Thursday, June 10, 2021

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Bobby Ramone "Rocket to Kingston"

The cover image features a part of the cover of The Ramones' "Rocket to Russia," but with Bob Marley's face on one of The Ramones' bodies. (Review by Steve Shafer)

Hat tip to my friend and former Moon Records colleague Ray Manuud for turning me on to Bobby Ramone's Rocket to Kingston (Digital/LP, Guerilla Asso, 2021), which is a brilliant, fun, and extremely well-done mash-up of Bob Marley's vocals from many of his hits with the spot-on '60s pop/'70s NYC punk-type sounds of dah bruddahs from Queens, The Ramones. In other words, it's as if Legend mated with Rocket to Russia and this is the beautiful result (and these types of rebel music have always been simpatico). Top tracks are "I Don't Wanna Stand Up," "Stirring in My Room," "Jamming Affairs," "Three Little Surfin' Birds," "Kaya Bop," "Is This Love Kills?," and "Bye Bye Redemption." What's particularly amazing is how the geniuses behind Bobby Ramone work in snippets of Ramones songs all over the place--like how the opening of "Glad to See You Cry" sounds like "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," "Stirring in My Room" has bits of "Rockaway Beach" in it, and some of the chord progressions from "Teenage Lobotomy" are in "I Don't Wanna Stand Up." If there's a heaven above, where musicians who have passed hang out and jam together, maybe this is what you'd hear coming out of some rehearsal room in the afterlife.

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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Duff Review: RSD Drop #1/Two of Two Releases from Jump Up Records: Skanking Lizard "Original Chicago Reggae, 1978-1996"

The cover features illustrations of lizards of various sizes running in a circle.(Review by Steve Shafer)

In the fall of 1985, I was a freshman at a small, liberal arts college about an hour south of Cleveland, in a town surrounded by cornfields in all directions. I ended up there because just about everyone I was related to on both sides of my family had attended that school (some also went on to teach there) and I was at a point in my life when I had no idea what I wanted to do. So, it was simply the path of least resistance. Fortunately, I became good friends with some kids from Rochester and Cleveland who were into many of the same new wave, punk, and post punk bands as I was, like The Cure, Yaz, Cocteau Twins, Simple Minds (Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call through Sparkle in the Rain), Killing Joke, Roxy Music, Bauhaus, Husker Dü, and Black Flag--and everyone seemed to have a copy of Bob Marley's Legend.

One warm Saturday in October, there was a music festival in a field just outside of town that was sponsored by one of the hippie pseudo-frat/off-campus houses as part of their pledge week. Since one of our friends was pledging, a bunch of us tagged along and the beer truck kept us entertained while we endured a series of endlessly noodly Grateful Dead-inspired bands (one of my friends decided to trip on 'shrooms and when I asked him how he was doing, he replied that everything was "spherical"; I mention this, as there's more on mushrooms below). Then, seemingly out of nowhere--and we really were in the middle of nowhere--a reggae band from Cleveland called First Light started playing. And they were really good, performing a mix of their own originals and covers. I was so thrilled by their set that I practically bum rushed the stage at the end of their set to tell them how much I enjoyed their show and to buy a shirt. They told me about their new 12" EP Musical Uprising, which I ended up buying on a trip up to Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights (their abridged version of NYC's West Village)--I still have it (check out "Musical Uprising" and "Holdback Syndrome"/"Movin' On"). And my friend C.H.U.D. (a cruel nickname given to him by some football players in our dorm that he wore like a badge of honor) and I wanted more, so we caught First Light again at Peabody's Down Under in The Flats in Cleveland later that semester. 

In high school, I had seen Peter Tosh, Black Uhuru, and UB40 (multiple times) at the Pier 84 concerts in Manhattan on the Hudson River. But I was hearing fantastic, original, American reggae in the middle of a cornfield in conservative, white bread (and very white) OHIO. My belabored point here is that the first generation of American reggae bands sometimes sprouted in unlikely places far from the Coasts, like Cleveland, Chicago, and Kansas City. If you were paying attention, you could find them (just like the first US ska bands that cropped up in the wake of 2 Tone). Inspired by The Harder They Come film and soundtrack, Bob Marley's Catch a Fire and subsequent LPs and US tours (First Light's Carlos Jones saw Marley in Cleveland in '78), United Artist Records' Anthology of Reggae Collectors Series, and whatever Trojan and Virgin Front Line UK imports they could get their hands on, a slew of American reggae acts formed in the mid-to-late '70s, including Berkeley's The Shakers, Kansas City's Blue Riddim Band, NYC's Terrorists, and Chicago's Skanking Lizard

