Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all MOTB readers! To ring in 2013, I look back to a memorable musical New Year for me when I tuned in to see both UB40 and General Public perform during the 4th annual MTV New Years Rock 'N Roll Ball broadcast on December 31, 1984.  

I was in a complete state of shock the entire broadcast as I patiently waited through performances by Joan Jett, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and John Cafferty before watching both bands perform live on American TV.  It really was a defining moment for those here in the U.S. who had followed UB40 and The Beat (before they had broken up the year before) from afar to finally see them live.

I remember staying up late to see UB40, who played songs from the "Geoffrey Morgan" LP and General Public who had just released "All The Rage" in the U.S. and were having chart success with their first single "Tenderness."

So without further ado, I present General Public performing their eponymous song before an enthusiastic crowd in Los Angeles.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Story Behind Paul Simonon & His Famous Smashed Bass Guitar

It's September 21st, 1979, at a Clash show at New York's Palladium, and Paul Simonon's bass has only seconds to live. "The show had gone quite well," says Simonon, "but for me inside, it just wasn't working well, so I suppose I took it out on the bass. If I was smart, I would have got the spare bass and used that one, because it wasn't as good as the one I smashed up."
Paul Simonon of The Clash is the reason I initially stuck with the bass guitar despite initially knowing nothing about notes, scales or bass lines. As I fell more deeply in love with ska, reggae and punk music as a young and angry teenager, it was the knowledge that Simonon was a reggae fan, a rude boy and self taught musician that continued to inspire me. That and the iconic image of him smashing his beloved Fender Precision bass guitar sealed the deal.  I wanted to be like him and I had to have the same guitar!

And so because of Simonon, I went out and bought my first cheap bass guitar at a nearby Sears with money I had saved from a dish washing job. It was Cherry red and white and weighed a ton. I remember taking it out of the flimsy cardboard case it came in and looking at it with a mix of desire and despair. I finally had the object of my affection but I had absolutely no idea what to do with it! I remember standing in front of a mirror with the guitar strapped low across my body like Simonon and plucking the strings. The sound was sharp and metallic and nothing like the fluid bass lines I heard on the 2-Tone, Clash and reggae records I played non-stop in my bedroom. My love affair with the bass flickered and threatened to go out permanently. But, I have Simonon to thank for not giving up and for eventually getting a black and white Fender Precision bass.
"Paul Simonon–well, he’d have to be the driveshaft, because it was his aesthetic sense, his knowledge of painting, his use of sculpture (especially the slabs of Carreran marble that characterized his bass playing) and pliocene sensuality–that visualized the band’s look and touch.”

– Lenny Kaye, Americlash, Fall 1991
Though known for his many inventive and innovative bass lines with The Clash, Simonon was self taught and did not read music but he brought so many intangibles to the band and to his bass playing. This was always an added inspiration to me, as I struggled to play. It took a while for Simonon to learn the four-string (at one point, he marked the notes off on his instrument's neck to know where to place his fingers), and after 9 months of intense practice he was ready to play on the band's first record. Although it was Strummer and Jones who penned the lion's share of the Clash's songs, Simonon's fluid, almost reggae-ish bass lines often provided the glue that held the band's best known breakneck compositions together.

Fender recently conducted an interview with The Only Band That Matters' bassist. In the interview Simonon talks about learning to play bass, his technique, how he got turned on to the Precision Bass, and the iconic "London Calling" album cover and what led to that historic moment when he "sort of smashed up" his beloved Precision Bass.

According to Fender Bass Player:
"Simonon started out playing a Rickenbacker but found it's sound too thin. He then quickly switched to a mid 70's Fender Precision Bass, which offered more bottom end and a stronger tone. He preferred using heavier model Precisions that he believed sounded better and could take all the abuse he dished out on them night after night. His P-Basses were usually white and he often adorned them with stickers, abstract paint jobs and roughed them up a bit to give them some individuality. He also reasoned that no one would want to steal his basses if they were bashed up and hand painted."
"He frequently swung the instrument around onstage, and after a two hour show would often have serious problems with his shoulder. Strung low by his knees, he normally played with a pick, sometimes using his fingers for reggae style tunes. His style evolved from simple root-fifth punk lines to a more complex and intricate style, incorporating rock, reggae, ska, pop, funk and other elements that set him apart from most other punk bassists of the day."
The Fender Precision bass immortalized on the cover of The Clash's "London Calling" album was a white early 70's model with a maple neck. Simonon had placed a skull and crossbones sticker on the body, done some drip painting on the pick guard and had handwritten the word "PRESSURE" on the top body horn. Although the body and neck of the bass were damaged beyond repair, the smashed remnants were deemed important enough to be displayed in the permanent collection of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

While there is no film or video of Simonon in the act of smashing his bass during the show at the Palladium here in New York City on September 21, 1979, an intrepid fan of the band has matched short film clips of the band performing "I'm So Bored With the U.S.A.", "I Fought the Law", "Jail Guitar Doors", and "English Civil War" with audio from the show that night. They demonstrate the power and energy of the band at the height of their powers and the important role that Simonon played in their live show.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Win tickets to see The Specials 2013 UK Tour courtesy of Fred Perry!

To mark The Specials May 2013 UK tour, Fred Perry Subculture are giving away one pair of tickets to a gig of the winner's choice (see below for available dates and venues).

The full list of UK dates announced for May 2013 is as follows:

May 10 Glasgow Barrowland
May 13 Newcastle 02 Academy
May 15 Manchester 02 Apollo
May 18 Liverpool Olympia
May 19 Leicester De Montfort Hall
May 21 Birmingham 02 Academy
May 23 Newport Centre
May 25 Margate Winter Gardens
May 26 Portsmouth Guildhall
May 28 London 02 Academy Brixton

Following the success of The Specials' 2010 and 2011 tours, and their 2012 Olympic Hyde Park concert, the 2013 dates are very likely to sell out quickly.

Click this link to enter the competition, which runs through April, 5, 2013

Monday, December 24, 2012

MOTB & Bryan Adams Wish You A Reggae Christmas!

I strive to celebrate and venerate the best of ska and reggae music on this blog. The many artists who made the music a cultural phenomena are all heroes to me and many others. However, as ska and reggae music made its way into the charts of the U.K. (and the U.S, to a lesser extent) and its influence and popularity spread, many mainstream singers, bands and musical artists began including the rhythms and sound in their own songs. Some of these efforts were magnificent and some less so. Others were just plain terrible. I've previously trained the spotlight on some of the more dreadful attempts of what the Brits call 'Cod Reggae' (which is a term I have always loved).

So in the spirit of Christmas, I offer you "Reggae Christmas" a 1984 b-side by Bryan Adams which may be the best (or worst depending on your view) Christmas cod reggae song ever recorded. The video, which gives you a real sense of the early, anything goes days of 80's music, was recorded at the MTV studios in New York City.

What is there to love/hate about this song and video?  Let me count the ways. First, in case anybody was wondering what MTV was like in 1984, “Reggae Christmas” serves as a pretty good time capsule: All 5 original VJ's make caneos as does Pee-Wee Herman (in a Santa hat with dreadlocks).  Why Pee-Wee Herman you ask?  Lest we forget (or if you aren't a child of the 80's). Herman was on hot streak at the time due to his smash hit "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" TV show and "Pee- Wee's Big Adventure" movie.

Musically, you have to hand it to Adams for giving reggae a go. While the song is a rote version of reggae, his band seems to get it musically.  The bass and drums are locked in and the guitars are playing upstrokes in the right place. It was the early 80's after all and from what I have learned, the song gets an airing every year around this time, which I suppose is the goal of every artist who records a Christmas song -- to be remembered, even if for a few minutes. Plus how can you resist these insipid lyrics which read like they were written five minutes before the band recorded the song:
Christmas is nice in Germany
if you like being up to your knees in snow
it's just as cold up in Canada
we gotta find another place to go we're having a reggae Christmas - down in Jamaica
To those who argue that Bryan Adams is French-Canadian and in no way qualified or capable of attempting reggae, I would point out that his birth certificate does say that he was born in Kingston, albeit the one in Ontario.

A big hat tip to Chuck Wren of Jump Up Records  for alerting me to this fantastically terrible piece of reggae music.

Happy Holidays to all MOTB readers!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Stream: ‘Made In Birmingham: Reggae Punk Bhangra’ — Full 1-hour documentary Highlights City's Musical Heritage

Director Deborah Aston’s documentary "Made In Birmingham: Reggae Punk Bhangra" tells the story and development of reggae, punk and bhangra in Birmingham from the mid 70s to the mid 90s through rare and uncovered archive footage and interviews from those who were actually there.

The doc includes rare footage from the city's earliest reggae bands including UB40, Steel Pulse, Musical Youth and Beshara  interspersed with interviews from UB40's Brian Travers, Musical Youth's Dennis Seaton, Steel Pulse's Amlak Tafari and dozens of others who highlight the social and political issues of the day and how the music of that time reflected the diverse communities of Birmingham, Britain's second biggest city. This is a great insight into Birmingham and some of its rich musical heritage.

Check it out right here. Perfect holiday viewing.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

In Memory Of Joe Strummer

It is hard to believe that the world has been without Joe Strummer for a decade. The co-founder and lead singer of The Clash died Dec. 22, 2002, of an undiagnosed heart defect at just 50 years old. Yet even his most topical songs continue to resonate.  According to an excellent piece done about Strummer's passing on NPR this week:
The band's biggest single, "Rock the Casbah," released in 1982, could as easily have been about last week's news from Syria. A Middle Eastern sherif, or king, orders his air force to bomb his own subjects, who are rebelling. Like the best Clash songs, it manages to be a pop tune and a protest song at the same time.

Strummer remains a musical hero and an ongoing inspiration to me -- listen to his diatribe before kicking into a raucous version of "Rock The Casbah" at the US Festival in 1982.  It was 2-Tone, The Clash and reggae music that offered me a lifeline during a difficult time in my life in the early 1980's. Instead of alcohol and drugs, I found refuge in music that changed my life in incalculable ways.  I am the man I am today because of people like Joe Strummer who offered me a vision that the world could be different and that I could play a part in changing it. The Clash's albums were like a classroom for me and their admonitions to question authority, support social justice and know my rights, helped shape the political and world view that I still hold to dearly nearly 30 years later.

More importantly, The Clash and other punk bands inspired me to pick up a guitar and find other like minded souls to make music with. I had no idea how to play the bass when I started, but I was encouraged by Strummer and others who said that it didn't matter as long as kept at it and was passionate about it.
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. There is nothing more common then unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world if full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
― Joe Strummer
Even better, Strummer imbued me with the punk rock ethos that everyone had a story a tell and that those stories were important and interesting.  For that I am deeply indebted.

In memory of the tenth anniversary of Joe Strummer's passing check out this mind-blowing live video of their cover of Willie William's "Armagideon Time" (which segues into the dub "Justice Tonight") at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1979.  This version still gives me musical chills each time I hear it.

RIP Joe Strummer.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Put Some Bigger Thomas Under Your Xmas Tree & Support Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts

Are you still searching for a unique, one-of-a-kind, ska related holiday gift for that special Rude Boy or Rude Girl in your life?  Do you also want to support the ongoing Hurricane Sandy relief efforts here in New York City and surrounding areas?  Do you like my band Bigger Thomas? Well if you answered yes to any of the questions above, I have an excellent gift idea for you -- a personally autographed live photo of the band in action.  It may be one of the best photos of the band ever taken, and it can be yours if you act quickly!

Though the 12-12-12 concert here in New York City last week featuring The Rolling Stones, The Who and Bruce Springsteen was an important fund raiser to help support the ongoing Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, smaller, more localized and creative efforts are ongoing and pack a more emotional and personal touch.

Bryan Kremkau is a talented New York City area photographer who also happens to love ska and punk music.  He came to photograph a show that my band played this past September and  he took an amazing photo that captures the essence of our band -- specifically the love and passion we have for playing ska music. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Kremaku decided to auction off  autographed photos of bands he photographed during 2012 including The Descendents, Flogging Molly, NOFX, The Pilfers and Saw Doctors and others. Kremkau recently wrote about the impetus behind the project:
After Hurricane Sandy hit the area, I wanted to help out in some way. I thought it would be great if I could get prints signed from bands & artists I’ve photographed over the years, auctioned off those prints, and then donate 100 percent of the proceeds to American Red Cross or another charity for the hurricane relief. Well that’s exactly what I’m going to do! After seeing all the destruction that happened on Staten Island, Rockaway, and NJ Shore, I just wanted to do something to help. Personally, it was certainly sad to see Long Beach Island get hit hard by the “superstorm.” It felt like my childhood washing away in a way.
If you are a fan of ska music or Bigger Thomas and looking for a special gift that will also support a cause close to our hearts, I hope you will please consider bidding on the photo. It would mean a lot to us and all the people here in New York and New Jersey who are still struggling to get back on their feet.

Here is a link to bid on the Bigger Thomas eBay auction. If you are interested in bidding on photos on any of the other bands, please visit Kremkau's site SkaPunkPhotos for more information.

Happy Holidays & Happy New Year!

Neville Staple Announces He Will Not Tour With The Specials In 2013

Neville Staple, co-vocalist of The Specials has announced via his Facebook page that he will not be joining the rest of the band during their May 2013 U.K. tour dates.  Fans noticed and commented on Staple's absence during The Specials recent live performance on BB6, and the news comes after tickets for the bands shows across the U.K. had already gone on sale.   Whether or not the decision is permanent remains unclear, though UK media have reported that Staple's has quit the band. Here is Staple's statement.
To all the fans who have sent messages and posted stuff on facebook and on the Specials forum pages, I'm sorry to hear that some of you are upset that you bought tickets, before knowing I had decided to not perform with the Specials for BBC and the forthcoming tour.

I made my mind up some weeks ago to take a back seat and was under the impression that tickets wouldn't go on sale until after the BBC performance, when my decision would be made public. However, the ticket link went out earlier and this was out of my control.

I can't jump around like I used to but will be performing now and throughout 2013, with my band as before and hope to see many of you along the way. Please join my facebook page for all ticket updates.

