The scene and I have a nodding relationship. Since I have reached such an advanced age (over 30!) I have been pon di seen for quite a while now. I like to have at least an acquaintance with as many things going on as possible. Mostly I DJ (on the internet, though I can throw down for a party or between-band set), attend as many shows as possible, and try to write good original Jamaican-themed music. However, I wouldn’t call myself the biggest scenester out there. I am basically just a guy who is ska’d for life.
- How did you get into ska music and Jamaican music in general?
It’s funny; like so many people in the nineties I was in a truly terrible shit-ska band that I started called “Kevin’s Mom”, which, I am ashamed to say, is what our fans called us. The whole name was “Kevin’s Mom is Hogging the Bong”. This was, of course, before I even knew what ska was. I had heard the Specials and Madness on the radio since forever, but no one ever told me it was ska. There was an MTV special that talked about skinheads way back in like ’93 that identified these as ‘ska’ bands, otherwise I might never have known. By 1995 I had turned off commercial radio for good. It is really fit only to be the alarm that wakes me up in the morning! It took me another three years to come around to reggae, which is currently still my favorite form of music. For those of you who are not counting, that’s 10 years I’ve been loving this music!
- Ruderoots.com, tell me a little about the history behind that site.
I started broadcasting under the name Rude Roots in 1998. It took me a few days of thinking to come up with the name Rude Roots. The idea was to combine something that people associate with ska and something they associate with reggae. The result, I think, is something that conjures up something edgy (worthy of the graffiti fonts that I use on the site) but purist (i.e. ‘roots’; this ain’t no Kevin’s Mom we’re spinning).
Anyways I suppose that others thought the name was pretty great, because a few years later a reggae festival in South Africa named itself Rude Roots. About two years ago, a reggae band in Brazil started playing under the name Rude Roots. And, a Dutch blues band by that name has been playing for a while now. But all of them are out of luck – I own every piece of web property with the contiguous name ‘ruderoots’. Ha~ha!
Back when I began broadcasting on the internet there were no rules, it was so sweet! You could just download a shoutcast plugin for Winamp, queue up a setlist, publicize your IP on one of several sites, and wait for people to hop on. I was working for a search engine at the time and we had T3-level internet access at our desks, so I could conceivably have a hundred listeners and never even cause a blip on the radar of the IT department!
One of my contemporaries was blackark.com, run by the inscrutable Aaron. This was a heavy, heavy influence on my musical taste’s development, although we two don’t really know each other.
At any rate, it didn’t take long for the RIAA and other fuckheads with more money than sense to lick a bwoy. I started broadcasting on Live365 to keep things legal (and possible). There are other, far better services out there, and Live365’s commercials are a joke, but it ends up being the best choice for my money. I have about three thousand listeners worldwide per month, which considering I only rarely change the setlist at this point is pretty good. I speak several languages and do station IDs in all of them. Whenever I meet a person who speaks a language that I don’t, I have them do a station ID for me. This makes the listeners feel like they are being targeted, I think. Every now and again I get a really nice fan email from people in places I’ve never even heard of-and always in perfect English. I have tried podcasting but as you know I don’t keep up on that too much.
The main thing behind the website rude roots dot com is content. I have done dozens of interviews with musicians and CD reviews. I have snapped thousands of photos for Rude Roots as well. Like all those lost Jamaican recordings that we will never have the pleasure of hearing, most of Rude Roots’ best stuff has never seen the light of day. I either have it on media that I can’t access, or someone else has it, or I am just too lazy to put it up!
- Viewing the scene in Northern California now, it seems like it’s not as active as it was, from even 5 years ago (when I still lived up there). That might be because I’m no longer living up there and haven’t been to a Northern Californian show in awhile…how is the scene up there currently?
Has it really been five years since you left? Man, it seems like only yesterday you were telling me how great country music was on Soulseek!
