Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Duff Guide to Ska NYC Fall 2018 Ska Calendar #9

Scratch
Saturday, September 22, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

David Hillyard and The Rocksteady 7 - Record release show!

Hank's Saloon
46 Third Avenue (corner of Atlantic)
Brooklyn, NY

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Sunday, September 23, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Israel Vibration and The Roots Radics Band

Sony Hall
235 West 46th Street, New York, New York
$26.50

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Saturday, October 13, 2018 @ 10:00 pm

Hub City Stompers, 45 Adaptors, Hekla

New Old Rock Deli/Blarney Stone
11 Trinity Place
New York, NY
$10 in advance/$15 day of show
21+

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Friday, October 19, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Vic Ruggiero (of The Slackers), DJ Agent Jay, The Hempsteadys

The Kingsland
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10

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Friday, October 26, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Big D and the Kids Table, BIGWIG, The Creepshow, Sgt. Scagnetti

Brooklyn Bazaar
150 Greenpoint Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
Tix: Advance - $15 / Day of show - $17
16+

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Saturday, October 27, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Lee "Scratch" Perry and Subatomic Sound System: 45th Anniversary Performance of "Blackboard Jungle Dub"

Elsewhere
599 Johnson Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$25/16+

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Thursday, November 8, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Stacked Like Pancakes, Beat Brigade

The Kingsland
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10 in advance/$13 day of show
16+

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Saturday, November 17, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Mustard Plug

Bowery Electric
327 Bowery
New York, NY
Tix: Advance - $14/Day of show - $16
21+

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Saturday, December 1, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Streetlight Manifesto, Mephiskapheles

Playstation Theater
1515 Broadway (at West 44th Street)
New York, NY
$29.50/16+

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If you don't see a NYC ska show listed here, send us all of the details to duffguidetoska@gmail.com!

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Duff Review: Lee "Scratch" Perry "The Black Album"

Upsetter Records
CD/Double LP
2018

(Review by Steve Shafer)

On The Black Album, Lee "Scratch" Perry collaborates again with co-producer Daniel Boyle (who also recently worked with Max Romeo on his fantastic Horror Zone in Boyle's Black Ark-modeled Rolling Lion studio), since their initial foray--2014's Back on the Controls--garnered a Grammy nomination and great notices. As with that release, Boyle's and Perry's mission on The Black Album is to capture the sound and spirit of Perry's spectacular 1970's analog Black Ark productions (Upsetter keyboardist Robbie Lyn plays on many cuts here), which were exceptionally warm, organic, and had a vibrant immediacy, and featured otherworldly percussive and aural effects resulting from Perry's masterful, spur-of-moment inventive, and wildly unorthodox approach to music and studio production. And it will come as no surprise that they've accomplished all this again here on a terrific new set of roots reggae cuts and their excellent track-for-track dub versions.

According to the liner notes, during the recording of this album Perry referred to the sound as "black," which then needed "space, light, and darkness" to help give it form and definition--all of which implies that there's a necessary ying and yang type of harmony/balance for everything in creation (including the diversity of people). This point is perhaps best illustrated on the wonderful and most perfectly realized track on the album, "Your Shadow Is Black" (and accompanying dub!). It's a bright, mid-tempo reggae cut with flute, melodica, harmonizing back-up singers, and Perry singing/saying stream-of-consciousness lyrics (he even makes kissing sounds at an appropriate spot): "Whirlwind and fire/Dark shadow in the room/Love your shadow/Your shadow is black/Your shadow is mud/Your shadow is God..." The Old Testament reference to Sodom and Gomorrow (Gomorrah) and mention of an ominous dark shadow on the moon suggests that evil is amongst us always (as a contrast with the good and righteous), but also infers that there will be divine punishment for wicked doers (the Lot reference in "Your Shadow Is Black" made me look up Perry's work on The Congos' magnificent "Sodom and Gomorrow" to compare their productions and they're incredibly similar in sound and vision!).

The great, eerie album opener "Mr. Brown In Town" makes direct lyrical reference to the Glen Adams-penned Bob Marley and the Wailers song "Mr. Brown" (which versioned Jackie Mittoo's "Pennie Wallie" and was based on a rumor about a ghost "upsetting" everyone by riding around Kingston in a three-wheeled coffin with three crows riding on top asking for a Mr. Brown; Perry also sang about "Mr. Brown" on his 1998  "Dr. Lee PhD" collaboration with The Beastie Boys). Essentially, "Mr. Brown In Town" declares that Perry is back "on the street again," "I'm still alive/refuse to die," and asserts that rebels/devils in the poor, violent Back-o-Wall slum don't fear Mr. Brown (and at one point--message to the Resistance--when exhorting Mr. Brown the clown to get out of town, he inserts "Trump!" instead of Brown).

