Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Duff Interview: Sammy Kay of The Forthrights!

Dubbing their ska/reggae sound "garage rocksteady," The Forthrights have quickly established themselves as one of the most vital and compelling acts on the NYC ska scene. As they prepare to head out on the Ska is Dead Young Guns tour in April, The Duff Guide to Ska thought it might be a good time to catch up with/help spread the word (we'll cop to being a big fan of the band!). Forthrights bassist Sammy Kay (Krajkowski) was kind enough to take the time to answer our many, many questions...

Duff Guide to Ska: When I bumped into you recently, you mentioned that The Forthrights have a slew of new vinyl coming out this year. Can you give me any details as to what we should be expecting and when?

Sammy Kay: This year we're gonna have some new vinyl treats for ya, as well as a CD! First off, we're currently repressing Camp Birdman [read The Duff Guide to Ska review of this EP here]! We moved the first pressing, and currently have the next pressing at the plant. It's going to have two variants: 300 silver and 200 gold. We are also going to emboss the art on the sleeve with gold and silver. The art's gonna be a little different too! Camp Birdman is also going to be repressed with new art, and new variants that are undetermined. Both versions are going to limited to 500 each, and all the profits that we make are going to be donated in memory of our friend Mitch Dubey, who recently passed away. Zak Kaplan over at Rogue State Design is going to be doing the art for the last pressing.

We are also planning on doing a few more EPs this year! We tracked a bunch of tunes in Ohio with Vic Ruggiero and Chris Murray this past summer, and we're going to be releasing those over the next year. First up is a summer release, which is going to be two tunes off the unfinished full length, and two cool versions. You will definitely see a collaboration with Maddie Ruthless on one of them, and some remixes and dubs and versions from some cats like Victor Rice and Agent Jay! There will be probably 1,000 of each EP, and will have some cool goodies on the download card! We also tracked about ten Vic Ruggiero tunes while we were there, and Panic State Records is going to be pressing a Vic & The Forthrights 10" or 12" as well! Oh, and a full-length LP and CD from The Forthrights, too! Bean over at Panic State has been nothing short of awesome, and is kinda letting us do whatever we want! Definitely keep your eyes out for summer, fall, and winter releases!

DGTS: Not that I'm complaining--since I love the format--but why has the band opted to release your music almost exclusively on vinyl?

SK: Reggae is meant to be pressed on vinyl. We have chosen to press vinyl for a few reasons. There is the collecting aspect of it, as well as the limited edition aspect. With all of the 45s and EPs, we don't plan to press more than 1,500 maximum. Most are going to be cut off at 1,000. All of the upcoming releases will have download cards, with extra goodies that won't be on a CD or I-and-I-Tunes. Oh, and vinyl's cool...

DGTS: The Forthrights are heading off on the Ska is Dead Young Guns tour this spring--in general, how have you guys been received out on the road--and what are you looking forward to this time out?

SK: I personally am looking forward to catching up with our buds out in the Midwest, as well as getting to see some old friends down South, and out West! We are all really looking forward to playing almost every night, and trying to win over everyone we can! The Vic and Chris Murray tour definitely changed us, and made us realize that this wasn't just a hobby anymore. It definitely made us want to think about making this our career. I think that coming out on our own will definitely be a different ball game. We're going to have to work harder, because people won't be there to see Vic and Chris. We're definitely looking forward to spending some time with our buds in We Are the Union, Stuck Lucky, The Brunt of It, and lookin' forward to catching up with Mark Cooper and the Green Room Rockers! NOLA and Blockparty are gonna be blast! Matt Wixson will be there, which is always a great time! We're going to Texas too, so those shows with Ryan Scroggins and the Bandulus are gonna be great!

DGTS: What have been your best and worst moments on tour?

SK: Well, there are really no worst moments. We're super lucky to be able to do this, so everyday on the road is a blessing. Any day we can say our job is playing our guitars is a good day! Some of the best moments on tour... tough one Mr. Duff! Ann Arbor, Michigan is definitely the best show I can recall on tour. There was not a soul in that room that wasn't moving! It was definitely a moment that I daydreamed about in school! Chicago with Deal's Gone Bad was a great time! Chicago's always been real nice to us! Anytime we get to play with The Slackers or Vic is a great time! One of the standouts for New York shows was definitely when we played with Mr. T-Bone at Slackfest a few years ago. At one point, I looked down the stage, and saw Jack, Matt, Mr T-Bone, Dave Hillyard, and Larry Mac, who is a really great percussion player, who played on all of my favorite records in Kingston in the 60s! That was definitely one of the first "what am I doing here?" moments.

DGTS: So many of The Forthrights' songs are like mood pieces--I'm thinking of cuts like "Nocturne" and "Stay Out Late." They're not really stories, but about being in a specific frame of mind, experiencing a certain emotional reaction. Can you give us any insight as to how the band's songs are put together? What inspires you?

SK: Jack [Wright] writes most of the tunes, lyrically. He usually writes off of specific pictures in his mind. "Nocturne" was written based on a painting he stared at for a few hours (see it here). "Stay Out Late" was written basically because we didn't have any ska in the set, and we were playing with The Toasters later that week. Most of the lyrics, Jack brings to the table. Matt [Burdi] will listen to old records and try to find some cool grooves, and styles we don't know. We tend to write rhythms together in a room, starting with simply a "tough bass line" or a chord progression or melody. Everything else just locks in after the basics are laid out. We try to pay respect to the roots of the music, while doing our own thing. There are tunes that are us listening to a Toots tune, or an Ethiopians tune, Upsetters, Uniques, Wailers, you name it, and us trying to recreate it. Whether it's those crazy Upsetters-style tunes, where they're on one chord for seven bars, and there's a second chord used in a turnaround, or a tune like "The Whip," where the rhythm is just great. We get inspired by the bounce in a Slim Smith tune, the way it just makes you wanna go with the music.

