Sunday, June 28, 2009

Musical Occupation Mixtape #3: Marco On The Bass Selects

I'm honored that the good people at Musical Occupation have deemed me worthy of an interview and podcast focusing on American ska and reggae bands from the 1980's. I had the pleasure to speak with Gabe who is one of the most active and passionate ska bloggers on the American ska scene. Gabe asked me to select 10 tracks from American ska and reggae bands who were among the best bands of the era and to provide some background on each band. I picked bands that may not have received the credit they were due but were instrumental in giving birth to a vibrant, creative and definitively American form of ska music. I hope you enjoy the interview and the mix!

Heavy Manners – Taking The Queen To Tea (Chicago/1982)
The X-Streams – Rhythm Of Life 7″ (Arizona/1980)
The Boilers – Coeur A Voil (New York/1988)
Bim Skala Bim – Jah Laundromat (Boston/1985)
The Nails – Transcontinental Ska (New York/1980)
The Terrorists – Love Is Better Now 12″ (New York/1981)
The Untouchables – Tropical Bird (Los Angeles/1983)
The Hoovers – I Got You Babe (San Francisco/1980)
The Uptones – Outback Master (San Francisco/1983)
Blue Riddim Band – Nancy Reagan (Kansas City/1982)

You can stream the podcast directly from Musical Occupation or download it directly from the link below:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Birth of the 1980's NYC Ska Scene - The Boilers

The Boilers were the most innovative and influential band to come out of the 1980's NYC Ska scene. Though they burned brightly for only a short time and recorded just one full length album, they were the starting point for a core group of musicians who have gone on to help define, create and perform some of the finest reggae and ska music in the U.S. More than any of the other bands who came out of the NYC ska scene, The Boilers explored reggae as a vehicle for their sound and vision. Their legacy remains that they did it in a way that was authentic and connected with the roots of the music.

The latter day impact of the individual band members on reggae and ska in the 21st century is impressive. Members of the band who included Michael O'Neil (bass), John Patterson (guitar), Jeff Baker (trombone/vocals), Olivier Rhee (vocals), Patrick Dougher (drums), Victor Axelrod (keyboards/piano) have gone on to play key creative roles in the ongoing growth and popularity of reggae and ska music. Jeff Baker (King Django) went on the start Skinnerbox and Stubborn All-Stars before venturing out on his own as a solo artist and ska and reggae producer. Olivier Rhee (Mr Rhee) has been a NYC reggae stalwart performing with the Cannabis Cup All-Stars as well as on his own, while Victor Axelrod, (Ticklah) is the dub reggae producer behind the Easy Star All-Stars project and performs with the Antibalas Afropop Orchestra and plays piano on the new Amy Winehouse album. Patrick Dougher is also a regular member of Easy Star All-Stars.

I had a chance to see the band once at a show at CBGB's in New York City. What I remember is the pure energy and professionalism of their performance (more impressive as most of the band were barely out of high school) as well as the overwhelming response from a sold-out crowd that seemed to know the words to most of the songs. I was unfamiliar with the band but quickly ventured back into New York a few weeks later to pick-up a cassette tape that band had recorded called 'Flotsam' at Bleecker Bob's Records in the West Village of Manhattan. I loved that tape and played it until it wore out. The band had recorded songs that seemed to pick-up where 2-Tone had left off but they included a unique and dynamic mix of reggae, 60's Ska, mento, rock steady and calypso. It was clear that the band had not only studied the genres but clearly lived and loved them as well, because their live shows and recorded output sounded effortless and passionate.

Sadly, the band never achieved its full potential, but the one album they recorded and released 'Rockin' Steady' is a lost classic of the era that should have reached a larger audience than it did. The album captures the band at a creative peak and remains the soundtrack to a NYC Ska summer of love that lasted for a few years in the mid-80's. Some of the band's creativity is captured in short video made in the mid-80's by an early member named Erik Knight who is now a freelance filmmaker who has worked on a variety of projects in commercial and independent productions, including films by Spike Lee, Tim Burton, and Robert Townsend.

I recently connected with band vocalist Olivier Rhee at a King Django show here in New York City and he agreed to talk to me about his musical upbringing and the history of The Boilers and their role as one of the leading ska and reggae bands from New York City and the U.S.

What was it like growing up in New York City in the 80's?
Ahh the good old days of New York City! The true nitty gritty. It was a crazy time, where anything could happen at any time, and usually did.It was a recessive time for the economy, and funding for society's programs for infrastructure was in severe decay. Picture New York City paired with lawlessness and corruption. One of the by-products of such an atmosphere was a spontaneous city, with house parties, functions, art shows, gigs galore, with very little regulation. The limitations of your ability to do what you please was regulated only by the limits of your imagination. Oppression seems to set off rebellion and anarchy, and people wanted to get their message out more than ever, including The Boilers.

