Monday, September 28, 2009

Duff Guide to Ska Interview with Mike Drance of The Bluebeats

Since the mid-80s, Mike Drance has been a vital force on the New York City and Long Island ska scenes as a former singer, songwriter ("Rudy's Back," "Paul Getty," "Ali-Ska-Ba," "Goin' Back to Kingston"), and baritone saxophonist for The Scofflaws and founding member, singer, and songwriter for his current rocksteady band, The Bluebeats.

After catching up at a recent Bluebeats show, Mike was kind enough to agree to consent to an interview with The Duff Guide to Ska via e-mail...

The Duff Guide to Ska: When/how were you introduced to ska music--and what was the first ska (or rocksteady) album/single that you picked up?

Mike Drance: In 1980, when The Specials' and The Selecter's first records came out, I used to frequent a local record store in Huntington Village. At the time, I was into punk and new wave music and I remember seeing the lifesize cut out of the rude boy from the Selecter album cover in the store and thinking to myself, that is so fuckin' cool! I hadn't even heard the record yet. Soon thereafter, one of the guys at the bar/restaurant/disco I worked at at the time was playing The Specials' first record while we were setting up for the dinner crowd and I thought to myself, this is so fuckin' cool! Then I spoke to the DJ about the record and he showed me the cover and the connection was made. I was changed for life. I went out and bought The Specials and Selecter records almost simultaneously, then Madness followed, Bad Manners, etc. I cut my hair and was a Rudeboy from then on. A couple years after that, I was turned onto the original ska from the 60s by my friend Mike from The Nihilistics, a local hardcore band. We used to go to some of the local new wave clubs and go to shows together and he turned me onto the Intensified compilation and again I was hooked.

DGTS: When you were thinking about forming The Bluebeats back in the mid-90s, what attracted you to the rocksteady genre (as opposed to continuing with a vintage ska sound)?

MD: Well, as you know, I was in the New Bohemians in the early 80s, which was a garage/soul/funk/junk band at the time and when I joined, I began introducing more and more of the 60s ska stuff into the band's repertoire. We eventually became a full-fledged ska band and became The Scofflaws. I was with them for almost 10 years, so I had my fill of the vintage ska sound and was ready to do something different. At first I didn't find the rock steady as exciting as the ska, but the more I listened, the more I began to appreciate the wonderful melodies, vocals and pure soul of the music. To me, nothing is more soulful than rock steady and the early reggae tunes.

DGTS: What do The Bluebeats have on deck for the next year or so--any new recordings, big gigs, etc. (plug away!)?

MD: At this time, it's really hard for us to get together on a regular basis, with members starting families and all, so working on new material is hard to do. I've got quite a few tunes ready to go and a bunch more that need some work with the band, but it looks like it's gonna be a while before we get another record out.

DGTS: Are any of the members of the band full-time musicians, or is everyone balancing family/work along with The Bluebeats?

MD: No full timers.

DGTS: As with many bands, The Bluebeats have gone through some personnel changes over the years--is being its musical director one of your roles (i.e.: is there a lot of collaboration with the other members of the band with writing new material and the choice of covers--or do you make all of these decisions)?

MD: It's more of a collaboration at this point. We share ideas and material and work on arrangements together.

DGTS: What have been your best and worst experiences performing in The Bluebeats?

MD: Best...The Brooklyn Rock Steady Festival back in 1995, I think? Steeplechase Park at Coney Island. That was a dream come true. Playing with the likes of Ken Boothe, Phyllis Dillon, Hopeton Lewis, Big Youth, John Holt, and others I can't remember. It was amazing! We blew a lot of minds that day. Being the only white group on the bill and pretty much the only white folk at the festival, people were looking at us setting up on stage and you can imagine what they might have been thinking. But from the first chord on, we immediately won them over, big time! It was great. Also the European tour with Laurel Aitken and Dave Barker was awesome. Europeans totally understood what we were about and I was very touched by their appreciation of our music.

Worst...Hmmm Nothing terrible. Everyone has bad gigs from time to time, but nothing that I can think of that I would say was really that bad.

DGTS: What are your thoughts about music file sharing? Have you found a lot of The Bluebeats' recordings available on-line for free downloading?

MD: I love the idea of file sharing. Honestly, I haven't looked to see what is available from The Bluebeats music for free. I don't care if it's all available. I want people to share music with each other and I hope people are sharing our music with each other.

DGTS: Which up-and-coming bands on the current ska scene should we keep an eye/ear out for?

MD: Our friend John Pinto had a band Cold Spot 8 that played the last NYC Knitting Factory gig that blew me away. Unfortunately, they are not a regular performing band. I've heard some tunes from a new incarnation called The Equilibirans that sound pretty hot, so I'm keeping an eye/ear out for them.

DGTS: What are your top five Desert Island ska/reggae albums or singles?

MD: Do you mean Treasure Island? Anyhow, I don't catalog records by label so I couldn't tell you and I hate faves lists anyway.

DGTS: Do you ever forsee the possiblity of a debut album-era Scofflaws reunion (it was a smokin' line-up you all had back then!)?

MD: It's been talked about from time to time. I don't see it happening anytime soon, but I'd be willing to have a go at it. I'd have to pick up the horn again and get my chops back anyhow.

DGTS: Thanks for doing this, Mike!

MD: Thank you, brother! Hope to see you at another show soon. Peace.


David T said...

Nice interview Steve!

Steve from Moon said...

Thanks! Mike is a great guy and The Bluebeats are a fantastic band, so it was my pleasure to do it and help spread the word...