DGTS: There isn't much out there on the internet about The Forthrights' formation. Can you provide us with some background on the band (I think that some of you came from The Pinstripes and others from The Fad, right)?

SK: We found each other on the Craigslist.org "missed connections" page. In all seriousness. Jack posted on Craiglist. Kelly, our old bass player, and Mirhan, our MIA organ player responded. They found Matt at a Slackers show. Jack lost his number, and they ran into each other at another show. Mirhan was going off to college in Europe, and was talking to me about filling the organ player position. I ended up just playing lead guitar, and we forgot about the piano for a while. Kelly left to go back to school in Europe, which led us down a bassie and organ player. We were looking around, and found Jim [Doyle] on the side of the Long Island Expressway with a sign that said "family killed by rastas, need reggae lessons." We picked him up, and he just clicked. I moved to the bass, Jack went to organ/piano, and Matt got to stay on the instrument he knew.

DGTS: How did you get into ska and reggae? What was the first ska/rocksteady/reggae song that blew you away--and the first record you bought?

SK: I personally got into ska and reggae music the classic New Jersey route: Catch 22. My older brother was trying to date a blue/purple/orange manic panic hair dyed girl named Sasha. Seeing I was 11-ish, my brother being 13/14, my father chaperoned us to the local all ages ska show! My life was ruined from then on. My father also had a big part in me loving this music. One of my oldest memories is of me at about five years-old, driving to Seaside Heights in my father's piece-of-shit sky blue Suzuki Samurai Jeep, with the top down, shouting the words "black coat, white shoes, Cadillac, the boy's a time bomb." I also have memories of him putting on WFMU, a NJ-based free form radio station, which on Sundays has a few hours of reggae on. "Reggae Schoolroom" with Jeff Sarge was my first time hearing really straight Jamaican reggae, rocksteady, and ska. I started digging deeper in the history of the music around 13, 14 years-old. "John Jones" was a big tune that I remember figuring out the early reggae guitar chop to, Desmond Dekker, Justin Hinds, and Derrick Morgan were definitely important figures, as well as the NYC scene, interpreting Jamaican ska. The Slackers version of "Mellow Mood", Stubborn All-stars, King Django Band, The Radiation Kings, Cold Spot 8, and the Crazy Baldhead first record, definitely helped me understand that there were many people still playing traditional Jamaican ska, reggae, and rocksteady.

DGTS: What ska/reggae bands are you listening to now? Who are a few of your favorite all time acts?

SK: Modern: Ryan Scroggins just finished two records, they're fucking phenomenal. Bandulus' Ska, Reggae and Soul is getting played a lot. Green Room Rockers' new record is great! The Crazy Baldhead record at Whatevski is great! The Prizefighters' new record is cool! Looking forward to seeing them!

Modern/non-ska: Justin Townes Earle just put out a great record called Harlem River Blues; The Gaslight Anthem's American Slang gets a lot of plays; LA's newest mod/soul band, Suedehead just put out a great EP! It features Dave Warsop from the Beat Union singing and Corey Kingston from The Aggrolites on the drums!

All time favorite acts...Toots. Toots. Toots Toots. Always. Been tearing through The Wailers with Lee Perry, as well as at Studio One years, Justin Hinds and his Dominoes, Alton Ellis, and The Oneders, straight from Erie, PA!

DGTS: The Forthrights are one of the key bands on the Brooklyn rocksteady scene, which is centered around gigs at The Lake in Bushwick. While the shows there are doing really well, it's still a pretty "off the radar" thing. Do you think the NYC ska scene will ever emerge from the underground again? (And is that even something to wish for?)

SK: Whatever happens, happens. I am not looking to get rich, or even famous. We are all just grateful to have a great place like The Lake, and have a great crew coming out for everything possible.

DGTS: What else should we expect from The Forthrights this year?

SK: Strikkly big tunes, a terrible break up, a reunion show, and reunion tour. Repeat when necessary.

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The Forthrights' Vinyl Discography (to date)

- "Other People" b/w King Django & The Forthrights "Anywhere I Roam" 7" single (Stubborn Records, 2009)

- Vic Ruggiero & Maddie Ruthless "Policeman" b/w The Forthrights "Carla" 7" single (Ska is Dead/Asbestos Records/Underground Communique Records, 2010)

- Camp Birdman 7" EP (Panic State Records, 2011)

* Click on titles for The Duff Guide to Ska reviews!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Duff Review: The Revivers Early Reggae EP

Jump Up Records
10" vinyl EP

Skinhead reggae fans are sure to flip when they first take a listen to The Revivers' new five-track 10" EP, Early Reggae--it sounds like some fantastic lost gem from 1970 that you were lucky enough to dig out from a long-forgotten crate at a used record store. Even though they sound like they're straight from JA, The Revivers are comprised of members of such SoCal ska/reggae stalwarts as The Debonaires, The Skeletones, and See Spot and you can bet that they know their way around a vintage early reggae tune.

Recorded using old-school, lo-fi techniques and equipment, The Revivers convincingly recreate the sound and vibe of Jamaican music circa '68-'71. On Early Reggae, The Revivers' choice covers include The Beechers' "adults only" cut "Come into My Parlour" ("I hear those boys with their rumours/Said you're a real grinder"); producer Clancy Eccles' house band The Dynamites' organ-driven instrumental "Ramble"; The Yardbrooms' pleading "My Desire"; Sir Collins & The Black Diamonds' slinky and slightly dangerous "Black Panther"; and Pat Satchmo's cover of "Hello Dolly" (which skates a bit close to parody with the Louis Armstrong imitation vocal).

While this reviewer is not too familiar with these amazing original tunes--which appeared on the Trojan, Upsetter, and Duke imprints--they sure sound mighty sweet here.