I wish the rest of The Specials all the best in 2013.

The announcement adds to the drama that has stirred up fans of The Specials since the first reunion shows were announced in 2009 without the participation of band founder Jerry Dammers.  More recently guitarist Roddy Byers flirted with the idea of quiting, but quickly changed his mind.  Staple has suffered from poor health in recent years which lends credence to his decision, however the fact that he intends to continue performing with his solo band suggests there may be more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye.

While fans have debated whether the decision to sell tickets before Staple's announcement was deliberate, the band's management have offered a refund to anyone wanting to cancel their 2013 U.K. tour tickets.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Specials Perform "Classic Album Of The Day" Show Live On BBC 6

After announcing plans to play a 10 date UK tour this coming May, The Specials celebrated the news by taking over the iconic Maida Vale studios of the BBC yesterday for a blistering live, "Classic Album of the Day" show hosted by BBC 6 DJ Steve Lamacq. The band performed a nearly hour long set featuring cuts from both of their albums, "The Specials" and "More Specials" in front of a raucous live audience. Have a listen and play it loud!

Singer Neville Staple was notably missing from the performance.  It has been reported that he was feeling sick and stayed at home to recover.  He is expected to re-join the band during their UK tour.

Suggs of Madness Announces One Man 2013 UK Tour

Madness singer Suggs is ditching his baggy trousers to embark on a solo theatrical one-man show, "Suggs: My Life Story", across the U.K. during the Spring 2013, in which he will relate his life story with anecdotes, jokes and music.

Suggs was an only child, raised by his mother, a jazz singer and barmaid, who took him around the Soho and East End clubs where she worked. His father, William McPherson, left before he was born, and was never seen by the family again. Suggs later learnt that his father was a heroin addict, who died in 1975, just when Madness was being formed.

According to an interview Suggs did about topics that he touches on during his one man show, Madness have always served as a surrogate family for the boy who never knew his father and had an unconvetional upbringing.
“The story of Madness, of course, is that most of the band were from dysfunctional families. We were a sort of group of loners. When I hear talk of kids from one-parent families ending up in gangs, because the gang is a family, I understand. Obviously the great thing was we all had something to do in our gang, as well as hanging about on street corners nicking bicycles. ’Cause we formed a band.”
If you live in the U.K., click here for a chance to win free tickets to the show of your choice. Sadly, there is little chance that Suggs will bring his show Stateside, though hopefully some of these shows will be recorded for future release on video or DVD.

Monday, December 10, 2012

MOTB Reviews The Year In Ska 2012

I always enjoy year end wrap-ups and 2012 was another banner year for ska music . There was an unbelievable cornucopia of local shows, national tours and festivals, books, new albums and music to enjoy. In fact, the amount of ska related developments came so fast and furious at times, it was hard to keep up because there was so much to digest and write about.

My good friend Steve Shafer, the man behind the always excellent Duff Guide To Ska blog and my co-conspirator in booking and promoting our monthly Electric Avenue ska/reggae nights at Characters NYC is currently posting a great series titled "2012: The Year In Ska". He has reached out to a vast and diverse group of ska loving people to get their thoughts on the year that is about to end. He was also kind enough to ask me about my opinions on the state of ska this past year which he has posted on his blog. I am also re-posting the year in ska thoughts I shared with him here on my blog along with video of some of my favorite albums and live shows. Please be sure to visit the Duff Guide To Ska to check out all the other great year end wraps.

Without further ado, here is what made 2012 for me...

My top 5 favorite ska releases in 2012

1.The Ultrainfidels EPChris Dowd appears to be a man possessed with the musical spirit again. Nearly a decade out of the musical limelight, the ex-Fishbone singer, keyboardist and trombonist is back with a new ska band -- The Ultrainfidels. The band's new six song EP is dynamic, diverse (he has dubbed the band's sound as The Specials meets Yes and Metalica), thoughtful, intelligent and incredibly danceable. Even better, Dowd isn't shying away from embracing his Fishbone roots or his love of ska. One song in particular, "Cubicle" could have come from Fishbone's frenetic first EP originally released in 1985. It chronicles Dowd's time when he had a straight, 9 to 5 job. It moves from hyper ska to a Beatles-like psychedelic bridge that reveals Dowd's self awareness. The emotionally soulful "Time Ain't Long" (like many of the best tracks from Fishbone's classic "Truth & Soul") celebrates life while noting its impermanence and the difficult but essential lessons it offers us as we travel from youth to middle age.