Seriously, the scene is in a really good place from my perspective. It might seem that five years ago there were more shows going on. Ten years ago there were definitely far, far more. But it seems to me that there are a lot of rankin’ shows still going on. There are so many quality bands that live and play in the Bay Area that if I began to name them I would undoubtedly have to leave some out. Also, the most incredible bands from all over the country and different parts of the world come through. Every year you can count on spring to bring a glut of really excellent shows.
One of the main promoters out there who is doing a hell of a lot to keep it alive is my brother from another mother, Peps X, who runs ATR Productions.
- Now your main band, The Street Vendors…how did that come about? How did you guys come up with the name?
I’ll answer the last part first. Finding a good name for a Jamaican endeavor is like finding a good woman. Once you’ve found her, you must make her yours and then never let her go!
I came up with the name ‘The Street Vendors’ quite some time ago and forgot about it. (I also came up with our branding, made all of our merch, manage our myspace and website, book several of our gigs, and do just about all of our promotion). How I thought of the name is that there is a great Jamaican movie called Dancehall Queen. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. The main character is a sort of chubby woman who makes a living selling cokes and red stripes from her push cart. She enters a dancehall contest hoping that no one will find out that she is a lowly street vendor. I won’t give away the end, but let’s just say that humble beginnings are not an impediment to progress. “You can get it if you really want” yunno.
When the band began to play and immediately get requests for gigs, we were still unnamed. So we were sitting around the garage where we were rehearsing and kind of ‘brainstorming’ (read: smoking and drinking red bull), and it dawned on me. ‘The Street Vendors’, I heard myself say. “Fuck yeah” is what I heard them say.
The band presently known as The Street Vendors came about as an interaction between Todd Bryan (formerly of Monkey) and Tyler Hughes. A multi-instrumentalist, Tyler was a bass student of Todd’s, and his good friend Luke Zavala had been playing the bone for years. These three came up with the idea that owing to their common interest in ska music and the availability of practice space they should form a ska band. Todd contacted me right away (I had recently moved to the area) and asked if I was interested in singing for the band. I believe by our first rehearsal together they had recruited Brandon Riggen, our former drummer, who tragically spontaneously combusted at the drumkit on a hot Roseville day. Next to join was Minh Quan, freeing up Tyler to return to keys from guitar. Most of our lineup changes have happened in the horn section, but we have a couple of steady guys now. Essentially we are a Sacramento all-stars band, and are celebrating one year of playing out together this month.
- Who’s currently in the Street Vendors?
Tyler Hughes plays keys. Todd Bryan, ‘im pon di bass. Minh Quan on the six-string. Luke Zavala is the bwoy with the big trombone. Todd Yee makes the tenor sax his bitch. My name is Abram Jones and I am the vocalist. We are currently auditioning drummers.
- How would you describe your sound?
We are in theory a straight-up traditional ska band. All of the musicians in the band are top-notch. They will not let me near an instrument (maybe they’ve heard Kevin’s Mom?) Lately I have been thinking that we sound like the Allentons from the Boulevard days. The band is also fond of covering Skatalites tunes (I know, who isn’t? But we really nail them).
Good question. After me and Todd, Luke probably knows the most about Jamaican music. He brings in a lot of ideas for covers to do. Think of the “Top Sounds from Top Deck” series- that is the kind of thing we are shooting for. We shamelessly appropriate lines from well-known songs, too. Anyone who knows this music will instantly know where I got the chorus for ‘Nice Up (Rude Girl)’. Jamaicans have a term for it: ‘version’, and it is a totally kosher, if idiomatic aspect of their music.
- I know you guys are still relatively new, but what’s been your favorite show that you’ve played so far?
I think I can speak for the whole band when I say that our show at the Blue Lamp in Sacramento for the Burgundy Topz’ last scooter rally was way way up there as far as our shows go. Talk about a clued-in, enthusiastic audience! Instead of playing to a room full of pretty girls, like at the boardwalk or a similar place, we were playing to a bunch of middle-aged dudes (and their wives) who had spent most of the day on scooters. And they were fucking awesome! So many people came up to us and thanked us for our performance. Plus the pay was great!
