Friday, December 31, 2010

Glory Daze TV Show Features The Music Of The English Beat/General Public

Glory Daze is a relatively new television show broadcast here in the U.S. on the TBS cable network. Set in 1986, it centers on a group of four college freshman and their misadventures trying to navigate college life.  The show seems to be a pastiche of every 80's movie you have ever seen, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

While the show has received mostly mixed reviews since airing in November, I have been impressed with the quality of 80's music incorporated into each episode of the program. Indeed, the episode broadcast last week titled 'I Ram (So Far Away)' centers on the four main characters trying to get tickets to see a concert by General Public. It features five classic songs by both The English Beat and General Public including:

Tenderness - General Public
Best Friend - English Beat
Never You Done That - General Public
Mirror In The Bathroom - English Beat
Save It For Later - English Beat

I also noticed that the DJ featured in the beginning of the episode is none other than Richard Blade, a popular Los Angeles radio, television, and film personality originally from Torquay, England. He is best known as a host on KROQ-FM in Los Angeles and for his current gig hosting a New Wave show on Sirius XM Satellite Radio.

You can watch the English Bear/General Public episode at the link below:

Glory Daze - I Ram So Far Away

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Interview With Joyce Rooks of Trowsers - Early 80's San Diego-based Band Perform Eclectic Take On Ska & Reggae

As part of my ongoing quest to document the origins of the American ska scene of the early and mid-80's, I am profiling key bands and musicians who served as trailblazers in giving birth to ska scenes all over the U.S. These early local scenes would later knit together an American ska scene that would nurture and support early touring bands like The Toasters, Bim Skala Bim, The Untouchables and Fishbone. While Los Angeles was certainly a key ska capital of the U.S.. its neighbors to the north in San Francisco (home to The Hoovers) and to the south in San Diego deserve honorable mention in the development of ska music in the U.S.

San Diego in particular has always supported a diverse music scene including rock, punk, ska and reggae bands. One band in particular was Trowsers who featured San Diego music mainstay Joyce Rooks. With Rooks on the guitar and vocals and her co-vocalist Y-Lee, Trowsers created an upbeat, unique and lively sound fusing reggae, ska, elements of dub, afro-pop and a unique sense of humor and anti-establishment politics that endeared them to audiences across Southern California. The band was most notable for the contrast between Rooks soulful vocals and the almost indescribable and unmistakable vocals of Y-Lee (who sounds like a cross between Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys and Dicky Barrett of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones) on a variety of short and longer songs that in some cases are like nothing you've ever heard before. The band were so hot at one point that they drew the attention of both Los Angeles music impresario Kim Fowley (who discovered The Runaways) and Stiff Records honcho Jake Riviera.

Trowsers began life in 1979 as The Ballistics, when Lee took a trip to Kingston, Jamaica to record a few early songs with local Jamaican musicians including 'Rolling With A Feeling' (making it a true American reggae musical artifact) and where he soaked up the sound of reggae which is clearly evident on the band's later recordings. The band recorded 2 albums worth of songs including 'Drop 'Em' which features Rooks contributions on guitar and vocals that was released in 1983 and 'Solitary Confinement' released in 1984 which was collection of unreleased songs including several 8-track recordings from 1982 and 1983. Despite their decidedly punk rock look (check out the art work for their albums below!) take a listen to 'Rolling With A Feeling' below which ranks with any of the best reggae I have heard.  The song 'Kraken Up' captures the band's ska and reggae sound and sense of humor and also highlights the fantastic interplay and the contrast between between Rooks and Y-Lee's vocals and personalities.

I was very lucky to be able to connect with Trowsers singer/guitarist Joyce Rooks who shared her musical memories of growing up in San Diego and her experiences performing with the band.  Below is an interview with Rooks who is a San Diego music icon.

Where did you grow up and what bands or music influenced you the most? What was the first record or single that you ever bought?
I was born in Baltimore and my parents moved to California when I was 2. We lived in San Diego and Long Beach because my dad was in the Navy. We moved to L.A.when I was seven so I pretty much grew up there with the influence of nearby Hollywood. My earliest memories of music were Top 40 radio played by my dad and jazz from my mom. Neither one of them was a musician but we always had music at home of all genres. My mother bought me Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf and Tchiakovsky's Sleeping Beauty. The first record I bought with my own money was "Don't Mess With Bill" by the Marvelettes. It was a competition between me and a friend who could get the record first. L.A. had great radio stations in the 60's so we heard everything. My mom played the jazz station but my dad would play Top 40 which was nothing like today. We heard the Supremes, Beatles, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, James Brown and even Johnny Cash.

You played the cello starting at age 12 right?
I began playing in junior high school orchestra. I wanted to play violin but they ran out of instruments so the teacher handed me a cello. Once I held it I wasn't disappointed long I just wanted to play an instrument of any kind.

When did you decide you wanted to be a singer and guitar player?
I always sang at home to records and the radio but never considered myself a great singer. My mother would play records of all kinds of singers, Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Billy Ekstein and so many more. We weren't church people so that wasn't so much influence but when we would visit my grandmother in Baltimore she would play gospel radio in Sunday mornings, never going to church. I started playing guitar in high school because everybody played guitar and it was easier to carry around than my cello and I wanted to learn rock and roll riffs.

What happened at age 18 that made you decide to explore the world of punk?
Actually, punk rock came a few years later for me, I was 23 when I joined The Cockpits (see picture above). I loved the DIY ethic of punk and that you didn't have to be Jimmy Page on guitar, not that there is anything wrong with that, and that it was open to girls and guys. So much of rock and roll was macho posturing (which I loved but could not participate in). Up until that time there were not many women in rock music. Janis Joplin, Grace Slick. Joni Mitchell played guitar with guys. Punk at the time wasn't limited to one sound. There were all kinds of punk.

What was the San Diego music scene of the late 70's and early 80's like?
It was fun and somewhat dangerous at the beginning. San Diego is a lovely but very conformist kind of city. It is home to the Navy and Marines and the military industrial complex. This makes for a politically conservative town. When the police would get word of young people in leather and strange clothes playing loud music or just hanging out, these gatherings must be crushed and many times they were. Shows would be held where ever space could be rented this included the North Park Lion's club. Through it all I saw some amazing shows with bands at the very beginnings of their careers.

Tell me about your experiences in San Diego punk band's The Cockpits and The Dinettes?
I answered an ad in the San Diego Reader, guitarist wanted for all girl punk band the Cockpits. It was a dream come true because I had an electric guitar and an amp. I was ready to play. Our first gig was at Porter's Pub on the University of California San Diego campus. We opened for L.A. punk band The Alleycats. The Dinettes came later after some personnel changes. The Dinettes had a lot of potential but succumbed to all the classic rock and roll cliches.

Were you a fan of ska an reggae before you joined Trowsers?
The first reggae record I heard was the soundtrack to 'The Harder They Come'. It was very different music to me. I knew Millie Small because 'My Boy Lollipop' was a hit when I was a kid. I didn't know that it was called ska.

How did you end up joining Trowsers?
I was heart broken to have to leave The Dinettes but I couldn't deal with the manager we had any longer. John Hildebrand, who owned Accusound Studio in San Diego recommended me for backing vocals on a recording Y-Lee made in Jamaica.

For those who may not be familiar with the band can you tell us a bit about how the band was formed and who some of the members were?
The band was already formed when I joined them. There was always a problem of finding a guitarist that could play the reggae groove. When I joined the band there was Bo on sax, Stynk on drums, and Y-lee on bass. Y-Lee showed me how to play skanking rhythm guitar and I sang. Eventually we got Jody on lead guitar. He was really good and had played with Captain Beefheart. He had a crazy kind of country jazz blues style.

How would you describe the sound of the band?
Funky and loose, a party band with social consciousness.

How did you and the band's other singer Y-Lee work together?
I did not have a brother but if I did it would probably be like that. The kind of brother that picks on you and teaches you things at the same time. You want to punch him but have respect at the same time. I would say that it toughened me up. The music business is a man's world but I got to hang out with the guys.

Can you share any unusual stories about any live shows that were particularly memorable during the early days of the band?
We had a regular gig at the Zebra Club in downtown San Diego, this was in the years before downtown became the gentrified thing it is today. Denny Bruce (future Beat Farmers manager) and Kim Fowley showed up in the backstage area during our break. They came to see us several times even bringing Jake Riviera of Stiff Records. This was at the height of 2-Tone. They all liked the band, but Y-lee was ever the contrarian (for good reason) when it came to dealing with industry people. Things never quite panned out with record labels.

Tell me about recording the rare 45-rpm single, 'Color TV Reality' and two albums'Solitary Confinement' and 'Drop 'Em'?
'Color TV Reality' backed with 'You' was the first single that I recorded with Trowsers. It was the first time that I'd ever met Y-Lee. He recorded the songs in Jamaica and brought the tracks back to the States to add vocals and for mastering. Both songs have a rootsy feel since he used Jamaican musicians. I played and sang on "Drop Em" but I was out of the band when "Solitary Confinement" was made but ended up on a couple of tracks, one of them which I wrote.

Why did you leave the band?
The first time I got fed up with Y-Lee's antics and we had an argument over a gig payment. The second time, life was changing. I was working at Tower Records and would eventually move to L.A. to work for Capitol/EMI. Y-Lee moved to Hawaii and later to Thailand where he's been for many years. We are in contact.

What are your lasting memories of performing with Trowsers?
We had a lot of dangerous fun and I won't elaborate on that. I learned not only about reggae but African music too. Y-Lee introduced me to Fela Kuti.

What are you up to musically these days?
I've mostly been playing cello for the last twenty years but recently have been dabbling with my guitar again for song writing and recording. I recorded a one-side red vinyl 7" single in 1983 on Blues Economique. 'Top Secrets' is the only piece of music of mine that was ever released. I've mostly played cello or sang on many different albums by a lot of artists. More recently I had been playing cello with David J (Bauhaus, Love & Rockets) recording and touring. I am currently playing in a more experimental project called Nicey Nice World. I'm playing cello with electronics and singing. I am joined by Marcelo Radulovich (The Playground Slap, Me Me the Moth) and James Call ( The Penetrators). We are having a good time and will release some things but I want to start releasing my own music and perform to support it.

Visit Rooks web site for more information about her and her current musical projects. Below are download links for both albums by Trowsers which are long out-of-print and a great missing link to the sound of American ska that was bubbling up all over the U.S. in the late 70's and early 80's.  Thanks to Tone & Wave blog for the links and the initial tip about Trowsers.

The Trowsers - Drop Em'

The Trowsers - Solitary Confinement

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Smiths Go 2-Tone! - Hear A Ska/Reggae Demo Version Of 'Girlfriend In A Coma' From 1987

Ever wondered what Morrissey and The Smiths might have sounded like if they embraced a 2-Tone ska and reggae sound? Well guess no longer! According to 80's blog/web site Slicing Up Eyeballs, the vaguely reggae demo take on the well-known track was recorded in 1987 and is included with 16 other unreleased studio outtakes taken from a 2 LP bootleg set called 'Unreleased Demos & Instrumentals', which a fan ripped and posted to the forums.  Before you expect a full-on reggae sound, let me say that the track sounds much like the well-known released version with Johnny Marr playing a bit of upstroke, slightly reggae guitar.

Despite once being quoted as saying 'Reggae is vile.' in the NME in the 80's, Morrissey signed a deal with the one-time reggae Attack Records label in 2003 as part of his comeback. The label famously released records by The Pioneers, Gregory Isaacs and The Upsetters in the 1970s, and was once a part of the legendary Trojan Records family.

Despite his gibe about reggae, Morrisey picked a ska track - 'Swan Lake' by The Cats - when he curated a compilation of music for a series devoted to famous artists' influences. Commenting on his choice, he told the music magazine Word: "I once said, 'Reggae is vile,' did I? Well, several tongue-in-cheek things were said in those days, which, when placed in cold print, lost their humorous quality. This track, along with Double Barrel and Young, Gifted and Black, were staple teenage necessities to me."

The Smiths, 'Girlfriend In A Coma' (Unreleased 1987 demo)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Marco On The Bass Takes A Look Back At The Year In Ska 2010

While 2010 was a stressful year for most people (continued job losses, mounting unemployment rates, continued home foreclosures) it's going to be very hard to top when it comes to ska. There was an unbelievable cornucopia of 2-Tone era band reunions, tours, shows, books, media coverage and new albums and music to enjoy. In fact, the amount of ska related developments came so fast and furious at times, it was hard to keep up because there was so much to write about. So in that time honored tradition of looking back at the year that was, here is my top 10 Marco On The Bass ska highlights countdown of 2010 as well as my list of the best ska/reggae bands of the year.

10. 2-Tone Central Museum Launched
Long a dream of 2-Tone fans everywhere, Coventry music historian and music journalist Pete Chambers was instrumental in helping create and curate 2-Tone Central, a museum dedicated to the history of 2-Tone and its impact on the world of music. The museum is multi-faceted and includes exhibits, a cafe and a stage that will feature regular performances of ska and reggae. Opening night in Coventry this past October included members of The Specials, The Selecter and The Beat.  Have a look below:

9. Books, books and more books about ska!
Was it me or were there more and more books about ska and ska bands available to read in 2010? Some of my favorites included 'Ska: An Oral History' by Heather Augustyn and 'House Of Fun - The Story Of Madness' by John Read.  I was also a fan and regular reader of Horace Panter's blog 'Summer Fun With The Specials' posted on The Specials web site that chronicled the band's summer tour of European Festivals and picked up where Panter's excellent read 'Ska'd For Life' left off.   In this year of The Specials I also read Neville Staple's memoir 'Original Rude Boy: From Borstal To The Specials' which was his recollection of life growing up in Coventry and detailed the Black British experience and Paul 'Willo' Williams comprehensive history of the band 'You're Wondering Now: The Specials: From Conception To Reunion' which quickly became the bible for all fans of the band and provided an insiders view of the band's reunion in 2009.