2. The Skints - Part & Parcel: The mean streets of London have proved to be a fertile breeding ground for gritty ska and reggae songs for many years. The Clash, Madness, The King Blues and now The Skints have emerged from the city armed with bittersweet tales about surviving in the rough and tough neighborhoods across the English capital. While reminiscing about his roots in one of these neighborhoods on "Rise Up", vocalist Joshua Walters Rudge warns of the dangers of growing up there on "Live East Die Young". His lightning-quick cockney chat is complemented by the sublime vocals of Marcia Richards, particularly on the excellent "Ratatat". This is a modern day dub, ska, reggae and hip hop-inspired classic and The Skints could be the 21st century version of The Specials we have all been waiting for.

3. The Frightnrs EP: I found myself listening to this brilliant six song EP of authentic rub-a-dub reggae from the Brooklyn-based band a lot this year. The songs have a timeless quality and the band have done a fantastic job of recreating the rockers phase of early 70's reggae to a tee drawing influences and inspiration from Alton Ellis, Horace Andy and Sugar Minott. Its clear that the band members live, breathe and love early dancehall, 70's reggae and rocksteady. This devotion shines through, making this an absolute must listen for all fans of reggae and ska.

4. Tim Timebomb & Friends: Tim Armstrong from Rancid remains a musical force to be reckoned with. I also love that he is a music fan at heart. His latest project is to record and post some of his favorite cover songs including an incredibly diverse mix of ska, country, rockabilly and rock songs that have particular meaning for him. He took a crack at a number of 2-Tone era covers, but his best may be his acoustic cover of The Beat's "Save It For Later" which gets to core of the song's bittersweet center and his emotional and moving rocksteady take on The Faces "Ohh La La" may be one of his best songs ever.

5. Phoenix City All-Stars - Two Tone Gone Ska: This inspired and unbeatable collection of mostly instrumental versions of classic 2 Tone tracks that you know and love so well have been taken back to the future from whence they came -- namely 1960's Jamaica. Each song sounds like it was recorded in a small, 4-track circa 60's Kingston studio. The inclusion of legendary guest vocalists Dave Barker (the voice of Dave & Ansell Collins) on Elvis Costello's "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" and AJ Franklin (The Federals and The Chosen Few) on Smokey Robinson & The Miracles/The Beat's "Tears Of A Clown" complete the musical circle.

Top 5 favorite live ska shows in 2012

1. The Ultrainfidels - December 1st, Bordentown, NJ (Video from a show in NYC a few nights earlier)

2. Madness at Coachella - April 14th, Indio, CA (Live Coachella stream on YouTube)

3. Jimmy Cliff at Coachella - April 14th, Indio, CA (Live Coachella stream on YouTube)

4. Destroy Babylon/The Frightnrs - October 13th, New York, NY

5. The Beat Brigade - September 15th, New York, NY

My favorite ska-related merchandise/items purchased in 2012 (shirts, badges, stickers, books, used vinyl, etc.)

I'm a t-shirt freak! So I always try and pick up shirts for the many bands I see or my band Bigger Thomas plays with. Its also a great way to get some cash into the hands of bands who are getting paid a lot less than you think! I was finally able to grab a classic Beat Girl t-shirt at a show we played with The English Beat this summer which replaced the shredded original I had from 1983. I also got a classic Clash t-shirt (showing my age and roots here!)

My top 5 ska regrets—things I wished I could have seen/picked up or done in 2012

1. Missing the London International Ska Festival 2012 was a huge regret. My band Bigger Thomas was in the running for a fan vote to pick one band to perform at the festival. We finished in the top 3, but we were disappointed to miss playing. I plan to attend the 2013 version as a fan!

2. For a lot of very personal reasons, I was very sad to miss the Rocks Off Halloween Boat Party with Mephiskapheles, Inspecter 7 and Step2Far at the end of October.

3. Hurricane Sandy ruined my debut as a DJ alongside DJ Duff (Steve Shafer) at the The Toasters show at the Knitting Factory in early November. The good news was the show went on and Chuck Zilla (The Frightners) and Maddie Ruthless (The Forthrights) ably filled in for us.

4. Missing the Lee Perry's show at the Gramercy Theatre here in NYC which is a short bus ride from my apartment. I'm kicking myself for not going to see a reggae legend. Still have to see him live at some point.

5. Letting a little rain dissuade me from going to see Jimmy Cliff kick off his U.S. tour in Prospect Park in Brooklyn this past summer.

My Top 5 ska wishes for 2013

1. I have very high hopes for the Electric Avenue ska and reggae shows I co-book and co-promote with Steve Shafer of Duff Guide To Ska. I think we are making progress on establishing a monthly destination in Manhattan/NYC for ska fans to come and check out the very best bands from all over the east coast of the U.S. and beyond.

2. My band Bigger Thomas is celebrating our 25th anniversary in 2013 and we are planning to release an EP of new music. I hope we can play out a lot more in 2013 to mark our quarter century of playing ska and that we can finally record more of the songs we have written.

3. To be part of the backing band for King Hammond on his U.S. tour in November 2013. It would be a real honor and thrill to learn his songs and to play live with him.

4. That The Specials come back to do a proper tour of the U.S. in 2013!

5. Go see more shows. Listen to more music. Play more music. Write more songs.  Write more blog posts on MOTB. Meet more ska-loving people!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Story Behind The Special AKA's "What I LIke Most About You Is Your Girlfriend"

After Terry Hall, Neville Staple and Lynval Golding left The Specials it should have been game over for the band, but Jerry Dammers decided to soldier on as The Special AKA to make the "In The Studio" album, which according to many involved was a very difficult record to make. With Dammers perfectionism in overdrive and band members coming and going, its amazing that the record sounds as intact as it does.  Despite the difficult circumstances surrounding its birth, the album features the life-affirming joy that is "Free Nelson Mandela".

Perhaps one of the most unusual and intriguing tracks on the album is "What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend". Technically this was The Special AKA’s last single and the swan song for 2-Tone Records when it was released in September 1984.  I remember purchasing the single with fantastic art work by Nick Davies (read my interview with him here) at Bleeker Bob's here in New York City.

Upon opening the shrink wrap, I was surprised to find a large poster of Jerry Dammer's inside the record sleeve.  He was dressed up like some 1930's approximation of a space man (the poster quickly went up on my college dorm room wall).  It was only many years later, after seeing the extraordinary video for the single (with Jerry as an alien turning up in a bar, talking to a sailor while eyeing his girl, as The Jazz Defektors spiral and pirouette on the club's dance floor) that I put the connection together. It remains a classic.

With rare falsetto lead vocals by Dammers (sounding eerily like Rhoda Dakar who took the lead on other songs from the album), the song was a minor hit in the UK with it’s tongue in cheek lyrics ("Your girlfriend is what I like most about you"). It’s been stated by several fans of The Specials that the video for the song may be one of the best the band ever made (alongside the video for Ghost Town). The song with its unique jazz and reggae sound is a belter, showing Dammers' sense of humor was still intact, and it features some amazing horn playing by Rico Rodrigues and Dick Cuthell.

I connected with Rhoda Dakar, who was a member of The Special AKA at the time to find out more about the song and why it is the one and only song to feature Dammers on lead vocals rather than lead singer Stan Campbell or Dakar herself.
"He used to spend days doing guide vocals, as we were allowed no interpretation of our own. As the backing tracks were already recorded, there was no possibility of changing anything to appropriate keys for our voices. Jerry could not be made to understand the human voice is not a tuneable instrument. He wrote it about his girlfriend, so I imagine couldn't bear anyone to add anything of their own to the vocal. I can only imagine Stan (Campbell) didn't follow instructions to the letter."
Despite the turmoil and dysfunction that accompanied the recording of the album, the song quickly became of a favorite of fans and musicians alike. Have a listen to wildly disparate versions by Elvis Costello and The Punk Monks.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Unveils 2-Tone Exhibit

In a sign that the rock powers that be are more hip than we thought, The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame announced that it has unveiled a new spotlight exhibit focused on the history of 2-Tone featuring handwritten lyrics, photographs, singles, instruments, apparel items and more from numerous bands on the legendary label.

Read a post from Rock Hall curator Meredith Rutledge-Borger, who traveled to the UK to collect and research for the exhibit including quotes from interviews conducted with Jerry Dammers and Roddy Byers.

Highlights from the 2-Tone exhibit curated by Rutledge-Borger include:

Dave Wakeling of The Beat's 1980 Jay Dee Six Custom Guitar
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Dave Wakeling played this guitar onstage and in the studio between 1980 and 2006 with the Beat, his follow-up group, General Public, and as a solo artist.

Madness "One Step Beyond" Master Tape Box, 1979
One Step Beyond was Madness’ first album. It reached Number Two and stayed in the U.K. charts for more than a year.

Five 2-Tone Badges, c. 1979
Badges and lapel pins, especially those depicting “Walt Jabsco,” the iconic 2-Tone record label logo figure, were important signifiers of the 2-Tone scene.

The Beat's “Tears of a Clown” 45 single, 1979
The English Beat’s version of this Smokey Robinson and the Miracles 1970 hit reached Number Six on the U.K. chart.

The Specials “Ghost Town” 45 single, 1981
“Ghost Town” is the Specials’ final recording. It’s an eerie, world-weary document of the final days of the band, the disintegration of the 2-Tone scene and encapsulated the mood of the U.K. in the summer of 1981.

For more information on this exhibit, visit

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Specials Announce 2013 UK Tour Dates

The Specials have just announced dates for 10 city UK tour during the month of May  2013. This new tour will see The Specials perform at venues in Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool, Leicester, Birmingham, Newport, Margate, Portsmouth and London.

