Thursday, July 30, 2009

Upcoming Megalith Releases: The Toasters' Hard Band for Dead Re-issue, Plus New Freddy Loco & The Gordo's Ska Band CD

Our good friends at Megalith Records have two new releases of note rolling out of their pipeline soon from The Toasters and Freddy Loco and The Gordo's Ska Band.

The Toasters' excellent 1996 album Hard Band for Dead (which followed on the heels of the brilliant Dub 56) is being re-issued as 2Tone Army, with new artwork and six previously unreleased bonus tracks:

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)
[Bonus Tracks]
15. 2Tone Army [Special Forces Version] (Hingley)
16. Skar-Toon [Unreleased] (Brown)
17. Retroactive [Unreleased] (Reiter)
18. Speak Your Mind [Instrumental] (Hingley/Rice)
19. Skaternity [Demo] (Reiter)
20. Moon Ska Stomp [Unreleased] (Hingley/Toasters)
21. Speedy Gonzales [Unreleased] (Hingley/Toasters)
22. 2Tone Army [Blues Reprise] (Hingley)

The album features 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").

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 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!".

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Also on deck for release in mid-August is the sophomore release from Belgium's vintage ska/jazz practitioners Freddy Loco and The Gordo's Ska Band : "Satelites." The album features guest appearances by The Skatalites' Cedric Brooks, NY Ska Jazz Ensemble's Rocksteady Freddie Rieter, and Victor Rice, who also mixed the tracks. The band's debut album, TABA, was digitally released by Megalith in 2007 through CD Baby and iTunes.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

NYC Ska/Reggae Show Alert: Green Room Rockers, The Forthrights, Across the Aisle and The Hard Times

If you haven't caught Indiana's Green Room Rockers (soul/ska/reggae), this is an excellent opportunity to do so (the buzz on them is good)! The venue is easy to get to (The Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, between Houston and Bleecker--take the F train to 2nd Avenue or the 6 to Bleecker). The price is right ($8--cheap!) and it's an all ages show. Also on the bill are The Forthrights (Brooklyn rocksteady/reggae, who are touring with GRR on part of their East Coast tour), Across The Aisle (NYC ska/punk), and The Hard Times (NYC vintage reggae with Bob Timm on drums!).

If I'm in town, I'm going to try to make it...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Duff Thoughts: Ska in Sci-Fi

While I was listening to Pandora on my computer the other day at work, The Scofflaws' "William Shatner" came on--a song that I'd almost completely forgotten about. If you're familiar with it, you know that it's a mega-campy tune, but all of the choice references in the lyrics make it clear that it was written by someone (Buford O'Sullivan) with more than a passing acquaintance with--and genuine affection for--the original Star Trek series from the 1960s:
He's got a fine tan shirt with an emblem on the chest
The interstellar girls all like him the best
Captain of the crew and he knows kung fu
and he did Joan Collins in 1932 [refers to "City on the Edge of Forever"]

Really just an actor, and a genius to boot
He never gets fire when the enemy shoots
So he ends each show looking neat and clean
After staring down the mouth of the Doomsday Machine [refers to "The Doomsday Machine," duh]

I really like the one where he reads the Constitution
After ending all the fighting in the future revolution [refers to "The Omega Glory"]

William Shatner!
William Shatner!
William Shatner!
William Shatner!


I am Kirok! [refers to "The Paradise Syndrome"]
And you gotta love how his trombone solo (from the track on the album) starts out sounding like the "red alert" alarm!

The video clip below is from a Scofflaws' show from 1997 at Wetlands; you can catch part of "William Shatner" at around the 7:34 mark...

Several months after The Scofflaws' Ska in Hi-Fi was released in 1995, I heard a rumor that someone in the band had actually run into the Shat in an airport, told him about the song, and later sent him a copy of the CD, which he supposedly liked. I never confirmed it with anyone in the band at the time--probably because it was too good of a tale to debunk.

And many people have also noted that, in his prime, Bucket of The Toasters reminded them of Shatner (and while we are on the topic of ska musicians who look like superstars, Mike Drance of The Bluebeats looks a lot like a 70s era John Lennon).

+ + + +

Like Buford, I have to admit that I'm a big fan of the original 1960s Star Trek series (though not a dress-up in a costume and attend conventions kind of way). My mom half-jokingly blames my dad for all this--I was a baby when Star Trek first aired and she claims that my dad would always prop me up on his lap to watch it. (It must have been surreal to watch this idealized version of the future in the late 60s, as the Vietnam War and the struggle for Civil Rights were dividing Americans and literally tearing American society apart; check out Rick Pearlstein's extraordinary Nixonland to see just how bad things were--racism and violence and injustice much worse than I have ever imagined, with Nixon at the center, manipulating Americans' hatred and fear for his own political ends).

Then, when I was a kid during the 70s, the show was in endless syndication on Channel 11 in New York, but what made it a smash sensation with all my friends when I was in third and fourth grades was when the animated version of Star Trek was shown on Saturday mornings (on CBS?). We actually played Star Trek during recess in the schoolyard (I was Scotty). I bought and built several AMT plastic model kits of the phasers, communicators, and tricorders, and remember using them as we ran around at one of my birthday parties. (The photo above is of me as Spock for Halloween, probably in 1972.)

In high school, on Saturday nights a PBS affiliate in Scranton, PA that our cable system carried would run three commercial-free Star Trek episodes back-to-back from midnight to 3:00 am. If we had nothing better to do, which was more often than not, my friends and I would hang out and watch them, trying to be the first to guess the title of the episode from the scene before the opening credits. Things were...uh...kind of slow in Yonkers.