As part of their series of releases devoted to Chicago-area ska and reggae pioneers (Heavy Manners, Rude Guest), Jump Up Records has issued a fine new compilation of rare and unreleased recordings from Chicago's first live reggae act Skanking Lizard--who opened for Toots and the Maytals, Mighty Diamonds, Steel Pulse, and The B-52's back in the day--titled Original Chicago Reggae, 1978-1996. Up until now, Skanking Lizard's sole release was their excellent 1983 "Jesse James" b/w "Mushroom" single on their own Reptile Records (which made it into the top 40 in JA). Side A is not a Laurel Aitken cover, but the band's original tune on the same topic, while the flip is a great version of Johnny Osbourne's slightly odd anti-psychedelics/pro-ganja cut ("The only thing the dawtas asking for all night/Was a stalk of mushroom--what is that, my gosh/Don’t want no mushroom to go to my head/Gimme the good sinsemilla instead/Don’t pee in my garden/'Cause mushroom will grow/Don’t pee in my garden/I don’t want your mushroom to grow/Sensimilla--that's I want to grow!"). The other two tracks to see light of day on the comp are from singer Alan "Blood" Lery's 1984 solo EP Heart Full of Soul (which hit it big on the Canadian charts): Lery's great original "It Happened" and a terrific cover of The Yardbirds' "Heart Full of Soul." Of note, the instrumental tracks were produced by Jimmy Becker (of Blue Riddim Band, who had been in the earliest version of Skanking Lizard) and recorded in JA at Channel One with local musicians including Ansell Collins, Carlton "Santa" Davis, Noel "Scully" Sims, as well as Blue Riddim Band's guitarist Howard Yukon--and Lery added his vocals in a studio in Chicago. 

The unreleased Skanking Lizard tracks on the album were recorded at various points throughout the '80s and include good covers of Mighty Diamonds' "I Don't Mind" and Keith and Tex's perennial "Tonight"; the interesting Lery-penned cuts "Strange Cargo" (I think it's about coming across a drug smuggler's errant load, but it feels like Cold War dread: "A strange cargo fell out of the sky last night/Don't worry child, no reason for you to cry") and "Wear a Smile" (which encourages the listener to enjoy life while you can, as tears won't get you into heaven); and fun versions of Beat and Selecter classics ("Tears of a Clown" and "Too Much Pressure").

Skanking Lizard's Original Chicago Reggae, 1978-1996 will be prized by fans who caught the band in the '70s and '80s--and is essential for anyone interested in nascent days of the American reggae scene.

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Friday, June 4, 2021

Duff Review: RSD Drop #1/One of Two Releases from Jump Up Records: The Skatalites "Bashaka"

The cover features a stylized illustration of a smiling and pudgy mask with dreadlocks and a pork pie hat.(Review by Steve Shafer)

Unless you were paying extremely close attention, it's likely that you had no idea that The Skatalites' Bashaka even existed until Jump Up Records announced this reissue (full disclosure: I was among the clueless). But don't worry too much about your ska street cred. Bashaka was issued in 2000, right after the bottom fell out of ska in the USA, on a small indie label in Florida that went under soon after its release (trainspotters will want to know that it was also licensed to Celluloid in France with an unintentional Kiss-referencing cover). Thankfully, Jump Up's Chuck Wren was paying attention and as part of his Skatalites reissue series (he's released 1993's Skavoovee, 1994's Hi-Bop Ska, 1996's Greetings from Skamania, and 2016's Platinum Ska) is rescuing this terrific "lost" album from oblivion, which in 2000 was their first new studio album since 1997's Ball of Fire. Warmly and wonderfully produced by the now late Ralston "Stamma" Haughton (a Jamaican-born bass player/singer who worked with Peter Tosh, Bob Marley, Ken Boothe, and others; fronted his own band Stamma & The Clubbites; and originally released this album on his own Marston Recording Corporation imprint), Bashaka (Clear yellow vinyl LP, Jump Up Records, 2021, artwork by CHema Skandal) features non-stop, top-notch original cuts (every player and singer contributes at least one song--though Stamma's two songs from the CD were left off, likely due to LP space), original Skatalites Lester Sterling, Lloyd Brevett, Lloyd Knibb, Cedric (Im) Brooks, and Doreen Shaffer, plus guest vocalist (and Stamma friend) Ken Boothe, and newer (and great!) Skatalites Devon James, Ken Stewart, Will Clarke, and Mark Berney. 