(Thanks to Jason Lawless at Lawless Street for doing all the research on the original tracks.)

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A-

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jump Up Reissues Toasters' 2 Tone Army (AKA Hard Band for Dead) on Vinyl!

While many of The Toasters' releases in the 1990s found their way on to vinyl through licensing deals with German ska labels Pork Pie (New York Fever) and Grover (Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down), the band's 1996 album Hard Band for Dead, which spawned two of their biggest hits--"2 Tone Army" and "I Wasn't Going to Call You Anyway" (a parting shot at a very difficult band)--never found their way onto wax (maybe Pork Pie didn't have the cash to press an LP?). At the time, the ska market for vinyl in the US was very small (even the series of numbered, limited edition 7" singles that Moon Records released in the mid-to-late 90s sold surprisingly slowly), so it made financial sense to import a few copies of the LPs from Europe (where fans still craved vinyl) to sell in the Moon store and through the label's healthy mailorder service.

We flash-forward about a decade and a half later, to when Jump Up Records main man Chuck Wren runs into Bucket at Chicago's Riot Fest. While talking shop, Chuck is very surprised to learn that Hard Band For Dead was never released on LP (the other notable exception is Dub 56, probably one of the most beloved Toasters albums ever). Long story short, Buck and Chuck broker a deal--and now Jump Up has just issued 2 Tone Army on black and green vinyl (the next pressing will be in white), which includes a card that allows you to download six more alternate tracks from the album recording sessions.

Of note, the iconic NYC Ska rude boy (which originally appeared on a Moon Records t-shirt back in the late 80s) on the 2 Tone Army LP cover is not Buck (I had always assumed it was), but Steve Hex (AKA Karl Stephen LaForge), The Toasters' co-founder and keyboardist who appeared on the "The Beat" 7", the Recriminations EP, and Skaboom, Thrill Me Up, and This Gun For Hire albums. Hex died in Berlin in 2005 under questionable circumstances (he was found with a severe head wound and was assumed to have been the victim of a mugging).

For your reference, here is the original 1996 track listing for Hard Band for Dead:

1. 2Tone Army (Hingley)
2. Talk Is Cheap (Hingley)
3. Friends (Hingley/Ugbomah/Toasters)
4. Secret Agent Man (Barri Sloan)
5. Chuck Berry (Hingley)
6. Mouse (Reiter)
7. Hard Man Fe Dead (C. Campbell)
8. Don't Come Running [Extra Intro] (Faulkner)
9. Properly (McCain/Ugbomah)
10. Maxwell Smart (Irving Szathmary)
11. I Wasn't Going To Call You Anyway (Hingley)
12. Speak Your Mind (Hingley/Rice)
13. Skaternity (Reiter/McCain)
14. Dave Goes Crazy (Rimsky-Korsakov)

The album featured guest spots by The Godfather of Ska himself, Laurel Aitken (on "Speak Your Mind"), The Skatalites' terrific saxophonist Lester Sterling (on "Mouse" and the cover of Prince Buster's "Hard Man Fe Dead"), The Ventures' guitarist Jerry McGee (on "Friends"), and King Django (chatting on "Properly").

From what I can tell (my copy hasn't arrived in the mail yet), two additional tracks have been added to the LP reissue proper:

15. 2Tone Army [Special Forces Version] (Hingley)
16. Skar-Toon [Unreleased] (Brown)

And here are the 2 Tone Army bonus digital download cuts:

Retroactive [Unreleased] (Reiter)
Speak Your Mind [Instrumental] (Hingley/Rice)
Skaternity [Demo] (Reiter)
Moon Ska Stomp [Unreleased] (Hingley/Toasters)
Speedy Gonzales [Unreleased] (Hingley/Toasters)
2Tone Army [Blues Reprise] (Hingley)

Megalith Records will be releasing 2 Tone Army on CD--which will include all of the tracks above--a little later this year.

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There was a CD re-issue of Hard Band for Dead/2 Tone Army back in 2009 on Party House Records in the UK (a label that I think is now defunct). In response, back in July of that year, I wrote up some notes about Hard Band for Dead and posted them on this blog--and they might be worth revisiting here...

Some Duff Guide to Ska Notes to Hard Band for Dead:

In an attempt to capitalize on the intense music press/industry buzz in the mid-90s (Billboard and others declaring ska "the next big thing," and every major label wanting a ska-like band in their pocket), Moon Records produced two of its first music videos, "2 Tone Army" and "I Wasn't Going to Call You Anyway," to help promote this album (which also received a good amount of airplay from college radio, according to the CMJ charts at the time). In true DIY fashion, I shot "2 Tone Army" on Super 8 film at a Toasters show (with Lester Sterling in the line-up!) at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Chelsea; outside the first Moon shop on 2nd Street in Alphabet City; and in my UES living room. The footage was digitally edited with the assistance of the late video and performance artist Dieter Froese at Dekart Video in Chinatown (they typically did most of their work with PBS, museums, and video and performance artists, but occasionally edited videos for major label bands like REM). The whole production cost about $2,500--and it ended up premiering on MTV's "120 Minutes" and going into fairly regular rotation on MTV and M2 (hell, they even created a special "Skaturday," when they featured ska viddys for a couple of hours).

Contrary to all of the label's/band's expectations, MTV gave the "2 Tone Army" video an extraordinary amount of support because: a) they genuinely liked The Toasters' music and knew how long they had been plugging away on the scene; 2) they didn't want to miss out on ska craze (the hype really was brutally intense, even if the major labels really didn't know ska from Adam or how to market it)--and there weren't that many new ska videos being produced; and 3) they got a kick out of the fact that we had the nerve to submit this somewhat crude, low-budget video, while many other indie acts were lavishing tens of thousands of dollars on theirs trying to make the big time.

