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.

+ + + +

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!".


Dr Ska said...

What a fascinating read! One question, why is the vinyl release called 2-Tone Army?

Steve from Moon said...

Thanks, Dr. Ska. Not sure why they opted to go with "2 Tone Army" instead of "Hard Band for Dead."

When the album was released by Pork Pie Records in Germany in 1996 it was re-titled "2 Tone Army," perhaps in recognition of how popular that song was proving to be in the US. And maybe Buck liked it better that the title reflected a song that he wrote instead of a take on a Prince Buster song?

Good question for Buck the next time you see him!

Dr Ska said...

Appreciate the response Steve. I didn't think it was a contractual thing, since the album is Bucket's property (I presume).

Being from CA, and having just seen the Toasters in January, it might be a long time till I get to ask :) Either way, can't wait to give it a whirl on the record player.

Anonymous said...


Is there a link to buy the vinyl? I can't find it on the Jump Up site. Also did Steve Laforge go on to be a scientist at Rockefeller University before his untimely death?


Steve from Moon said...


Yes, I believe that Steve Hex was at Rockefeller for a time--I remember Buck mentioning that.

Here's the link to the Jump Up Toasters page: