Sunday, June 29, 2008

Black & Dekker - Desmond Dekker's 2-Tone Era LP on Stiff Records

One of the benefits of 2-Tone was the attention it drew to the founders and originators of ska, reggae and rocksteady. Some like Rico Rodrigues and Saxa of The Beat joined and performed with the bands themselves. Others like Desmond Dekker, suddenly found they were back in fashion as the 2-Tone movement gave new energy and interest from a whole new audience. Dekker, who had electrified the music world with his iconic single "007" for Leslie Kong's Beverly label in 1966, signed a deal with the indie punk label Stiff Records.

The singer and songwriter, whose 1969 hit "Israelites" paved the way for reggae and the success of Bob Marley, had moved to Britain in the 1970s, having witnessed the violent street culture of Jamaican cities during his childhood. His experiences were reflected in his songs and he became the first Jamaican musician to have a worldwide hit single and British number one. A pioneer of rocksteady, the slow and soulful version of ska that was a precursor to reggae, Dekker's honeyed falsetto remained popular and he was performing until his death in 2006. Someone I know who saw him in his prime said seeing Dekker sing was a lot like watching Muhammad Ali fight or Pele play soccer.

His debut for Stiff Records in 1980 was the wittily titled "Black & Dekker" album, which featured re-recordings of his past hits, backed by various members of The Equators (who were signed to Stiff) Jackie and George from The Pioneers, a young Roland Gift! and Andrew Bodnar and Steve Goulding from the British rock band the The Rumour who were famous as the group behind Graham Parker. The Rumour was formed by members of melodic pub stars Brinsley Schwarz (which had lost bassist Nick Lowe to a Stiff solo career) and guitarist Martin Belmont from the more boisterous Ducks Deluxe. The band were a skilled and adaptable combo that not only backed Parker, but served as a Stiff house band and made records on its own.

The Rumour backed Dekker on the road as he toured extensively during the 2-Tone boom. Stiff Records released a series of singles, with the first, a re-recorded "Israelites," almost breaking into the Top Ten in Belgium. That was followed by "Please Don't Bend" and a cover of Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross." A fourth single, "Book of Rules," was especially strong and produced by Will Birch, best known for his work with power pop bands.

Here is a video for the hilarious Stiff Records single "Please Don't Bend"

Here is the Black & Decker album track listing and download.

Lickin' Stick
It Mek
Please don't bend
Many rivers to cross
Rude boy train
Pickney Gal
Why fight?

Desmond Dekker - Black & Dekker

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Reluctant Stereotypes - Part of the Coventry Ska Sound

King were always a guilty New Wave pop pleasure for me. I happened to be going to school in England (Essex University) at the time they were popular in the mid-80's and I suppose they were a uniquely British pop creation and sensation. An amalgam of new wave haircuts, day glow colored suits and spray painted Doc Martens, they were the pop music equivalent of a Jackson Pollack painting come to life. However, if you listened carefully to their biggest hit "Love & Pride" (which hit #2 on the UK charts) you could hear a distinct ska/reggae bass line and upbeat ska guitar. Well it turns out that's no surprise given the band's namesake Paul King, had been a member of Coventry ska band Reluctant Stereotypes.

Here is the video for "Love & Pride"

Riding on the back of the Two Tone wave and the Coventry sound of The Specials and The Selecter, Reluctant Stereotypes — which not only contained King on vocals but future Primitive/producer Paul Sampson on guitar, Steve Edgson on clarinet, Colin Heanes on drums and Tony Wall on bass — played reggaefied rock/pop much like The Beat. Similarities include pointed-but-subtle lyrics that avoid clich├ęs while covering political topics, prominent horn work, boppy dance rhythms and high musical standards. Differences include a more free-form, less-soulful approach and stricter adherence to reggae rhythms on most tunes. The band signed to WEA and recorded and released their first and only album called The Label which included the singles, "Plans For Today" and "Confused Action." They even got a shot of fame when they appeared on the Old Grey Whistle Test and toured with The Specials.

The band's guitarist Steve Edgson recently shared his memories on a BBC web site called "Were You There for Two Tone" dedicated to collecting people's Two Tone experiences. Edgson says of his days in the band: "I was in a band called Reluctant Stereotypes and we went on a seaside tour with The Specials and Bodysnatchers in June 1980. It was great fun playing to packed houses and getting a good (mostly!) reception. One thing that stands out is travelling to the gigs on the coach with the bands and Rico (the trombone player ) muttering about the sins of alcohol as we were kept waiting for various pastey faced band members who had overdone it the previous night! I also remember singing Frank Zappa songs with Horace and Paul Sampson! Heady days of youth.... "

The band's drummer Colin Heane's shared his recollections with Two Tone historian and archivist Pete Chambers in an article in the Coventry Telegraph:

THE road to success can sometimes be littered with casualties. Take Pete Best and The Beatles, a perfect example of "right place, wrong time". Like Pete Best, Colin Heanes was a drummer, also like Pete, Colin was asked to leave a band on the edge of success. The band was Coventry's flamboyant King.

"The late 70s early 80s - what a great time to be in a band from Coventry," reveals Colin. "Of course we all owed this to The Specials. "What a pity they can't collectively sort out their differences and do some more shows. "Around this time I joined a band called Reluctant Stereotypes. I had learned to play drums on a very active club scene around Coventry.

"Wisely my parents had encouraged me to do an apprenticeship as a carpenter, which has stood me in good stead. "Around the time we signed a deal with WEA Records Jerry Dammers offered to release our first single on 2-Tone. "The Specials were just about to release their fifth single Stereotype. You don't have to be Einstein to realise that the publicity generated by this would have been massive for us. "That would probably have got us on our way chart-wise. I'm sure Jerry could see this too, but we chose not to jump on the bandwagon."Jerry to his credit didn't push us too hard. Although at the time I'm sure he was too busy to push too hard anyway."

The Reluctant Stereotypes were one of those local bands who were on the cusp of success, no one at the time would have bet on them not making it. The band consisted of Paul King (vocals), Paul Sampson (guitar and vocals), Steve Edgson (clarinet), Tony Wall (bass) and Colin on drums. They even appeared on the Iconic TV show, the Old Grey Whistle Test.

"The Reluctant Stereotypes were an incredibly hardworking band," continued Colin, "as our tour schedule from the time would prove. "So through a lot of hard work on the road we did build a reasonable following around the country. "An appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test enabled us to play to bigger audiences which was also good. "Unfortunately, just after we signed our deal with WEA the company received a lot of bad press about hyping new acts.

