1986) Guild Pilot and played the show without changing the strings that were on it in the store. And, as I said; I broke three of those stings. – I don’t even play with a pick. Relatively recently, (twenty-something years after that gig at cb’s) I ran into Frank Usamanont from the Beat Brigade at an English Beat show. He (re)introduced me to a friend of his. He said something like; ‘Paul, you remember Sid, he played in the A-Kings….’ And Paul said to me: ‘Hey, yeah- I saw one of your shows and you broke something like three or four bass strings!” – I guess that could make for a memorable show.

As far as ‘touring” we mostly played locally with ‘one offs’ at a college now and again.

Tell me about being part of the N.Y. Beat: Hit & Run compilation that Moon Records released in 1985-86. What is your song '7259' about?
When Rob said he was putting together a compilation record and asked if The A-Kings wanted to be on it I didn’t have a second thought, I wanted to do it. Here it is almost 25 years later. (Kinda blows my mind.) I just recently found a letter from Moon Records saying that the album had sold out a second pressing and each band could expect a check for fifty bucks. (Momas- DO let you babies grow up to be cowboys- maybe that way they can make a living.) Personally though, I’m glad to have been a part of that record, that time and that band. The memories and experiences from those days are worth more to me than any of the money we were ever going to see from that album. And in the end, I’m grateful to Rob for those days.

"7259" was my attendance number in high school. During my sophomore year the school switched their attendance system to some new thing called "a computer" and as a result everyone was assigned a number. In high school, and having a punk rock mentality, my name being replaced by a number felt more prison-like but the initial idea for the song was something more along the lines of a code name or ‘007 type’ spy theme.

Did the band record any songs for an album? Are there any unreleased A-King tracks?
We never recorded songs for an album, but someone sent me mp4s of our old demo tape. I wouldn’t mind it if those made it out to see the light of day.

Why did The A-Kings break up?
As for why/when the A-Kings broke up ultimately, I don't know. For me, the end wasn't pretty; from being replaced without knowing it to fistacuffs outside CBGB's. The details probably make for a good story but would not be appropriate to share in this forum, as there are three sides to every story; ‘yours, mine and the truth’. And besides that, there is no reason to rehash it. The important thing is that the band made some great music, had a lot of fun, and It's nice to be able to say we were there -'back in the day'. The other nice thing is that Andy and I have put the past behind us and we are now friends with all the BS water under the bridge.

How did Thick As Thieves get started?
I wasn’t done playin’ yet. I called up Danny (Chein) Kwok and said that I wasn’t in the A-Kings anymore and asked if he wanted to get together. It turned out to be good timing because Chein and Johnnathan McCain had been starting a band. John Mathiason, also of the Unseen, was in with them and now all we needed was a drummer. I don’t remember how we got to Ivan Katz (drummer for a lot of bands including The Toasters and The Easy Star All-Stars) but we did. At the time he was in school upstate. We formed “King Pin.”

We would, no shit, load up a Yugo with the four of us, 3 guitars, an amp (or two?) and a 4-trac. We’d drive up to SUNY Binghamton for the weekend to play and record with Ivan. That didn’t last too long, thanks to no one’s fault. It was time to get a drummer closer to home. We got Erik Stams. We all know how important bass and drums are to each other (right?) so I hope you don’t mind if I say his name again: Erik Stams. Great drummer, line up complete. We were King Pin until after we got cast in New York Stories, that was when we found out there were about a million bands named “King Pin” so the search for a new name began. John Mathiason suggested “Thick As Thieves” and we all said Yeah! We stayed that way for a while, then as we started gigging more we started having some scheduling problems. Johnnathan McCain was still playing drums with the Toasters and it was getting harder to book shows for Thick As Thieves without conflicts. Jonnathan left and we got Cameron Greider, a very talented guitarist (and percussionist) (PM Dawn, Sean Lennon, Chris Cornell and more..) and continued on that way with Etienne Lytle (Second Step, PM Dawn, Freddy Jackson, Chris Whitley, and more) joining on keyboards till the end of the band.

Describe the sound of the band and tell me how the band ended up in the movie 'New York Stories'? What was it like to be in a movie?
Thick As Thieves drew the majority of our influences from Ska and Reggae but we were open to other popular music. We incorporated many different styles including Funk, Latin, and Rock. Depending on the song, you could hear any one or all of those influences mixed in, to a greater or lesser extent.

Being in “New York Stories” was a trip. I don’t remember how the casting company found us – I think they got to us through Johnny (Maithason) and if I remember correctly, they first came to a rehearsal and then came back to videotape us. It was one of those “wouldn’t it be cool if…” things that you just assume will never happen. When we found out that we got the part in the movie, I was almost as surprised as I was psyched.

They shot our scene in Central Park; in the underpass by the Bethesda Fountain. It was cool hanging around on and off set, there were a lot of little kids running around in crazy costumes- that added a bit of a goofy aspect to it but still, how cool is it to be on a stage having Francis Ford Coppola telling you what to do? Surreal.

What are your lasting memories of performing with The A-Kings/Thick As Thieves and the NYC ska scene of the 80's?
My lasting memories are all good ones. Everything from sleeping in a van trying to figure out the best way to use my leather jacket as both a blanket and a pillow to the nights at Blanche’s, to having the opportunity to open for one of my all time favorite bands. Playing gigs in the best clubs New York City had to offer. People dream of doing that and we did it. Every one of us back then did it. My (porkpie) hat is off to those of you guys who are still doing it.

These days Reitzfeld, who attended the Berklee School of Music in Boston and is an acomplished bass player, is co-owner of a bar called Dusk Lounge in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. He has graciously volunteered his bar to serve as the location for the upcoming 'NY Beat' reunion on April 10th to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release of the compilation that put the New York ska scene on the map.

Reitzfeld was kind enough to share two songs from The A-Kings demo including 'Beckoning' and 'Drummer Boy'. The download link is below:

The A-Kings - Demo