More details as they become available!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

MOTB Review: The UltraInfidels Featuring Chris Dowd (ex-Fishbone) Live!

Chris Dowd left Fishbone in 1994, walking off of a tour bus with a broken trombone, a guitar, his keyboard and a suitcase he found on the street in Barcelona. As a founding member of the band hailed by the Trouser Press Record Guide as "one of America's greatest and most overlooked bands," Dowd and his band mates broke out from the early 1980s club scene in Los Angeles with a raucous, high-energy mix of punk, ska, funk and straight rock. However, the growing tension and his departure from Fishbone led Dowd on an intense personal journey. Dowd explained his years away from music and his now timely return.
“I left the band in ’94 and I put out my own record with the band Seedy Arkestra (The Puzzle which featured songwriter David Ryan Harris and the dearly departed Jeff Buckley). I was writing and producing and I was able to get Morley Cain signed to Sony. I toured opening shows for Jerry Cantrell. After that I went back to London and I just focused on songwriting. I came back to LA and honestly, from 2000-2004 I drank myself blind! I was miserable. My marriage was falling apart, Jeff Buckley passed away, Lane Stayley had passed away. I just really needed to find myself during that period. 
One of the ways Dowd was able to find himself, was to dive head first into one of his all time loves; cooking! “Kendall and I would have cook offs! We would get everyone together while on tour, send someone to the grocery store with a list, and we would cook for everyone. People could see that I took that shit seriously! I ended up enrolling in Le Cordon Bleu. On the second day of the class my instructor walked in with a Fishbone T-shirt on! HA! I started catering different events…cooking gave me back my confidence. It gave me back my focus and sense of self. With all the touring we did I just lost a sense of who I was and I needed time to get that back. I needed time to be honest with myself."
What I have always admired about Fishbone is the absolute joy they have in playing music and entertaining their fans in ways that reveal their love of music. It is that love of music that keeps the current version of the band featuring Angelo Moore and Norwood Fisher together and it has clearly inspired Dowd to return to playing music again with his new band The Ultrainfidels.

My band Bigger Thomas was very lucky to play support for The Ultrainfidels stop at a show in New Jersey that was part of a short east coast tour they had embarked on with New York punk/funk legends Funkface, to road test the band (that's me and my Bigger Thomas bandmates with Luqman Brown of Funkface and Dowd in the picture below). The show at a Firehouse in Bordentown, New Jersey was more like an underground party for a very large group of friends. Though the attendance was smaller than it should have been, those who were there saw something very special.

Luckily, I remembered to bring my trusty Flip Video camera to record the proceedings. Based on the front row seat I had, Dowd appears to be a man possessed with the musical spirit again.  The new songs he unveiled were dynamic, diverse (he has dubbed the band's sound as The Specials meets Yes and Metalica), thoughtful, intelligent and incredibly danceable. Even better, Dowd isn't shying away from embracing his Fishbone roots or his love of ska.  One song in particular, "Cubicle" could have come from Fishbone's frenetic first EP originally released in 1985.  It chronicles Dowd's time when he had a straight, 9 to 5 job.  It moves from hyper ska to a Beatles-like psychedelic bridge that reveals Dowd's self awareness. The emotionally soulful "Time Ain't Long" (like many of the best tracks from "Truth & Soul") celebrates life while noting its impermanence and the difficult but essential lessons it offers us as we travel from youth to middle age. Plus Dowd rips off an amazingly bluesy harmonica solo.

My Bigger Thomas band mates and I were joined by Dowd for a raucous version of The Specials cover version of Toots & The Maytals classic "Monkey Man." Dowd then invited our singer Roger Apollon to join him for a joyful and faithful take on The Pioneers skinhead reggae classic "Longshot Kick The Bucket."

Dowd is coming back with open eyes about the music landscape and his place in it. He understands that they way music is marketed has changed and he smartly sold cards for fans to redeem his new 6 song EP digitally stating, "When we put this new music out if it reaches five million people that would be great! But if it only reaches five people, that’s OK too. If it goes double platinum, great but I will be OK if it only goes double plywood!"

Dowd clearly understands that The Ultrainfidels are his chance to reclaim his Fishbone legacy and that he has an opportunity to reach fans of the band who have missed him and his important contributions to the band and their history.  Based on the live show I saw, it will only be a matter of time before The Ultrainfidels are no longer playing small clubs and Firehouses.  And while that is a good thing for them, try and catch the band in an intimate setting while you can so you relive the spirit and love for music that we all love about Fishbone.

