Friday, August 28, 2009

The Toasters To Be Joined by 2 Tone Stars at Upcoming Birmingham (UK) Gig

The latest word from Toasters' main man Bucket is that the band will be joined on-stage for their set by two of 2 Tone's great guitarists, The Selecter's Neol Davies and The Specials' Roddy Radiation, at the Academy 2 in Birmingham (UK) on October 2, 2009.

For the latest Toasters news and their current slate of European tour dates, click here.

Jump Up Records News: The Drastics vs. The King of Pop; Ska at the Movies

Proving that a great pop song remains a great pop song no matter how you interpret it, The Drastics have recorded and released a free download of Michael Jackson covers inna skinhead reggae style (in honor of his August 29th birthday). The digital EP MJ a Rocker contains extraordinary versions of "I Want You Back," "Rock with You," "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," "Billie Jean," "Smooth Criminal," and "The Way You Make Me Feel"--tunes that, if you've had any exposure to mass pop culture over the past two decades, have been grafted into your brain over the years (and you have to admit that they're damn catchy no matter what your feelings are about MJ). Those looking for a campy swipe at the self-anointed King of Pop should look elsewhere--this is a heartfelt tribute to a gifted musician/performer by a band that is clearly proud to counted among his many fans.

Simply brilliant stuff.

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Also, in the great ideas department, Chuck Wren of Jump Up Records has organized a free reggae/2 Tone film festival (the schedule and all details are at right), with popcorn and DJ sets (courtesy of Chuck himself) before and after the flix. If you are in the Chicago area, this is a no-brainer: go, dog, go!

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Amy Winehouse's appearance with The Specials earlier this week at the V Festival (singing "You're Wondering Now") coincided with the delivery of her "Free Nelson Mandela" single (on white vinyl with a cover that mirrors The Special AKA's) that I had ordered from Jump Up (as always, Chuck carries a plethora of ska releases from around the world...if you want it, he's probably got it). The cut--that I consider to be one of Jerry's best compositions ever--is a live recording from Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday celebration in London, back in June of 2008. Amy is backed by Jerry Dammers on keys, the Soweto Gospel Choir, and a cast of thousands, including Annie Lennox. Check out the viddy below...(and the original by The Special AKA can be seen here).

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ray Manuud Interview with Steve Perry of CPD

My former Moon colleague, Ray Manuud, has quite an interesting interview in ReadJunk with Steve Perry, singer/songwriter for the swing/ska band the Cherry Poppin Daddies, which has two ska CDs coming down the pipeline. Love or hate them, this interview is a good read.

Money quote:

RM: With 21 years of performing and making music, The CPD musical range is quite broad. From its beginnings with funk and punk rock to the band’s embracement of swing music which elevated the band to mainstream popularity and often resulted in listeners commonly referring to you as a swing band, how exactly does the band itself describe its music?

SP: We play most of our songs with horns I guess. As a rock band with horns. You know, Willy Deville of Mink DeVille died the other day and I just felt like his vision was similar to ours. He expressed himself in numerous different genres but his point of view was fiercely eclectic and punk. I believe the early days of punk and the New York downtown scene were like that: from Mink DeVille, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Richard Hell, Klaus Nomi, the Dolls, Television, Patti Smith Group. I like all scenes before they ossify into some form of exclusionary history written by some middle brow writer at Rolling Stone. Like "poof" the Ramones just appear out of nowhere…as if the Ramones weren’t deeply related to Slade and the Glitter bands with a touch of Sha Na Na’s schtick. The truth about bands is more interesting than the sanctioned history. There needs to be a “People's History of Rock.”

2 Tone-Era Band Updates

According to the September 2009 issue of Mojo (UK), Madness is going to be re-issuing expanded versions of all of their albums, from their 1979 debut through 1999's Wonderful. One Step Beyond...will be released in October 2009 with a second disc of b-sides, demos, live tracks, and foreign language versions, and the remainder of their catalogue in this enhanced format will find its way into stores and on-line through the middle of 2010.

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In related 2 Tone-era band news, the reunited Specials (minus Jerry Dammers) are planning to release a live album and DVD of their recent reunion shows in the UK.

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Lastly, Mojo has a review of Neville Staple's autobiography, Original Rude Boy--which calls it a "fascinating but harrowing tale of an uneasy life."