Some particularly outstanding tracks include the Middle Eastern-sounding "Ska of Iran" (renamed from the CD, where the song was titled "Skaravan"; anyone old enough to know this is a pun on the infamous CIA-stooge/dictator Shah of Iran whose ouster led to the Iranian Hostage Crisis?); the wistful tribute of "Roland Ride Along" (Alphonso passed away in 1998); and the cheery "Wild Honey" (which in Biblical times was a sign of luxury or abundance). Shaffer's song "Reach for the Sky" is not about a stick-up artist, but urges everyone to do their best (and she also wrote "Oh Baby"); "Milk Lane Shuffle" features that classic '60s Skatalites sound, which there can't be enough of in this world; and, as one might guess, "What a Day" is positively exuberant. The Ken Boothe/Dobby Dobson-penned "I Never Knew (What a Queen Was Like)" sung by Boothe is fantastic ("I was living like a pauper/With just bread and water/And then you came into my life/And all is do is prosper"), and "Hail Tommy McCook" with Brooks' spoken word tribute is heartfelt and lovely: "Hear, Tommy McCook. We salute you. You are one of the great musicians of Jamaica. Your contribution to our music will be remembered and praised from generation to generation" (McCook also died in 1998, less than two years prior to this album's release; he had stopped performing with the band in '95, due to poor health).

Bashaka is an Arabic name meaning nimble, which is a fantastically appropriate title for this album. Here, The Skatalites sound ever so relaxed, supremely confident in their groove, and make the hard business of making quality music seem simple and effortless. Don't miss out on this essential entry in The Skatalites' catalogue! 

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Up next: RSD Drop #1/Two of Two Releases from Jump Up Records: Skanking Lizard Original Chicago Reggae, 1978-1996!

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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Dawning of a New Era: Live Ska Music (Slowly) Returns to NYC!

The sticker features a rude boy with his back to us pointing a pistol to his right.
It's been a very long time since I last posted a NYC Ska Calendar, so it's kind of a thrill to list these few upcoming ska shows, even though we're several months out from all of them (well, with the exception of the Madness date which is a year out).

First up, The Toasters are playing in Brooklyn on the way to the Supernova Ska Festival in Hampton, VA (and rumor has it that Bim Skala Bim will be making a rare New York appearance around the same time).

Friday, September 17, 2021

The Toasters
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
Doors open at 6:00 pm

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Pietasters Booze Cruise
The Lucille--Rocks Off Concert Cruise
23rd Street and the FDR Drive
Manhattan, NY
Doors at 6:00 pm, boat departs at 7:00 pm

Saturday, December 18, 2021

The Slackers and The Aggrolites
Irving Plaza
17 Irving Place
Manhattan, NY
Doors open at 7:00 pm

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Madness and The English Beat
Manhattan Center--Hammerstein Ballroom
311 West 34th Street
Manhattan, NY
$55 and up
Doors at 8:00 pm

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Friday, June 11, 2021--8:00 pm to Midnight

100% Ska with DJ Ryan Midnight
Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (Between Aves A & B)
Manhattan, NY

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Barbicide, Homebodies, plus DJs Selector Peralta, DJ Shabbakano, Comandr3 Selecta
Arrogant Swine
173 Morgan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
All Ages
Early show: 3:00 pm
"NO Racism - NO Sexism - NO Bullshit"

Saturday, June 26, 2021--4:00 pm

Stop the Presses
Queens Night Market @ NY Hall of Science
47-01 111th Street
Corona, NY

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Mighty Ramon, The Bluebeats, The Naughty Cubists
American Legion Huntington Post 360
1 Mill Dam Road
Huntington, NY
Doors at 5:00 pm

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Ska Punk Bash w/The Scofflaws, Jones Crusher, The Knottie Boys, Bad Mary, Skappository, plus DJ Treblemakazz
Bartini Bar
124 North Carll Ave
Babylon, NY
$15 day of show/$10 in advance

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Hub City Stompers, The Take, Murderer's Row, Violent Way
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$15/All ages, 21 w/ID to drink
Doors at 7:00 pm

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