Credit and thanks to the iconic punk rock photographer Ken Salerno for the amazing show photos.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Tim Armstrong of Rancid Previews Solo Record Of Diverse Covers

2012 has been a very busy year for Tim Armstrong of Rancid.  He produced Jimmy Cliff's comeback EP "Sacred Fire" and album "Rebirth" and then toured with Cliff playing critically acclaimed shows at Coachellla. If that wasn't enough, Armstrong noted that new material from Rancid and the Transplants would be on the way.  Before those records drop, fans can look forward to Armstrong’s latest solo project, Tim Timebomb and Friends, who are releasing a debut album on December 11th on iTunes.

Armstrong has been posting a song a day on his official YouTube channel, often posting them as they are recorded. The songs offer an incredibly diverse mix of originals and covers with several guest musicians, including Pink and Travis Barker. Each video comes with a short note from Armstrong about its personal significance to him. Many are quite detailed and offer wonderful anecdotes about the song, its writers and details about its original recording. Armstrong is clearly a music fan first and foremost and explained the project on his website.
“Tim Timebomb and Friends is a place for me to share with you some of my favorite songs that I’ve recorded with friends of mine.  I’ve always enjoyed sharing music, whether I’m just sitting around playing acoustic guitar with my friends or breaking out old 45’s. 
“I guess you could call me a music nerd. I like everything from Bob Dylan to the Ramones, to Jimmy Cliff to Cock Sparrer. I plan to bring together a great group of players to record covers as well as some originals. I hope you dig it and encourage you to pass them on.”
Armstrong loves ska and 2-Tone and he has recorded faithful versions of a few of his favorites including The Specials "Concrete Jungle," The Bodysnatchers cover of Dandy Livingstone's "Let's Do Rocksteady," Bad Manners "Lip Up Fatty" and The English Beat's "Save It For Later." Have a listen below.

This track is HOT OFF THE GRIDDLE!! It's Friday night, and we just recorded it!! 'Concrete Jungle' was originally on The Specials self titled album, that was produced by Elvis Costello, and was written by Roddy Byers, aka Roddy Radiation. Roddy recorded with Rancid on the 'Life Won't Wait' record -- he played the guitar solo on 'Hooligans'. The Interrupters are my backing band on this one. Check out the the amazing rhythm section of Jesse and Justin, they play like identical twins...oh wait, never mind -- they ARE identical twins.

Tim Timebomb - Guitar, Vocals
Dan Boer - Organ
Kevin Bivona - Guitar
Jesse Bivona -Drums
Justin Bivona- Bass
Aimee Interrupter - Backing Vocals
Mike Bolger - Trumpet, Trombone
Pablo Calogero - Saxes

This is the second 2 Tone song that we’ve done. This one’s originally by the Bodysnatchers–a seven piece all female band who formed in London in ’79. You can check them out in a documentary film called “Dance Craze” which features a bunch of British 2 Tone bands. They toured with the Selector starting in ’79, and singer Rhoda Dakar joined The Special A.K.A. later on.

Tim Timebomb – Lead Vocals, Lead Guitar
Aimee Interrupter – Vocals
Kevin Bivona – Guitar, Farfisa Organ
Justin Bivona – Bass
Jesse Bivona – Drums
Dan Boer – B3 Organ
Pablo Calagero – Saxophone

Lip Up Fatty-This is the third 2 Tone era song that we’ve done so far. I first saw Bad Manners while I was in high school-when they played the Berkeley Keystone in 1983. A lot of the punk rock kids went to that show, and it was so cool to see punks, mods, and skaters all under one roof getting along and loving ska music.

Tim Timebomb- Guitar, Vocals
Kevin Bivona – Guitar, Melodica
Justin Bivona – Bass
Jesse Bivona – Drums
Dan Boer – B3 Organ

Dave Wakeling has a unique guitar tuning on this one. Dave Wakeling said he got it from the Velvet Underground. For those of you who may be keeping score-- this is the fifth "2-Tone" era tune that we've dropped... this time we broke it down acoustic.

Tim Timebomb-Guitar,Vocals
Jason Myers-Guitar
Kevin Bivona-Buitar, BG Vocals

Armstrong has also recorded and released a video for a moving and emotional version of The Faces "Ooh La La" which should be the centerpiece for the new album.

Originally released in 1973, this song was written by Ronnie Lane and Ron Wood for the Faces' third album, also called 'Ooh La La.' As soon as Travis Barker heard my demo for this song, he wanted to play on it, we recorded at his studio the next day and made the video the day after. I have a long working relationship with both Travis and J Bonner. J is my favorite reggae bass player that I've played with and worked with me on Poet's Life and the Jimmy Cliff album. Travis is in the Transplants with me. I'm so fortunate to get to play with these guys. In the video, there's a shot of me standing on a garbage can on the corner of Durant and Telegraph, in the distance you can see the church where my parents were married in 1958. This song is dedicated to my dad Don Armstrong 1931-2012

Tim Timebomb -- Guitars and Vocals
Travis Barker -- Drums
J Bonner -- Bass
Kevin Bivona -- Keys