Other standout tracks include the (expected and) knowingly boastful/self-aggrandizing "Trendsetter" ("Lee Scratch Perry/Upsetting the universe") and "Captain Perry" ("...of the mothership/Captain Perry/Don't miss a trick")--and perhaps Scratch isn't a big fan of some forms of reggae (see: "Killing Dancehall Softly"). Perry mounts a more-than-credible defense of being a vegetarian on "Dead Meat": "666/Me no eat meat...I'm so crazy because I don't eat dead flesh...No cannibals/You gotta to believe in animals." (Just the other day, I saw a video of Perry singing to cows in a field...) I'm not completely sure of the message being conveyed on the amazingly upbeat "Solid State Communication" (Perry as the instrument of God's word?): "Genesis/Revelation/I'm the Bible/I'm black Jesus...I am the God of Creation/I am the Lord of the Lords/Solid as a rock/King of Kings/And Lord of Lords/Conquering Lion of Judah/Solid state logic communication/The Upsetter...I'm a computer!" Of course, few but Scratch can pull off something like this so spectacularly well.

At 83--in his sixth decade of continually making and producing groundbreaking music--Scratch continues to move forward, always creating and amazing all with the results. (May everyone be so fortunate in their own lives...) Needless to say, fans of Perry and roots reggae will be more than pleased with The Black Album.

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Monday, September 10, 2018

Duff Review: Lee "Scratch" Perry "Game of the Throne" EP

Byrd Out
12" vinyl EP
2018

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The three tracks on the Game of the Throne EP--which were licensed from Mad Professor's Ariwa label--appear to have originated from the same sessions that produced the recent Black Ark Classics in Dub album from Mad Professor and The Robotiks featuring Lee "Scratch" Perry. "This is the Upsetter" is a fairly straight-forward, but enjoyable dub version of Perry's 1968 rocksteady cut "The Upsetter"--his first release for Joe Gibbs' label after breaking with Studio One (and aimed at squarely at Clement "Coxsone" Dodd for not giving him enough credit and money for his productions for Dodd). More compelling are the dubs of the paranoid/grudge-filled "Evil Tongues" and fantastically left-field "Soul Fire" (both from Scratch's phenomenal 1978 Roast Fish Collie Weed and Corn Bread album), renamed here as "Lion's Share Dub" and "Game of the Throne." Surprisingly, "Lion's Share Dub" is devoid of spoken or sung commentary--no grievances aired here--but it's a terrific Black Ark-ish dub instrumental. The highlight of the EP is "Game of the Throne," which transforms this previously quirky (but awesome) track into one with a serious, danceable (!) groove that offers praises to Jah ("Lord of lords/King of kings/Word of words/God of gods") and invokes the sacrificial/cleansing religious aspects/connotations of fire with righteous Old Testament punishment ("God will be speedy/And burn all the greedy/And save the needy"). Perhaps not essential, but Perry obsessives will absolutely want this.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Duff Guide to Ska NYC Late Summer/Fall 2018 Ska Calendar #8

Friday, September 7, 2018 @ 7:30 pm

Rebellion Rises 2018 Tour Featuring Ziggy Marley, Steel Pulse, and Tribal Seeds

Pier 17
89 South Street
New York, NY
$40.50

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Sunday, September 9, 2018 @ 10:00 pm

Reggae Punky Latin in Bushwick ft. DJ Shabbakano and DJ Comardr3

Bootleg Bar
1438 Myrtle Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
No cover

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Friday, September 14, 2018 @ 6:00 pm

Rocks Off Booze Cruise with Goldfinger and Pilfers

Aboard the Liberty Belle
Board at Pier 36
299 South Street
New York, NY
Tix: Advance - $39.99/Day of show - $45
21+

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Saturday, September 15, 2018 @ 9:00 pm

Dubistry

Shrine
2271 Seventh Avenue/Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd. (between 133rd and 134th Streets)
New York, New York
No cover!

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Saturday, September 15, 2018 @ 10:00 pm

Move Your Mule Reunion

(Agent Jay, Li'l Jerk, Jonny Metro, Jah Point, Rata, and guest selectors will be dropping Ska, Reggae, and Rocksteady vinyl all night!)

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (between Avenues A and B)
New York, New York
No cover!

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018 @ 9:00 pm

Black Uhuru

Highline Ballroom
431 West 16th Street
New York, NY
$25

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Saturday, September 22, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

David Hillyard and The Rocksteady 7 - Record release show!