When did you first get into music? Do you remember the first record you ever bought? Who introduced you to ska and reggae?
My mother (bless her soul & big respect) was always a Hi Fidelity connoisseur. Music was almost always playing from ever since I could remember. I used to go through her record collection on the sneak (she didn't want me to scratch 'em). She had a wide range of influences in musical styles she liked to explore, from African, R&B, Jazz, 60s Rock and Folk, Funk and Psychedelic, Reggae, Hawaiian to Broadway shows. But the first record that really caught me was one my mother brought back from Jamaica W.I. which I still have. Bob Marley "Jah Live" 7" with the version on the B side. That got some serious play at my house. My mother first influenced me to reggae music, then I just became hooked. I was heavy into dub and Dee Jays chatting over dub plates. So much so, I saved all my cash to get a 2 channel mixer with mic inputs and a reverb effects box built in, to do the same, and record to TDK or Maxell 90 minute chrome cassettes if I could afford them.

How did The Boilers get started? Where did you meet your band mates?
In junior high school, I met up with classmates Erik Knight, John Mathiason and Michael O'Neil who all had some diverse tastes themselves. One commonality was reggae and ska which I had heard before, but never distinctly. I began to focus on the history of reggae music through this peer group and began to be quite fond of Bluebeat, Ska, Rock Steady and the like. Our interest grew with authentic ska from Jamaica W.I. and the London based scene from the late 70s. Nostalgic footage, books and videos was all the rage. We become very engrossed and a band was formed as an outlet to expel the wealth and passion.

Were you in any other bands before The Boilers?
I always sang with the music as far as I could remember, but became serious when I was in Junior High at the age of 15, and I started to sing and chat to dub records and versions on B sides.

The band was originally called The Unseen right? When and why did you change it to The Boilers?
Yes, things evolved, through many players of instruments (particularly a revolving door of drummers and guitar players) "The Ghosts of Men", "The Unseen" (people used to think we were dissing the mod band "The Scene" (not the case)), then "The Boilers". Not quite sure exactly when, but it was a lineup change, where key players who were in "The Unseen" got kicked out. It was a process of elimination by level of talent and contribution. No one wanted the honor of doing it, but I wanted to keep moving with the music, so I gave people the pink slip. This is when I began to take full control of the band by organizing rehearsals, booking shows, recording, and auditions and such. It became my responsibility 24/7. When it came to creative input, all the current members would contribute, and add their flavors, including myself, but when it came to organizing, booking rehearsals, auditions, gigs and such, that was me.

How would you describe the early sound of the band? Did you make a conscious decision to play ska and reggae?
The early sound of the band was highly influenced by the great sounds of mostly non-commercial Reggae, Bluebeat, Ska, Mento, Rock Steady, Calypso. Yes it was our passion to play and adapt and incorporate these styles into our sound.

The band really seemed to be the political and social conscience of the NYC Ska scene with songs about injustice, poverty, corruption. The songs seemed more rooted in reggae though there was a lot of 2-Tone in the mix too.
Well growing up as youth, rebellion is a common theme, so we aimed our anger and sense of injustice and imbalance of the world into the music as an outlet for our frustration. I think attending the United Nations School aided in our thoughts and opinions of the world on a more global scale, therefore reflecting itself in the subject matter of the songs.

Were you aware that there were other ska bands in NYC at the time? Had you seen or heard The Toasters or Urban Blight? What was the time line from the formation of the band to its first gig?
Of course, we always got excited about that, and we often all rehearsed and auditioned players at the largest rehearsal space in New York City, Giant Studios, where I worked and had a monthly room with a recording setup. We prided ourselves on how we influenced many to form their own bands through the years. Yes we knew of Bucket and The Toasters and Urban Blight, but somehow they didn't really capture where we were coming from. We were very serious about rehearsing and were perfectionists. So we made sure music was tight and the rhythm was "in the pocket". Probably 2 to 3 months, rehearsing at least 3 times a week. I always felt we could have played more often, but we always would rehearse at least 5 or 6 times before doing a show.

What was the New York ska scene of the mid-80's like from your perspective? I always got the impression that it was very tight knit scene.
It was a glorious time, all the New York City bands were friendly to each other for the most part. No matter where you went, you would run into a member of this Ska band or that one, and we were all stars for the uniqueness of our passion. Very rarely was there a conflict with other players, except for the wannabees and mediocre players attempting to cause a vexation or competition. It was a tight scene of brother and sisterhoodly Love! I miss it, now that you mention it!

Can you share any unusual stories about any live shows that were particularly memorable? Did the band tour at all outside NYC?
Sure, the time we played with The Toasters and a couple of other local Ska bands (not exactly sure who was on the bill) at CBGBs on a Saturday night and The Boilers mashed up the packed to rafters crowd, hard, clearly and unmistakeably, I always remember tension from the Toasters thereafter, and billing with them never happened again. Yes we played out of state a number of shows, always to a very enthusiastically receptive audience, but not that often. One show, we almost tipped the van when a driver cut us off on the highway, the gig was a hit however.