"They were a big enough company to say okay we won't hype anyone for two years. All the record companies did it. it was just bad timing for us. "This could sound like sour grapes on my part. "It isn't, I'm just trying to give an accurate account of what we went through at the time. "Some of the most stick-out memories of being in the band for me were, as I'm sure most musicians of the time would tell you, being stuck in the back of a transit for hours on end. "I can still see Steve Edgson now with a paper bird's beak wedged in his glasses pecking on the window of the van at other motorists. "I'm surprised we didn't cause a lot of accidents. It's amazing what you will do to break the boredom when you are stuck on the motorway for hours on end."

Sadly, after a lot of record company support the Reluctant Stereotypes failed to hit the big time and called it a day. Paul Sampson and Steve Edgson went off to form the Pink Umbrellas.
As for the others well, here's Colin again. "After The Reluctant Stereotypes split Tony Wall, Paul King and myself formed Raw Screens later to become King. King did go on to have chart success. "For me that came at a price. I was sacked just before the success came (I was sacked for many reasons, but I suppose mainly because I speak my mind).

"I was very bitter about this for a long time. I couldn't, it seemed at the time, go into a pub in Coventry without someone calling me an idiot for getting kicked out of the band."I emigrated to Australia in 1987. I didn't come here to escape the stigma of being the drummer who was sacked by King. "It was more to do with warmer weather. Plus my wife has always had an adventurous streak. It was good to be in a place where no one knew who I was. "I did come back to live in Coventry in 1997 for a few years but the cold weather didn't agree with my family. We now live back in Brisbane and have a great life here in the sunshine.

"I still look back nostalgically on those times and have a lot of fond memories. I miss the music business even now and would have loved to have been more successful but it wasn't meant to be. "There are a lot of elements that fall into place to make a band successful I think we had a lot of them. But some bad judgment calls put us behind the eight ball so to speak."

The bands LP and singles are nearly impossible to find online, but once in a while you can find a copy for sale in a used record store or on EBay. If you have a copy let me know. I would love to add it to my collection.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Madness: Take It Or Leave It - A Ska Hard Day's Night

Most 2-Tone fans have seen "Dance Craze" the great 1980 concert film by Joe Massot chronicling the ska explosion in Britain. It features live footage of Bad Manners, The Beat, The Bodysnatchers, Madness, The Specials and The Selecter. How many of you have seen "Take It Or Leave It?"

I think its fair to call it the ska version of "A Hard Day's Night" starring the seven members of Madness as themselves and directed by Stiff Records boss Dave Robinson. The 1981 film traces the roots of the group, beginning in 1976 or thereabouts. Very amateurish in places, and also very funny in others, the film follows the ups & downs of individual members of the group, and features all of their early hits including "The Prince", "One Step Beyond", "Baggy Trousers" and "Night Boat to Cairo." Although lead singer Suggs went on to do some acting in films, drummer Daniel Woodgate said of `Take It Or Leave It', "it was the beginning and end of my acting career."

Here are two clips from the movie:

You can purchase copies on UK or on Ebay or if you have the time, patience and hard drive space you can download the film in 8 separate parts here:

Take It Or Leave It Part 1
Take It Or Leave It Part 2
Take It Or Leave It Part 3
Take It Or Leave It Part 4
Take It Or Leave It Part 5
Take It Or Leave It Part 6
Take It Or Leave It Part 7
Take It Or Leave It Part 8

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Bodysnatchers Live! - Folkestone 8/30/80

Now this is a real find for all you hardcore 2-Tone fans out there. Here is a live recording of The Bodysnatchers from a show they played in Folkestone in August of 1980 where they headlined and were supported by Arthur Kay & The Originals (more about them in a future post).

What's so great about this recording is the chance to finally hear the band perform songs that were never recorded. The whole recorded output of the band was only released on 2 singles. Thanks to The Beef, The Original and The Cover for uncovering and sharing this rare gem.

Here is the set list:
2.Monkey Spanner
3.Watch This
4.Mixed Feelings
5.Mule Jerk
6.Ruder Than You
8.A Little Bit of Soul
9.Happy Times Tune
10.Too Experienced

Skas on 45 - The Ska-Dows

While 2-Tone was a label it has also been used to describe a sound. There were a number of bands on the periphery of 2-Tone in the UK who contributed to the larger scene and sound and who deserved a larger audience and a closer listen than they received. One of those bands was The Ska-Dows.

Tony Sibthorpe formed The Ska-Dows in 1978 right before 2-Tone broke big in the UK and their first recording "Apache" (a cover version of the old Shadows hit) was kicked around to all the major record companies in London. Finally, Chas Chandler of Animals fame who had started Cheapskate Records signed them. He loved the track so much he released it in its original demo form. Unfortunately it wasn't until late 1979 that "Apache" hit the airwaves and record stores and by then The Ska-Dows were accused of jumping on the 2-Tone bandwagon. Nevertheless, "Apache" was deemed record of the week on BBC Radio 1 and held the #1 spot for a week on the stations airplay chart.
There is no video of The Ska-Dows performing "Apache" but here is the original version performed by The Shadows:

The Ska-Dows had 3 singles released on Cheapskate Records, the last being 'Skas on 45' which was released after they split up. I've always been intrigued by the Skas on 45 single (which is a take on the Stars on 45 chart hit that had just come out at the time). Obviously the label saw a chance to cash in on the success and popularity of Stars on 45 (which those of you who grew up in the early 80's may or may not remember fondly).

Here is a video of the Stars on 45 medley of Beatles songs:

"Skas on 45" is a very rare 7" that features The Ska-Dows performing a medley of early 2-Tone hits including the The Specials version of "Monkey Man", The Beat's "Ranking Fullstop" and "One Step Beyond" and "Baggy Trousers" by Madness and more. This song that is not available on the very hard to find Ska-Dows anthology "Ska'd for Life." Here it is for your listening pleasure.

Side A - Skas on 45
Side B - Rhapsody in Buh

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

An England Story: The Culture Of The MC In The UK 1984-2008

In my band, we are lucky to have a real North London-born and bred, Tottenham Hotspur supporting, baked beans on toast MC named Roy Radics. He's added a whole new element to our songs and our live performances. The greatest thing about playing with Roy is his passion and energy and his encyclopedic knowledge about every UK MC and reggae band. There are very few songs or performers he has not heard and he has a huge collection of 12", dub plates and CDs. I love that he brings a touch of UK MC culture to our sound and tends to leave audiences who know us cheering for more and causes mouths to open and jaws to drop in places where 2-Tone ska, reggae and MC's are not heard very regularly. Through him I've listened to and learned a lot more about the UK reggae scene and English MC's in particular. Roy has told me stories about following the Saxon Sound System around London as a youth in the 80's and 90's and his love for Tippa Irie and Papa Levi. Now that I've heard them, I know where Roy gets his style from.