Hank's Saloon
46 Third Avenue (corner of Atlantic)
Brooklyn, NY

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Sunday, September 23, 2018 @ 8:00 pm 

Israel Vibration and The Roots Radics Band

Sony Hall
235 West 46th Street, New York, New York
$26.50

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Friday, October 19, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Vic Ruggiero (of The Slackers), DJ Agent Jay, The Hempsteadys

The Kingsland
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10

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Friday, October 26, 2018 @ 7:00 pm 

Big D and the Kids Table, BIGWIG, The Creepshow, Sgt. Scagnetti

Brooklyn Bazaar
150 Greenpoint Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
Tix: Advance - $15 / Day of show - $17
16+

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Saturday, October 27, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Lee "Scratch" Perry and Subatomic Sound System: 45th Anniversary Performance of "Blackboard Jungle Dub"

Elsewhere
599 Johnson Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$25/16+

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Saturday, November 17, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Mustard Plug

Bowery Electric
327 Bowery
New York, NY
Tix: Advance - $14/Day of show - $16
21+

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If you don't see a NYC ska show listed here, send us all of the details to duffguidetoska@gmail.com!

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Monday, September 3, 2018

Help Save the London International Ska Festival!

Sean Flowerdew, organizer of the long-running London International Ska Festival (and member of such illustrious bands as The Loafers, Pama International, and Phoenix City All-Stars), has launched a crowdfunder to help keep the festival (whose very existence is being threatened by its debt burden).

I'll let Sean make his pitch below (do read it, please), but I do want to let you know that there are all sorts of simple and rewarding ways for you--ska fans worldwide--to help Save the London International Ska Festival. You could do this by donating £5 for a raffle to take place this October (with prizes ranging from a £250 voucher to Merc clothing, a 250 voucher to Modfather clothing, a Trojan Records bundle, a Greensleeves Records bundle, a Cherry Red Red Records ska bundle, tickets to LISF Clash tribute or 2 Tone Thames cruises, signed LPs from Lynval Golding, Toots Hibbert, Mad Professor, and others, a subscription to Do The Dog Skazine, and much more!); pre-ordering the fantastic new Rudies All Around 18-track international ska compilation (CD, LP, digital) or the much-antipated Clash Version Rockers by the Phoenix City All-Stars (both albums start shipping out around September 21, 2018); or if you're planning to be in London or live there, consider buying advance tickets for one of the LISF club nights or river cruises this fall!

I've already pre-ordered the Rudies All Around and Clash Version Rockers albums and am about to pick up one of those raffle tickets (since you've got to be in it to win it). The Save the London International Ska Festival crowdfunder campaign only lasts until September 18, 2018, so if you want to do your part, you really do need to act now.

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Sean Flowerdew: "I founded The London Intl Ska Festival in 1988. Since then we've celebrated all things ska, from its roots in mento, calypso and rhythm & blues and onward through its evolution into rocksteady, reggae, dub, 2 Tone, skapunk and beyond.

Since 2011 the festival has been operating with substantial debts, which despite some great support and fundraising still total over £50,000. In the last 8 years, although I haven't ever taken a penny from the festival or been paid for any of the work, I have been able to keep the festival going year to year and paying off debts as I go. This unfortunately has taken its toll and I can no longer afford to fund the festival by myself.

So I'm reaching out to ska lovers around the world, to people who see the importance of our historic festival and to all the people who have enjoyed the shows over the last 30 years.

The aim of this crowdfunder is to try and #SaveTheSkaFest and clear the historic debts once and for all. Then The London Intl Ska Festival can move forward and continue to programme world-class and world-exclusive shows. You can help in a number of ways.

You can donate using this campaign, or purchase any one of our rewards which include badges, our compilation CD & LP Rudies All Around (featuring 18 fantastic bands from 13 countries), or tickets for any one of our events (all listed in the rewards). I will also be adding some more rewards next week.

Over 30 years we have hosted some of the greatest names in the genre including 2 Tone members from The Specials and Madness, plus The Selecter, The Beat, Jerry Dammers and Rhoda Dakar. We've had Jamaican legends: Prince Buster, Alton Ellis, Delroy Wilson, U-Roy, The Skatalites (starring Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, Lloyd Knibb, Lloyd Brevett, Dizzy Moore and Lester Sterling), Lee Perry, Horace Andy, Desmond Dekker, Ken Boothe, Doreen Shaffer, Derrick Morgan, Laurel Aitken, Keith & Tex, Ken Parker, Rico Rodriguez, Derrick Harriott, Bob Andy, Marcia Griffiths, Dennis Alcapone, Dave & Ansel Collins, The Pioneers, The Clarendonians, Otis Gayle, Owen Gray, Freddie Notes, Stranger Cole, Ranking Joe, BB Seaton (Gaylads), Twinkle Brothers, Clive Chin (Randys), Gladdy Wax sound system, Vin Gordon and Channel One sound system.

And 100s more including; Steel Pulse, Misty In Roots, Judge Dread, Bitty McLean, Caroll Thompson, Christopher Ellis, Dreadzone, Zion Train, The Skints, Pama International, Don Letts, David Rodigan, James Hunter, The Pietasters, The Toasters, African Head Charge, Dennis Bovell, Gentlemans Dub Club, Babylon Circus, Dub Pistols, Brinsley Forde (Aswad), The Hempolics, Jazz Jamaica, Mad Professor, The Loafers, Potato 5, Hotknives, Ska Cubano, Wrongtom, Manasseh, Sonic Boom Six, Chris Murray, to name a very few.