Originally, I had planned to shoot a music video for "Chuck Berry" (the single on the record player in the video is the limited edition "Chuck Berry" 7", which was released well before the rest of the album was finished), but switched it to "2 Tone Army" after hearing an advance copy of the song. Since these were untested waters, The Toasters were minimally involved in the making of this video (I came up with what little concept there was and basically showed up to film them at both the FIT show and their promo photo shoot on 2nd Street before they went off on a tour--one of these pictures ended up on the back cover of the CD--we never scheduled anything specifically for the video) and Bucket didn't see any footage until the editing was completed (either he had complete faith in me or was entertaining my flight of fancy). I spoke with him on the phone after he first saw the video and could tell that he was extremely underwhelmed--but as things progressed, he seemed pretty pleased with all the mileage the band/label got out of it.

Like "2 Tone Army," "I Wasn't Going to Call You Anyway" (which was directed by Drew Sentivan, who also made several higher-end videos for Moon in collaboration with Crazy Duck Productions, all of them great, including The Toasters' "Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down" and "I'm Running Right Through the World," as well as The Scofflaws' "Nude Beach," Isaac Green and the Skalars' "High School," and the Skoidats' "Last Night" ) went into regular rotation on MTV and M2 (remember that station--completely devoted to actually playing music videos, many of them from alternative/indie bands?). For better or worse, Moon also permitted MTV to use excerpts of several songs off of Hard Band for Dead for shows like Singled Out and The Real World, in the hopes of expanding the band's audience and stimulating CD sales.

After the recording sessions for Hard Band, the souring relationship between Coolie Ranx and the rest of the band hit an all time low--and he left/was booted from The Toasters soon after. (One memorable, cringe-worthy event from this period took place at The Toasters' Central Park SummerStage gig, a big deal back then since they were one of the first ska acts ever featured in this concert series, as when it came time for the band to hit the stage, Coolie was AWOL--Bucket and Sledge had to take over Coolie's vocal duties; he finally showed up several songs into the set, dramatically leaping onto the stage from the audience.) As a result, just before the Hard Band for Dead masters were sent to the printing plant, most of Coolie's tracks were dropped from the album (I'll always remember Toasters bassist Matt Malles telling me how bummed he was that one of the songs he co-wrote with Coolie was left off the record--he thought it was the best track of the bunch.) Interestingly enough, the "2 Tone Army" video inadvertently captured the transition between Coolie Ranx (who is in the photo shoot segments) and Jack Ruby, Jr. (who was on stage as a member of the band at the FIT show).

One last tidbit: a version of "2 Tone Army" (recorded months before the Hard Band sessions by the Moon Ska Stompers, which was comprised of members of The Toasters and NY Ska Jazz Ensemble, as well as Victor Rice and King Django) became the theme music for the very cool animated/stop action Nickelodeon show "Kablam!".

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New Album from Dub is A Weapon: Vaporized

NYC's brilliant Dub Is A Weapon will be releasing their long-awaited new CD "Vaporized" on 4/26/11 through Harmonized Records. However, you don't have to wait until then to check out the album--you can preview all the tracks here, as well as download some free mp3s of other DIAW material (some of it live) here.

Dub is A Weapon will also be gigging in New York and New England this March and April (note the NYC record release party on 4/16/11), in addition to playing some shows with John Brown's Body.

DIAW 2011 Spring Tour/Record Release Parties

Friday, March 25 @ 7:00 pm: Mount Snow Reggae Fest, Snow Barn, Mount Snow, VT

Friday, April 15 @ 10:00 pm: Albany Record Release Party! Red Square, Albany, NY

Saturday, April 16 @ 10:00 pm: Vaporized Record Release Party! Sullivan Hall, New York, NY

Thursday, April 21 @ 8:00 pm: On Tour with John Brown's Body, Toad's Place, New Haven, CT

Friday, April 22 @ 10:00 pm: Vermont Record Release Party! Nectar's, Burlington, VT

Saturday, April 23 @ 8:00 pm : On Tour with John Brown's Body, Tralf Music Hall, Buffalo, NY

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Also, on Thursday nights when Dub Is A Weapon isn't on the road, band leader Dave Hahn hits the decks as Hahn Solo, hosting "Roots Rock Reggae" alongside Carter Van Pelt (WKCR-FM) at Motor City Bar in Manhattan (127 Ludlow between Rivington and Delancey). They spin reggae wax from 6:30 pm 'til 10:00 pm--and it's free!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Duff Gig Review: Bigger Thomas, The Shifters, Silver Dollar, Princelionsound, and Rudies Don't Care

Maybe it was all the dollar Keystone Ice I had downed, or the work week's stress finally getting a chance to be released, a symptom of my deepening middle-age crisis, or the effect of the Super Moon hovering over NYC, but for about 45 stunning minutes last Saturday night (3/19/11), Bigger Thomas were the greatest ska band around and the black box at The Lake in Bushwick was the best--hell, the only--place to be in the world.

Even though the crowd was a little lighter than it has been the last few times I've been there (this wasn't an Agent Jay/Crazy Baldhead Dirty Reggae night: none of the hometown Brooklyn rocksteady bands were on the bill--like The Forthrights or The Hard Times--and there weren't any groups that had a strong pull with the Latin punk and ska scenes), good vibes reigned and the place began to feel full as the night went on.

Sorry that I can't report on Princelionsound's and Silver Dollar's sets. I was in the back room in a deep conversation with Roger Apollon, Jr. (from Bigger Thomas) about why ska didn't hit it big in the 90s--the laundry list of reasons would fill several lengthy blog posts here--and what it would take for a ska band to blow up now (not sure if it's even possible). And then was getting the skinny on what DJ Grace of Spades will be doing during her brief exile from New York (hanging out with friends in New Orleans, including Maddie Ruthless--and you can bet Grace will have some 45s with her in case the opportunity arises--have vinyl, will travel!).

I did catch Rudies Don't Care--with Tommi Infamous doing a fantastic job toasting over some riddim tracks that Jah Point spun. Check out the super low light video (he was outside the "bar" area standing on a cable spool) I shot of Tommi performing his "Eye Spy" (a cut that expresses his ambivalence about iPhones) over the "Revolution" rhythm (best known as Barrington Levy's "Here I Come"). Make sure to stay with it until the end to hear Tommi say that "it's difficult having a half-deaf selector," when Jah Point missed Tommi's cue.

Next, Bigger Thomas hit the stage in the black box--and it may seem stodgily nostalgic to admit it--but their 2 Tone-inspired 80s NYC ska always gets me. It's a key sound from my youth, when so much of my life was yet unwritten. Hearing it is like bumping into one of your best mates from school years on. Everything is immediately familiar, the passage of time disappears, and the conversation picks up as if you had just seen them a few days ago. The band played an awesomely heady mix of cuts from their debut "Red" album (released in 1990) up to their great Steal My Sound CD (2010), including "Movin,'" "More & More" "Permanent Error," "Shamokin," "Can't Remember My Name," "Chaos," and "Ska in My Pocket" (which, unfortunately, has Roger's mic a bit low in the mix). You should have been there, but you can experience (or re-live) it through the videos I shot...

After the fantastic BT set, I ran into Sammy Kay from The Forthrights who told me about a slew of new vinyl coming out from the band soon (did I hear something about a box set?!)...wish I had more details, but it was hard to hear him (the music was too loud, I was kind of sloshed). Sidebar plug: The Forthrights are headed out on the Ska is Dead Young Guns tour in mid-to-late April with We Are the Union (plus Stuck Lucky, Brunt of It, The Fad, and Green Room Rockers along various portions of the tour).

While waiting for a ride back to Manhattan, I managed to catch one cut from DC's The Shifters before before I got the hook. Here is their killer cover of Sound Dimension's "Rockfort Rock" (which was originally written by Rafael Hernández Marín in the 1940s --it's actually a classic latin cut!):

All apologies to Marc Wasserman and Roger for my ramblings on the way back to the city, but the night out and Bigger Thomas' set had been just what I needed to keep on going.

Friday, March 18, 2011

NYC Ska Gig Alert: Bigger Thomas, The Shifters, Silver Dollar, and Princelionsound This Saturday Nite!

Un-Official Reggae Party

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Princelionsound @ 9:00 pm

Silver Dollar @ 10:00 pm

Bigger Thomas @ 11:00 pm

The Shifters @ Midnight

Plus, on the decks: Rudies Don't Care featuring Tommi Infamous!

The Lake
258 Johnson Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

Door: $6.00

No BYOB, but beers are cheap!


Take the L train to Montrose and walk on Bushwick Avenue until you hit Johnson Aveue and make a left look for the metal door with "258" on it. Go up the stairs.

Or take the J/M train to Flushing Avenue. Walk on Flushing until you hit Bushwick Avenue and turn left. Walk on Bushwick until Johnson and make a right and look for the metal door with "258" on it. Go up the stairs.

2011 London International Ska Fest Trailer

With a festival of this size and length, it's no surprise that there has been a plethora of info being pumped out from Rockers Revolt offices to the ska scene about the 2011 London International Ska Festival...and to be honest, it's been hard to keep up with everything as it seemed like every day brought another fantastic new development.

Well, since the fest is now only about a month away, here is a terrific video that provides you with all the info regarding what bands/DJs are performing on which day of the event. Wish we could be there ourselves...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Nick Welsh Video: "Voice of the People"

No sooner am I done with reviewing the latest album (Jacuzzi) by his alter ego King Hammond, Nick Welsh goes and announces that his new album (The Life & Times of a Ska Man) is coming down the skinhead reggae pipeline soon.

Here is the video for a cut from that album, "The Voice of the People," that sports some excellent old footage of The Prince himself:

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And since we're on the Nick Welsh/King Hammond subject, we might as well take this opportunity to post the artwork from King Hammond's forthcoming Floorshaker LP from Jump Up Records...

Erin Go Ska! "Gaelic Ska" with The Trojans!

I saw Gaz Mayall at the Y this morning. Okay, he wasn't exactly at the gym on the elliptical machine next to me. As I was hauling my sorry self over to the treadmills for a run, I spotted The Beat's "Save it For Later" video on one of the TV monitors (they pump in a 80s music video station as one of our viewing options). The sharp-eyed will know that Gaz appears several times in The Beat video as one of the customers in the night spot where the band is performing. And since it is St. Patrick's Day in one of the most Irish cities in the world (and my wife's family is Irish and our kids are obviously half Irish), it got me thinking that Gaz and his stellar band The Trojans recorded a number of Celtic ska tracks (he released a CD of them, Celtic Ska, on Gaz's Rockin' Records), including the great "Gaelic Ska" from The Trojan's debut album, Ala-Ska, which was recorded way back in 1987. Here's that video for your viewing pleasure...

Happy St. Paddy's Day!

Go dance a jig or something!

Duff Review: King Hammond Jacuzzi

N.1. Records

Who else but the great King Hammond (AKA Nick Welsh, songwriter-bassist-singer for Skaville UK, The Selecter, Big 5, and Bad Manners) would be audacious enough to release not one but two stellar albums (the other record in question is the killer The King and I; you can read our review of it here)--as well as a pair of spin-off vinyl EPs, Riot in London Town and Hey Mr. DJ--all within a six-month period?! Jacuzzi contains everything that one could ask of King Hammond and more: super catchy ska and skinhead reggae tunes; wonderfully cheeky lyrics; booty-shaking, groovin' grooves; and impeccable performances (which are all more impressive, as I think Nick played every instrument on the album--at one point in "Reggay Train" he shouts out, sounding a bit surprised himself, "King Hammond's on the fiddle!").