Tell me about being part of the N.Y. Beat: Hit & Run compilation that Moon Records released in 1986. I think the song 'Brighter Days' (along with Second Step's 'Opportunity') are the best songs on the compilation.
We were told that this compilation "Hit & Run" was being assembled, and we thought it would be right to contribute. After scratching our heads, we decided to book studio time at a pro recording studio in mid town and write a completely new track from scratch that day. Michael O'Neil came up with this cool bass line and the rhythm section just followed. I remember not knowing what lyrics to add, and as the expensive studio time was winding down, I came up with the title, chorus and verse. Whew! No one really liked the tune, because we didn't work on it long enough, I think 4 hours.

Tell me about the 'Rockin Steady LP? Where was it recorded? It has a very diverse and sophisticated production and sound for a group of musicians who were barely out of their teens when it was recorded. Was there a plan to release it on Moon Records? It really is a lost classic.
We wanted freedom from the confines of the parameters of "studio time" (like the recording of 'Brighter Days'). So I looked into renting a 16-Track 2" tape recording machine for a week instead, and Jeff suggested we use his house folks house in New Jersey while his folks were on vacation. We could all crash out there for a week and record until we dropped. I was using a 1/4 inch 8-track reel to reel in my setup at "Giant" and had been recording bands for money (including The Boilers - Flotsam tape, The Second Step and The Skadanks). I took on recording, engineering and mixing the album, it kept me up for 8 days at all hours of the day and night.Yes the plan was to release it on Moon, but Bucket wanted to change the artwork and title of the album, we didn't agree with this.

Why did The Boilers break-up? The band seemed to have tremendous potential.
There was a conflict with the way things were going. Particularly with Jeff Baker. As you mentioned earlier, we had more of a reggae feel to the sound, a rootsier vibes, but as Jeff began introducing his songs, they were more pop ska. Also I found him very adamant on how "his" songs were played, very militant at that. That wasn't how the band worked before. We each brought our elements to form songs, but this was different with Jeff. Some songs I didn't even like much, and as the lead singer, I was'nt going to sing songs I didn't feel or wasn't into. I wanted to do more rootsier material, more authentic Jamaican sound of Reggae. I was not alone with this notion. So I pushed to play more Reggae, conflicts ensued, tempers flared, and I decided not to pursue this band any longer. I just didn't like the militant aspect introduced by Jeff at the time, it killed the vibe for me. I had to get out, so I quit. I think there were 2 gigs without me, and that was it. No hard feelings to Jeff, respect bredren, he was anxious to get things done.

What have you been doing musically since The Boilers?
I worked on film scores with band mate Erik Knight, sang with "The Skadanks", went solo as "Mista Rhee", joined The High Times Cannabis Cup All Stars which is an ongoing gig, and joined "One Vibration" and recorded an album "Our World" and released 2 singles.I currently cameo and do singjay IDs over version rhythms for my bredrens, DJ Chucks & Uncle Paulie on WJFF Catskills Radio 90.5 FM (, also pursuing a musical project in it's early stages, incorporating reggae in the mix, keep an ear out!

What are your lasting memories of performing with The Boilers and the NYC ska scene of the 80's?
It was a memorable time, and I feel in my own way very blessed to have been a part of one of the best ska bands in America in the late 80's. The reception from all the fans and enthusiasts was always very intense, it was an extended family affair that will never leave my heart and mind. It was a mission for us to produce and evoke, and express our feelings in the music during those formative years of our youth, and I am always rewarded for it. Thanks to all the fans who supported us!

Any chance of a Boilers reunion?
It was attempted very quickly, not long ago, perhaps in the near future...

Below is a download of the song 'Brighter Days' which was The Boilers contribution to the 'NY Beat: Hit & Run' compilation. Their album 'Rockin' Steady' is long out-of-print but you can sometimes find copies for sale on-line. You can also visit The Boilers MySpace page to stream a number of their best songs.

The Boilers - Brighter Days

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fishbone Celebrates 30 Years With The Release of First Official Live DVD

While The Specials and Madness both celebrate 30 years together with tours and new music, another band that helped to popularize ska here in the U.S. is also celebrating 30 years together in 2009. I don't even know what to say that hasn't already been said about Fishbone. They remain, hands down, one of the best live bands I have ever seen. I remember hearing their first record being played inside Tower Records in NYC in early 1985 when it was first released. I was a ska freak even back then and when I heard the first skanking chords from "Party At Ground Zero" blowing through the store's speakers I ran over to the counter and asked the clerk what was on the turntable. "Why Fishbone of course!," he replied. I bought the LP on the spot. They've been a favorite band ever since.

