Sunday, October 13, 2019
I've just finished reading Ranking Roger's incredibly entertaining memoir "I Just Can't Stop It: My Life In The Beat" which he co-wrote with Daniel Rachel. Sadly the book was released after Roger passed away earlier this year at the age of 56. In all honesty, it took me a bit of time to finally pick up the book and read it. Roger's death really hit me hard and the book sat on my desk for some time before I was ready to give it a read. Once I felt ready to pick the book up, I'm so glad I did. The pages are infused with Roger's energy, vitality and personality which help soften the blow of his premature passing.
Roger's story is truly cinematic in scope and as I read I had to keep reminding myself that he was just a 16 year old Birmingham punk when he joined the band in 1979 and that just a few years later his band's songs were all over the radio and were on tour with the cream of the crop of 80's music including all the 2-Tone bands, The Clash, The Police, XTC, U2, Talking Heads, The Pretenders, REM and more.
What comes through loud and clear is how much music meant to Roger as both a fan and a singer. He was a true music fan and had incredibly eclectic taste that ran the gamut from punk to rock to reggae. In fact, the parts of the book I enjoyed the most were the stories and anecdotes he shared about songs, band's and musicians that influenced him. To that end, I've shared several examples of music that Roger calls out in the book.
Early in the book, Roger note's that the record that first inspired him to become an MC and take up toasting was African Dub All-Mighty Chapter 3 by Joe Gibbs and The Professionals -- a classic dub reggae album -- which was released in 1978 when Roger was 15 years old.
As a slightly obsessive fan of The Beat, I've always been on the lookout for rare or unreleased music by the band. Some songs -- like their cover of Cole Porter's "Night and Day" and "It Makes Me Rock" have made their way online via bootlegs. That said, I was happily surprised to learn from the book that The Beat actually recorded two slices of catchy, 2-Tone era ska/reggae pop -- "The Okay Song" and "Mole In A Hole" with Lenny Henry (a comic and cast member of the UK kid's TV show TISWAS and late night TV show O.T.T) which were released in 1981. Turns out John Peel played the songs a few times on his show! Check out the "Okay Song" below.
One of the most interesting musical revelations in the book is that The Beat covered a version of The Grammacks 1974 French language cadence-lypso record "Soleil Trop Chaud" on the incredibly eclectic "Whappen" album released in 1981. Roger's parents were from the French-speaking island of St. Lucia, and though he did not speak French, he did his best to emulate St. Lucian patois on the track.
Roger writes about how The Beat and The Clash played many shows together and how he befriended Joe Strummer and Mick Jones. In September 1981, The Clash and The Beat played a legendary seven-night residency at the Theatre Mogador in Paris. This was the post-Sandinista!, pre-Combat Rock, version of the band – the one that was obsessed with dub reggae, funk, hip-hop and Latin America. Strummer and Jones admired Roger so much that they invited him to sit in with them each night to toast along on their versions of Junior Murvin's "Police & Thieves" and Willie Williams' "Armagideon Time."
The friendships forged during these shows extended long after the tour ended. So when it came time for The Clash to record a new album in 1981-82, Jones contacted Ranking Roger and invited him to come toast on a few tracks. In case you didn't know, The Clash's iconic album "Combat Rock" was originally planned as a double album with the working title "Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg." Jones had mixed the first version by himself without input from his band mates. His mix featured Ranking Roger on a version of "Rock The Casbah" and "Red Angel Dragnet" that was never released. In my opinion, the song is far superior to the final album version produced by Glyn Johns. Though neither of Roger's contributions made the final version of "Combat Rock," it cemented a friendship between Jones and Roger who later joined Big Audio Dynamite.
Saturday, February 23, 2019
I’m writing an oral history about the birth of American ska and reggae called Ska Boom: An Oral History About The Birth of American Ska & Reggae that will be published by DiWulf Publishing later this year or in early 2020. I've created this podcast to document the book writing process and in this podcast I’m telling the story of the 1993 Skavoovee tour of the U.S. featuring the Skatalites, Special Beat, the Selecter and the Toasters which had much to do with expanding the popularity of ska across the U.S. The podcast includes interviews with vocalist Coolie Ranx of the Toasters/Pilfers, Randy "Now" Ellis of City Gardens fame, who was the Skavoovie tour manager and Special Beat keyboardist Sean Flowerdew.
Friday, February 1, 2019
I'm busy working on "Ska Boom! An Oral History About The Birth Of American Ska & Reggae" and I'm about halfway through the book writing process. One year in, I've finished drafting the first 10 chapters and have 10 more to research and write. While I've posted updates to Facebook, I decided it would be more interesting to create a podcast that includes interview snippets and songs from some of the musicians and bands I've written about.
In the very first episode I've included anecdotes and stories from book chapters on The Shakers from Berkeley, CA who were the very first American reggae band that were signed to Elektra/Asylum Records by David Geffen; The Untouchables who helped popularize ska in Los Angeles and were later signed to Stiff Records in the U.K. and The Boxboys who can be called one of the very first American ska bands, forming at UCLA and building a ska at the renowned O.N. Klub in the late 70s and early 80s.
In the second episode, I reflect on the fact that it's been 37 years since The Specials have recorded new music with Terry Hall! The band release their new album "Encore" on Friday February 1st and I can't wait to hear it. If the two songs the band have released so far, "Vote For Me," and "Ten Commandments" are any indication, then we all have a lot to look forward to! To that end, I'm sharing a new podcast episode that's based on soundbites from interviews I've done for the book that focus on The Specials and the impact their first self-titled album released in 1979 had on young Americans who were later inspired to start or join American ska bands. In this episode I share clips of interviews with Howard Paar, a young Englishman who found himself in LA in 1979 and upon hearing the band's first single "Gangsters" decided to open what became the ON Klub that kicked-off a ska revolution in LA. Next focus of clips from musicians from the New York City ska scene - - Constant Bernard of Second Step, Jeff "King Django" Baker of The Boilers and later Skinnerbox and Brendan Tween of Mephiskapheles, who share the very diverse and yet similar ways that The Specials impacted them.