Here is a video of Tippa Irie and the Saxon Sound System from the 80's:

Here is an interview and performance of Papa Levi and the Saxon Sound System

Jamaican MCing - also known as toasting, chatting, and, confusingly, deejaying - has been around since the late Sixties. As Jamaica's DJs invested in ever grander and louder equipment, the sound systems sought to outdo each other with both raw power and exclusive material. This led not only to the invention of the modern remix, but also the rise of the live MC, whose job was to enliven the crowd and insult rivals. Jamaican expats in New York took these elements and turned them into something new: hip-hop. In Britain, though, their localisation was slower, more subtle, and truer to their roots.

Now there is a recording that provides a whole history of the MC in the UK called "An England Story - The Culture of the MC in the UK 1984-2008 that shows the links and musical path from the arrival of UK Dancehall and Soundsystems in the early 1980s, through successive musical movements such as Jungle, UK Hip-Hop, and today's Garage, Grime and Dubstep. An England Story started life as a mix by the DJ duo the Heatwave (Gabriel Myddelton and Gervase de Wilde) who wanted to make an aural history of the British reggae MC.

You can download the whole mix here:
An England Story - The Culture of the MC in the UK 1984 - 2008

Here is the song tracking:

YT - England Story, Sleng Teng remix (Sativa Records, 2006)
Kenny Knots - Watch How The People Dancing (Unity Sounds, 1986)
Ackie - Call Me Rambo (Heavyweight, 1986)
Rodney P - Riddim Killa (Low Life, 2002)
Estelle & Joni Rewind - Uptown Top Rankin' (Ill Flava, 2002)
Blak Twang - Red Letters (Blakjam, 1998)
Top Cat - Love Me Ses (Dance Vibes, 1988)
Glamma Kid - Fashion Magazine (Mafia & Fluxy, 1995)
General Levy - The Wig (Fashion, 1992)
Tubby T - Ready She Ready (Big League, 2003)
LD aka Da Riddla - Peace Ah Dat (Freedom Sounds, 2004)
Apache Indian - Chok There, Bombay remix (Island, 1993)
Jay Sean, Juggy D & Rishi Rich - Dance With You, Diwali remix (Relentless, 2003)
Dynamite MC & Emptyheads - Shake, Jstar remix (Surface2air, 2006)
Troublesome - More Girls, R'n'B mix (Mafia & Fluxy, 2000)
Yungun - Push (Heatwave special, 2005)
Shizzle - Rotate Dem (Kray Twinz, 2006)
Roll Deep - When I'm 'Ere (Relentless, 2005)
Slew Dem feat Jammer, G Man, Shorty Smalls, Ears, Chronik, Kraze & Knuckles - Joy Ride (Slew Dem, 2006)
Rossi B & Luca - Run 4 Cover (white label, 2005)
Klashnekoff - Jamrock Freestyle (white label, 2005)
Tippa Irie - Complain Neighbour (UK Bubblers, 1985)
Papa Levi - My God My King (Taxi, 1984)
Tenor Fly - Bump & Grind (9 Lives, 1994)
Massive Attack - Daydreaming (Wild Bunch, 1990)
Skibadee - Tika Toc (Ahead Of The Game, 2006)
Lady Sovereign & Riko - Random, Menta remix (Casual, 2004)
Dizzee Rascal - I Luv U (XL Recordings, 2003)
Lady Stush - Dollar Sign (Social Circles, 2002)
Warrior Queen & Sunship - Almighty Father (Casual, 2004)
Tricky - Hell Is Round The Corner (Fourth & Broadway, 1995)
Suncycle - Somebody (Jamdown, 2004)
Blackout JA & Marley - Hot Show (Ball A Fire Muzik, 2004)
Navigator & Freestylers - Ruffneck (Freskanova, 1998)
General Levy & M-Beat - Incredible (Renk, 1994)
UK Apachi & Shy FX - Original Nuttah, Bhangra Jungle remix (SOUR, 1994)
Top Cat, Shy FX & T Power - Everyday (Digital Soundboy, 2006)
Jakes & TC - Deep (DSR, 2006)
Smiley Culture - Police Officer (Fashion, 1984)
Jah Screechy - Walk & Skank (Blacker Dread, 1984)

Monday, June 23, 2008

UB40 Live at The Paradiso in Amsterdam - Free Download

Last week officially marked the end of UB40 as we have known them for 30 years and the start of a new era for the band. The band officially released the 17 track version of "Twentyfourseven" featuring additional songs with new singers beyond the 1o track giveaway that was available from The Daily Mail in the UK in May. To celebrate this new beginning, the band has followed the lead of others (e.g., Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails) and are distributing a free download of a concert recorded in Amsterdam on May 11th on its Web site. The free download is the first live performance of the band's new line-up, which now includes pop/reggae crooner Maxi Priest and Duncan Campbell, and should put to rest any fears that the band's signature sound has changed since Ali Campbell and keyboardist Mickey Virtue left the band under very acrimonious circumstances earlier this year. The recording is a parade of hits and sounds great. If you have tickets to see them during their upcoming U.S. tour you should be in for treat. Unfortunately they seem to be steering clear of the East Coast and New York in particular.

And for all you Loonies out there, here's a video of the band's latest video/single, "Dance Until the Morning Light." The song prominently features Maxi Priest on lead vocals singing, along with the familiar sample loop of Desmond Dekker and the Aces’ hit “Israelites.” It will likely be another hit for the band who continue to find ways to defy the critics who insist on calling them washed up and out-of-touch.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

This Is England - A tale of life in Thatcher's England

Late last year I was up very late after bottle feeding duty with my son. As I was channel surfing, I had the good luck to stumble across the movie This Is England . It was available on demand so I paid Time Warner Cable their $10 and settled in for the show. I was mesmerized. I was blown away. It was one of the best movies I saw in 2007. Apparently I was in good company as the film and its director Shane Meadows won a slew of awards including the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film at the 2007 British Academy Film Awards. It also won the Best Film category at the 2006 British Independent Film Awards, with Thomas Turgoose winning the Most Promising Newcomer award.

For the unaware, the film highlights the fact that the skinhead subculture in England, which is partly based on elements of black culture (especially ska, rocksteady, reggae and soul music), eventually became adopted by white nationalist groups such as the National Front. The story focuses on young Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), who, after suffering bullying at school and having to deal with the death of his father in the Falklands War, falls in with a group of older skinheads. When National Front member Combo (Stephen Graham) returns from prison and asserts his leadership, the group splits into two factions: non-racist skinheads and white power skinheads. What follows is an often-disturbing view of 1980s England featuring the ramifications of the Falklands War and the rise of white nationalism, all portrayed through the eyes of a boy forced to face the frightening realities of adulthood before his time.