The hot tub of the shimmering title track (and you gotta love how the chorus goes "Jah, Jah, Jah-cuzzi") is a people soup metaphor for slumming it on the seamier, ethically-challenged, hedonistic side of life. You know in your heart and head that giving into temptation is wrong, but it feels so damn right: "Holy Mother, forgive me for my sins/I always fall from grace when the day begins/Look into my eyes and tell me what you see?/The grand illusion or cold reality?/Bad drugs and Englishmen are only a call away/For the Cowboys and the Indians, who want to come and play/in the jacuzzi?...Look back in wonder at Paradise missed/but I was in the deep end of a personal abyss/When luck was handed out, I guess I missed the queue/I couldn't get my jeans on in time to meet with you." It's the hell of being keenly self-aware (coupled with a working knowledge of right and wrong) and the heaven of getting off on one's vices (hey, everybody's got their own angel and devil whispering in each ear: "All men are equal...in the jacuzzi!")

"Riot in London Town" (which also appears on its eponymous EP) bemoans the fact that so much of London is being torn down and replaced with crap architecture. The hippie pop psychedelia of the late 1960s--the flip side of the mod/skinhead revolution--typically creeps in the edges of King Hammond's music as it, no doubt, influenced the skinhead reggae artists of the day. On "Hammond-edlic!," the King lets his freak flag fly, urging listeners to "drop in...drop out" on this throbbing, deeply-layered, incredibly trippy and funky reggay instrumental (did I hear tablas in there?). Without question, this is my favorite track on the album.

"Tattoo Girls" is a loping ode to ladies with ink ("Rude girls in Mexico, Rockabillies in the USA!"). "Reggay Train" builds on the proto-skinhead reggae rhythm of The Pioneers' "Long Shot Kick De Bucket" and/or Symarip's "Skinhead Moonstomp" (which is really Derrick Morgan's "Moon Hop") to deliver us in rude boy style to Rainbow City circa 1969. "Chicken and Chips" celebrates King Hammond's addiction to KFC's crispy (or extra-crispy?) product, though it's all presented/projected through a female protagonist (before Nick set me straight, I thought this was a song about lesbians--"That girl just eats chicken and chips/She won't put nothing else to her lips...She used to be finger lickin' good--better than the rest/Now the thing that turns her on is leg or a breast"--I'm always on the lookout for the subtext in everything, real or imagined!).

"They Will Rise" is a cheery, calypso-esque warning to all righteous souls not to surrender an inch to the many bad-minded people amongst us: "And if you feel like you've been taken/You're not the first, won't be the last/And if you let them rule your situation/They will rise..." While we're on the subject of people trying to do us in, the King kisses off an ex that specialized in head games in "Three Card Trick" ("I don't want to play that game no more!").

"Bongo Ska Fever" is an awesomely propulsive vintage ska stomper that Prince Buster never wrote (love how he pronounces 'ska' as 'skar'), while "From the Hip" smoothly visits Harry J's All Stars territory. "The Hanky Panky" ("King Hammond has ESP/Extra! Sexual! Perception!...Girls and boys/like the hanky panky/Have some fun/you know it's true/They like to kiss it up/they want to hug it up, too/they like to feel it up/and then they follow it through") and "Reggae Movement #2" (which alludes to a certain part of the body "moving" in every sense of the word) are knowing, slightly naughty dirty reggae instrumental cuts that would make it past the broadcast censors, but still have the inner-twelve-year-olds in us snickering away, 'cause we really know what they are all about.

As always, King Hammond manages to successfully embody the spirit and sound of late sixties skinhead reggae while creating thoroughly original and winning cuts. It really doesn't get much better than this--count me amongst the King's loyal musical subjects! Long live King Hammond!

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A

Monday, March 14, 2011

King Hammond: "Return of the Kung Fu Skinhead"

All respect to the King! Here is King Hammond and band trying out "Return of the Kung Fu Skinhead" live for the first time (with awesome results)...

New Amphetameanies Video: "Good One Go"

Scotland's Amphetameanies have a eye-popping new video (love it when they're playing on the Moon--and keep an eye out for the Death Star!) out for their single "Good One Go" (read The Duff Guide to Ska review of it here).

As you (should) know, The Amphetameanies are one of the featured acts on the upcoming 2011 London International Ska Festival--they are playing day three:

Saturday, April 23, 2011
The English Beat starring Dave Wakeling (UK/USA)
Gaz Mayall’s Gaelic Ska Champions (UK)
Intensified (UK)
Napoleon Solo (Denmark)
The Amphetameanies (Scotland)
Jimmy the Squirrel
DJs throughout show: Felix Hall & tba
Club night running after bands through til 3am:
Lynval Golding (The Specials) & Wrongtom's Ska Review

(For the line-up of the entire London Ska Fest--Owen Grey is the latest addition--click here.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Royal Connection to Ska

It's a revelation that is unlikely to increase ska's cool quotient: the Queen Mum liked Jamaican ska and apparently had several LPs in her collection.

An article in today's Daily Mail (UK) notes that contents of the Queen Mother's personal record collection were made public for the first time. Not surprisingly, she came into contact with the music via a fairly highbrow connection (what, you think she went to dance to a sound system at a street party?!):
"...the Queen Mother, who died aged 101 in 2002, picked up an appreciation for West Indian music during visits to Jamaica.

‘During one of her trips to the Caribbean in the Sixties she was introduced to ska music, which she became very fond of.