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The latest single from Madness' The Liberty of Norton Folgate (following "Dust Devil")...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Is Van Halen Ska?

It is now. RiceRokit have a new cut up on their MySpace page that is unlikely to ever be released for sale (for reasons that will soon become obvious), but you've got to hear it before it disappears into oblivion.

RiceRokit have versioned...wait for it...Van Halen's 1978 classic rawk hit "Runnin' with the Devil!" Before you recoil in horror, just give it a listen. They've put their spin on this song by recording new ska instrumental tracks (with horns!) and then laid Diamond Dave's vocals on top (ah, there's the rub). On paper, you might not think this would work, but Kendo works his magic here and the results are brilliant!

(This is a little off topic, but since we're talking covers--and since Kendo is obsessed with classic horror films/monsters--might I suggest that RiceRokit cover The Suburbs' "Monster Man?")

They also have a string of live dates coming up in Southern California:

Aug 12 @ 8:00 pm: The Bluebeat Lounge at the Knitting Factory LA (Hollywood, California)
Aug 15 @ 8:00 pm: Winston’s with Mike Pinto (Ocean Beach, California)
Sep 4 @ 8:00 pm: SOhO with The English Beat (Santa Barbara, California)
Sep 5 @ 8:00 pm: 710 Beach Club with Split Finger and The Upbeat (Pacific Beach, California)
Sep 19 @ 8:00 pm: Belly Up Tavern with Common Sense (Solana Beach, California)
Sep 26 @ 8:00 pm: BOXeight with OneLovefor...Music’s Benefit for Global Angels (Los Angeles, California)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Empire Strikes Back

I don't know if this will make all of the illegal file sharers out there lose a little sleep at night, but the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) just successfully sued 25 year-old Joel Tenenbaum for copyright infringement for 30 songs he had "shared" through Kazaa back in 2003. Tenenbaum is being fined $675,000 (that's $22,500 per song!).

According to the Guardian (UK), he is the second person in the US to be found guilty of illegal file sharing of music: Jammie Thomas-Rasset had "shared" 24 songs via Kazaa, was found guilty of copyright infringement, and was ordered to pay a total of $1.92 million! (Yo! She could have bought a whole mess of CDs with that amount of cash! At the major label price of $19 per CD, that's about 101,053 albums!)

Obviously none of this is going to repair the apparent sucker-punch death blow that illegal file sharing, piracy, stealing, whatever you want to call it, has delivered to the music industry as we've known it over the past few decades. Having said that, it is a significant victory for copyright owners, whether they are your favorite ska band, a beloved indie label, one of the last megastar rock acts left standing, or a sleazy major. (I'm not going to be popular in certain circles for saying this, but I hope that these court cases emboldens other copyright owners to go after more file sharers and the sites that enable all of this to happen.) Whenever a successful new model for selling and distributing recorded music emerges--one that allows musicians to be reasonably paid for their work (and we're certainly not there yet--iTunes is not the ultimate answer)--it is vital that copyright owners' rights are respected and enforced (I've written somewhat extensively on why illegal file sharing is wrong and how it is killing recorded music, etc. here, here and here).

Like it or not, bands and labels need to be paid for their product in order for them to continue being bands and labels (all the ska musicians I've talked to about file sharing are really pissed about it). So if music fans want to continue to be able to acquire their favorite band's song or album to listen to on their iPods or stereos whenever they want, they're going to have to pony up some cash up front--because (and I'm sorry to go somewhat Old Testament on you here) a day of reckoning is on the horizon and we're all going to have to suffer for the file sharers' sins.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hoi Polloi's Ska Almanac

I've been meaning to write this up for some time--if you don't already do so, you must regularly check Hoi Polloi Skazine's news section, which is really a fascinating ska almanac that contains all sorts of unexpected factoids that are certain to enhance your life (well, at least they will expand your knowledge of ska).

According to Hoi Polloi, significant ska happenings in the month of July included the passing of the wonderful Laurel Aitken (7/17/06); a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon (7/20/69) with HP's top 40 lunar-related ska and skinhead reggae songs (plus a few relevant punk and new wave cuts thrown in the mix); Ranking Roger's appearance on the cover of Melody Maker to promote the release of Special Beat Service (7/25/82); the Monday Night Ska Extravaganza at Gaz's Rockin' Blues at the Astoria in London with a mind-blowing bill that featured Desmond Dekker, Laurel Aitken, The Trojans, and Maroon Town (7/27/87); and the release of The Specials' debut single "Gangsters," which was at #7 on the UK charts 30 years ago (7/28/79). This is essential reading!