We have hosted shows in iconic London venues including; the Victoria & Albert Museum, The Forum, 100 Club, The Astoria, The Brixton Fridge (now the Electric), O2 Academy Islington, Islington Assembly Hall, Dixie Queen paddle steamer, Camden's Dublin Castle, Jazz Cafe, Dingwalls, Electric Ballroom and Barfly.

I would love to continue the festival. The next one is in the diary for 18-21 April 2019. If you'd like to see The London Intl Ska Festival continue please support if you can afford to and share this campaign with anyone you know who loves ska!"

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Friday, August 31, 2018

Sir Horace Panter Reveals New Specials Album in the Works

Details are few and far between, but yesterday Specials' bass player Horace Panter revealed on his Facebook feed that he had spent his birthday recording tracks for a new Specials album (with original members Terry Hall and Lynval Golding), which is slated for a February 2019 release (he also posted this news on Twitter today). Specials biographer Paul Willo has apparently heard some of the tracks and commented online that they're "brilliant."

Since other 2 Tone-era acts--Madness, Dave Wakeling's Beat, Ranking Roger's Beat, Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson's Selecter, and The Bodysnatchers/Special AKA's Rhoda Dakar--have been releasing new music of late, it's good to see the remaining members of The Specials finally making a go of it.

Much more will be revealed in the coming months, no doubt (The Specials' official website hasn't been updated in eons). But stay tuned.

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Duff Review: Horace Andy backed by Welders "Straight To Hell" and Big Youth backed by Welders "Pair of Dice" b/w Horace Andy v. Big Youth "Asylum Seekers" and Eric Blowtorch "Christmas in Ladbroke Grove"

Fe True Records
Limited edition 12" vinyl EP/digital
2017

(Review by Steve Shafer)

During The Clash's recording of Sandinista! in New York City at The Power Station and Electric Lady studios in 1980 and their extraordinary 17 show residency at Bond's in Times Square in 1981 (since an unhappy with this triple-LP album Epic wouldn't help finance a national tour, their only US gigs in support of Sandinista! with mind-blowing, Clash-selected opening acts like The Fall, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, Lee "Scratch" Perry, The Slits, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Bush Tetras, ESG, and others opening, according to the book "The Clash FAQ" by Gary J. Jucha), they had become completely enamored, if not obsessed, with the funky, druggy decadent, definitely crumbling, and oftentimes dangerous concrete jungle that was New York City in the late '70s and early '80s ("Ford to City: Drop Dead"; "Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning"). It was the greatest city in a nation still very much traumatized and disillusioned by the hubris, moral bankruptcy, deception, and madness of its leaders and failures of its institutions in the wake of the loss of the Vietnam War and the corruption/illegality at the highest levels of government in Watergate (as well as the more recent humiliations of the late '70s oil crisis, stagflation, America's "crisis of confidence," the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the agonizing Iranian hostage crisis).

While this societal breakdown and collective PTSD of sorts played out around The Clash during their exploits in New York City (whose ghettos they dubbed "an urban Vietnam" in "This Is Radio Clash"--this Don Letts directed music video features live footage from the Bond's residency, as well as fantastic shots of The Clash's somewhat real/somewhat romanticized version of NYC), it also was being reflected/reinforced in dozens of films in the 1970s, including Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter, Hal Ashby's Coming Home, and most significantly in Martin Scorsese's lurid, NYC-based Taxi Driver (about a deeply disturbed Vietnam vet who almost assassinates a presidential candidate after being romantically rejected by one of his female campaign volunteers and in a botched murder spree-suicide attempt to rescue a child prostitute he was obsessed with saving is mistakenly hailed as some kind of hero by the media), which was one of Joe Strummer's favorite movies (and The Clash loved their movies--during the recording of Sandinista!, they stayed at the Iroquois Hotel, because they'd heard James Dean used to bunk there). As well, Francis Ford Coppola's surreal and hellish Vietnam War take on Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," Apocalypse Now had a huge impact on the band and was the inspiration, of course, for "Charlie Don't Surf" on Sandinista! It's interesting to note how Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle and Apocalypse Now's Captain Willard are clear descendants of the ultra-violent, loner American Wild West antiheroes depicted in 1960s spaghetti Westerns by Sergio Leone and others which influenced The Harder They ComePerry Henzell's JA rude boy/outlaw fantasy--Jimmy Cliff's character Ivanhoe Martin even goes to the cinema to see Sergio Corbucchi's Django in one scene. (The Harder They Come was so beloved by the myth-loving and self-mythologizing Clash that they referenced it in two songs: "Safe European Home" and "Guns of Brixton.") To the dismay of their British fans and the London music press (who felt they were losing one of their own to the Yanks), The Clash's growing infatuation with American culture, music, and politics (quite evident on London Calling and Sandinista!) was about to go full bore.