About a year ago, I discovered that Paramount had re-mastered the original tapes of the show and replaced the primitive 1960s special effects shots of the Enterprise in space with computer-generated images (the results are pretty amazing, and make the series a lot more palatable to contemporary viewers used to state-of-the-art digital effects). So, I've been taping the episodes (on Channel 11 from 1:00 am to 2:00 am on Sundays) and watching them when I have trouble sleeping at night...

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Speaking of internet radio, Pandora and other similar sites recently came to an agreement with SoundExchange (the nonprofit organization that collects and distributes digital royalties on behalf of artists and labels) regarding paying royalty rates for streaming songs (check out the New York Times article, as well as this piece in Ars Technica).

This is especially good news for lesser-known acts and indie labels, as they are now better positioned to earn some income from people simply listening to their music on the web (even if they're not actually intending ever to buy their CD or digital track).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

NYC Ska Shows This Weekend!

A cast of thousands (literally!) will play what is billed as the last show ever at the Manhattan Knitting Factory (hmm, we've heard that before, haven't we?) this Friday night, as Stubborn Records/Version City takes over the joint:
The Last Show Ever at The Knitting Factory in Manhattan!
74 Leonard Street, NYC
Stubborn Records Presents
Version City Takeover
Friday, July 24, 2009
Doors: 7:00 pm/Curfew: 3:00 am
All Ages! $17 in advance, $20 at the door.

King Django Septet
Hub City Stompers
The Scofflaws
The Jammyland All-Stars featuring Milton Henry
Nomadic Wax's African Underground
The Blue Beats
Bigger Thomas
Hyphen One & Daylow
Royal City Riot
Cold Spot 8
Justin Rothberg Trio plus horns
The Forthrights
Defending Champions
Brave New Girl
Silver Dollar
plus special guests TBA

with DJs/Selectors:
Selector Bigga Mention (Ruddy Virgo International Sound System)
Selector Agent Jay - Crazy Baldhead Sound System
Selector Jah Point – Shockwave Sound
DJ Qmaxx 420
Selector Greene Goblin - Steady Sound System
King Stout
Steady Rocker
Jah Burns
DJ Qmaxx 420
Saturday night, you can head out to Brooklyn (if you're not already there) for a free Dub is a Weapon show:
Dub is a Weapon
Saturday, July 25th, 2009 @ 10:30 pm
Zebulon Cafe Concert
258 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
And if you are looking for some awesome power-pop, check out my friends in the band Save Pluto:
Save Pluto w/Northern Public and more!
Saturday, July 25th @ 8:00 pm
Arlene's Grocery
95 Stanton Street, Manhattan
Cover: $10, 21+
Sadly, I'm out of town for the weekend, so no show reports from me...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Duff Review: The Dendrites - Mountain Standard Time

Megalith Records

God save The Dendrites! What with the music industry in shambles (thanks, in large part, to illegal file sharing), a fragmented American ska scene (still licking its wounds from the crash of the late 90s), and scattershot coverage of the music by bloggers and podcasters, they decide to drop this superb album of instrumental ska on the world now? In a different time (say 1997, when they would have been compared to The Scofflaws, New York Ska Jazz Ensemble, Skavoovie and the Epitones, and Dr. Ring Ding & the Senior Allstars) or place (Europe, Japan, South America, where they are not as rigid in their tastes--anywhere but here), The Dendrites' Mountain Standard Time would be hailed and celebrated by the ska masses--it's that good.

Ostensibly a vintage ska band in The Skatalites mold, The Dendrites (based in Denver, CO) take it all to the next plane, in a manner that reminds one of an act like the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, as The Dendrites' music is influenced by a wide array of genres (surf, latin jazz, soul, reggae/dub, 2 Tone, 1960s movie soundtracks). And there is a wonderful fluidity between these musical styles that brings a complex texture to The Dendrites' songs, as they often take many unexpected turns (see the Dick Dale surf guitar break in "Murder Mystery Weekend," the Eric Dolphy-ish jazz flute riff in "MMGF Dub," or the funky soul intro to "Street Walkin'"). There is also a surprising dreadness--not typically found in the ska-jazz genre--to some of their bass-heavy and dub cuts, like "Head Game" and "Interplanetary Space Sex," that are in a similar vein as those on Dub is a Weapon's powerful Armed and Dangerous EP.

The songwriting, performances, and production captured on Mountain Standard Time are uniformly excellent--there isn't a bum cut on this album (make sure to catch the bonus track at the end, the gorgeously melancholy "Trouble," that features vocals!). While a record brimming with instrumental songs may not to be every ska fan's tastes (I'm looking at you ska-punkers), those who are open to this style of ska will find much to love here.

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A-

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Jackson Mourning Period Completed

The Duff Guide to Ska has finally completed its official Michael Jackson mourning period. Tears were shed, garments rent, lamentations sung, and various burnt offerings made.

And the sparkly white glove has finally been removed from my sweaty hand.

Actually, we've been on vacation, then sick for several days, and we now are back up and running (though still on vacation). So, don't worry! New content is coming soon. I have a bunch of CDs in my bag here that I've been thinking about reviewing. So while I'm boogie boarding with the kids today at the beach, I'll be thinking up new adjectives to describe all those sweet ska sounds...

Stay tuned!