I had the good luck to see the band perform live at The Ritz on Halloween in 1985. The bill included 24-7 Spyz and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. The Ritz was the epicenter of live music in New York City in the 1980s. An expansive, high ceilinged, two-tiered theatre, it was relatively perfect in every way and I saw many shows there including Bad Manners, the first General Public show in the US and this Fishbone show. It remains one of the best live shows I have ever seen. I recently had the good luck to discover two rare pictures of the band taken during the Halloween performance at The Ritz in 1985:

Thirty years after forming in South Central Los Angeles, Fishbone has finally blessed the release of an official live DVD. The DVD 'Fishbone Live' was released on May 10, 2009. It was filmed during a show in Bordeaux, France in April 2008 by Stephan Kraemer. The band is also currently involved in the making of a documentary film, tentatively titled 'Everyday Sunshine', directed by Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler, due to debut in early 2010. Below are video samples from the DVD including the DVD trailers and the songs 'Cholly' and 'Party With Saddam':

The DVD is available for sale through the band's European management company Ter A Terre.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Birth of the NYC Ska Scene: Interview with Dave Barry of The Toasters

For all its amazing diversity of sound, the birth and success of the New York Ska scene was driven by a few key bands and talented musicians who through force of will and persistence, not to mention passion and energy helped to mold and launch a scene that took New York City and its surrounding environs by storm.  While The Toasters were the first ska band in New York City (following closely behind The Terrorists who played reggae in the late 1970's and early 1980's), other ska bands quickly followed in their path.  One of the unsung musicians who played a key role in almost all the important bands of the era was Dave Barry.

Barry, more than any other musician had the unique experience of playing with almost every notable band that came out of the NYC Ska scene of the mid 80's and early 90's. While Barry's main gig has been as the keyboardist for The Toasters for the last 20 years, by his own account he played with an early version of The Second Step (1986-89), Beat Brigade (1987-88 and 1989-91) as well as short stints with The NY Citizens, The Boilers and The A-Kings. This insider perspective makes him the perfect guide to provide a glimpse of the birth and maturation of one of the most important ska scenes in the U.S. 

Barry was kind enough to take time out to conduct an interview about being witness to the birth of the NYC Ska scene and his own memories of playing with many of the bands that went on to influence a generation of bands that came after them.

Did you grow up in New York City?
Sort of; Brooklyn born and bred. No better place to come from in my opinion. In Brooklyn, you had options.

When did you first get into music? When did you first start playing piano/organ?
I had no choice, really. My parents met as students at Manhattan School of Music. My mother a singer and my father a piano player. There was almost always a piano in my house. The few years that there wasn’t, my family was living in an apartment in 1970’s East Flatbush. During those years, the neighbor below us continuously blasted James Brown records for roughly 22 hours a day, so I was properly saturated with that stuff. It was also around that time that I was on Sesame Street and was lucky enough to be on with Stevie Wonder. I found some clips of that episode and realized that Ray Parker Jr. (Ghostbusters!) was playing guitar on that gig. So even when there was no piano around, I was still getting educated.

How did you get introduced to ska and reggae?
I guess my parents were fairly groovy. There was always music playing- I used to sleep with the radio on under my pillow. The Beatles, Ray Charles and The Band were in heavy rotation all my life, but when my mothers friend left that new Bob Marley record (Natty Dread, 1974) at my house, it was on.

How would you describe your approach to playing ska and reggae? The piano and organ can play such a key role in the sound of ska. Are you influenced by any particular pianists or organ players?
I want to say that I use the Bruce Lee “No Style” style, but I guess if I had to break it down, I have two opposing forces that I have to deal with; One- the keyboard is really just a big percussion instrument and there’s nothing better than locking it in with a great rhythm section, no matter what type of music you’re playing. Not being too obtrusive, but still adding to the bottom line in as cool a way as possible. Two- When I started playing with other people in high school- I figured I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let the guitar players of the world do all the grand-standing. A lot of them weren’t even that good...That philosophy led to an extremely busy style that has gotten me into quite a bit of trouble over the years. Once I learned to tame that urge to overplay, I was able to better hit my groove, both literally and figuratively.

As for influences- I don’t know if I can point out anybody in particular. I will say that in Junior high school, I would come home and put on The Stranger, by Billy Joel on the Turntable and just play along ‘till I got it right. I also liberated a Professor Longhair album from the music closet of my school that I learned a lot from. Before that, that movie The Sting was pretty big for a while, so I spent some time trying to learn Rag-Time stuff, which really helped to give me a fairly strong, independent Left hand, which also got me into trouble with Bass players at times.

All the other stuff just kind of seeps in, whether you're paying attention or not. I mentioned the Bob Marley album earlier- if memory serves, the keys on that album are not necessarily just playing the ska- there’s all sorts of wah pedaled clavinet going on, which can be traced back to Stevie Wonder and then back to Garth Hudson from the Band and then to 70’s TV themes and on to KC and The Sunshine Band.