‘Noel Coward, who was a personal friend, had a house called Firefly in Jamaica and she greatly enjoyed her visits there.'"
Sadly, the piece does not mention the titles of these ska albums...that bit of info would be fascinating.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

NYC Gig Reminder: Tonight - Version City Party with King Django Septet, The Bluebeats, The Rudie Crew, The Times, The Justin Rothberg Trio

Just a quick reminder that the Version City Party has returned to Manhattan with a show at Shrine in Harlem tonight from 6:00pm - 11:00 pm (3/12/11). All of the details can be found here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Duff Guide MOJO Watch: Dennis Brown, Culture, U-Roy, and The Upsetters! Plus The Clash and Return of BAD!

As always, MOJO Magazine continues to be one of the few mainstream music publications offering consistently good coverage of ska and reggae (even if it tends to be generally backward-looking--re-issues, re-unions, and such--and not so much on the current scene...but, we'll take whatever we can get!).

This month's issue features The Smiths on the cover--and I'll cop to having an intense love/hate relationship with the band. "How Soon is Now?" is probably one of the best New Wave songs of the 80s (more often than not, it was cranking on the radio in the family Oldsmobile station wagon that I used to cruise Yonkers and the Bronx in high school); Johnny Marr is a musical genius; and I still intensely love at least half of the songs in their catalogue. Having said that, you gotta take Morrissey in small doses. Case in point: driving back to the city from upstate recently, I had The Sound of The Smiths playing on the stereo and after about 30 minutes (the playlist: "Bigmouth Strikes Again," "There is a Light That Never Goes Out," "Panic," "Ask," "Shoplifters of the World Unite," "Sheila Take a Bow" and "Girlfriend in a Coma"), my wife was clawing at her ears and hoping that a double-decker bus would smash into us...

Now back to our regularly scheduled ska and reggae programming!

In the April 2011 issue of MOJO, reggae expert David Katz gives the new Dennis Brown At Joe Gibbs (17 North Parade) box set four stars ("The overall feeling is of an exceptional talent fully in command of his abilities, backed by some of the best reggae players of all time"). Culture's At Joe Gibbs (17 North Parade) also rates four stars (Katz writes, "This box set reissues the two initial Gibbs produced albums [Two Sevens Clash and Baldhead Bridge], plus a later Gibbs compilation More Culture, and a bonus disc of rare singles from the same era, all of which still sounds truly fine today").

Ian Harrison notes in his "The Vinyl Countdown" column that I-Roy's Gussie Presenting I Roy has been re-issued on 180 gm vinyl by Sunspot (and that this imprint will be releasing Big Youth's awesome Screaming Target next). And the "Filter Reissues Extra" section heralds the millionth reissue of The Upsetters' Blackboard Jungle (Get on Down); I already have several different versions of this album, so I think I'll pass on this one.

Fans of Bob Marley and the Wailers may be interested in the review of the new book "I & I: The Natural Mystics Marley, Tosh & Wailer" by Colin Grant. Andrew Perry dubs it worthy of four stars--and notes that perhaps one of the more interesting observations it makes concerns the band's--and Marley's in particular--embrace of Rastafarianism. Perry writes, "For Marley, it was all about coming through the confusion of his mixed-race parentage, the author believes, and asserting his blackness." "The Small Axe Guide to Dub" by Jim Dooley is also evaluated (by David Katz, who gives it four stars out of five)--it's a guide to over 200 of the best dub albums--and judged to be "a very useful reference point for all dubheads".

+ + + +

Bonus: News from The Only Band That Mattered! Yeah, I know this is a ska blog, but The Clash incorporated a lot of ska and reggae into their mix--plus I'm a enormous fan--so they're getting some space here! There was an incredible feature article in the March 3, 2011 of Rolling Stone (with the tween pop anti-Christ Justin Beiber on the cover) about the rise and crash of The Clash: "The Fury and the Power of the Clash" by Mikal Gilmore. The piece is not available on-line unless you have a subscription (though there is a short interview with Mikal Gilmore about his interactions with The Clash over the years posted here), so track down a copy of this issue at your local magazine shop or newsstand.

And in Clash-related news, MOJO reports on the return of Big Audio Dynamite. BAD has reunited and is touring the UK and the US this spring (playing Roseland in NYC on 4/19/11--I've got tix, but had to sacrifice an arm and leg to do so). BAD's 1985 debut, This is Big Audio Dynamite, was re-issued with bonus tracks last year and MOJO notes that their follow-up, No. 10, Upping St., which was co-written and produced with Joe Strummer, will be coming out the pipeline this year. According to Mick Jones, there are a bunch of unreleased tracks demos penned by (and maybe even featuring) Strummer from these sessions knocking about Jones' flat that might be included on this expanded version!

Apparently, Jonesy was inspired to get BAD back together after touring with the Gorillaz (Jones: "...there was a continuity from BAD that came to me, they were trying a similar kind of aesthetic that I recognized"). The version of BAD hitting the road (dates below) is the original 1985-1989 line-up:

Mick Jones - vocals and guitar
Don Letts - sound effects and vocals
Dan Donovan - keyboards
Leo Williams - bass
Greg Roberts - drums and background vocals

And, using their original gear and samples, BAD will be playing tunes from albums released during this era: This Is Big Audio Dynamite (1985), No. 10, Upping St. (1986), Tighten Up Vol. 88 (1988), and Megatop Phoenix (1989).

Big Audio Dynamite - 2011 UK/US Tour Dates

Tues, March 29th - Liverpool - O2 Academy
Wed, March 30th - Glasgow - O2 ABC
Thurs, March 31st - Newcastle - O2 Academy
Sat, April 2nd - London - O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire
Sun, April 3rd - London - O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire
Weds, April 6th - Nottingham - Rock City
Thurs, April 7th - Leeds - O2 Academy
Fri, April 8th - Manchester - Academy
Sat, April 9th - Bristol - O2 Academy

Thu, April 14th - Los Angeles, CA - Roxy Theater
Sat, April 16th - Coachella Festival
Tue, April 19th - New York, NY - Roseland Ballroom

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

NYC Ska/Reggae Gig Alert: The Hard Times, Frighteners, Royal City Riot, Princelionsound!

What: Champion Reggae!

When: Thursday, March 10, 2011

Da Bands...

Princelionsound @ 8:00pm

The Frighteners @ 9:00pm

The Hard Times @ 10:00pm

Royal City Riot @ 11:00pm

Move Your Mule on the turntables all night long.

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (between Avenues A and B)
Alphabet City in Manhattan, baby!

Free! No cover, no minimum!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Laurel Aitken 45s From Reggae 69 Fan Club/Moondust Records!

I think Jason Lawless may just be my new hero.

First of all, his whole new Reggae 69 Fan Club is simply brilliant (check out some of the details here). Essentially, a whole bunch of us ska and skinhead reggae fans made pledges in various amounts to the Reggae 69 Fan Club through Kickstarter and Jason is using these funds to print up the series of six exclusive, limited-edition vinyl singles (featuring Ocean 11 w/Queen P & Malik of The Bullets, Queen P & The Apologies, the Irie Beats, The Bullets, Roger Rivas, The Revivers, and The Impalers, amongst others), plus pins, stickers, patches, posters, and more. The cool thing is, if you don't have a lot of disposable income in these down-and-out times, you can still participate and have Jason send you a nice care package from the club; should you have a little more change weighing down your pocket, your Reggae 69 box can be considerably heavier...

For someone like myself whose love of vinyl 45s has been re-kindled in the last year or so (there have been a slew of really good ska singles recently, including a bunch from the Ska is Dead 7" series), Reggae 69 is a freakin' dream come true!

Now comes word from Jason that Reggae 69 Fan Club and its new imprint Moondust Records have just struck a deal to re-issue four Laurel Aitken skinhead reggae-era tracks on two double-A sided singles: "Reggae 69" b/w "Big Fight In Hell Stadium" and "Apollo 12 (Skinhead Invasion)" b/w "Moon Rock"! (Listen to these cuts via the videos posted below.) As a huge Laurel Aitken fan, I'm particularly thrilled by this development. I've had the honor and pleasure of knowing and working with Laurel (during my stint at Moon Ska Records) and he really was the best--an incredibly gifted songwriter, musician, and performer, and a true gentleman.

So, you may be asking yourself, why is The Duff Guide to Ska pushing this club if the pledge period is over? Well, even though the project is fully funded, you can still join the Reggae 69 Fan Club to enjoy the fruits of Jason Lawless' labor (he'll just print up more copies of everything)!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Dread at the Controls

Not sure what category this falls under, but it's kinda fun for aspiring DJs and MCs. (Dig through the crate and give the DATC lion a dubplate to get things going!)

(Hat tip to Marco on the Bass for pointing this out as "Minutes of fun with Mikey Dread.")

Friday, March 4, 2011

NJ Ska Gig Alert: Bigger Thomas and Pidgin Droppings

If you are a Jersey rude boy or girl, you'll want to make sure to get down to the Bigger Thomas (post-2 Tone ska) and Pidgin Droppings (reggae) show at the Hat City Kitchen in Orange, NJ tonight! (All of the details are listed in the image to the right, which you can enlarge a bit by clicking on it.) The Bigger Thomas line-up this evening will feature ace guest musicians Dave Barry (The Toasters) and Roy Radics (The Rudie Crew).

Bigger Thomas always put on a stellar set (a source tells me that they will be appearing at one of the Dirty Reggae Parties at The Lake in Bushwick soon!)--check out a video I shot of them performing a cover of The Specials' classic "Nite Klub" (with several musicians who were touring with The Specials at the time) at the NYC Ska Festival at B.B. King's last spring.

NYC Ska Gig Alert: Version City Harlem w/King Django Septet, The Bluebeats, The Rudie Crew, The Times, The Justin Rothberg Trio

This is definitely a very cool development for the NYC ska scene: Version City is back in Manhattan after a long exile in Brooklyn! Welcome back to where ya belong!

The next Version City party--which is free, by the way (a huge plus in these downtrodden times)--is taking place on Saturday, March 12, 2011 from 6:00 pm to 11:00 pm at Shrine in Harlem with a spectacular line-up (see below).

If you haven't been, Shrine is a great, intimate venue to catch ska and reggae acts--and very easy to get to. The last time I was there I took a city bus that dropped me off right in front of the venue and I walked just a few blocks to take the 2 train back downtown (or you can always catch a cab or car service back home). For a taste of the club, check out the video I shot of The Bluebeats performing The Drifters' "I Count the Tears" at Shrine back in the fall of 2009.

Here are all of the details:

Version City Harlem
Saturday March 12, 2011

Shrine World Music Venue
2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. (7th Avenue at 134th Street)
New York, NY

King Django Septet
The Bluebeats
The Rudie Crew
The Times
Justin Rothberg Trio

21+ with ID • No Cover • No Minimum
Live music from 6:00 pm to 11:00 pm

Thursday, March 3, 2011

"Easy Lovin'" - Brand New Tune & Video from King Hammond

I gotta tell ya, I can hardly keep up with King Hammond these days! I'm in the midst of reviewing Jacuzzi, his second album in a six-month period, and still need to write up his brand new Mr. DJ vinyl EP--and now he's gone and unleashed even more fantastic music upon us! Check out the video below for the sweet new rocksteady tune "Easy Lovin'" below.

Word also has it that Jump Up Records will be releasing a King Hammond album in the US in the near future. It's going to be 14 tracks and is tentatively dubbed Floorshaker.