As The Clash began writing and recording their follow-up to Sandinista!, the real and (imagined) cinematic impact of the Vietnam War on America became a dominant, almost all-consuming topic of Combat Rock (its original title--and superior Mick Jones mix--was the even more explicitly American military-esque Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg)--see cuts like "Red Angel Dragnet" (which directly quotes Taxi Driver during a spoken word verse by Kosmo Vinyl channeling damaged Vietnam vet Travis Bickle as he drives his cab through all the porno theaters, sex shops, pimps, prostitutes, druggies, and scam artists in Times Square: "All the animals come out at night - queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets."--and also offers this revealing bit: "What is the dream?/I'll tell it/To live like they do in the movies"), "Sean Flynn" (about the photojournalist son of Hollywood Robin Hood/Captain Blood actor Errol Flynn who disappeared in Vietnam in 1970; Dennis Hopper's character in Apocalypse Now is based on Flynn), "Car Jamming" ("And then a shyboy from Missouri/Boots blown off in a Sixties war/Riding aluminum crutches/Now he knows the welfare kindness/Agent Orange color-blindness") and the extraordinary "Straight to Hell."

Strummer's "Straight to Hell" is primarily about the estimated 50,000 sons and daughters of American GIs and Vietnamese women who were conceived during the war, but abandoned when the U.S. finally pulled out of Vietnam in 1975--though it also condemns Western imperialist nations' almost wholesale persecution/rejection of immigrants and refugees from their former colonies. These bi-racial children--who were so obviously fathered by white, black, and brown American soldiers--faced harsh discrimination and desperate poverty in Vietnam; many wound up in orphanages. To the Vietnamese, depending on your politics, they were children of the ally that failed/betrayed you or the offspring of your enemy; they stood out physically in a largely homogenous ethnic society; and a good number, but certainly not all, of their mothers had been sex workers. In 1980, a number of articles in U.S. newspapers and a documentary by Bill Kurtis titled "The American Faces" began to raise national awareness of the plight of the Amerasian children of the Vietnam War; clearly Strummer was paying attention. This was another (very real) example of the folly and failure of U.S. imperialist Cold War policy for Strummer to comment on (and it was an indirect swipe at Reagan, who--terrifyingly--was heating up things again with the Russians in the early 1980s). "Straight to Hell" went on to become a fan favorite, generated great critical acclaim (Jucha opines that it's the closest The Clash came to writing their own "Armagideon Time"), and has been covered, sampled, and versioned by other artists, including Skinnerbox, M.I.A., Elvis Costello, and Lily Allen and Mick Jones.

Several decades pass and Strummer ends up co-writing the title song for Horace Andy's great 1999 Living in the Flood album (released on Massive Attack's label after Andy came to widespread attention due to his work on Blue Lines, No Protection, and Mezzanine); at the time, when he'd come to town with the Mescaleros, Strummer mentions to Milwaukee reggae musician, producer, and Clash fanatic Eric Blowtorch that he thought "Straight to Hell" would be a perfect song for Andy to cover. Years later, when Blowtorch was corresponding with Andy, he asks if he has ever covered any Clash songs and Andy tells him that he has recorded a version of "Straight to Hell," but wasn't satisfied with the results. This sets Blowtorch on a mission--and this four-track EP is the spectacular result.

Horace Andy and the Welders' roots reggae take on "Straight To Hell" takes on renewed meaning and relevance as millions of immigrants and refugees across the globe ("It could be anywhere/Most likely could be any frontier/Any hemisphere") flee war, violence, extreme poverty, and man-made or natural disaster in the hope of finding peace, stability, and opportunity for themselves and their families--all while America extinguishes Lady Liberty's beacon and rolls up the welcome mat through Trump's despicable (and un-American) white supremacist/nativist/xenophobic Tweets, utterances, and policies, which gives cover to ethno-nationalists throughout Europe ("No man's land/There ain't no asylum here/King Solomon, he never lived 'round here/Straight to hell, boy/Go straight to hell"). In this version, the violin-sounding synth and lead guitar lines are transformed into bright horn riffs and the rhythm section keeps the pace relatively brisk--but it's all sparse enough to leave space for Andy's plaintive vocals to deliver the devastating lyrics. Since The Clash purposefully shed much of their reggae sounds on Combat Rock with the explicit goal of reaching a broad American rock audience--which they found and then some--it's wonderful to hear this track in a full-on reggae setting with Andy's beautifully expressive voice (Joe, of course, was spot-on about him singing this song).

Back in 2007, Blowtorch spent a summer volunteering at the Alpha Boys' School in Kingston, JA (which fostered many of the island's greatest musicians, including Tommy McCook, Johnny Moore, Lester Sterling, Don Drummond, Rico Rodriguez, Theophilius Beckford, Headley Bennet, Cedric Brooks, Vin Gordon, Leroy Smart, Eddie Thornton, Yellowman, Horsemouth Wallace, and more!). While there, he met U-Roy (and later recorded and released the Groping in the Dark/Groping in the Park 10" in 2010), who eventually put Blowtorch in touch with Big Youth (though this collaboration has all been long-distance; they've never met). On the terrific deejay version "Pair of Dice," Big Youth serves up some wordplay on the "Straight To Hell" lyric "this is your paradise" and great commentary on the high stakes gamble immigrants and refugees are taking: "If you're seeking asylum/Then paradise is a pair of dice/ICE stands for immigration and custom enforcement/Minutemen...racists/Trouble on the borderline/You've got to sell your heart/Sell your soul/You have to sell your kidney sometimes."

"Asylum Seekers" (AKA "Reason Pan Babylonian Delusion") is an amazing mash-up (by Shane Olivo) of a version of Horace Andy's "Straight To Hell" vocal track with Big Youth's singjay performance (Andy: "Let me tell you about your blood family, kid/It's ain't Coca-Cola..." Youth: "...It's racist!"--though mostly Big Youth urges asylum seekers to "Do right/Be right/Live right/Live good"). This mix includes some choice electro-synth percussion reminiscent in what has to be a nod to M.I.A.'s "Straight To Hell"-sampling "Paper Planes" (which also is about the challenges of immigrating legally and the stereotyping of immigrants).

The EP is rounded out with Blowtorch's haunting "Christmas in Ladbroke Grove" (performed with Cecilio Negron, Jr.), who was inspired to write this very Clash-like reggae track when he learned the heartbreaking news of Joe Strummer's death as he was in London around Christmas in 2002 to perform at Gaz's Rockin' Blues with The Inflammables.

"Running from Ankara to Tehran
In the school cafeteria someone left the radio on
Older brother just 19 and gone, his only solace in a song

He only just stopped squatting, said something ‘bout a boy named Rotten
He used to sweep the factory floor, then he ran off to join the peace war
He led the charge into the terror zone then left us on our own

He used to make the breeze a blow
He used to be your hero
Where did that gravedigger from Tehran go?
Where is Woody? Where is John? Joe?

Christmas night so quiet on Ladbroke Grove
Not one soul in sight on Portobello Road
Someone turn the radio on
Give us solace, give us song – where he gone?"

It's quite affecting and one of the best songs about Strummer I've heard--and is perhaps a track to pull out every December 22nd (or whenever the feeling strikes) as you hoist a few in Joe's memory. I imagine he'd be very pleased with this EP and touched by the tribute.

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10% of each Straight To Hell purchase goes to Doctors Without Borders/Medicin Sans Frontiers, who provide medical care to human beings in dire circumstances in the most dangerous parts of the world.

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Postscript: It wasn't until 1987 that America finally recognized the Amerasian children in Vietnam--our own kids--and established refugee/immigration status for them through the American Homecoming Act. While it was in effect (from 1988-1990), approximately 23,000 Amerasian children and 67,000 of their next-of-kin were resettled in the United States.

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Update: Washington Post, 8/31/18: "Thousands of Vietnamese, including offspring of U.S. troops, could be deported under tough Trump policy"

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Duff Review: The Last Poets (w/Prince Fatty and Nostalgia 77) "Understand What Black Is"

Studio Rockers
Double LP/CD
2018

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Anyone who's read Jeff Chang's pretty phenomenal history of the origins of hip-hop "Can't Stop Won't Stop" (particularly chapter 2, "Sipple Out Deh"--here's the money quote: "Dub's birth was accidental, its spread was fueled by economics, and it would become a diagram for hip-hop music. A space had been pried open for the break, for possibility. And, quickly, noise came up from the streets to fill the space--yard-centric toasts, sufferer moans, analog echoes--the sounds of people histories, dub histories, versions not represented in the official version.") knows how reggae helped birth hip-hop via DJ Kool Herc (Jamaican-born Clive Campbell, whose family emigrated to The Bronx when he was 12 and who brought his experience/knowledge of sound systems and Jamaican dancehall deejays/toasters with him as he started to DJ his own parties and used the percussive "breaks" from funk LPs--which he lengthened by repeatedly fading back and forth between the start and finish of the same break on two records--to lyrically rhyme over). Equally as influential on the creation of hip-hop were the sharply political and radical spoken word artists like The Last Poets (founded in 1968 on Malcolm X's birthday) and Gil-Scott-Heron, who were heavily influenced by the Black Power and Black Arts Movements of the 1960s and 1970s (which promoted "African-American intellectual achievement, political power, and cultural pride" and challenged America's institutional racism and culture of white supremacy) and typically delivered their poetry of "versions not represented in the official version" over backing jazz, blues, or soul instrumentals.

So, it's fitting that The Last Poets have engaged both Prince Fatty (Mike Pelanconi) and Nostalgia 77 (Ben Lamdin) to produce and write the driving and insistent roots reggae and Jamaican jazz musical accompaniment for Understand What Black Is (recorded for their 50th anniversary and also the first time their poetry has been paired with reggae which--as Linton Kwesi Johnson and Dennis Bovell have so aptly demonstrated--works quite well together). Stirred to action by the current (though not the first) white supremacist in the White House, The Last Poets continue to have much to say about the dismal racial state of our Union as far as Black people are concerned and the extraordinary impact that Black culture and creativity continues to have on America. Each of these songs is densely packed with compelling imagery and commentary (thankfully, there is a lyric insert). There is much to unpack, so much so that this album might be best digested in short sessions for maximum impact/reflection.

The title track "Understand What Black Is" illustrates the absurdity of racism as well re-orients our perspective from the dominant white, Western European lens, since "Black is humanity" (our collective origins trace back to decidedly non-white people in Africa--and everything about our species and its resilience and accomplishments has flowed from them): "Understand what Black is/The source from which all things come/The security blanket for the stars/Understand was Black is/It is not a color/It is the bases of all colors/It is not a complexion/It is a reflection/Of all complexions called human."

The righteously defiant "How Many Bullets" points out that despite centuries of enslavement, oppression, and murder, American racists have not--and can never--destroy the spirit, culture, and pride of Black people ("You can't kill what you can't see"). In a similar vein, the phenomenally epic "Rain of Terror" is a comprehensive history of white supremacy and racial violence in in the United States ("America's a terrorist!"), from the first white European settlers in the 1600s to the present--referencing mostly (and conveniently) forgotten horrific events like the destruction of Rosewood, the Tulsa race massacre, and the Philly police dropping a bomb on MOVE (seriously, this should be used in history classes across America as means to help kids to learn about our nation's outrageous and disgraceful treatment of non-white people throughout its existence).

Of course, not everything on Understand What Black Is is a bleak reminder of America's Original Sin. There's the lovely tribute to Prince in "North East West South" ("I will try to make sure that no Purple Rain gets stuck in the clouds again") and Biggie Smalls is remembered in "She Is." "What I Want To See" is about envisioning the best for everyone after witnessing the worst ("No prisons no locks no keys no killings no laws/To control the free of us/But a paradise a heaven on Earth/Where everyone can sing and dance/To their own music/And we live only to bless each other"). And "The Music" reminds the listener of an obvious but often not really recognized truth that pretty much all contemporary music that developed in the Americas (gospel, blues, jazz, rock, reggae, rap, salsa, etc.) is Black music with common roots in Africa spread throughout the "New World" via the slave trade.

To quote Max Romeo and Lee Perry, in these "sipple out deh" ("slippery out there") days, as America's Civil War continues to play out in the most grotesque ways, The Last Poets' Understand What Black Is provides a host of reasons to be angry, inspired, hopeful, and aware. It's the protest music that these times demand and good people need if a lasting change is ever going to come.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Duff Interview: Werner Rodríguez Del Toro of Los Pies Negros

Editor's note: Later this month, Los Pies Negros--founded in the early 1990s in Puerto Rico--will be making a rare appearance on the mainland US, with shows in Brooklyn, NY (on 8/31/18 at Brooklyn Bazaar with Mephiskapheles, The Pandemics, Ensamble Calavera, and DJ Ryan Midnight) and Chicago, IL (on 9/1/18 at Reggies with Malafacha, Nahuales Underground, and DJ Chuck Wren). So, we though this was a great opportunity to catch up with Los Pies Negros' bassist and founding member, Werner Rodríguez Del Toro. (Thanks to Chris "Kid Coconuts" Acosta of The New York Citizens and producer of Moon's Latin Ska comps for helping to make this happen!)

Duff Guide to Ska: How did this mini-tour of the US (New York/Chicago) come about? When was the last time Los Pies Negros played in the US mainland?

Werner Rodríguez Del Toro: "The Chicago show came about when we were contacted by someone at a club called Reggies who wanted Los Pies Negros to play a ska festival there. After approximately a year of conversations, it became real.

The last time that Los Pies Negros played in the US was in 1994, when we performed at the Skavoovie festival at NYC’s S.O.B.'s and one event with Spring Heeled Jack in New Haven Connecticut the following day."

DGTS: The band has been in existence for about 27 years now. When you started it back in the early 1990’s, did you think you’d still be playing all of these years later (long enough that your most recent release was called The Grandfathers of Ska)? What has kept you going?

WRDT: "[At that time,] I did not think that in the future I'd be playing in Los Pies Negros. I ignored my thoughts and lived in the moment. I live every moment like it's a song and feel every note from the start to the finish--enjoying every detail, every second of the song. The same goes for my life and my band. And I feel that you can never get enough out of enjoying and playing the music you love, the music you feel. Without music, life has no meaning for me.