The movie soundtrack is fantastic and really added to the overall power of the movie. You can download the soundtrack which features ska and reggae classics like 54-46 Was My Number, Louie Louie and Pressure Drop by Toots & The Maytals, Morning Sun by Al Barry & The Cimarons, Do The Dog by The Specials and Return Of DJango by The Upsetters among many.

If you have the patience and the disc space on your hard drive you can download the movie in eight parts courtesy of Digicinema. For those of you with a bit of extra scratch in your pockets or who prefer to listen to the angel on your shoulder and do the right thing you can buy a discounted copy of the DVD here.

Still not convinced? Then peep these scenes from the movie. This one is the film trailer.

Here is the opening scene for the movie:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Phil Esquire - NYC SKA Icon & Cable Access TV Pioneer

Phil Esquire (AKA: Checkerboard Phil) is a New York City ska icon. There is no denying that along with a number of key bands, he has been responsible for keeping the ska flame burning in the Big Apple since the mid 1990's courtesy of his long-running and entirely entertaining Manhattan Neighborhood Network cable access TV show "The Checkerboard Kids" which he describes as " A ska influenced variety show with funny skits, interviews and music videos." If there was a nightime Emmy for cable access variety shows with a ska theme, then Phil would have a mantle full of them.

If you've been to a big NYC ska show then you've seen Phil. He's hard to miss with his checkerboard creepers, NHS glasses and slightly modified take on Don King's hairstyle. He recently was the MC at a show my band played with The Pilfers at the Knitting Factory. He knows just about everyone in the NYC Ska scene and everyone knows him.

Unfortunately you need to live in Manhattan or Queens to see the show, but if you ever visit our fair city make it your business to tune into channel 34 at Midnight on Tuesday's to see what you are missing. Just about every major U.S. ska band has paid a visit to perform on Phil's show. He is a true treasure of the scene here and I have nothing but love and respect for the passion and energy he puts into keeping his show going. Its not all that different from the hard work that ska bands put into playing out.

Without further ado, here is an e-mail interview I conducted with Phil recently.

At a time when most Americans teenagers were listening to Duran Duran or Motley Crue in the 80's, you were discovering ska music. How did this happen?

Before Ska I was very big on new wave music. I listened to a lot of WLIR (which became WDRE) They played a lot of English Beat and Madness I think they also had a little ska show that was like an hour long. I think it was "One Step Beyond" This was my main indoctrination towards Two Tone Ska. Add Ska friendly Comics like Evan Dorkins Pirate Corps and Hewlitt and Martins Tank Girl I was off and running!

You grew up in NYC. Do you remember the early days of the NYC SKA scene and those Sunday Matinee Shows at CBGB's?
*Sigh!*It all mushes together in my mind, Yeah, There used to be a lot of cool shows in the vil. Things dwindled around the time they started cracking down after the Thompkins Square Riots (1989-90). I remember a lot of combination shows that had Ska hardcore and punk! Toasters, NY Citizens, Bigger Thomas (of course!) 24-7 Spyz, Murphys Law, SFA, 2 Minutes To Hate, Sic & Mad, Agent 99, Skinnerbox, Scofflaws, Second Step and Urban Blight! Bushmon, Casualties, Gamma Phi Acme etc, There were a lot of Venues too!

Tell me about The Checkerboard Kids show? How did it start?
Lol! In the mid to late 80's I used to really be into watching NYC Public Access television. Not just Robin Byrd and Midnight Blue with their plethora of humorously titillating 900 number commercials (those shows were actually "leased cable" meaning they were allowed to sell commercials). I dug Public Access, the free stuff! Shows like Beyond Vaudeville, Love Cats/ Weather Report/ Mystical Realm, Vole Show, Rapid T. Rabbit, Tend To Offend, G Street Live, So in the mid 90's when MNN stated giving classes and teaching people how to get their own show for free I jumped on it. My motto was if it's for free it's for me! Originally it was just a video show with some live performances. I used to edit it it at home for vhs to vhs and it showed. The hosts were My High School Pal Mike as the Masked Mutant, my homegirl from Rocky Horror, Cinnamon and I. Originally it was a cool way to get free cds, merch and access to guest lists but my main goal was to always get ska music to the masses that wasn't getting a lot of airplay (at this time the only Ska in commercial radio was Bosstones and No Doubt, a lil' RBF). I especially liked putting live footage on the air! This was for the peeps who couldn't go to shows. Kids trapped in bedsit land, their only home.

How long have you been on the air?
Since round 96 ish maybe even a bit further back?

How does it feel to be a cable access TV star?
Fame without fortune sometimes has perks. I got moved to the front of the line at some club thingy. I got in for free but all my friends had to pay. Sometimes someone will stop you on the street or offer to buy you a drink at a club. As long as people dig the show. If somebody sees a band they dig on the show and they turn around and go to a show or buy a cd of the band then my job is done. I hipped em to something new. That's important.

Note: to have your own public access show is still free in the NY area anyway I highly encourage everyone to get your own show! This was the real REALITY TV before it was cool!

How much work is involved in getting an episode of the show on the air?
It's a lot different from when I was going from VHS to VHS in my living room with a stack of tapes. Now I gotta book the studio, get the crew , book the band make sure everyone shows up and doesn't flake out. This is public access and people will front because they aren't getting paid.

Who are some of the ska bands you've had on the show?
There are so many different flavors of ska from The Skatalites, The Toasters, to Reel Big Fish. So much footage I have to transfer to mini dvd and put on the internet! Kevin Batchelor (trumper player from The Skatalites), Tri State Conspiracy, The Miasmics, Johnny 9 and the Racers, Unlikely Alibi. Green Room Rockers, Bomb Town, Spider Nick and The MadDogs, Save Ferris, Spring Heeled Jack, Skankin' Pickle. I'm just throwing off names I think people should check out!

There is one band who has NEVER performed on the show. YET! (glares at Marco tapping his foot)

Any memorable or strange shows that particularly stand out?
I am very proud of my Interview with Desmond Dekker. Feeling Selecter's Pauline Black's muscles, she's mad brolic! Angelo and Norwood of Fishbone right at the time Prince sampled Fishbone in the song Billy Jack Bitch. They ran into Prince at party and it was on and popping! The first video we ever received was "Doomsday" by Mepeheskapheles.

Who are your favorite ska bands?
I've got love for so many bands. In no particular order: Plifers, NY Citizens, Hub City Stompers, Slackers, Stubborn All Stars, Rudie Crew, Venice Shorline Chris, King Chango (who did Reggaton before everybody!) Defactos, Metro Stylee, Skavoovie and The Epitones, Tokyo Ska Paradise, The Insteps, Toots & The Maytals, Dubistry, English Beat, Specials, Ruder Than You , Bad Manners, Dave and Ansel Collins, The Valentines, Inspecter 7, Bim Skala Bim, Ocean 11, The Specs, Mustard Plug, Op Ivy, Rancid. My guiltiest listening pleasure: OC Supertones "Supertones Strike Back" What?! It's a fun little cd!