HP editor John Vaccaro has an extraordinary archive of ska-related press clippings and ephemera from the 70s onward (I have a huge backlog of articles and photos he has been kind enough to scan and send me, which I'm going to use for future Duff Guide to Ska articles). Plus, he shares my obesssion with Unicorn Records, the UK-based label that issued an inordinate amount of quality ska in the late 80s and early 90s (Laurel Aitken, Derrick Morgan, The Toasters, Potato 5, The Deltones, Busters, Mr. Review, No Sports, Skaos, Napoleon Solo, Casino Royale, Spy Eye, The Braces, The Donkey Show, the Skankin' 'Round the World comps, etc.) and helped bridge the gap between the 2 Tone and 3rd Wave eras--a weird (pre-internet!) period when the US scene was just starting to coalesce, but the Euro ska scene was red hot. (Unicorn's glow is diminished a bit by accusations that label head Mark Johnson had the bad habit of not paying bands the royalties due them).

Sunday, August 2, 2009

No Thanks, I'm Just Listening...

According to The Duff Guide to Ska's unscientific and probably poorly-worded poll, the vast majority of our respondents prefer to buy their ska music on CD or vinyl versus a digital download. But, unlike almost everyone else out there, at least they are still cracking open their wallets.

While the music industry death march over the past decade has been agonizing to watch and experience, I never thought it would come to this. According to an article titled "Swan Song" by Charles Blow in the New York Times, between piracy (illegal file sharing) and the rise in music streaming (Pandora), hardly anyone is buying music anymore in any format:
The speed at which this industry is coming undone is utterly breathtaking.

First, piracy punched a big hole in it. Now music streaming — music available on demand over the Internet, free and legal — is poised to seal the deal.

The problem is that if people can get the music they want for free, why would they ever buy it, or even steal it? They won’t. According to a March study by the NPD Group, a market research group for the entertainment industry, 13- to 17-year-olds “acquired 19 percent less music in 2008 than they did in 2007.” CD sales among these teenagers were down 26 percent and digital purchases were down 13 percent.

And a survey of British music fans, conducted by the Leading Question/Music Ally and released last month, found that the percentage of 14- to 18-year-olds who regularly share files dropped by nearly a third from December 2007 to January 2009. On the other hand, two-thirds of those teens now listen to streaming music “regularly” and nearly a third listen to it every day.

This is part of a much broader shift in media consumption by young people. They’re moving from an acquisition model to an access model.

Even if they choose to buy the music, the industry has handicapped its ability to capitalize on that purchase by allowing all songs to be bought individually, apart from their albums. This once seemed like a blessing. Now it looks more like a curse.

In previous forms, you had to take the bad with the good. You may have only wanted two or three songs, but you had to buy the whole 8-track, cassette or CD to get them. So in a sense, these bad songs help finance the good ones. The resulting revenue provided a cushion for the artists and record companies to take chances and make mistakes. Single song downloads helped to kill that.
Some of you may remember a time when people would listen to the radio for new music (in the early to mid-80s, WLIR was the best!), hear something they really like, and then track down that song at their local record store. Listening led to buying. No more.

(I guess I'm part of the problem...I listen to Pandora at work...but I'm still conditioned to follow the old model: in the last week or so, I heard about 5-6 new songs from CDs that I'm going to find and buy.)

Here is the real kicker...
A study last year conducted by members of PRS for Music, a nonprofit royalty collection agency, found that of the 13 million songs for sale online last year, 10 million never got a single buyer and 80 percent of all revenue came from about 52,000 songs. That’s less than one percent of the songs.
Jeez...I guess those of us who are still purchasing music need to be buying a whole lot more, so those ska or reggae albums you were thinking about buying at some point down the line...get 'em now! Save recorded music!

(Can't we get some sort of stimulus package going here to rescue the music industry and change people's music purchasing habits? Shouldn't the government send out $10 vouchers to everyone in the US that could be used toward the purchase of a CD, LP, or digital download of a whole album? They've bailed out the banks and Wall Street, as well as "Cash for Clunkers" to help Detroit...and god knows they've wasted taxpayer money on all kinds of crazy crap over the years...trillions in Iraq, anyone?)