How did Second Step get started? Where did you first meet your band mates?
There was zero ska scene in Brooklyn. My high school band mixed it up pretty well musically, but scene-wise? Nothing. A lot of rock bands for sure. We were sort of aware of the ska thing taking off in Manhattan because we picked up a flyer off the sidewalk with that famous ska image of Steve Hex standing with his back turned to the camera and we noticed a similarity in our styles of dress. I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but Sammy and Constant, the two lead singers in The Second Step came looking for me at a clothing shop I was working at in Brooklyn. Maybe Victor Axelrod (who I used to babysit a few years previous) sent them my way. Me and Matt Malles went down and got offered the job and things kind of took off from there. We had just missed playing on the Hit and Run compilation, but we did do some recording initially. I’m not sure what happened to that stuff. For a while, the rhythm section consisted of me, Matt Malles and our best friend/ high school band mate, Jamal Evans. I don’t think he stuck around that long, but for my money, that’s when some powerful shit was blasting out of CBGB’s onto the Bowery. We definitely threw some Brooklyn into it. I’m not a Jazz player in the least, but we did have this old-school Jazz-Guy mentality of having to try to blow away any other bands that were playing on the bill. Not in an obnoxious way, we were just really competitive. It wasn’t easy either, with 24/7 Spyz- Living Colour, The Good Guys out of Virginia on the same bill. Nothing like the guys from another band standing on the side of the stage giving you the eyeball to get you to try stupid things like playing your organ with Timbale sticks or attempting to play a keyboard behind your head like Jimi Hendrix.

You played in multiple bands in the late 80's right (Second Step, Beat Brigade and The Toasters). How were you able to swing all those shows and rehearsals?
HA! Yeah man- I recently found a little appointment book that I used back then. I was literally playing almost every night. That was the life for a twenty something though. No family, kids or crazy responsibilities. Pay your rent so you have somewhere to go after the show. That was pretty much it unless you also had a day job. I was a department manager at Urban Outfitters on Broadway and Houston for a while and I think a lot of the Beat Brigade managed to secure positions there as well. Anyone from around that time will remember Giant Studios on 14th street. I know for sure that Second Step and The Boilers had monthly rooms there, so that really simplified things logistically.

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.
I would definitely say it was tight-knit, meaning that it never got taken over or got too mainstream. It was also very incestuous (in a good way) everybody knew everybody else. As far as I knew, there wasn’t any kind of ugliness. Everybody was included. That’s why I was lucky enough to have played with all of these awesome folks. For instance, I remember being severely impressed when Second Step needed a drummer for a show at the Lizmar Lounge (?) and for some reason Keene, the singer from Urban Blight ended up playing drums that night.

Can you share any unusual stories about any live shows that were particularly memorable?
Just as I had mentioned previously- the timbale stick incident really happened. Without really thinking it through, I decided it would look really cool to follow the upcoming drum-roll on my organ with drum sticks. Dennis, the lighting guy at CBGB’s was this far-out Viet Nam vet who saw the keys flying in the air with each hit of the sticks, ran to my aid and I think we stopped the show for a moment or two while he tried to weld the broken keys together with his BIC lighter.

As someone who played in all of the key NYC ska bands you were afforded a unique opportunity to experience the scene from different perspectives. How would you describe the role and impact of each band on the scene?
Yeah, there was a very flat hierarchy in the beginning. The Toasters on top of course, but then everyone else below pretty much on the same level musically. The real difference was in style, and what influences you brought with you. From my point of view: The Boilers were the most Reggae- staying true to that style. The Beat Brigade brought a lot of The Clash/ Elvis Costello/ English Beat. The NY Citizens were kind of balls out Ramonesy/ Party on the Seventeenth Floor in your face. Second Step had, as I said before, a lot of Brooklyn in it and, without sounding too corny, a good helping of America in general (the country, not the band) to go with it. As we added horns, they brought their particular influences so all of a sudden there would be a Sonny Rollins quote or we would jump into a Second-Line/New Orleans thing for a bit or end a song with a big Gospel breakdown. To me- that was the beauty of the whole scene; An overall, distinct lack of fear. We did whatever we wanted, if you liked it, great- come to the next show and let’s see what happens.

This year marks your 20th year in The Toasters. How much has the US ska scene changed during that time? Was there a highpoint? A low point?
I don’t think I can say if it’s changed or not. I’m fairly removed from it, as my playing out has diminished from nightly to semi-monthly. I keep my toes in it by playing with the Toasters when they’re around here or if I’m able to go to visit Buck in Spain and do a record and some shows over there. One big difference is both cool and scary: While standing outside a venue with Buck, we noticed that we both had, by now, more in common with the parents who were dutifully dropping their kids off for the show. To me, even though we keep referring to it as a scene, it always seemed that the people at the ska shows had open minds and a desire, whether conscious or not, to not settle for whatever is current, or a style or sound that is forced upon them. In ska- you have options. The high points and low points are just personal moments really. I will say that the highs definitely outnumber the lows, though.

What do you do when your not playing ska?
I was lucky enough to fall into a career where I still get to make cool stuff. I’ve had a really amazing 14 years as a Designer/ Art Director. I’ve worked at World Wrestling Federation (Entertainment) and Marvel Comics designing ads, covers, logos and all sorts of other things.

What are your lasting memories of the NYC ska scene of the 80's?
Besides the fact that we all had cooler haircuts back then? I don’t know if this is a memory exactly, but I know that I’m damn lucky to have been part of it; I’m proud of what we did and all we accomplished. Even if for some reason it ends up being just a footnote in the grand scheme of musical history, I know that we certainly earned our spot .