8. The Selecter vs. The Selecter!?
2010 marked the 30th anniversary of the release of The Selecter's iconic 'Too Much Pressure' album. It also saw the emergence of two competing versions of the band led separately by vocalist Pauline Black on one side and lead guitarist Neol Davies on the other.  Though the reality of two version of The Selecter is intriguing, its a shame that the original members remain unable to patch up their differences and come together to properly honor their legacy.  I suppose two bands called The Selecter is better than the alternative....(watch video of each band below).

7. This Is England '86 TV Series
Shane Meadows' award winning 'This Is England' film about a band of young skinheads in the north of England, was turned into a successful 4-part TV series titled 'This Is England '86' on Channel 4 in the U.K in 2010. Picking up 3 years after the end of the film, the series was an immediate hit when it aired in September. Based on the popularity of the series and critical reviews, Channel 4 has just commissioned 'This Is England '90'. Watch the promo below.  The DVD for the series was just recently released on in the U.K.

6. 'Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone' Documentary Released
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 and one of the best American bands of all time.  I was lucky enough to be able to see a preview of the documentary when it was screened during the CMJ Music Marathon & Film Festival in New York City this past October and to interview the film makers who produced it.  The warts and all film traces the history of the band from their early days as high school friends who start a band, blow up big, attempt to conquer the musical world and then run into musical racism, fight with one another, lose members, replace members, continue to carry on and influence a generation of musicians and bands in the process. It's a must see. Watch a clip below:

5. UB40 'Signing Off' 30th Anniversary Tour
UB40 marked the 30th anniversary of the release of their first album 'Signing Off' with a U.K. tour where they performed the record in its entirety. I was lucky enough to catch the band during a short 2-week tour of the U.S. this past October where they previewed tracks from the album and was astounded at how great the band sounded. Heralded as a landmark when it was released in late August 1980, 'Signing Off' chronicled the times, and wider social and political issues, as well as the plight of inner cities like Birmingham throughout the UK during the early Thatcher years. The album went on to attain Platinum status after spending 71 weeks in the UK charts, peaking at number two, featuring hit singles 'King', 'Food For Thought' and 'I Think It’s Going to Rain Today'.

4. London International Ska Festival Announced for 2011
Though still a few months away, the announcement of the 2011 London International Ska Festival during the summer of 2010, immediately captured the attention and imagination of ska fans the world over.  The festival is the brainchild of Sean Flowerdew (who has performed with The Loafers, Special Beat and Pama International) and is a follow-up to the first London ska festival that he organized and promoted in 1988 at the Brixton Fridge.  The four day festival will take over the Clapham Grand Theatre in London from April 21st to 24th, 2011 and will feature a list of headliners that includes Ken Boothe, The English Beat featuring Dave Wakeling, Dave & Ansell Collins, Bob & Marcia, James Hunter, The Ska Flames and The Dub Pistols and many others.

3. American Ska/Reggae Bands Of The 80's Make A Comeback in 2010
2010 was also the year that a number of iconic American ska bands hit the comeback trail including my personal favorites Boston's Bim Skala Bim (who played a 4-date mini tour of New England in August and will be traveling to London for the London International Ska Festival in April),  Chicago's Heavy Manners who played shows around their hometown and released a series of never before heard tracks they recorded in the 80's with Peter Tosh.  Blue Riddim Band (American reggae pioneers from Kansas City) returned to action for the first time in 25 years in 2010 with a stirring collection of songs that honor the artists and songs that have influenced them throughout their nearly four decade career that includes a 1986 Grammy nomination for best reggae album. Finally, I'm happy to report that the surviving members of The X-Streams, an incredibly talented but overlooked 2-Tone era American ska band from Phoenix, Arizona, have finally made some amazing unreleased demo tracks they recorded in Los Angeles in 1980 with noted Warner Brothers producer Paul Wexler (son of Jerry Wexler) available for all to hear.

2. 'N.Y. Beat: Hit & Run' 25th Anniversary Reunion
One of the high points of the year was a reunion this past April to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release of one of the very first American ska compilations. NY Beat: Hit and Run' was the very first compilation of U.S. ska ever. Released by Moon Records in 1985-86, it captures a snapshot in time of a vibrant New York ska scene that was notable for its musicianship but also its cultural diversity and its relative youth (average age 17-20 years old). While the music on the record is more influenced by the British 2-Tone movement than the later bands that would drive the third-wave revival, its a diverse mix of ska, reggae, pop, punk, funk, rock and soul. Artists include A-Kings, Beat Brigade, The Boilers, City Beat, Cryin' Out Loud, The Daybreakers, Floorkiss, The Press, The Scene, Second Step, The Toasters and Urban Blight. Amazingly, many of the musicians who started and played in these bands are still actively playing and performing.  The reunion came about as a result of profiles and interviews I posted during 2009 and 2010 about bands and musicians who were part of the 1980's NYC ska scene. As I met and spoke with more and more musicians who played in the bands featured on the N.Y. Beat! compilation, they were excited about the idea of coming together to celebrate the social and musical movement they collectively created.  It was a memorable night!

1. The Specials return to New York City For The First Time In 29 Years!
It took nearly 30 years, but it was well worth the wait! That seemed to be the prevailing sentiment of most everyone I spoke with who saw The Specials perform at Terminal 5 in New York City over 2 nights in April. The shows had a magnetic effect on drawing anyone and everyone who has been a part of the New York Ska scene over the last 25 years as well as large contingent of young fans who had not even been born by the time the band had broken up in 1981. There was a real buzz and excitement throughout the crowd and the energy never let up for the nearly 90 minutes the band played. The feeling must have been mutual as the band played a second encore! Here's to hoping the band make it back to the Big Apple one last time now that they have announced their last this tour in 2011. Watch the band rip through 'It's Up To You' and 'Monkey Man' from the first New York Show:

Marco On The Bass: Best Bands/Music Of 2010

1. Madness - The Nutty Boys wrapped up 2010 with a sold out 'Do Not Adjust Your Nut' tour of the U.K. performing new songs that should feature on a new album they plan to release in 2011. You can download 13 free mp3's of tracks the band played on their most recent tour.

2. The Specials - Continued to hone their live show with a series of shows around the world in 2010.  Despite their on again, off again announcements that they would record new material (they won't be), the band may be one of the best live acts performing today. Check out the live DVD the band released of their 30th Anniversary tour available on

3. King Hammond - Released not one, but two CD's worth of some of the best ska/pop/skinhead reggae you will ever hear. Nick Welsh, who cut his teeth in Bad Manners and later The Selecter, may be one of best pure ska-pop songwriters you will ever hear.  Read the MOTB interview with the King himself.

4. Kid British - Raised their profile and positioned themselves as one of the U.K. up and coming ska-influenced bands with a support slot on UB40's 'Signing Off' U.K. tour and recorded a number of ska influenced covers of great tracks including Thin Lizzy's 'The Boys Are Back In Town' and New Order's 'Blue Monday'. 

5. The Caroloregians - Belgium's finest finally made it to the U.S. where they showed why they are one of the best ska bands recording and performing right now.  Check out video of their performance from the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn this past summer:

6. Green Room Rockers - Lafayette, Indiana's very own Green Room Rockers (GRR) have just released a new self-titled album and with it they are making their case to be one of the brightest American ska bands on the scene. The record, which is the follow-up to their 2007 debut 'Hoosier Homegrown' was produced by Dave Hillyard of The Slackers, which adds to its bona fides.

7. Mos Dub - Following hot on the heels of the fantastic and inventive 'MJ A Rocker' mix by The Drastics in the Summer of 2009, comes 'Mos Dub', a wildly creative and highly addictive mix of classic reggae tracks re-imagined by the remix artist Max Tannone. Where The Drastics recorded faithful rocksteady reggae studio versions of Michael Jackson's well known songs before dropping his original vocals on top, Tannone has matched the acapella vocals of hip-hop artist Mos Def to classic dub and roots reggae classics. The result may be one of the best reggae recordings of 2010. Read the MOTB with Tannone.

8. UB40 - Kept things interesting for their old and new fans alike by releasing 'Labour Of Love 4' and an amazing re-issue of 'Signing Off' to celebrate its 30th anniversary in the same calendar year.  The band undertook a tour of the U.S. followed by a sold out ''Signing Off'' tour of the U.K.  I saw the band play at BB King's in New York City in October and I am happy to report that their new lead singer Duncan Campbell is just as good, if not better than his brother Ali who he replaced in 2008.  Read an interview I did with band trumpet player Laurence Parry and watch video I recorded of the band performing 'Little By Little' from 'Signing Off':

9. The Forthrights - This 4-piece of early 20-somethings from Brooklyn, NY have quickly become a force to be reckoned with on the American ska scene. They seem committed to making music a career having embarked on a number of long tours (supporting Vic Ruggiero and Chris Murray) around the U.S. where they have built up their live chops and a growing national fan base. The band has wisely worked with both King Django and members of The Slackers in the studio and have clearly soaked up the lessons these talented musicians and producers have shared with them. Check out their video for 'Other People' below:

10. SupaJamma - Former Audioweb frontman Martin 'Sugar' Merchant has a new band that takes off where his original band left off mixing reggae with rock for something exciting and unique. Read my review with Merchant and check out video of his new band below:

Friday, December 24, 2010

Marco On The Bass & Duff Guide To Ska Host 'NYC Ska Music Party' at Dusk Lounge on December 29th: Say Farewell to 2010 and Welcome In 2011!

While 2010 will likely be a year that many of us will be happy to see go into the books, it was also a high point for all things ska related. There were more new ska album releases then you could shake a stick at, as well as reunion shows and tours, album reissues, books and more that helped keep ska fans the world over, happy, and helped to take the sting off the economic recession which continued to batter world economies.

To that end, my fellow Big Apple ska blogger Duff Guide To Ska (Steve Shafer) and I are joining forces to throw an NYC Ska Music Party on Wednesday December 29th at Dusk Lounge in New York City (site of the NY Beat: Hit & Run 25th Anniversary Party earlier this year). Come out to enjoy the best in 60's ska, 2-Tone, reggae, rocksteady, skinhead reggae and soul courtesy of DJ Duff Guy and the Fat Albert Sound System.  You will also enjoy great conversation courtesy of other ska fans and plenty of drink specials (courtesy of barkeep and former A-King bassist Sid Reitzfeld) and there might be a giveaway or two!  Join us to remember the year in ska that was 2010 and get ready to ring in 2011!

Dusk Lounge is located at 147 West 24th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues in New York City and the phone number is 212-924-4490.  More information and details are available on the Facebook invitation.  Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Interview with Martin 'Sugar' Merchant of Audioweb/SupaJamma

It's no surprise that Manchester gave birth to Audioweb and Martin 'Sugar' Merchant, their English-born Jamaican lead singer. The city has always had a history of developing artists and musical trends that have taken the U.K and the rest of the world by storm. The list of innovative and influential bands calling the city home includes 10cc, The Fall, Buzzcocks, Joy Division/New Order and The Smiths.  During the early 1990's, Manchester gave rise to The Stone Roses, The La's and Happy Mondays who were all influential in their own ways. The city was also home to The Hacienda which rivaled Studio 54 here in New York in its heyday, as the center of Manchester's music scene. It was at the Hacienda that Merchant,who had honed his vocal skills as a reggae DJ and front man for the Saxon Sound System,  first met the other members of Audioweb (who were initially called The Sugar Merchants after their lead singers nickname).

My first introduction to Audioweb came when I borrowed the soundtrack to the 1999 movie 'Brokedown Palace' from a friend.  I was immediately captivated by the song 'Policeman Skank (the story of my life)' which featured on the CD soundtrack.  The song mixed ringing indie rock guitars with a dubby reggae bass line and what sounded like two vocalists -- one a singer with a melodic and captivating voice and the other a rough and ready Jamaican DJ.  The combination was like nothing I had ever heard and I played the song incessantly.  Only much later did I learn that Merchant was actually alternating between singing and toasting known as singjaying (which is a Jamaican style of reggae vocals combining toasting and singing that encourages rhythmically compelling and texturally impressive vocal embellishments).

Merchant and his Sugar Merchant band mates were a very forward thinking bunch deciding to combine the indie rock guitar sound of 'Brit Pop' then sweeping the U.K. with straight-up reggae bass lines and Jamaican-influenced vocals. The band signed to Elektra in 1991, but after a period of four years (and only a dozen concerts) the label dropped them. Using the time to re-tool and re-focus, the band re-emerged as Audioweb recording a demo with 3 tracks, including the song 'Sleeper', which got them signed to U2's Mother Records before they even played one show! While their unique combination of rock, dub, soul, reggae and dance sounds quickly garnered significant media attention, the band and its sound was clearly way ahead of its time.  Indeed, the British music media seemed to be confused by the band and unable to pigeonhole their sound (what I would deem Fishbone-syndrome) tended to overlook them.

Despite the release of a rousing cover version of The Clash's 'Bankrobber' (which was blessed by Joe Strummer) and the classic 'Policeman Skank' (which both scored the band top 20 UK hits) as well as support slots with U2 and Madness, the band struggled to get the support and recognition it deserved despite two albums worth of melodic and hit-worthy songs and parted ways in 1999. (If you want more information about the band and its history, there is a great fan-generated web site called Republic Of Audioweb.  I highly recommend it).

I've always believed that Audioweb were poised to be the band that would pick up the torch for U.K. band's like The Equals in the 60's and Basement 5 in the 70's who took reggae and mixed it with pop and punk. I also believe musical racism prevented Audioweb from reaching its full potential as they had to struggle against the prevailing conventional wisdom that reggae should be played by reggae bands and rock should be played by rock bands and never the twain shall meet.  Indeed, the idea of a rock band fronted by a black man seemed to confuse people even in the 90's! Even when Merchant and the band performed full on melodic songs that fit the sound of the day, they were overlooked by the UK music media and radio.  This was a travesty and likely led to the break-up of the band in 1999 after releasing their second album 'Fireworks City'.  For me and their many fans it was potential gone unfulfilled. For a sense of the band's powerful live show check out 'Personal Feeling' from a 1998 show. It has all the elements for a hit song - loud guitars, soaring vocals and a hook.

I'm happy to report that after taking some time off, Merchant is back with a new band -- SupaJamma -- who have picked up where Audioweb left off and have recently released a new mini-album worth of heavy rock meets reggae.  I had the honor to connect with Merchant recently, who shared his thoughts on growing up in Manchester, as well as his memories of performing with Audioweb and his new band.

What was like for you growing up in Manchester in the late 70's and early 80's? How did that effect you musically?
In the 70's and 80's my roots was reggae. I went to the local youth club where all the sound systems would play the latest reggae from Jamaica and England. In the 80's I was into a bit of soul and funk and later into the 2-Tone stuff like The Beat, Madness and The Specials.

What music did you hear in your home when you were growing up?
When I was growing up my Dad had loads of blues parties, so mostly reggae was played. But on Sunday morning, my Dad would play Jim Reeves and Pat Boone along with reggae. If you had a party in your house you had to play the reggae hits.

Do you remember the first record you ever bought?
I think my Mum got me Desmond Dekker's 'You Can Get It If You Really Want It'.

Manchester is famous for its incredible musical diversity. How did that influence you as a musician and an artist?
Well I loved 60's music like Manfred Mann, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, so when the Manchester boom of the early 90's happened it just reminded me of the 60's.  I love the first and second Oasis albums as well as The La's and Stone Roses.

Which reggae artists are you most influenced by? Did you follow any Sound Systems in Manchester?
I like all reggae from 1963 -2007. I sang on most Sound Systems in Manchester.  I also sang on Maverick Sound from Leeds and then on Saxon Sound System where I was spotted by Tippa Irie and Daddy Colonel.

When did you discover you could sing and chat? Do you remember the first time you mixed the two in a song? 
When I started I was not a very good deejay but my singing voice was better.

Audioweb was clearly ahead of its time with you doing both the singing and chatting. Did you and your bandmates consciously decide to mix indie rock with reggae?
With Audioweb we all liked all kind of style of music so it was like a melting pot.

Tell me about the story behind the lyrics for the song 'Policeman Skank'?
We were recording some b-sides one day and I came in to the studio late while the band were jamming on this groove so i just singjay on it. Its a tale most people could relate to.

Is the song 'Sleeper' (which is one of my favorites) inspired by The Beatles 'I'm Only Sleeping'?
No it was not inspired by The Beatles. It was our take on the world around us.

Do you think Audioweb got a fair shake from the UK music press? I always had the sense that they could not wrap their head around an indie band mixing guitar rock and reggae fronted by a black lead singer.
Yes you are right. I don't think we got fair press at all and I don't think the press knew any black people. I think that part of the press was very racist but we knew it would be a problem but I've had to deal with racism all my life. Manchester is multicultural place but the music of the 90s did not reflect it at all which was a shame. The rock and pop press like when there 4 or 5 white guys in a band. The only time a black guy has a chance of making money and being famous in England is in sports!

Why didn't Audioweb ever make it to the U.S. to tour? I think you would have gotten a great reception here in places like New York and Los Angeles.
The record company was obsessed with breaking the U.K. and did not give it a chance anywhere else. I think would have gone down a storm in the U.S.A.

Tell me about your new band SupaJamma? The band is starting to get good reviews in the U.K. music press, How would you describe your sound?
Now 11 years later Supajamma are a lot more rockier than Audioweb ever were. A few years ago one of my best friend's Simon was saying we should do some writing together.  Then we got a live band with Bev's, Steve, Dan and Simon on bass and writing partner and me vocals and writing. It is a very different music time now.We got some great songs but it is tough out in the music world.

Do you think the U.K. music public is finally ready for a mix of rock and reggae?
England will never come around to the mix of reggae and rock. Audioweb was the group that had the mix right but you need money and promotion and luck. A lot of people like the old reggae of the 70's and 80's and 90's but not enough to get it in the charts. I have had the best time doing music. I've been around the world. I love the fact that I was born in England and my parents are Jamaican. I had so much music to enjoy.

I know you also DJ around Manchester right? What can someone coming to one of your DJ gigs expect to hear?
I now deejay at the mod and skinhead bash playing ska, rocksteady and early reggae and I mash up the place trust me.

What are your fondest memories of performing with Audioweb?
The greatest time with Audioweb was on tour with U2.  We did 8 dates supporting them . Going on TFI Friday three times was killer and doing two albums. Touring was a laugh as well.

SupaJamma's new single 'Madaboutit' from their mini album 'That Was Then, This Is Now' will be released January 31 2011. Check out the video below:

You can read more about SupaJamma at their web site.  Below is a widget to play all of the songs on the band's new mini album 'That Was Then, This Is Now' which is now available on iTunes and

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Neol Davies' Version of The Selecter Kicks Off 2011 With London Show: ENTER TO WIN 2 FREE TICKETS TO THE SHOW!

In all the frenzy around The Specials 30th anniversary reunion tours during 2009 and 2010, their 2-Tone label mates The Selecter have marked their own similar anniversaries in a very different fashion. Unfortunately, the band have split into two separate camps, with Pauline Black and Arthur 'Gaps' Hendrickson and their band on one side and Neol Davies and his band on the other.  This is a sad state of affairs for all involved, but particularly for fans of the band who have wanted to celebrate The Selecter's amazing musical and cultural legacy.  Whatever the reasons, the band and all its original members deserve to receive recognition on their own 30th anniversary in 2009 and on the release of their landmark 'Too Much Pressure' album in 1980 (which Black and Hendrickson's band marked with a stellar show at the Bloomsbury Ballroom in November).