Possibly the greatest gig that we’ll never do would be at Gaz Mayall’s club in London. When I was there recently he asked us to come play. I would die / kill to be able to do that show.
- Are you guys recording anything for the near future? An album or EP maybe…?
We most certainly are. You will be the first to know when we have something to show.
- What are some of the difficulties that you’ve encountered starting a ska band?
The first problem that comes to mind is regional in nature. We are in the heart of the central valley; it's not exactly a hotbed of Jamaican music! There are some skinhead bands that we are friends with but they play mostly hardcore with a dash of OI. There are very few people making Jamaican music in Sacramento that directly competes with the kind of audience that would like our music.
The flipside of this, which is very positive, is that our band is made up of the people that are the most passionate about playing this genre of music. So, when I say that we are a Sacramento all-stars band it is a little ironic (like when a mother calls her only child her favorite son), because our region is not overflowing with talented musicians wanting to bust a Jamaican groove. Another positive thing related to the shortage of players is that there is a huge demand for this music. Not everyone can make it to San Francisco when a major act comes through the state, and if they come through Sacramento, we'll be opening for them.
The next difficulty is logistic. Having a horn section can be very challenging. The two main factors are a) space on the stage (we range from 8 to 11 players at any one time) and b) getting people together for rehearsals. There was one point when we almost had all three saxes (alto, tenor, baritone) in the band, and let me tell you we were very excited! With brass like that (let's not forget the trombone and trumpet), we could seriously set up little podia onstage and pull it off, big-band style. But we'd need to rent out the Carnegie Hall just to fit us all in. I have played in trios and quartets before and I can say that entropy does increase the more folks you add to the mix.
- Now about your other project, The Sidecars, how did that come about?
Why do boys do anything? For girls. Ask Minh about that.
But for real, Minh and I wanted to take the whole band with us to do a show in Chico but we could not. We talked to Esco Chris (of Boss 501, another great Central Valley band) about doing an acoustic set just to open this particular show. He was totally down. We decided that the simplest route was the best; one job to a man, so I sang and Minh played guitar. We rehearsed a few times and tried out our set on my birthday guests one week before the show. The performance (all fifteen minutes of it) went great and we were very well received. One of the songs we did was a note-for-note cover of Chris Murray’s The Real Ska. For a laugh I sent a video of this song to Chris, and he immediately sent it out to his whole distribution list, and then issued a myspace bulletin directing surfers to it. In the next hour we got several hundred views. Today the Sidecars’ videos get as much attention as the Street Vendors’, which is pretty amazing!
Soon after, I talked to Chris about either of these bands playing the Bluebeat Lounge some time. He welcomed the idea. The Street Vendors cannot make the trip, so I decided to build up the Sidecars into something more than an opening act, and the Sidecars Rocksteady Revue was born. It is in its formative stages, but it is basically an acoustic, vocal-oriented rocksteady / early reggae group. We don’t plan to use any horns at this time. Interest is already growing. Minh and I also still welcome bookings of the Sidecars duo.
The Revue will be playing the Bluebeat Lounge on August 5, 2008 and possibly Peps’ Rude Boy Ska Fest on July 4 in San Francisco.
- Current favorite band (s)?
My favorite music was made between about June of 1967 and August of 1968, and not in this country. But the three contemporary bands that play the music closest to what I like are the Green Room Rockers, the Impalers, and the Aggrolites. All three of these bands nail me to the floor (only figuratively; in fact I never stop dancing at their shows).
- Any last comments?
In my work, I am partially in charge of the development of young minds. As musicians, we have the potential for our message to reach many thousands of such minds. As such, we have a responsibility to do no harm; that is, to not preach hate in any form. Consciousness a lick.