As a high school art teacher you are well aware of the musical tastes of today's teens. Are they into ska the way we were when we were their age?
Kids are prone to rebellion. Stay Rude, Stay Rebel like the song. In school the mainstream is the rap flavor of the month so the alternative kids are more into HIM, My Chemical Romance but I'm sure those bands are done by now. A fickle bunch the youth. Any smart ska related kids listen to Slackers, Aquabats, and reach back to a lot of old roots stuff.

You are a true renaissance man. Tell me about your interests outside of ska?
If you do a search it will turn me up in many places. I've done some animation voices. I'm rather amused by and illustrated some cd covers as well as working on some children's book illustrations. I'm also currently co-authoring a book and working on a comic book venture that I am especially proud of.

What is your connection to Underdog Woman?
Me and the performance artist Suzanne Muldowney (who is famed for her dance interpretations of the super hero Underdog ) go back since the early 90's. I had the pleasure of meeting her at a live performance of the Beyond Vaudeville after that we became friends and I would escort her to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade every year since then without fail! (We'll be there Saturday June 21st). For the lowdown on this amazing personality try also there is a fantastic documentary about her called "My Life as an Underdog" (yeah I'm in it..) any search will turn it up.

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates.
"Come on in Phil my boy, We've been expecting you…"

Here is the show intro and promo featuring Phil and some videos of band performances:

The Slackers with Coolie Ranx

The Rudie Crew

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Interview with Terry Hall

In my ongoing quest to keep up to date with recent interviews with members of The Specials (I've recently posted interviews with Lynval Golding, Neville Staples and Jerry Dammers) as they prepare for their historic reunion later this year, here is a very engaging four part interview with Terry Hall conducted by Ian Svenonius host of the sometimes brilliant original online music show Soft Focus which you can watch online at Ian reminds me of a very hip and cool version of Tom Snyder (the late night talk show host icon). He has a number of great interviews with other cutting edge musicians. Check it out.

In the first part of his interview with the frontman of the Specials, Fun Boy Three, Colourfield, and numerous other bands and collaborative efforts, Ian talks to Terry about telling his fans to fuck off from the DJ booth, the Specials' brief but powerful sway over British youth culture, and the meaning of "The Man from C And A."

In the second part of the interview Terry explains the influence of reggae on his own music, the perks of fronting an all-female band, and the fears of returning to the stage.

Part three sees Terry elaborating on bands that repeat themselves, the runaway success and resulting uncomfortable acclaim of “Ghost Town,” and writing music to bridge the Islam-Judaism divide.

In the last installment of Ian’s powwow with Terry Hall they cover parents dressing like their kids, unchecked Western nihilism, a bipolar-induced suicide attempt, and Terry’s favorite group and method of coping—the Shangri-Las.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Interview with Jerry Dammers

As we wait to see if Jerry Dammers does or does not join in the planned Specials reunion (the band has been rehearsing in the UK the last week) here is an interesting recent video interview with him in his own words that touches on the writing of Ghost Town and his own memories of playing in the the band. Here's to hoping Jerry lets bygones be bygones and gets onboard with his bandmates. The download takes some time but is nearly 10 minutes long and worth it for any Specials fans.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tommy McCook - Something Old Is New Again

In the great tradition of ska and reggae, musicians often play parts from old songs they like. Dancehall reggae is infamous for versioning a bass line or rhythm and then recycling to create something new. For example the bass lines of the fabulous Heptones were certainly the most used bass lines in reggae.

A certain pop chanteuse known for affinity to ska did the same in one her biggest hits. You'll quickly notice the sample of the horn line taken from an old Jamaican calypso instrumental "Reggae Merengue" by Tommy McCook & the Supersonics.

Download and take a listen to the song below. Hear anything familiar?

Tommy McCook & The Supersonics - Reggae Merengue

The death of McCook in 1998 passed by completely unnoticed by the mainstream press. Like his fellow Skatalites, Roland Alphonso and Jackie Mittoo, McCook never received the respect from the general media that his contribution to Jamaican music richly deserved. McCook was born in Havana, Cuba, and moved to Jamaica in 1933. He took up the tenor saxophone at the age of eleven, when he was a pupil at the famed Alpha School, and eventually joined Eric Dean’s Orchestra.

In 1954 he left for an engagement in Nassau, Bahamas, after which he ended up in Miami, Florida, and it was here that McCook first heard John Coltrane, and fell in love with jazz. McCook returned to Jamaica in early 1962, where he was approached by a few local producers to do some recordings. Eventually he consented to record a jazz session for Clement "Coxson" Dodd, which was issued on album as Jazz Jamaica. His first ska recording was an adaptation of Ernest Gold’s "Exodus", recorded in November 1963 with musicians who would soon make up the Skatalites.

During the sixties and seventies McCook recorded with virtually every prominent reggae artist of the era, working particularly with producer King Tubby and his house band The Aggrovators as well as being featured prominently in the recordings of Yabby You and the Prophets (most notably on version sides and in extended disco mixes), all while still performing and recording with the variety of line ups under the Skatalites name.

Here is a video of Tommy in his own words. May he rest in peace.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Rudimentals - South African Ska

Imagine this: When "Nelson Mandela" by the Special AKA reached number 9 in the UK singles chart in March 1984, Mandela was still in prison in South Africa, and wasn't to be released until some six years later. It would be four years before the openly racist system of Apartheid was finally ended in April 1994. To be caught with that Special AKA single in your possession by the South African secret police in 1984 meant serious trouble. Not only was the record banned, but so was any release on the 2-Tone label, leading to a virtual ban on all Ska records, a music form that was seen by the then racist regime as "unpleasant multi-racial movement."

Fast forward 24 years and meet The Rudimentals. They are a South African ska band based in Cape Town. They have blended the essential, tried and trusted elements of 2-Tone Ska with rural and urban African music. With roots still firmly planted in the Jamaican dance halls of the 60's, the band have fused ingredients of local cultural music with the familiar back beat of Ska. This contemporary combination makes the music both accessible and fresh. The final product is something brand new: Afro-Ska. Like their 2-Tone forbearers, The Rudimentals music deals with very real and distinctly African issues, ranging from the problems of AIDS, drug abuse, gangsterism and woman and child abuse.