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Roddy Byers Tells The Story Behind Rare Demos Recorded by The Specials in 1981

With the announcement that The Specials will be undertaking a second UK tour this November, there has been a lot of speculation about new songs that the band may add to their set-list. While the band has focused on giving fans what they want by playing their most popular songs, there is hope in some circles that they may perform some more off-beat tracks from their second album 'More Specials' or from their 'Too Much Too Young' EP.

To that end, Mondo De Muebles posted 3 rare demos that members of The Specials recorded in 1981 just as the band was coming apart at the seams. One is a muzak inspired version of '96 Tears' featuring Terry Hall on deadpan vocals. The other two tracks are fantastic dubbed out versions of 'Why?' featuring Lynval Golding on lead vocals and Neville Staple with a great chat along with great reggae dub echo and sound effects. I would venture to say this version is nearly as good as the recorded version we have all heard.

I spoke with Roddy 'Radiation' Byers of The Specials to get the inside story on these three demo recordings. According to Roddy: "Those three tracks were recorded by Terry, Lynval and Neville who went on to be the Fun Boy Three! I had recorded a song called 'Sweet Revenge' (a Skabilly song) with some of the guys and another track that went on to be 'Racist Friend' after the band split and was featured on The Special A.K.A. "In the studio" album which retained my guitar part even though I wasn't in the band anymore - i guess my playing was okay?"

Byers also mentioned a long lost song titled 'Sweet Revenge' that has never been heard. According to Byers, "Lynval has the original master which I've been trying to get a copy off him for twenty odd years -naughty swine! This song features the sax player who played on Jerry Rafferty's 'Baker Street'. He was jamming with Geno Washington's soul band in a pub up the road who we talked into playing on our session (cant remember his name?). I don't know the studio where Terry guys recorded, but the studio where my song and 'Racist Friend' were recorded was next to a funeral parlour in King Cross area on London."

Here is a video montage of the '96 Tears' demo version:

Below is a download link to the tracks. Thanks again to Mondo De Muebles for the link and great artwork.

The Specials - Rare Demos

Friday, June 12, 2009

An Intimate Conversation With Horace Panter of The Specials - Coventry Conversations Podcast

If you have not had a chance to buy and read Horace Panter's memoir 'Ska'd For Life', then I highly recommend that you pick up a copy. It is one of the better music biographys I have ever read. Like the man himself, the book is written with a lot of humor, an amazing memory, and an unusual lack of ego. Its fascinating to read Panter's insight on The Specials, particularly in light of their recent reunion. Like his band mate Neville Staple's new book 'Original Rude Boy', Panter has no problem busting band myths. In fact, his book is one of the few I can recall where the member of a successful band admits to frustration at playing a bad show.

However, the only thing better than a good read is a chance to actually hear the author live. Panter, fresh off the first leg of The Specials UK tour, recently spoke at the Coventry Conversations speakers series hosted by Coventry University. He discussed a variety of topics including, his thoughts moments before the curtain went up before the first reuion show, and, interestingly enough, his time as a special needs art teacher. The Guardian published a great article about Panter's last day as a teacher before he left to re-join The Specials reunion. He's called being a teacher "the second best job I ever had".

You can listen to the podcast in the player below or you can go directly to the Web site link. Make sure to turn the volume up on the podcast so you can hear the audience questions that Panter is answering. Enjoy!

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Horace Panter In Conversation

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Madness Live At Pinkpop 2009 - Band Garners Great Reviews For Show At 40th Edition of Europe's Longest Running Music Festival

Madness kicked off the summer concert festival season at Pinkpop in The Netherlands in late May. The festival which was headlined by Bruce Springsteen, The Killers and Snow Patrol was stolen by the Nutty Boys who were a fan favorite. The band previewed the set fans can expect to hear at Madstock later this summer. Pinkpop is a 3 day festival and is one of the largest and most well known music festivals in all of Europe and is visited by approximately 60,000 people a day with performances on 3 separate stages. The band played a nearly one hour long concert that featured a mix of old classics and new songs from 'The Liberty Of Norton Folgate'. The band had last performed at Pinkpop in 1981.

I found a translated review of the Madness performance from the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant:

Frontman Suggs of Madness showed some historical awareness as well. Unlike Springsteen, he spoke from his own experience. On Sunday, after the cracking openers 'One Step Beyond' and 'Embarrassment', the Madness frontman, clad in pink suit, said: 'Pinkpop! 1981 was the last time we played here, 247 years ago!'

Surprisingly, the best party to be had on Sunday was by Madness, in spite of some disappointing comebacks. Suddenly they were here again. The solid songs of their new album The Liberty of Norton Folgate settled in wonderfully between the string of celebratory ska hits from the eighties.

If we look back on Pinkpop’s golden jubilee, ten years from now, we will remember this: 2009 was the year of Springsteen and Madness. The other big acts on the poster were regulars (and thus lacking in character), or just not memorable enough.
Without Springsteen and Madness the jubilee edition would have been a weak one.