After debuting his new band with a show at the Hoxton Bar & Grill over the summer, Davies' version of The Selecter are kicking off 2011 with a show at Koko in London on Saturday January 15th with support from the amazing Ska Cubano.  And as a special Christmas gift, the good people at Soundcrash Music are making TWO FREE TICKETS to the show available to readers of the Marco On The Bass blog (more on how to win those at the bottom of the post).

I recently connected with Davies to learn more about his band and their plans for the new year. He confirmed via e-mail that his band has plans to tour and to release new music in 2011: I'm looking forward to the gig at Koko next year and the others that are planned. We can't announce next summer's festival gigs yet because the festivals haven't finalised their line ups but I can tell you they will be well worth seeing. The new version of The Selecter that I formed this year made a great start with the 1st gig in London in July and we are in the middle of recording a new single called 'Dolla fe Dolla'. We will have a new album out as soon as we can record all the new songs!! 

Davies also told me a bit about the members of his new band (confirming that the band does indeed include three trombone players!) as well as the new songs they will be playing: The new version of The Selecter has John Gibbons as the singer, Daniel Crosby on drums, Andre Bayuni on bass, Tim Cansfield on guitar, Dean Ross on Hammond organ/piano, Faye Treacy, Hannah Taylor and Ellie Smith on trombones and Victor Trivino on percussion. Having 3 trombones in the band is a joy and of course a real Hammond is a must-have for my music. Some new song titles for the new album from The Selecter are, 'Haunted', 'One Mother', 'Shake The World', 'Times That You Wished You Could Fly' (probably my longest ever title!!) and one or two instrumentals, 'Return of The Selecter', and some film themes that I've re-arranged plus a cover or two.

Below is video of the band performing new songs 'Haunted' and 'One Mother' live from the Hoxton Bar & Grill show:

If you would like to be entered to win two free tickets to see the show in London then send an e-mail with with the subject 'Selecter Tickets' to I'll pick and notify a winner on Christmas Day!

Tickets for the show at Koko on Saturday January 15th are available from Soundcrash Music. To learn more about Davies and his new band go their web site. The Selecter's two albums would both make great holiday gifts for the 2-Tone fan in your life.  They are both available below from as a CD or as MP3 downloads.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bigger Thomas Celebrate First Show 22 Years Ago At The Court Tavern: Original Members Join Current Band For Show To Benefit Club

Hopefully if you are a fairly regular reader of this blog you know that I love ska music in all its combinations and permutations. My passion for the music started when I heard The Specials first album as an impressionable 14 year old. From that defining experience I was off and running. Album shopping and seeing ska shows in New York City filled my teens years.  It finally led me to start a band 22 years ago in New Brunswick, New Jersey while I was attending Rutgers University. There I met a group of like-minded souls and misfits and together we embarked on a musical journey that continues to this day.

The New York Ska scene was in full effect in the late 1980's when we started and to the best of my knowledge we were the very first ska band to come from New Jersey (which for those of you living in the UK is the equivalent of being from Essex compared to London). Initially we called ourselves Panic! (after The Smiths song -- see the picture above) which was later changed to Bigger Thomas (after the main character of the Richard Wright novel 'Native Son') and to our astonishment and surprise we quickly built up a fan base in the New York/New Jersey music scene. Soon we were sharing stages with more and more well-known bands and playing further and further from home. We have certainly had our ups and downs, but that has made the whole experience more interesting. I consider all my band mates (past and present) the brothers I never had and a musical family who have made my life what it is today.

In honor of our 22nd anniversary together, all the current and original members of the band are coming together this Saturday December 18th (for the first time since we played our last show in 1991) to play a benefit show for the club where we played one of our very first shows together in 1988 and which has always served as our spiritual home -- The Court Tavern in New Brunswick, NJ.

The Court Tavern remains key in the history of our band and the history of music in New Jersey. New Brunswick was once filled with rock clubs. But now most of them — the Melody Bar, the Roxy, the Corner Tavern — are gone, or no longer presenting live music. Over the years, the club which started booking bands in 1981 and helped launch Jersey bands like Bouncing Souls, Screaming Females and the Gaslight Anthem, and hosted touring acts such as the Flaming Lips, the Replacements and Henry Rollins. However the club has struggled financially the last few years. There is no shortage of reasons why the Court Tavern, and other clubs, have found it hard to survive. The raising of the drinking age and countless other distractions — cable TV, video games, the Internet — that didn’t exist, or weren’t much of a factor, in 1981. The proliferation of big shows at stadiums, arenas, amphitheaters and theaters, also slowly took business away from the club. Despite these challenges, The Court Tavern still presents live music four or five nights most weeks. And for that reason alone we are thankful.

So, if you live in the New York/New Jersey metro area, I hope you will consider coming out to see us play this Saturday (along with two of New Jersey's finest ska bands -- Hub City Stompers and Silver Dollar) and lend a hand (and a few bucks) to help keep the Court Tavern open. In honor of the club and our allegiance to it, below are ultra rare videos of our band playing songs from our very first show at the Court Tavern in front of a very drunk and rowdy crowd in October of 1988. The songs include 'American Dream' and 'Suffering From A Lack Of Dub' which were staples of our set during our first year together. The original line-in the video up includes:

Roger Apollon Jr - vocals (current member)
Ken 'Miggy' Gayle - vocals
Marc Wasserman - bass (current member)
Jim Cooper - drums
Kevin Shields - trumpet
Steve Meicke - saxophone
Steve Parker - guitar

The original line-up (minus Ken Gayle and with Sean Moore on trumpet) recorded the self-titled album below which contains many of the songs we still perform to this day. Its available below from

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

This Is England '90 Gets The Green Light!

Channel 4 in the U.K. has given fans of the 'This Is England' movie and recent follow-up TV series 'This Is England '86' an early Christmas present confirming that they have given its creator and director Shane Meadows the green light to go into production on 'This Is England '90'.

A website dedicated to director Shane Meadows announced the news but did not reveal when the series would be hitting small screens in the U.K.. The post quoted Channel 4's head of drama Camilla Campbell as saying: 'This Is England will be returning to C4. It is a continuation of the same characters four years on, looking at rave culture and the World Cup. Shane is brimming with ideas and we are really excited.' So am I!

This is England 86, a four-part television series developed by Meadows, took on the story from the director’s award-winning film 'This is England', which was partly based on his life growing up in the north of England in the 1980's. Audiences took the TV series to its heart and it proved a ratings success in the U.K. garnering widespread critical praise. The UK newspaper The Guardian's television critic named the series as his best drama of 2010.

The new series will follow main characters Shaun, Woody, Lol and Milky four years after the previous show, which caught up with them three years after they were seen in the film.