The band released it’s first CD “More Fire” in South Africa, in October 2003 topping the South African Rock Digest charts and their first single, “Gangsta”, enjoyed extensive radio airplay on both national and regional radio stations and also topped the MP3 charts, for most downloaded song. “Gangsta” managed to hold that position for seven consecutive weeks. The hit song “Noh TV” won a National Bronze Stone award for best music video, in that same year. In 2004, they were voted “Best Reggae and Ska Band” in the country, by the nationally read Blunt Magazine.

In 2006 The Rudimentals released the second CD, entitled “Set It Proper”, on Moon Ska Europe. The new CD fuses Ska, Reggae, Dub, Dancehall, Rock, African Mbaquanga and Jazz into what is now truly termed Afro-Ska. The band are regularly touring and headlining National Festivals and are continuing to gain huge positive response to the groundbreaking sound of Afro-Ska. They were the opener for UB4o's tour of South Africa in 2007.

And so it goes that a multiracial ska band, once against the law, now exists and flourishes in South Africa. As Bob Marley sang, "One Good Thing About Music, When It Hits You Feel No Pain."

Here is a short documentary on the band and a few music videos and a live performances of The Rudimentals. You can hear more of their music at their web site and MySpace site.



Noh TV

Radio Skaweto

Loving Day Anniversary: 40 Years of Legal Interracial Unions

One of the great things about 2Tone was the way it brought people together. The marriage of black and white music and black and white musicians to create something new has been its greatest legacy. I believe its important to celebrate the small and large cultural changes we have achieved as well as the people who have lead the charge.

It was against the law for blacks and whites to marry in several states for many years. That changed 41 years ago today, with the landmark Supreme Court ruling Loving v. Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage nationwide. On June 12, 1967, the nation's highest court voted unanimously to overturn the conviction of Richard and Mildred Loving, a young interracial couple from rural Caroline County, Va. That decision struck down the anti-miscegenation laws — written to prevent the mixing of the races — that were on the books at the time in more than a dozen states, including Virginia.

There was an excellent piece on NPR this morning about the Loving's that is worth a listen/read. Hard to believe its taken us so long to get to where we are today and harder to believe we still have a long way to go. Nonetheless as we are on the cusp on electing our first bi-racial U.S. President, the power of 2Tone carries on in many ways.

I'll be back with more music posts this weekend.

Friday, June 6, 2008

"Pick It Up" Wins Amimation Award

Congratulations are in order for Parker from the Utah-based ska band GOGO13. Turns out the animated film "Pick It Up" with music performed by his band and voiced by Alex Desert from Hepcat that aired on the children's show "Yo Gabba Gabba" just won an animation award. As a father I'm all for any thing that gets my kid to 1) love ska music and 2) keep his room clean.

Here are some of the original story boards for Yo Gabba Gabba by animator Willy Hartland. Below is the short. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Black Roots - The Best British Reggae Band You've Never Heard

Raise your hand if you've heard of the Black Roots. I have to confess they are a recent discovery for me as well. I was able to get a good education on this UK reggae band courtesy of Andy Brouwer who is definitely a leading source of information about the band.

Black Roots were a powerful and potent force in the British reggae music scene throughout the Eighties and left a legacy of no less than ten albums and more than eight singles before bowing out of the public eye in the mid-90's. Hailing from the St Paul's area of Bristol, the original eight-member band were formed in 1979 and quickly gained a large following by touring almost non-stop around the country, playing their brand of 'militant pacifism' roots reggae in the nation's major colleges, universities and festivals. They attracted the attention of television with appearances on BBC2's Neighbours, BBC West, HTV West and Rockers Roadshow and popular radio, where live studio sessions for Radio 1's In Concert (broadcast April 1982), John Peel, David 'Kid' Jensen and Peter Powell, led to a BBC Radio 1 sessions LP.

Their first releases were on the Nubian Records label and an EP containing Bristol Rock, Tribal War, The Father and The System preceded their first single, in 1981, Chanting For Freedom. Jon Futrell in Black Echoes, labelled them; "Quite simply, Black Roots are the next great hope for reggae in this country," while John Peel was quoted; "If anyone tells you that there is no such thing as good British reggae, first tell them that they are a herbert and then listen to Black Roots." John Peel's Radio 1 session, aired on 27 May, really helped the cause, with Confusion, What Them A Do, Chanting For Freedom and The Father performed live. Their debut album, entitled simply Black Roots and released in 1983 on the Kick label, saw them make their mark immediately on the national music scene, with the leading black music paper Black Echoes declaring, "a blinding debut album from the best of the new British reggae bands."

Here is an interview with two members of the band, Jabulani Ngozi, rhythm guitarist and Errol Brown, percussion and vocals from Makasound

How was the Black Roots group founded?
Black Roots band was formed in 1979 by a couple of us that were in different bands, but known each other from the 60’s. So Black Roots came about through friendship. The first bass player Basil Greenwood, Delroy Ogilvie, and I, Jabulani were just playing domino’s and from that we decided we’re gonna do a band.

This happened in England, but your all born Jamaicans?
Yeah, we're Jamaican born but we all been in England from childhood. From around 65. We’ve been through the school system in England. We were unemployed, doing noting special so we decided to go into the music. It just come out of the blues so it was beyond our control.

How was the Black Roots name chosen?
We just come together and decided that’s the right name for the band, cause it’s roots we’re gonna deal with. In those days there was a lot of stagnation about culture, through the black man culture. And we come to the conclusion, as young youth coming as rastafarians, that we had to let the world know about our roots and culture. So the name came through the message.

How did you and Errol meet?
The same way. We from the same community so we see each other everyday, go to the same shop, we go to the same post office, we go to the same bank, and so we just bump in to each other.

Can you present the other members of the group?
Yeah, you have Kondwani Ngozi, that’s my younger brother, Cordell Francis the lead guitarist, Carlton “Roots” Smith the keyboardist who lives in Bath, Trevor the drummer, and Derrick King the bass player.

Jabulani, you’ve an African name, it’s not common for a Jamaican, can you let us know about that?
Yeah, we’re ging back to the early 70’s. That’s when we were trying to find ourselves as youths. My birth name was Errol Thompson, and I know that no black man can historically carry the name of Errol Thompson! That’s a slave master name. So I man decided to find myself an African name which is Jabulani Ngozi. So I changed my name, and get free of the slave mind, spiritually and physically. Our roots kind of last after slavery, cause we don’t know where we originally from. We know we from West Africa, but what happened to the lineage? We lost it. That’s a reasonment you get as a conscious man. We get a broke by the slave master, which today is the politician. Cause they’re the slavemasters in nowdays. How is it we couldn’t go to the end to find where are roots are? It’s like a tree who couldn’t find his roots!

And you personally did some research or you choose any African name?
No, no special reserach. We just choose an African name that was available. That’s a name I choose in a book name, that I feel suitable, kind of confortable with. Ngozi was chosen by my brother. We each choose a first name and then the family name.

Is it a name like this you give yourself or has it officially become your name?
No, it has been changed officially. My passport, my birth certificate, and all my papers carry my African name. So from 1979 my name is officially Jabulani Ngozi.

Going back to Black Roots, what was the first album?
Black Roots is the first one. The picture on it comes from west countryside in Bristol. That’s the closest we could get for the countryside cause it’s all concrete jungle around in Bristol. And if you don’t know, looking at the picture could let you think it’s somewhere in Jamaica or in Africa. It was in summetime, in the evening when the sun is going down and you get that particular light.

Before this album released in 1983, you did some 45 or 12 inch?
Yeah, the first record was a 12 inch, “Bristol Rock”. Released in 1981. And “Tribal War”, “The Father” and “The System” came along together.

You’ve always been independant. How you first finance yourselves?
The community in Bristol helped us a lot at that time. We did a concert and advertised the people that we’re doing it to raise some money to do our first single. And we had a full house that night, around 1200 people came. That’s how we started on the recording side. But we’ve been touring around the country for 7 or 8 years, doing four shows per week.

You were an underground group when reggae was already established in England?
Yeah reggae was really big through Marley and all them guys. But when you say underground, yes we were for record companies, but not for the people, the public. Record companies didn’t want reggae music to sell, so they suppress it. So what we’re showing you is that in those days we could go to record companies like Virgin, Island, EMI, or whatever, but they would tell you that lyrics too strong. And yet they would tell you so, but the people who are buying this music are the ones who come to see us on stage. If we play in London in a club on a Thursday night, we get a full house. We play in Brixton Academy, we get a full house. Everywhere in England we get a full house. We’re dealing ourselves independantly and we’re selling records ouselves. And the record companies would say that they can’t sell us. So I never understand what they were saying. So reggae was and is popular to the people who know it and want to hear it.

At the same time, when you started, many Jamaican artists from Jamaica were getting big in London and doing a lot of shows. Did you play with them or share any stage?
Yeah sometime. We did a couple shows with John Holt, with Toots & The Maytals, with Freddie McGregor, Ras Michael, support Yellowman as well, Ini Kamoze...Steel Pulse who were the one carrying all shots for roots music in England.

Why you always stick by the roots?
That’s us. That’s what we had to offer to the music business. Like John Holt did what he was doing in a romantic style, and did very well, but we had a message that we wanted to spread. We wanted the younger generation to wake up, to know that it’s time to wake up, to stop sleeping, and get some of our youths out of the ghetto. Let them know that there is life after the ghetto. You have to get up and Do something, educationally, educate yourself and move on.

That’s what you talk about in Juvenile Delinquent?
Yeah man, if you listen to that tune it tell you what we just talk about . Charlie sings that tune. I sing the Father, War, Survival, Far Over, Frontline.

Who wrote them?
We all wrote them. Jabulani come up with lots of the lyrics, and we get to rehearse and find the proper way for the tune.

How you chose who sing this or that tune?
When the right voice fit. We had a mental approach of the tunes. We always tried to reach the deeper side of the tunes.

You had your own label Nubian. How was it founded?
Yeah it was our own label and own publishing company. The creation of this structure is a part of the same struggle. It’s Nubian tribe, straight linked to Black Roots.

You had a shop too, I saw it in town.
Yeah we had a shop too. And we had a manager too, who we can’t forget. Him move back to Spain where he’s from but he did a lot for us. He was doing all the managing work, from production to touring.

On the Frontline LP, where is the picture taken from?
It’s a rehearsal. That’s the room we use to rehearse. When them took the picture, we had a break but we had been rehearsing for hours before.

Can you tell us about the tune Far Over?
Jabulani wrote that song. It come out from the vibe that we’re so far from Africa. You know, it’s spiritual level, cause although me live physically in England, a part of me mentally live in Jamaica. And for Africa, it’s the same, never been physically but been many times spiritually.
To me to go I have to go in special position, ready to help. I don’t want to go Africa as a burden.

When you started, had you any models?
In those days we use to listen Burning Spear, The Gladiators, BB Seaton, Heptones, Mighty Diamonds, Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Justin Hinds...all those people who were the foundation of roots. To me personally Peter Tosh was a man that I admire.

What about the tune What Them A Do?
That’s about what was happening in Africa and South Africa in those days. We never get any answer to that tune cause they still mash up Africa. We don’t see no real changes.

Here is a download of their best album "In Session"

Please visit their MySpace site for more information.

Finally, here is a video of the band performing one of their well-know songs "Juvenile Delinquent"

Just Who is Dick Cuthell?

For a man whose horn sounds are so ubiquitous on many seminal ska, reggae and pop music recordings, there is a dearth of information about one Dick Cuthell. It turns out his talents also extended to the production side of the recording studio as well as he has been behind the board on many well known reggae recordings.

After a fairly exhaustive search for anything I could find about Cuthell (he of the trademark bushy mustache) on line I have had to settle for the Wikipedia entry which is below. That said there is a lot more to the man who will likely join a reunited version of The Speccials if/when they play together laster this year.

The short story is this: Dick Cuthell is a British musician. He plays flugelhorn, cornet, and trumpet, amongst a range of other brass instruments, including tenor horn and valve trombone. Cuthell is best known for his work with The Specials and Rico Rodriguez. He also collaborated with bands such as Madness, Eurythmics, Fun Boy Three, XTC, and The Pogues. In addition to a range of horns, Cuthell also plays bass, keyboards and percussion and is a composer and arranger.

Dick Cuthell was part of the second wave of bands that developed in Liverpool, following the success of the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers and other bands referred to as 'Merseybeat'. This second wave looked to the United States and jazz and soul artists for their influences.

The band with which Cuthell reached a national audience was The Washington Soul Band.Once he was based in London, Dick Cuthell worked with a wider range of musicians, both as a horn player and a recording engineer at Island, and other studios.The Washington Soul Band changed its name to Selofane when it became based in London, and its repertoire became more pop-oriented.

During the next few years Dick Cuthell was a member of a number of bands, including Rich, Grimes and Babylon and Trifle. Work at Island Studios in both Jamaica and London brought him into contact with reggae and ska musicians, and these became a constant theme in the music he played and produced. As the 2-Tone bands gained success in the United Kingdom Cuthell’s involvement with them grew. Despite this, his repertoire and range of playing encompassed an eclectic mix: pop, reggae, ska, 2-Tone and jazz. Will dick go on to play with The Specials now they are getting back together

His relationship with some bands was longer lasting. He played, engineered and produced tracks for Amazulu, China Street, Rico Rodriguez, The Boothill Foot Tappers, The Deltones, The Happy End, The Members, The Potato Five, The Special AKA, Visionistics. One iconic track by Special AKA was ‘Racist Friend’, which Dick Cuthell co-wrote and on which he played bass and piano, in addition to the usual range of horns. Cuthell also worked with Harry J and Jack Ruby

Here are some videos of bands that feature Dick's smooth cornet playing. He was mostly seen together with Rico Rodriguez with whom he developed a long working relationship performing and in the studio.