I think that what kept me in the music is the love I feel for it. And the reason that Los Pies Negros is alive is because every member is passionate about the band's music--and each of us is not just a member of the band, we are a family.

Regarding our last recording Los Abuelos del Ska (The Grandfathers of Ska), I want to mention that we wrote this single because two of our members became grandfathers and none of us expected ever to be a grandfather and still in a band playing ska music. And the song speaks to that feeling."

DGTS: Many ska fans from the '90s became aware of the band through Moon’s Latin Ska compilations and the Bang movie soundtrack. What have been some of Los Pies Negro’s highlights in the years since then (releases, festivals, etc.)?

WRDT: "After that era, we recorded one of the most recognized albums named Siempre Igual (1996).

We started to play some big events in Puerto Rico, and later with the help of underground distribution, our music was being recognized in Latin countries like Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, etc. In 1999, we played our first big show in Mexico with bands like Desorden Publico and la Vela Puerca. Some years ago, we played one of our best concerts ever in Mexico, the "Non Stop Ska Festival." Later we played another big event named "Skatex," in Mexico. We did some recordings like Un Alien me Rapto, Detras de ese Disfraz, etc."

DGTS: What is the Puerto Rico ska scene like? (And how have things been there for you, your family, and friends in the year since Hurricane Maria devastated the island?)

WRDT: "In Puerto Rico, the ska scene is very small. Only a few people follow ska as a lifestyle. But we have a lot of fans that are not necessary only into ska. We have fans from different genres like punk, reggae, rock, Latin rhythms, etc.--because I think our music is different. We have followers of all ages. We've played everywhere and have met people at our shows who had never heard of us and after seeing our show started to follow us. The events in Puerto Rico are for a few people, but are very interesting because the people here feel the music when we play.

The first months after Hurricane Maria were very difficult, but now we are good. As a country, Puerto Rico is a fighter and we are rebuilding it again with or without the 'mainland' help."

DGTS: What is the significance of the band’s name?

WRDT: "The band's name means liberation from slavery. Los Pies Negros (Blackfoot) symbolizes the two feet released from involuntary labor, abuse, and discrimination."

Thanks to Werner Rodríguez Del Toro for taking the time to do this interview!

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Los Pies Negros' current line-up is: Werner Rodríguez Del Toro (bass/founder), Wilmer Laboy Del Toro (guitar/songwriter), Mario Montalvo (guitar/backing vocals), Iván Salaberry (drums), Robert Ramirez (trombone), Ramón Acevedo (saxophone), Diego Borges (lead vocals), Luis Rodriguez (vocals), and Leonel Crespo (trumpet).

Discography:

1993: Los Pies Negros
1994: Moviendo los pies
1995: Siempre Igual
2004: Detrás de ese Disfraz
2005: Latin Ska Force II (split CD with los Vicios de Papa)
2009: En vivo y sin Disfraces (a live CD)
2011: Un Niño Solo (EP)
2012: Un Día Normal (EP)
2013: Kamikaze (split CD with Los Fiskales)
2015: Un Alíen me Raptó (EP)
2016: Los Abuelos del Ska (EP)
2017: Siempre Igual (Single)

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Duff Guide to Punk: The Blankz "(I Just Want To) Slam" b/w "Baby's Turning Blue"

Slope Records
Yellow vinyl picture sleeve single/CD single/digital download
2018

There's a brilliant purity to The Blankz's sweetly dopey and immensely fun late '70s/early '80s New Wave-ish American punk (think a combo of early Devo, first-three-albums Ramones--each member's last name is Blank, too!--and bands from the LA/San Francisco punk scenes, like The Zeros, The Normals, The Bags, The Units, The Offs, your fave band here, etc.). This ain't no arch parody act (thank god), but a band of talented believers in the music and attitude of that unparalleled era. Like many of those groups, there's no hidden agenda, it's WYSIWYG. The Blankz sing about wanting to slam dance in "(I Just Want To) Slam": "Now I'm full of rage/Flying off the stage/Landing on the floor/Ready for some more/Pogo in the pit/Shoot a gob of spit/Full of energy/Ready mentally!" While "Baby's Turning Blue" is what they consider their "anthem of the opioid epidemic"--about someone who hasn't been seen at the methadone clinic for a bit because they've OD'd (sung by a 13+ years sober Tommy Blank). Of note, Cris Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets (Up On the Sun was a fave of mine in the late '80s) and fellow Phoenix resident did a bang-up job of producing these terrific wham-bam songs--and this is the second single in a planned series of nine (!) that The Blankz are releasing (the debut issued last month was "White Baby," about Tommy Blank's real-life experience growing up after being adopted as an infant by a Mexican family: "White baby/Brown mommy/White baby/Brown daddy/Why am I so confused/Around all these brown dudes?").

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