The DVD of the movie is a great holiday gift and a version that can be played on DVD players in the U.S. is now on sale at below:

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Unsung Bands Of The 2-Tone Era - The Mob: 9-Piece Coventry Ska Band Record A Tribute To Their Hometown

Part of the joy of blogging about music is the process of discovering a band or song that may have been buried or forgotten by time. I liken the search and discovery to a form of musical archaeology. Its even more gratifying when you come across something totally unexpected, which suddenly captures a time and place so definitively that you are immediately transported back there just by listening. I'm a nostalgia junkie and I'm forever looking for bands and sounds that bring me back to the time I first discovered ska, punk and new wave in the early 80's.

Thanks to both Tone & Wave ska blog and Pete Chambers (noted Coventry music writer and the driving force behind the new 2-Tone Central Museum) I recently came across a 7" single titled 'Send Me To Coventry' by The Mob recorded in 1979 that awakened that excitement in me again.  In the wake of the 2-Tone explosion, the story of The Mob is one that happened all across the U.K. In this case, the band -- made up of nine established rock musicians, including a member of noted 60's rock band Badfinger --  was actually based in the epicenter of Coventry.  Despite its rather blatant attempt to jump on the 2-Tone bandwagon, it’s a song that really has no right to be so catchy. With lyrics such as, 'I can see no naked lady, riding on her horse now' (referencing Lady Godiva who is an icon in Coventry) and, 'C-O-V-E-N try our new horizon', its a great guilty pleasure.

I had the good fortune to connect with The Mob's drummer Jim Pryal who shared more about the story behind the band as well as his experiences later playing with popular Coventry-based ska and reggae-influenced band Hot Snacks, who often toured with 2-Tone bands but never scored a record deal.

Where did you grow up and what bands or music influenced you the most?
I grew up in Coventry- at the time, a major industrial city in the centre of England. I was always interested in pop music and like millions of teenagers in the early 60s, I became obsessed with The Beatles and particularly, John Lennon. There’s too much music to list that has influenced me from early Shadows, blues, soul through pop, rock, progressive on to 80s and 90s- electronic music, dance and club music. I appreciate any performance that has feeling including current club and dance styles.

What was the first record or single that you ever bought?
The first record I ever bought was Venus in Blue Jeans by a UK pop singer of early 60s – Mark Wynter.

What was the Coventry music scene of the mid to late 70's like?
At the time 2 Tone started in the late 70s, the local scene was mostly cover bands playing bars and clubs. There weren’t many original bands.

Were you a fan of ska an reggae before you joined The Mob?
I was a fan of early ska in the mid 60s, mod era in the UK. Artists like Desmond Dekker, Prince Buster and Dave and Ansell Collins had put ska on the map in UK. It was in about 1978 that I became aware of reggae with the release of Bob Marley’s ‘Catch a Fire’.

(Thanks to Jim Pryal for the picture of The Mob - That's him 2nd from the right on the top)

How did you end up joining The Mob? For those who may not be familiar with the band can you tell us a bit about how the band was formed and who some of the members were?
At the time of the 2-Tone explosion, I was drummer in a Coventry rock band Stiletto, doing mainly covers and playing bars and clubs. The bass player, Arun Bhandari had written several songs and the band was always experimenting with different beats and rhythms to try and come up with something original. Arun already had the idea of ‘Send me to Coventry’ so we booked studio time and drafted in other musicians – keyboard player Bob Jackson of Badfinger fame and a sax player who’s name I cannot remember and some backing singers.

Was it an attempt to jump on the 2-Tone band wagon sound?
It was a one off and a definite attempt at jumping on the bandwagon.

Tell me about recording the rare 45-rpm single, 'Send Me To Coventry. What kind of reaction did the single get when it was released?
We recorded it and had 1,000 copies pressed. Although the local radio station made it their record of the week, we couldn't get any other interest with it. I heard recently that it sells in Japan and I’m trying to find out what happened to all the copies!

You later went on to perform with Coventry band Hot Snacks right? Tell me about that band. It was a ska and reggae band as well right?
Shortly after that I heard that Coventry band Hot Snacks were looking for a drummer- a band with ska influences but not out and out ska, which, in hindsight didn’t help us to get a deal.

(Thanks to Jim Pryal for the picture of Hot Snacks - That's him on the drums)

Most new bands in Coventry at that time were all trying to get signed and nearly all had some kind of ska influence.We were an exciting live band and had a good following. We got offered support slots with The Specials and The Selecter and did a nationwide tour with Bad Manners in the winter of 1980.  We got signed by Carlin Music Corporation and recorded several demos but for one reason or another, we could not get a single out and disbanded after 4 years of frustration.

Below is video of Hot Snacks performing the song 'Character Change'. The band featured The Specials original drummer Silverton Hutchinson who was replaced by Jim Pryal.

What are your lasting memories of performing with The Mob and Hot Snacks?
The Mob and Hot Snacks were 2 great experiences – the only downside was not getting a release with Hot Snacks.

What are you up to musically these days?
At this moment, I write and produce in my home studio and recently collaborated with a young Coventry vocalist Danielle (here is a You Tube link to the song). I have another live project starting up next year, so I’m looking forward to that.

If you are a fan of 2-Tone era ska or enjoy hearing bands who were active during those years then have a listen to The Mob. Thanks again to Jim Pryal for taking time to answer my questions and to Tone and Wave blog for introducing me to The Mob and for sourcing the 7" single.

Download the long out-of-print 7" tracks below:

The Mob - Send Me To Coventry/Mobbed

Download a copy of the Hot Snacks ska version of 'Baby Elephant Walk' (track courtesy of Jim Pryal)

Hot Snacks - Baby Elephant Walk

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Purple Dub: Denver Dub Collective Record A Ska, Reggae and Dub tribute to Prince's Purple Rain

I'm proud to say that I am a huge Prince fan (I even stuck with him through that period of time when he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol). The 'Purple Rain' film and album still remain defining touchstones of my late adolescence and early adulthood. I saw the film the day it opened during the summer of 1984 and I never got tired of hearing 'When Doves Cry' played on the radio at the David's Cookies store I worked that summer (and that song was in HEAVY radio rotation). I got very excited when I recently learned that the Denver Dub Collective, an 11-piece band based in Denver, Colorado, had recorded and was performing a reggae, ska and dub tribute to the 'Purple Rain' album in its entirety.

Taking a page from their musical brethren in Easy Star All-Stars who have recorded stellar reggae tributes to Pink Floyd, The Beatles and Radiohead, the Denver Dub Collective set their sights on a re-working of Prince's classic Purple Rain which they named 'Purple Dub' (the two bands performed together this summer in a show dubbed 'Purple & Pink). The album is subtitled 'The music of Purple Rain in Ska, Reggae & Dub' and that neatly sums up the creative approach the band took in re-imaging the Purple One's opus. Produced by singer/trombonist David Dinsmore from renowned Denver reggae band Judge Roughneck (who have played with UB40, Burning Spear, General Public, The Skatalites, The Specials, The Wailers, and Fishbone among others), the album features a who's who of the Denver reggae scene including : Wayne Jahkama (Lion SoulJahs) Byron Shaw (Judge Roughneck's vocalist), Venus Cruz (Future Jazz Project), Black Rhino (Lion SoulJahs) and a variety of the best reggae and ska players in Denver.

The vocalists on each song vary, which makes each one a unique listening experience, though I was immediately struck by Dinsmore's vocals which come closest to matching Prince's yearning falsetto. Notable stand out tracks include 'Baby I'm A Star' which has an English Beat styled driving bass line, a dubbed out version of 'Let's Go Crazy' (which keeps the spoken word intro) and dancehall/jungle stab at 'Darling Nikki'. I loved the horn section and ska feel of 'When Doves Cry' and Venus Cruz does justice to 'Purple Rain.' 

Dinsmore was kind enough to to answer a few questions about the genesis of the project and whether or not Prince Rogers Nelson himself has heard the reggae tribute yet. Read on...

Most people I've spoken to who are into ska and reggae remember the exact moment when they fell in love with it. How did it happen for you?
Back when we were dating my wife played for me Desmond Dekker "Honor your Mother and your Father". I had heard General Public, The Clash, Fine Young Cannibals and many other ska records but didn't really know what I was listening too. This is where the light bulb went on.

Do you remember the first ska or reggae album you bought that had an influence on you becoming a musician?
Fishbone's 'Truth and Soul'. I always wanted to be a lead trombone player in a rock band and I played over the top of my Sex Pistols record. When I heard the 'Truth and Soul' record I knew I was going to make it a reality and have a hell of a lot of fun too!

You have been active in the Denver reggae scene for some time. Can you share a bit about your previous reggae bands and projects?
I was invited to be a part of Denver's Judge Roughneck (see picture above) when they first started but I had my own band World Separation and it was very hardcore and very dark. They asked me again a few years later and I was ready to play more trombone for a while. I have been in Judge Roughneck for many years and have shared the stage with great reggae musician including Burning Spear, The Wailers, The Skatalites, UB40, Culture, Yellowman, Toots and the Maytals, Damian Marley and many more. I have also been blessed to play in Colorado's finest venues. My background is jazz and hardcore but reggae is a 2nd language for me now. (See video below of Judge Roughneck performing 'Rockford Rock' live at Red Rocks in Colorado).

What was the inspiration behind the Purple Dub project? Are you a passionate fan of Prince and his music?
I have been a Prince fan for many years. He has so many great songs and is unreal singer and multi instrumentalist. I have everything of his. For my 40th birthday my wife took to see him play at his 3121 club in Vegas for inspiration. I also saw him on the Lovesexy tour and the Emancipation tour. Purple Rain is a great record and I appreciate it more now on every level. I've learned so much about why the arrangements work. They need each of the parts: the melody, the counter melody, the lick, the groove, the call and response. Its beautiful. My favorite Prince records are 'Rainbow Children' and 'Sign of the Times'.

Which came first - the Denver Dub Collective or the idea for Purple Dub? Where did you meet/find the other musicians involved in the band?
Judge Roughneck was playing at 'Reggae on the Rocks' the year that Easy Star All Stars busted out 'Dark Side of the Moon' just as the sun was setting at Red Rocks and we all knew that was a game changer. The sax player in Roughneck and I really wanted to do something like that. We started going through likely albums with strong tunes and lots of little melodies for the horns. We were really stoked about 'Purple Rain' and pitched it to the band. I ran into a lot of resistance, got tired of beating my head against a wall I took the whole thing into my project studio and got to work.

How did you approach the creative process for how each one of the songs on Purple Rain should sound as a reggae or ska song? Did you have this thought out ahead of time or was it worked out in rehearsals and in the studio?
I mapped out the whole record based on the tempos of the originals and divided it up into ska and reggae. 'Let's Go Crazy' was going to be a burning ska opener for Judge Roughneck but Byron the Roughneck singer encouraged me to have a big dub opener on the record. I took each Prince tune and figured out the chord progression and started finding ways to make them into to bass lines into reggae. Also finding ways to turn the Prince drum parts into something more like dub. Think about the classic 80's electro groove on 'I Would Die 4U' turned into a Burning Spear hi-hat thing. A lot of the tunes had King Tubby or Sly and Robbie loops that served as a foundation while I pulled other parts together. Most of the programming has been replaced by live drums, however, 'Computer Blue' actually has two completely different drum tracks, one in each channel, live and programmed. The drummer plays drum & bass style really well so I have him play the beat against the computer on 'When Doves Cry' and then the computer plays against him on 'DJ Nikki'.

I also wanted to find ways to have the horns take over some of the instrumental guitar and keyboard parts from the record. Example: The horns play the sick guitar noise at the beginning of 'When Doves Cry' and then play the little keyboard melody. Also, various ways to turn Prince keyboard parts into a skank or a bubble by turning it inside out. 'I Would Die 4 U' is a good example of that. Some of the Prince tunes are really complex like 'Computer Blue' and had to be simplified. Some of them don't have a bass part which makes it really hard.

I programmed all the tunes and then figured out who would be the best fit among my musician friends to sing each song. That was hard for me because I am an ego maniac and I had already sung everything. Hence the 6 vocal tracks of me on 'When Doves Cry'. I also kept me on 'Beautiful Ones', a song I always wanted to cover, and 'Computer Blue'. I knew Venus had to sing 'Purple Rain'. I've never had her sing on anything of mine because I knew she would be all they would talk about! My favorite moments on the record are when Black Rhino come in and does his dancehall thing.

So there are a dozen musicians on the record and I've played a few shows out with the big lineup. These are all my friends in town, I've been playing in town for some 20 years and have a lot of really talented friends. I had horn players, guitar players, keyboard players, drummer and bass players come to the house and play over the programmed parts until everything had been replaced.

The day before the mastering I realized I hadn't played a trombone solo on anything so I opened up some room on 'When Dove's Cry' and did a quick mix for the mastering studio!

Do you know if Prince has heard the recording?
I don't know if he has heard it. I hope he likes it.

You have performed the album a few times in Denver (particularly with Easy Star All Stars on a 'Purple & Pink" show). Any plans to take the band on the road or do more shows with Easy Star?
I need to figure out a way to play it out with a smaller group. This is difficult because everyone on the CD is a personal friend of mine. We are playing a showcase to get Colorado Park and Recreation gigs in January so I need to figure it out and rehearse it by then. Club dates are a drag in Denver. You can play every night of the week and not make any money.

Finally, any plans to bring the band out east? I think the band would go over great around here.
Not sure. I'd probably need some label support to make that happen!

Here is video of the band featuring Issa Forest performing 'Purple Rain' live from a show with Easy Star All-Stars earlier this summer in Denver:

Below is a video of of the song 'DJ Nikki' taken from Purple Dub:

The Purple Dub album is available for sale on