The Specials - Rudi (A Message To You)

The Special AKA - Free Nelson Mandela

The Special AKA - Racist Friend

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Rico Rodriguez

I'm not sure where to start with Rico and I doubt one post alone will do him any justice. If you have not heard of him by name then chances are you will know him by the sound of his trombone. Its been said that the trombone solo he played on the Specials’ last single “Ghost Town” may be the best horn solo in pop history. I'm not one to disagree with that sentiment. It moves me every time I hear it.

While Rico is best known for his studio and live performances with The Specials, he had a successful career as a solo artist and session man long before 2-Tone came along and he continues to perform to this day. As Jamaican music has changed from ska to rock steady to reggae, Rico has been there each step along the way. He really began to make his mark when he joined one of the most talented reggae bands in the UK: The Undivided, who performed as a backing band for Jamaican reggae artists touring the UK in the early 1970's.

When Island Records re-entered the reggae market Rico came onto the list of session musicians for the label. His first recording sessions took place in 1975 and were released on Toots’ Reggae Got Soul. During this time Rico met a man named Dick Cuthell, with whom he has been linked musically. Cuthell, an engineer at Island, recorded a demo for Rico which opened the way for Rico’s first trip to Jamaica in 15 years and the recording of "Man From Wareika" in 1977 with some of the best Jamaican studio musicians of the time.

With a critically acclaimed solo album Rico was engaged as a support act for Bob Marley & The Wailers on his 1978 tour in Europe. Rico had a chance to play in front of audiences and to build his reputation towards the European public. Island prepared a new album for Rico, but tried to direct him towards a more easy listening style. Meanwhile Rico had received a phone call by a certain Jerry Dammers, who looked for Rico to play on a remake of "Rudi A Message To You". The song was already recorded in two version by Rico, one for Dandy (Livingston) in 1967 and one credited to Rico himself from 1969.

After the success of the Special’s music Rico (and Dick Cuthell) became associated members of the group, participating in their touring and recording activities. Rico played on the groundbreaking albums Specials and More Specials, he contributed to The Selecter's debut. Despite the exposure he'd been given by working with The Specials, Island surprisingly did not renew his contract when it expired in January 1980, leaving him free to record for 2 Tone. They did make a half-hearted attempt to get The Specials to back Rico on a live take of "Guns Of Navarone" to be released on Island, but nothing came of it and so that it was.

In 1980 Rico was going to release his first single "Sea Cruise" on the 2 Tone label. He toured with The Specials but left for Jamaica accompanied by Dick Cuthell where he was in the studio to record for his next LP That Man Is Forward. Later in 1980 Rico toured with his own band and later joined the Police in their concert for "So Lonely".

Ian Dury made him public to his audience while singing "... listening to Rico..." in his hit "Reasons To Be Cheerful, Pt.III)". All these activities made him a central part of the 2 Tone story: he represented the Jamaican roots within The Specials' and the other group's music and made his instrument and his style attractive to the pop music market. Many engagements followed by artists such as Paul Young, Joan Armatrading, John Martyn and the big names in reggae: Linton Kwesi Johnson, Mikey Dread, Burning Spear, The Congos

Below is a download of the very hard to find dub version of Rico's seminal reggae album "Man From Wareika" which Horace Panter of The Specials described as "...quite possibly the best instrumental reggae album ever."

Rico Rodriguez - Warrika Dub

I often wondered why the man wasn't getting the credit he was due and recently learned a 25 minute documentary about him was produced by a Spanish filmmaker named Jep Jorba in 2006. You can view the trailer for the film here. If you have seen the film please let me know.

Greyhound - The Story behind "Black and White"

Chances are that you have heard the song "Black and White" at some point in your life and its more than likely you've heard the Three Dog Night Version which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in 1972. Its more unlikely, unless you are a fan of reggae from the 60's and 70's, that you would know that a Jamaican band called Greyhound recorded a version first for the Trojan label in the UK in 1971 that was a huge hit there and inspired Three Dog Night to record their chart topper.

The back story behind this song that was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic a year apart is quite intriguing. Black and White" was written in 1954 by David I. Arkin and Earl Robinson. The song was inspired by the United States Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education that outlawed racial segregation of public schools. The original folk song was first recorded by Sammy Davis Jr. in 1957. The original lyrics of the song opened with this verse, in reference to the court:

Their robes were black, Their heads were white,
The schoolhouse doors were closed so tight,
Nine judges all set down their names,
To end the years and years of shame.

David Arkin's lyrics and Earl Robinson's music were originally published as a song in 1956, a tune that celebrated desegregation specifically and the Civil Rights Movement in general. Arkin decided to illustrate the song himself ten years later with simple black and white pencil drawings and, at the end of the story, sparse splashes of color. David Arkin was a teacher, painter, writer, and lyricist and is the father of actor Alan Arkin. In 1945, Arkin moved his family to Los Angeles to take a teaching job. Arkin attempted to obtain work in the entertainment industry, but was unsuccessful. An eight-month Hollywood strike cost Arkin a set designer job, but the greater blow was as a result of the McCarthy "witch hunt". Arkin, a leftist, was accused of being a communist but Arkin refused to answer questions regarding his political affiliation. As a result, he was fired from his teaching job and was unable to gain work in Hollywood. Arkin challenged his dismissal, but did not achieve exoneration until after his death.

Earl Robinson was a songwriter and composer from Seattle. Robinson is probably as well remembered for his left-leaning political views (a member of the Communist Party in the 1930s) as he is for his music, including the songs "Joe Hill", "The Ink is Black, the Page Is White", and the cantata "Ballad for Americans". In addition, he wrote many popular songs and was a composer for Hollywood films.

Greyhound was originally formed by Danny Smith and Freddie Notes as The Rudies in the late 1960s and released tracks under a variety of names, including the Rudies, the Tilermen and Des All Stars, before settling on the Greyhound name. As the Rudies, the group had hits with reggae versions of Clarence Carter's "Patches" and Bobby Bloom's "Montego Bay." Notes left as the decade closed, and was replaced by Glenroy Oakley, and the reconstituted Greyhound hit with "Black & White." A cover of Henry Mancini's "Moon River" followed, and the group had a final run at the charts with"I Am What I Am" before breaking up.

Here is a video of Greyhound performing "Black and White" on Top Of The Pops in 1971