Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bigger Thomas - Lost 1992 Cassette 'M'boy Y'know' Tells The Story Of Band Break-Up & Re-Birth

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the release of the rare cassette-only recording of 'M'boy Y'now' by Bigger Thomas.  The year 1992 was an interesting one for Bigger Thomas and for ska music in the U.S. In many ways, it was the changing of the guard, as bands that had helped generate the initial burst of interest in the genre in the 80's broke up or began to give way to newer bands who fueled the mid-90's American ska renaissance.  Other established bands started to see the ska tag as a dirty word.  They mixed funk and 'world beat' into their sounds.  Others experimented mixing punk with horns giving birth to ska punk.  Other bands gave up completely or turned to Grunge and heavy rock.

During 1991 and 1992, my Bigger Thomas band mates and I faced our own musical crisis.  While we were dedicated to the ska sound we had embraced years before, it was personal differences that plagued us.  After three years of relentless touring, opening for a variety of established bands and building a fan base around the Northeastern U.S., we were at the point where we needed to make some difficult decisions. Namely, did we put our personal and budding professional lives on hold to play music full-time or continue to hold day jobs and play every Thursday through Sunday?  That question bedeviled us and, ultimately split us in two, with one faction led by our singer Roger Apollon and sax player Steve Meicke wishing to go all in, and the other including myself and original guitarist Steve Parker wanting to maintain the status quo.  After a bittersweet series of successful shows opening for The Selecter and Special Beat during the summer of 1991 we split acrimoniously.

As 1992 dawned, two bands emerged from the ashes of the original version of the band -- Bigger Thomas (myself, Parker and horn players Sean Moore and Kevin Shields) and Native Son (featuring Apollon, Meicke and whole new group of musicians).   In this pre-Ineternet and social media era, we battled one another for the affections of booking agents, clubs and fans the old fashioned way, via show flyers, mailers and new music. It wasn't pretty.

In the year before the band break-up, we had written many new songs that were planned for a follow-up to our first self-titled 'Red Album' which had been released in 1989.  As we enjoyed more success via that album and our live shows during 1989 and 1990, we had started to generate interest from a variety of record labels, both small and large.  The split complicated that process and killed any hope we had for a deal, but with a half-dozen road tested songs, Parker and I (the authors of most of these new compositions) were introduced to music biz veteran Jimmy Allington (drummer for Nona Hendryx's art rock band Zero Cool) who owned a small recording studio.

Check out Allington on drums and vocals with early 80's New York City new wave band China Shop:

Have a listen to Allington on drums on Larry Young's 1976 psychedelic funk release 'Spaceball' that was released on Arista Records

Allington liked our sound and after agreeing to produce a demo for us, also offered to sing on the tracks.  Where we were mostly self taught, indie musicians, Allington was a professional who knew his way around a recording studio.  After a few recording sessions with him where he played piano, programmed the drums and percussion sounds and sang all the lead vocals, we had a demo and a new band.  He also took our idea for recording a reggae/pop version of The Archies 'Sugar Sugar' (which Parker's father had played on as a studio musician in the late 60's) from concept to fruition. The results were 'm'boy y'know' and the genesis of Bigger Thomas 2.0 with Allington on lead vocals and piano was off and running.

We debuted the new version of Bigger Thomas with Allington on lead vocals at City Gradens in Trenton, New Jersey in early 1992.  Our ex-band mates had been busy too and debuted their new band around the same time.  And so, in the matter of a few short months, what had been one band was now two, playing similar sounding music.  It was a very tense time and the few encounters we had with one another went badly.

Slowly, over time, the new band with Allington and John DiBianco on drums came together as a live unit and we focused on trying to regain our footing.  We moved off east coast club scene to focus on bar shows around New Jersey where we could earn money playing three sets a night.  While we had lost any momentum we might have from a year earlier, we were becoming better musicians and making a little bit of money.

When Native Son broke-up in late 1992, we felt vindicated, but I always lamented what could have been musically, if we had been able to work out our differences.  What would the songs and album have sounded like with the original core of musicians?  By 1994,  on my urging, Roger Apollon made a surprise guest appearance with us at a show at the Court Tavern and then re-joined the band.  For a time we had both Allington and Apollon sharing front man duties.  We focused exclusively on building our set and playing out live, and as the band grew and changed (Allington left the band by 1997-98 and we absorbed many of the members of Native Son) we embarked on our wilderness years of playing 3-sets a night as a bar band.  It wasn't until the early 2000's when we finally recorded and released 'Resisting Success' in 2004 that we picked up where we had left off in 1991, with a focus on being part of the ska scene again.

Have a listen to the track "It's Been Done' from 'm'boy y'know' and feel free to download the album from the link below. Thanks to Tone & Wave for sharing the link of music I had lost along the way.

It's Been Done

Bigger Thomas - m'boy y'know

01 I Can't Remember My Name
02 (That's Not What I) Mento
03 It's Been Done
04 I Live at Home
05 King for a Day
06 Sugar Sugar

1 comment:

Steve from Moon said...

Thanks so much for sharing this bit of history about the band. I kind of remember hearing about the Bigger Thomas/Native Son split, but then completely lost the band's thread for years (it was sometimes really hard to keep up on things in the pre-internet days). I didn't know about 3/4 of what you wrote here (and find it hard to believe that you and Roger weren't friends at one point).

But it's fantastic that you all were able to work out your differences--and I'm mighty thankful that you're all still around after all these years playing such great 2 Tone-influenced ska.