Monday, August 20, 2018

American Ska Oral History Book Update #4: You've Never Heard of The Boxboys?

One of my goals in writing an oral history about American ska is to ensure that bands -- many of which you may have never heard of -- get the credit they deserve helping to popularize a uniquely American version of ska music.  One of those bands is the Boxboys who were the first ska band from Los Angeles and likely one of the very first American ska bands. The chapter I'm writing on them will shed light on their story and the role they played in influencing other well known bands like the Untouchables and No Doubt (rumor has it that a 14 year old Gwen Stefani was at one the band's shows).

I've interviewed every member of the band and they've all shared  amazing stories about the LA music scene of the late 70s and early 80s including this anecdote from bassist Ivan Wong that happened one night outside the iconic O.N. Klub in Silver Lake when I.R.S Records honcho Miles Copeland showed up while Wong, Boxboys drummer Greg Sowders and club founder Howard Paar where outside.

“Greg and I were standing outside the club one night – and this this is how big ska and the reputation of the O.N. had gotten – and Miles Copeland from I.R.S. Records came up to the door and I think the Go Go's were playing. Howard Paar  -- the club founder -- was having a smoke and says, "Five dollars, Miles" and Miles goes, "I'm not paying five dollars" and Howard goes, "Come on, Miles. Five dollars." And Miles said, "I'm going in there and I'm going to sign this band and their gonna make a million dollars." And Howard goes, "Then it's gonna be $999, 995.” And Mile’s is looking at us like, “Oh you’re the Boxboys. You're those Boxboys guys.”

If you've never heard the band before, be sure to give their early single "Separate Rooms" featuring Betsy Weiss  (who would later go on to front heavy metal band BITCH) on lead vocals a spin.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

American Ska Oral History Book Update #3: The Untouchables Bring American Ska To Europe

A few of the early chapters of the American ska oral history are nearly finished! At the moment I'm busy scheduling and conducting additional interviews for an epic chapter on the Untouchables who helped to galvanize the mod and ska scene in Southern California at the O.N Klub in Silver Lake and later found themselves signed to Stiff Records in the UK! I interviewed the band's keyboardist Josh Harris who shared a amusing anecdote of their experiences on the road in Europe:

"Touring Germany was kind of a wild trip. We ended up doing this one TV show with REM and the Ramones, and they gave each of us a flatbed truck, which was our stage. And they would just roll in one band after another onto this makeshift stage. We're all packed together like little sardines, up on that flatbed. But it was quite an interesting situation. I got to know Johnny Ramone because we were both baseball fans. I remember going onto the Ramones tour bus, and hanging with him a little bit, and he had the Mets game coming across the speakers on his tour bus. So I said, "How are you getting the Mets? We're in Germany." He says his wife was standing with the telephone in front of the Mets game on TV back in New York, broadcasting the game to Germany for him. Every Mets game got broadcast to Johnny while he was touring. He insisted on hearing every Mets game. And he'd be chatting, wandering around the bus. I guess his wife would just set the phone next to the radio and walk away. But he was that avid a baseball fan."

Here's video of the band performing on that 1985 tour.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

American Ska Oral History Book Update #2: The Hooters Write A Ska Version of Girls Just Want To Have Fun

I interviewed Eric Bazilian, vocalist and guitarist of The Hooters for the American ska oral history! While many may be more familiar with the band's later recordings, the Hooters started out playing ska and reggae songs in Philadelphia in 1980. In 1982, Eric and his bandmate Rob Hyman were asked by producer Rick Chertoff to help Cyndi Lauper write and record her first album. Cyndi had seen the band perform and liked their ska and reggae meets rock sound. Eric shared this story about the process of coming up with a recorded version of "Girls Just Want To Have Fun."

"So Cindy came to see the band, and apparently she was impressed with Rob, initially wasn't impressed with me, so I wasn't going to be the guitarist. But then she came around. But right around the time we were starting to do these arrangements, I had bought a four track cassette recorder, a porta-studio, and the drum machine, and I had a bass, and we were able to make fully realized demos. And "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," that was a great moment because Rick was determined that that title with her vocal was a hit. She hated the original. And Cindy said, "I will never sing that song." And we tried doing it as a reggae, we tried ska. And then one day we came in and we were talking about "Come On Eileen," which was all over the radio at that point. So she said, "Can we make it like Come On Eileen?" So, I turned down the tempo knob on the drum machine, programmed in the same kick drum pattern as "Come On Eileen," clicked on my guitar, and played that guitar riff. And she started singing, and that was it.

Give the original ska synth demo of the song a listen!

Friday, August 17, 2018

American Ska Oral History Book Update #1

I want to wish any of the readers of this blog a hearty hello! While I have neglected to post here regularly for some time, its because I've been very busy working on the book I'm writing, which is an unnamed oral history about the key reggae and ska bands that gave birth to a uniquely American version of ska music!

Moving forward I will be posting updates and excerpts from the chapters I'm writing. Since January, when I started this endeavor I've conducted well over 100 interviews with musicians, club owners, promoters, DJs, record company executives and fans across the U.S. and supported its growth and I've finished drafts of the first three chapters of the book.

As a first update, here is an interview I did with my editor at DiWulf Publishing about the impetus for the book and my initial experiences writing the book.

Thanks again to the many readers who continue to visit the site. I'm writing this book for anyone who loves ska mucis as much as I do!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

I'm Writing A Book About The Birth Of The American Ska Scene!

Hello! I want to wish any of the readers of this blog a belated Happy New Year!  While I have neglected to post here regularly, its because I've signed a deal with DiWulf Publishing to write an oral history about the birth and origins of the American ska scene and its place in American sub-culture!

The initial purpose of this blog was to collect stories and research the histories of well-known and overlooked American ska bands who helped lay the foundation for the explosion of the genre in the early 90's and its ongoing popularity. My as-yet-untitled book will be told through the recollections and anecdotes of the people who lived it: the musicians who were heavily influenced by 2-Tone bands from the UK, the clubs and booking agents who supported the scene from its infancy, the bands that made music and toured relentlessly, and the fans who fell in love with the American counterpart of a beloved British subculture.

Right now I'm in the earliest stages of gathering material and research. My publisher is looking towards the end of 2018 as a tentative release date. I am already hard at work interviewing a who's who of American ska and reggae musicians, DJs, club promoters, artists and fans who helped develop ska scenes across the U.S. and supported its growth.  I'm hoping to create the most comprehensive look at the birth of American ska.

Over the next year, I'll post updates on the research process, who I'm interviewing and my overall progress. 

Thanks again to the many readers who continue to visit the site.  I'm writing this book for anyone who loves ska as much as I do!