You can watch the entire Pinkpop set at the link below:

Madness Live At Pinkpop 31.5.09

You can download the entire set from the links below:

Madness Live At Pinkpop 31.5.09 Part 1
Madness Live At Pinkpop 31.5.09 Part 2
Madness Live At Pinkpop 31.5.09 Part 3
Madness Live At Pinkpop 31.5.09 Part 4

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Birth of the 1980's NYC Ska Scene - The Toasters Live @ The Cat Club In New York City 1986

As part of my continuing series of blog posts documenting the rise of the NYC ska scene of the mid-80's, I want to pay homage to The Toasters. The one man who could be credited with single-handedly jump-starting the NYC ska scene and helping to bring ska to America was UK-born Robert 'Bucket' Hingley. After moving to New York in the early 80s and finding a complete absence of the music he loved, he managed to put together his own band in 1981-82 and eventually start his own record label (Moon Ska Records which provided a launching pad for dozens of ska acts but went out of business in 2000). Initially, the band started out as a five-piece, with Hingley on guitar backed by bass, drums, keyboards, and percussion. In 1983, the band released their first single, and in 1985, they released a four-track EP produced by Joe Jackson. In 1986-87, with the addition of a three-piece horn section and two additional vocalists, The Toasters were at the center of a thriving ska scene of like-minded bands that quickly took the New York City club scene by storm.

Hingley conducted an interview with the Temple East Valley Tribune newspaper in Mesa, Arizona in November of 1998 during the height of the 3rd wave ska explosion in the U.S. He discussed The Toasters early days and the beginnings of the NY Ska scene and the role Moon Records was playing at that time in helping to build the American ska scene:

Temple East Valley Tribune: What brought you to the UK from New York?
Robert Hingley: " I was working for an outfit called Forbidden Planet who were in the business of comics and collectible toys, that kind of thing. I was working for them in London for a couple of years and then they sent me to New York to fire everybody and hire new staff. It was ostensibly to be six months, but I've been there for 18 years."

TEVT: So that was at the height of the second wave of ska with The Specials and English Beat, right?
RH: "It was 1980, just after ska had peaked in the UK, but it had made no splash over here."

TEVT: How difficult was it to put the Toasters together, given that ska really hadn't made much of an impact in America?
RH: "It was pretty hard. The hardest thing was to find people who I could get not to play on beat. I had to get some musicians and retrain them, like, "We're not going to play two and four, we're going to play one and three.' Just getting that across at the beginning was tough. Then, having put the band together, getting shows and recognition at all from the business was even harder."

TEVT: With you guys on the East Coast in the early 80's and The Untouchables and Fishbone on the West Coast, it seems like, at least at that time, the coasts had a little bit of ska going on.
RH: " The coasts are kind of the ports of entry for music and the more cosmopolitan cities in the U.S. tend to be on the periphery of it. It's kind of the reverse of throwing a stone in a pool - here stuff starts on the edge and gravitates towards the center as opposed to the other way around. It took the longest time to get to the heartland, but now even places like St. Louis and Phoenix have thriving ska scenes, so I guess something has been done right."

TEVT: Tell me about starting Moon Ska Records and what that's meant to ska music in the United States.
RH: "That was primarily because we got laughed out of every A&R office in New York with our first demo. Even though it was produced by Joe Jackson, it couldn't seem to raise an eyebrow. The thing that satisfies me now is that I still have my job and probably none of those people do."

I regularly attended NYC Ska shows held at CBGB's, the Cat Club and The Continental in 1987-88 and The Toasters line-up that I saw at the time was among the best in the band's history. Though I missed 2-Tone in the UK, the NYC Ska scene of the mid-80's had a similar energy and unity about it. There were multiple bands on the bill of sold-out shows and there was a camaraderie among the bands and the crowd that was unlike any I had ever experienced since. Seeing those early shows have stayed with me to this day and were the driving force behind the creation of my own band which was soon to become a part of the larger NYC Ska scene.

Its one thing for me to write about seeing The Toasters in the mid-80's and another for you to experience it for yourself. Below are two very rare live video clips from The Toasters performing at the Cat Club in New York City in 1986. The band had been together 3 years at this point but was in transition. The original core of the band that Hingley had recruited from the Forbidden Planet comic book store was still in place, but the addition of the Unity 2 (Sean 'Cavo' Dinsmore and Lionel Bernard) as additional vocalists had taken the band to a whole new level and their live shows rivaled any band peforming at the time. Interestingly, this show features the original bassist Vicky Rose as a vocalist and may have been her last show with the band.

The clips feature the classic line-up:
Rob "Bucket" Hingley - guitar/vox
The Unity 2: Sean "Cavo" Dinsmore & Lionel "Nene" Bernard - vox
Vicki Rose - vox
Brian Emerich - bass
Steve "Hex" LaForge - keyboards
Gary Eye - percussion
Danny Johnson - drums
Greg Grinnell - trumpet
Marcel Reginatto - alto sax
John Dugan - tenor sax.

Pool Shark:

Little Hidden Secrets:

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Return Of The Selecter - New Track To Celebrate 30th Anniversary of The Selecter Available For Free Download

Somewhat forgotten in all the excitement around The Specials recent UK reunion tour and the new Madness album is that 2009 also marks the 30th anniversary of The Selecter. The birth of 2-Tone on March 30, 1979 was marked by the release of a split single. On one side was 'Gangsters' by The Special AKA. On the other side was was an eerier rocksteady instrumental entitled 'The Selecter'. The song has always been a personal favorite of mine and still sounds as fresh and exciting today as it did when it was first recorded. In fact, according to a recent interview Neol Davies conducted with Rockers Revolt, it also remains one of his favorites as well. Interstingly, he sees the sound of the track as a blueprint for many of the songs written and recorded for the 'Celebrate The Bullet' LP. Have a listen to 'Celebrate The Bullet' or 'Washed Up And Left For Dead' and you can hear the similarities in tone and vibe.

According to the great Web site: The Selecter began life not as a band but as an instrumental track titled 'The Kingston Affair', which was then later re-named 'The Selecter'. Coventry musicians Neol Davis, John Bradbury and Barry Jones recorded the track in 1977, and it was to remain under wraps until 1979 when it would appear on the flip side of Gangsters. The Special AKA had used the entire recording budget (said to be £700) for Gangsters and were in need of a track for the records b-side. John Bradbury, by this stage drummer for The Special AKA, mentioned a track, which he had recorded a few years previously. The laid back rocksteady sound of 'The Selecter' proved an ideal partner for 'Gangsters' and was released complete with is on unique catalogue number, TT2. This move also earned Bradbury the accolade of being the only person to play on both sides of both the first and the last 2 Tone single releases (JB All-stars 'Alphabet Army'); and on top of that, it also means that he recorded for the label under 3 different guises.

While The Selecter do not appear to planning a reunion or shows to officially mark their 30th anniversary, Neol Davies has recorded and released a new track titled 'Return Of The Selecter' which is available as a free download. Davies posted the following on his Web site: A warm welcome to you and thank you for supporting the music. this year marks the 30th anniversary of the first 2tone records single release 'gangsters vs the selecter' and to mark this occasion I have recorded a new instrumental..... 'return of the selecter' the style of the original track. Produced by Kevin Harrison for Isotope Productions - this brand new recording is free to download throughout the month of April 2009 - I hope you like it ! The new song retains the mysterious and atmospheric vibe of the original with a similarly haunting trombone melody and killer rocksteady bass line. As a quick footnote, Kevin Harrison was a member of Davies' pre-Selecter band Transposed Men.

Davies recently conducted an interview published in the Coventry Telegraph with 2-Tone music historian and columnist Pete Chambers about the history of the original song and the genesis of the new song. You can read the whole article and interview from The Coventry Telegraph with Neol Davies.

Pete Chambers: So how did the original 'The Selecter' song come about?
Neol Davies: I had a tune, Roger Lomas had a studio. Brad said: ‘let’s make our own single'. We took our time making it because we were making it up as we went! We were influenced by reggae and the punk idea of DIY recording and ended up with a quirky instrumental that nobody in the music business wanted to release. Some time later (it was recorded between December 1977 and January 1978) Jerry Dammers and The Specials invited me to release the track as a double A side to their song 'Gangsters', an idea which did not take long for me to consider. The experience of selling so many records, so quickly was life changing to say the least. I am very proud to have been part of the first 2-Tone record and 2-Tone itself.

PC: Obviously this new song is being released because of the 30th anniversary, but how long has this idea been germinating?
ND: About 30 years!! Seriously, I thought of recording and releasing it about three weeks ago. I composed the melody previously but I’ve not recorded it until now. I wanted to follow the original track’s feel and update it at the same time and it felt like the perfect time to mark this milestone anniversary.

PC: Who’s playing on it and where was it recorded?
ND: It’s produced and recorded by Kevin Harrison at his DNA studio. I play guitar and bass, the trombone is played by Steve Holdway. A big thank you to both Kevin and Steve for their considerable talents. We used some drum samples that I had recorded on my vintage Slingerland drumkit from a few years ago, sliced and diced them into a Selecter beat and had a lot of fun during the making of it, just as I did when making the original track.

PC: When is it released, and how do we get hold of it?
ND: It’s free to download right now from it’s a musical “thank you” to all the fans of 2-Tone music. The very fact that the 30th anniversary is being acknowledged demonstrates that people still love the music. If there is enough demand, I will release a CD and vinyl version.

PC: There has been various rumours about the Selecter reforming, can you shed any light?
ND: It could happen but when and how is still to be arranged. The more support we get, the more likely it will be. There is a good feeling among the former band members these days which is what’s needed to make music so we’re in the right direction.

PC: Finally how do you feel about the Selecter getting a star on the Coventry Walk of Fame?
ND: I am very happy that The Selecter be given this accolade. We weren’t a band with the usual showbiz connections or university backgrounds that push some bands into the limelight, and I feel we achieved a huge amount from our own combined efforts in a very short time, under too much pressure! On behalf of everyone from the band that was The Selecter, thank you.

The free download of 'Return Of The Selecter' is available at the link below: