The Evolution of Ska Through the Eyes of an OC Radio DJ

Jimmy Alvarez at KROQ in 1989EXPAND
Jimmy Alvarez at KROQ in 1989
Courtesy of Jimmy Alvarez

[Editor's Note: Jimmy Alvarez has been a radio DJ for the better part of a quarter century working at KROQ and currently at TNN Radio on KX 93.5 FM. In that time he's interviewed just about everyone involved in OC's ska scene. The following is both a personal history and an essay on the development of ska over the years from his perspective, gathering inside info on his interviews with some of the genre's most beloved bands. It's a long read, but worth the journey for anyone with a skanky bone in their body.]

In 2011, I started writing an article about the local Orange County ska scene. I had no idea it would turn into the journey that it did. Unlike most assignments, this one caused me to reflect on my own story. I thought about how images from our childhood vary. For some, it’s time spent with parents, siblings, or at a certain home that triggers memories that make us either smile, laugh or cry. For me, check all of the above; and it’s tied to the music soundtrack of my life. My fondest memories include music from the Stones, Beatles, some Motown tunes and a few ska bands. It’s serendipity, I guess, because I’ve been working in the radio biz for the better part of 25 years. These days, I’m a DJ at KX935 in Laguna Beach. I wasn’t sure how to write this article. I interviewed a ton of bands and had great stories. I just struggled about which direction to go. In the end, the best place to start is at the beginning… so here it goes. This story begins with the simple fact that I turned to music so I could just fit in. I was born in East L.A. in ’64, and my Dad was in the Army. Military brats move a lot, then they move again. Courtesy of Uncle Sam, I grew up on a hillside farm in Panama with occasional residency at a nearby Army base.

Once my family returned to L.A., I knew life was about to change. My English was bad, I dressed funny, and it turns out 10-year-old kids are mean. I was made fun of and beat up often because I was, in essence, the local foreign exchange student. Like most linguistically challenged children, I learned to speak proper English by watching TV and listening to music. To learn the language, I memorized the words to every '70s song you can imagine. As a kid, I was weird; and I was the only 10-year-old in my neighborhood that was into Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Johnny Cash and The Temptations. As I got older, I got into bands my older brother liked; Foghat and Zeppelin. Later on, I liked tunes my friends were into; AC/DC and Van Halen. By my freshman year in high school, I was still listening to Eddie and Angus, but I was now listening to Rick James and Prince. There was also a new thing called FM Radio. Funny as it may sound, back then… music was still heard on AM. There weren’t any reality shows in ‘75; no internet, no iPads, iPhones, i-this or i-that. It was just you, the TV and radio.

Alvarez on the left, Swedish Egil on far right with a radio guest at KROQ
Alvarez on the left, Swedish Egil on far right with a radio guest at KROQ
Courtesy of Jimmy Alvarez

THE EGIL HAS LANDED
 In the '80s, I started listening to KROQ. This Pasadena-based radio station was breaking new ground, playing bands like The Clash, Ramones, Smiths, Cure, and Social Distortion. You know, the bands that made you cool because you knew them before everyone else. It was a super weird and fun time for music. Richie Finestra would have loved it if the HBO Series Vinyl was set in the 80’s. Luckily, in real life, we had Rodney Bingenheimer. Movies like Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, Some Kind of Wonderful and Valley Girl saved me. Their soundtracks just spoke to me, and I was hooked on this new sound. There was also something called Mod-ska. I had no idea what that was. I just knew I loved the tunes. Somehow, the music gods smiled upon me, and I landed a gig at KROQ in the late '80s. I worked overnights with a DJ named Swedish Egil. He introduced me to some very cool bands, and I fell in love with industrial tunes by FRONT 242, KMFDM and The Revolting Cocks. In time, I grew fond of music by Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Desmond Dekker, and the Skatalites. Thanks to Egil, I started paying more and more attention to ska bands.

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POLYSKAGRAPHY
 Now, before I get too far into this story, I need to clarify a few things. Here’s the burning question: What is ska? Let’s start with what it isn’t; and it isn’t a sub-genre of Reggae, Rocksteady or Dancehall. Ska was developed in Jamaica in the late '50s. The locals listened to Louisiana Jazz/ R&B and loved it. So much so, they developed their own unique sound that included some African Folk, and ska was born. The word ska is not an acronym for anything per se. Although, some would like you to believe it stands for Super Kick-Ass music. Truth be told, it’s just a word that describes a Jamaican music style. Original ska elements included Caribbean, Mento, Calypso, Jazz/ R&B with African Folk. The scene focused on racial unity with a sense of family.

SKADROPHENIA
 Time periods are important, they separate musical elements. Ska is divided into 3 distinctive time periods. It’s what the kids call “waves.” The original Jamaican sound is the 1st wave. The 2nd wave landed in the late 70’s through mid-80s; it’s known as the 2-Tone era (aka Mod-ska). This wave was huge in England and with the Mods; hence, the name Mod-ska. The 3rd wave took place in the late 80’s and 90’s. This era combined 1st and 2nd wave elements infused with punk rock. The 3rd wave is referred to as Punk-ska. Punk-ska has sub-genres. This sub-genre takes on a more dynamic punk sound that often features heavy brass elements. This is called Skacore, sometimes referred to as HxC / sXe (Hardcore or Straight edge-ska). Latin bands have taken to this art form.

It should also be noted that ska communities are found everywhere, even Russia! Fans come from all ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, ages and luckily even the linguistically challenged are welcome. Guys are known as Rude Boys and the ladies are Rude Girls. The crazy dancing is called skankin. As for dress style, black and white checkers are all the rage. If you’re not too familiar with basic ska elements, check out "Canary in a Coalmine" by The Police, "All-Star" by Smashmouth, or "Charlie Don’t Surf" by the Clash. If you’re feeling adventurous, check out "Do It Now," also by the Clash. These mainstream songs demonstrate old-school ska elements, and will help you feel the music.

VIDEO KILLED THE RADIO STAR
Ska was just about dead when I landed at KROQ. There was one song still getting airplay. That was "Ghost Town" by The Specials, and that song addressed the plight of the people against their Prime Minster, Margaret Thatcher. With no jobs, people felt like zombies and it made room for angry Mods. The Clash got in hot water with "London’s Burning." Meanwhile, The Beat had several politically-based songs. It was no surprise they put out their voice of discontent with a song called "Stand Down Margaret." As for ska tunes for the masses, Madness was one of the most effective bands that brought the 2-Tone sound to the mainstream. "Our House" and "One Step Beyond" were hitting the right buttons. Bad Manners pumped out "That’ll Do Nicely," "Lip Up Fatty," and they covered a Millie Smalls song called "My Girl Lollipop." That song took off at warp speed. Meanwhile, the Selecter, Fun Boy Three and Bodysnatchers were getting noticed. The Beat had mega-hits like "Tears of a Clown," "Save It For Later," "Best Friend," and "Mirror in the Bathroom." Ska was getting radio airplay, and featured on MTV. This was back in the day when music videos were a part of TV programming. 2-Tone faded into the sunset, but fans got a sample of the 3rd wave. The artist was Tim Armstrong, and his band was Operation Ivy.

Adrian Young with Alvarez
Adrian Young with Alvarez
Courtesy of Jimmy Alvarez

NO DOUBT GLENN MILLER WAS COOL
One day, I mentioned to one of the other DJ’s that the English Beat and Reel Big Fish were doing a local show. I was shocked that he had no idea who they were. I thought I was just getting old; perhaps like my Dad trying to tell me how bad-ass Glenn Miller was way back when. I looked at our concert calendar and noticed a few ska bands were coming to town. I started reading up on what was happening in the local scene, and was intrigued to find out that Orange County, California is referred to as the birthplace of 3rd wave ska. That claim is open for discussion among music historians. However, it’s an argument that can be supported by the emergence of '90s ska bands. Groups like the Aquabats, No Doubt, Reel Big Fish (RBF) and Save Ferris. There’s also Sublime; but, they are from Long Beach (close enough). These bands set the music world on fire. Their music was so powerful that these tunes still get airplay today. Songs like Sell Out by RBF, Come on Eileen by Save Ferris and a bazillion No Doubt songs can be heard on any radio station on any given day.

Alvarez interviewing Big D and the Kids Table
Alvarez interviewing Big D and the Kids Table
Courtesy of Jimmy Alvarez

THE ROCK SHOW
In the summer of 2011, I was doing my radio thing at Warped Tour. When you think Warped Tour, you think Blink 182! This time around, I noticed another band was on the bill that I heard good things about: Big D and the Kids Table. I thought it would be a good opportunity to check them out. I talked to the band’s rep, and before I knew it, I was doing an interview with front-man David McWane. It was a very short chat. David was very personable, and he was excited to play for the crowd. After the interview, I checked out their set. I didn’t know what to expect, maybe a Madness-esque Our House sound? Instead, what I heard was Punk-ska that blew my socks off. They did a cover of "Little Bitch" (Specials), and the best way to describe it would be to imagine Taylor Swift playing with the Dropkick Murphys. It was that much an in-your-face performance. Afterwards, I noticed McWane went into the crowd to chat with fans. He signed autographs and took photos. Some of the fans he took photos with were from Japan; and those kids would later appear in one of the band’s infamous "Little Bitch" videos (Japan tour). I had such a good time at Warped Tour, I thought I’d check out a few more ska bands, new and old, and see where the scene was. The goal was to determine if a 4th wave was near. Since I knew some ska bands from my KROQ days, the assignment sounded easy. I reached out to a few bands, and the response was simply amazing…. 5 years of amazing!

Diangelo Moore of Fshbone
Diangelo Moore of Fshbone
Courtesy of Jimmy Alvarez

JAMAICA SKA
The first band to respond to an interview request was Fishbone. This iconic LA-based ska band is led by front-man Angelo Moore (aka Dr. Madd Vibe). Best known for "Party At Ground Zero" and "Jamaica Ska," this band has evolved by leaps and bounds. The thing you have to respect about Fishbone is that they believe in their message. Moore and guitarist Norwood Fisher are very outspoken, and they are great ambassadors for the scene. Their message and overtone is similar to that of Rage Against the Machine. Their music is a combination of the 3rd wave sound, with Skacore elements, and a distinctive punk fusion-esque mash they call funk-rock! For whatever reason, the band hasn’t received the critical acclaim as some of their contemporaries. Regardless, Moore and Fisher remain upbeat as ever. As for the Dr, he is funny, sincere and very, very entertaining. Their passion for what they do is nothing short of inspiring. The band continues to entertain for the best reason of all, they love their fans and they love to entertain them. Fishbone can be found touring everywhere USA and beyond. If you appreciate honest and soul-filled music, see Fishbone!

Dave Wakeling and Alvarez
Dave Wakeling and Alvarez
Courtesy Jimmy Alvarez

LEGEND
The second band we caught up with was the English Beat, featuring front-man Dave Wakeling. This incarnation of the band calls southern California home. There’s also a UK version, which features Rankin’ Roger. Any way you slice it and dice it, fans love that soulful and upbeat sound Wakeling brings. The music sounds just as good today as it did when they first released their tunes. Dave is also a lightning rod for the scene. In addition to entertaining fans, Dave believes music is a powerful influence. Each time I sat down with him, we ended up talking about music and politics. He’s always been an outspoken artist, and champions everyone’s right to say what they are passionate about. Dave can be serious, but for the most part, he likes to laugh and smile. He always catches me off guard and says something new. Sometimes I know he’s just messing with me, and that is OK by me. Like the time he told me he used to be a fireman as a teen. Honestly, I still don’t know if he was kidding about that. It doesn’t matter, we always seem to have a good laugh.

Visiting the band wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t discuss their crazy and insane followers. Fans just love the band, their music and they can’t help themselves but feel like teenaged kids once the music starts. Before shows, Wakeling often goes out to personally thank people for coming out. The fan base is diverse; they come from all walks of life. Their ages literally range from age 8 to 80. He attributes much of this to older fans who spread the word. That, and social media has introduced their music to a new generation. Although Dave is a legend, he’s more comfortable being that guy you can just be yourself around. The English Beat tours just about everywhere. Look for new music later this year. There’s also a 2017 Bahamas musical cruise called the Salty Dog Cruise which includes Flogging Molly, NOFX and fellow Rude Boys Voodoo Glow Skulls.

Alvarez interviewing Selecter
Alvarez interviewing Selecter
Courtesy of Jimmy Alvarez

FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT
Next up was the Selecter. The band is led by Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson. Chatting with Pauline is always a delight. Her speech is somewhat formal, just like English Royalty. She has been referred to as the Queen of ska. Gaps is a polite and well spoken English gentleman. I asked them both their take on this perception that ska is the underdog of the music industry. It’s an inside joke that ska bands are where band dorks go after high school. So I asked the question: is ska its own worst enemy? They both gave their viewpoints which were very similar. They both felt ska has some of the most gifted musicians in music. Gaps explained that ska is not just a sound to experience, it’s more than that… it warms your mind, body and soul. Once people experience a show, they’ll be hooked. We moved on to another topic, politics and music. Like Wakeling, Black is very outspoken about this. She too feels music is a powerful tool, and should be a voice that reflects the will of the people. She went on to say speaking your mind is a right all artists should embrace. All great artists seem to share this common trait in their personality. After each interview, Pauline asked me if the interview was OK, and if I got everything I needed. She was very sincere each time she asked me that. That’s about as classy as it gets in the music world. As for their shows, the band brings a big and bold sound. Subculture, is their latest album, and it’s received good reviews. The band tours regularly and plays festivals like MusInk and Coachella.

Alvarez with the Untouchables
Alvarez with the Untouchables
Courtesy of Jimmy Alvarez

FREE YOURSELF
On a few occasions, we caught up with ska legend Jerry Miller of The Untouchables (the UT’s). Miller is very upbeat over the future of ska. In a series of interviews, he touched on self-producing music and how that is the biggest change in the music industry. He believes technology has evolved so much over the years that marketing is now the genre’s biggest challenge. Despite a few band member changes over the years, the UT’s sound just as tight as ever. Their music and performances are as sincere as their smiles, and that’s what I respect most about this band. They are good to their fans and always put on a great performance. Their followers still scream for Free Yourself, Wild Child, I Spy for the F.B.I. and What’s Gone Wrong. The UT’s feature guitarist extraordinaire, Kevin T. Williams. His riffs, with Jerry’s voice are an experience you really need to have. The Untouchables play showcases throughout SoCal, and tore it up at last summer’s Its Not Dead Festival.

The Evolution of Ska Through the Eyes of an OC Radio DJ

GOODFISH
Over the years, we’ve interviewed 3RD wave sensation Reel Big Fish (RBF) a few times. The Fishies are led by front-man Aaron Barrett. RBF evolved from the 90’s as one of the most accomplished entertainers in the music industry. If you remember what an Earth, Wind and Fire show was like, RBF is on that level. That is the highest compliment I can give any band. They put on shows that always leave their fans wanting more. Fans scream for songs like: "She Has a Girlfriend Now," "Monkey Man," "Beer," and the A-Ha cover "Take On Me." There’s also their mega-hit "Sell Out." Barrett is a dynamic entertainer who resembles a spinning top with his hair on fire, and the band is really, really good. Their horn section belts a heart-stopping sound night after night and mirror Barrett with teenage-like energy. Most memorable about RBF were the down-to-earth conversations I had with the entire band. These guys truly appreciate their fans and care about what they think.

After all the interviews over the years, I can tell you Aaron is a very humble guy, who gives his all at every show. So much so, he’s even fallen off the stage when he was spinning like a top! It also turns out Aaron and I have something in common. We’re both huge Sublime fans. When Aaron isn’t touring the world, he can be seen at local ska shows giving support to up-and-coming artists. There’s one other thing that stood out to me about RBF. They have that person who keeps their band moving and guides us media types. RBF features the crème de la crème and Grand Poobah of Tour Managing: Tom Ames. Although bands make the music, it’s guys like Ames who are the silent heroes that keep the music going. He is the guy that has kept the band touring and on time. RBF tours everywhere on the planet. They’re headlining the 2016 Vans Warped Tour, and new music is scheduled to come out later this year.

Alvarez with Starpool
Alvarez with Starpool
Courtesy of Jimmy Alvarez

SAVED BUELLER
A band we interviewed a few times over the years was Starpool. This band consists of former members of Save Ferris, and former No Doubt co-lead Alan Meade. Yes, before Gwen was the American Queen of ska, she shared the mic with Alan. Starpool has some of the most personable guys you’ll ever meet. They are funny, and their house parties have become legendary in the OC. Their humor aside, what stands out is the band’s great sound and showmanship. These guys are good, Oingo Boingo/ Earth, Wind & Fire good. OC ska crowds know what a good band looks like, and that’s something you just can’t fake. There’s nothing fake about Starpool. They’re bold, they’re brash, and they entertain their fans. As good as they are, they’re down to earth and don’t let the fact that they have one of the best horn sections you’ll ever hear go to their heads. All that, and they have one of the most high-energy and gifted leads in the music biz in Meade. What’s most impressive is the respect they get from their fans and peers.

They are one of those bands that make an effort to be part of the local music scene. It’s bands like this who get recognized by the locals and reporters that walk the local music beat. That’s something else this band is known for; doing what they can to keep the music going for local bands. Band leader Brian Mashburn is that guy that all successful bands have. Like RBF’s Tom Ames, Mashburn makes it a point to reach out to fans and media alike to let them know how much the band appreciates their support. Starpool possesses a good 3rd wave sound with a solid 2-Tone vibe. With eternal smiles, they can be seen playing all over southern California. They also headline the annual Ska Luau. Despite a controversy that came up a while back about their previous band name, make no mistake, these guys don’t live in the past. In the end, a name is name, it’s how you live the life of a band that matters. That is the main reason Starpool is the soul of OC ska, and beyond.

Alvarez interviewing Big D and the Kids Table
Alvarez interviewing Big D and the Kids Table
Courtesy of Jimmy Alvarez

ONCE IN A LIFETIME
I previously sat down with David McWane of Big D and the Kids Table at Warped Tour. This time, our chat was a little different. While on tour, McWane experienced a health scare. He was diagnosed with throat cancer. Rumors about his condition flooded social media. Call it karma or whatever you want, but sometimes good people survive scares like this. David looked cancer in the eye, battled it, and won. After the scare, the band went back on the road. I caught up with him at the Grove of Anaheim. McWane said it was nice to see how fans showed him love and support. He was a little dismayed over some of the rumors that were not true. To his credit, David chronicled his battle through social media. His posts were sobering, humorous and inspirational. What impressed me the most about Mr. McWane isn’t that he’s a great artist, but he’s a genuine person. There was a moment just before he went on stage when it was just the two of us backstage. I asked him if the scare changed his outlook on life? Without hesitation he said, “No, it reinforced it!” I then asked, “How did you get through this, who got you through this?” He closed his eyes for about a second and replied “My parents!” Truthfully, I was expecting some self-serving-Kardashian-esque, bad-ass-punk-rock self-serving answer that entertainment people would give. He just smiled and said, “Nope, I was never afraid.” His answer was truthful, humble and sincere. I wanted to make sure I heard him right, so I asked again, “your parents?” David simply smiled and said, “yes, absolutely, they brought me up right!” This was a conversation I wanted to make sure was in this article.

Sometimes our music heroes don’t measure up to be the people we hoped they‘d be, but once in a while… they do. The # 1 question I always get for this band was answered. David said NO, they didn’t grow up knowing the Wahlberg’s. Life is good for McWane these days. He is a newlywed, and does what he loves, making people smile with his music. These cats are definitely a transition band for the genre. They bring that Boston attitude with a sound that borders punk and Skacore. Big D is touring this summer, get ready for their forthcoming album entitled “Spirit,” due out summer 2017. Their new single is called Oi DJ (featuring Maddie Ruthless of The Far East and the Doped Up Dollies), it’s out now… and it’s wicked good!

Voodoo Glowskulls
Voodoo Glowskulls
Michelle Alvarez

The SKA-FATHERS
I’ve gotten to know Voodoo Glow Skulls over the years, and they are a band like no other. I really enjoyed getting to know them, it continues to be quite the experience. As a band, they’ve been hitting it since ‘88. Like the Bosstones, they are known as the Godfathers of Skacore. Best known for ska classics Charlie Brown, Insubordination and Shoot the Moon, they are one of the longest running acts in ska. When hanging out with Voodoo, it’s like kickin’ it with a friend. They smile, laugh, live and breathe music 24/7. They are down-to-earth, and what I like most about them is that they don’t get caught up in their own celebrity. I love hearing their stories about life on the road. Like, when they were on a tour bus on a Europian mountain road in the middle of winter, wondering if they were going to make it to the other side in one piece! I also love talking music with the guys. It’s amazing how they know everything that’s happening in their genre, and are well informed on what’s going on everywhere else in the music world.

That’s the thing about Voodoo, they just love good music. You get that sense of enjoyment when you attend their shows. The band was founded by the Casillas brothers (Frank, Eddie and Jorge). They have a dynamic horn section and drummer, combined, they are just great entertainers. Eddie has been my contact for the past few years, and he’s been very accommodating. He reminds me a lot of RBF’s Tom Ames on how he takes care of everyone. These guys go out of their way to support other bands. They have set the bar for successes and longevity in the scene. You can catch them at local shows bringing in fans so they can share the spotlight with newer bands. I don’t say this too often, but they really are the good guys of music. Like most families, they play together, and they play their music even harder. Going to a Voodoo show is not like any party you’ve ever experienced. It’s a heart-pounding sound you won’t forget. Seeing these guys is not just another show, it’s an event. Voodoo tours, a lot… you can catch them somewhere near you. They are headlining an international festival, SKA WARS, in Monterey, Mexico City in October. Don’t forget that Bahamas cruise! 

Tim Armstrong
Tim Armstrong
Michelle Alvarez

OPERATION TIME BOMB
Ask any punk-rock-ska-kid and they’ll tell you, to make it… you gotta’ sing like the King. One of the Kings of ska is Tim Armstrong, previously in Operation Ivy and the Transplants, he is the lead singer in Rancid. This band is the best example of the misidentification and evolution of the genre. The novice alternative music fan would simply classify Rancid as an alt-punk band. However, if you ask most ska enthusiasts, they will say Rancid is a true 3rd wave ska band. They possess that classic punk sound and attitude, with 1st and 2nd wave elements. You can hear those elements in songs like "Time Bomb," "Fall Back Down," "Ruby Soho" and "Salvation." In 2007, Armstrong put out a solo album called A Poet’s Life, where the ska sound can be really heard. Especially in his mega-hit "Into Action." Rancid’s shows bring out skankin’ mosh-pits seconds into their opening song. I caught up with them recently in the OC. These cats put on a fantastic show. You can see Rancid touring with other great artists like the Interrupters and Left Alone (feat. Elvis Cortez). If you love good music, this is a band you have to see. Bottom line, Rancid is the real deal.

Alvarez with Sublime With Rome
Alvarez with Sublime With Rome
Michelle Alvarez

STILL SUBLIME
I’ve been fortunate to have interviewed Sublime with Rome a few times. I’ve also sat down with Rome Ramirez one-on-one on a few occasions and attended several of their shows. The band is a lightning rod in the ska community. After the passing of the front-man, Bradley Nowell, many thought that was it for Sublime. As the Fates would have it, there was more in store for their fans. The current lineup features original band member, Eric Wilson, Rome and drummer, Josh Freeze. It’s interesting the reaction you get from people when you ask for an opinion on this band. Some comments are mean and spiteful. Some people simply resent the fact the band even exists. That said, fans that attend their shows (and there are many), support them. The guys have been very honest and direct with me. I believe them when they said they all wish Bradley was still with us; they went on to day, they were all genuinely bummed when he passed. That said, at the end of the day, they have to deal with the reality of the situation.

What the guys are attempting to do is provide a vehicle for fans to experience the sound that is Sublime, especially the younger ones who didn’t get to see the original lineup. If Sublime was a part of the soundtrack of your life, this incarnation of the band does justice to the band’s legacy. Rome is genuinely humble and respectful of the band’s history. Rome told me a few times, he gives his all every night he takes the stage. He tries very hard to create new memories and provide a positive experience for their fans. A good example of what he’s been trying to do for their fans is their latest tune, Take It Or Leave. The lyrics in this song transcend all genre boundaries. These words speak to the human experience and emotions we all feel in life, and love in our most sacred songs. People can relate to words and melodies if you do it right. Accomplishing this feat, is the goal of every artist, in any genre. For Rome, it is safe to say he has arrived. With great respect to Bradley; he is now part of the band’s legacy as well. All-in-all, these are good guys trying to do right by everyone. They are doing what they’re doing for the right reason, the love of music. Ska band or not, Sublime with Rome is definitely an experience everyone can enjoy.

Alvarez with The Specials
Alvarez with The Specials
Courtesy of Jimmy Alvarez

SOUND AND VISION
I thought I was finished with interviews, then royalty came to town. Anyone who follows ska regards the Specials as the Kings of ska. They responded to the interview request immediately. I caught up with them at Club Nokia not long ago. I sat down with the guys and we discussed a variety of topics. The guys were intrigued by how the new age of social media has brought life back to many bands. They loved the fact that in addition to fans who have followed them for years, they see new faces and a new generation each night they go out on stage. They love the enthusiasm the kids are bringing, and the Club Nokia crowd was not disappointed by their performance. We talked about the future of the genre: they feel it’s very bright. They too believe the dynamic that social media brings is giving up-and-coming bands a good chance to make it; and that’s vital for any genre. "Nite Klub," "Ghost Town," "Gangsters," "Little Bitch," "Concrete Jungle," "Johnny Too Bad," "Nelson Mandela," and "A Message to You, Rudy" are songs that will make you smile. No matter how old you are, when you see the Specials, it’s like seeing Bowie or the Ramones. You’re mesmerized and know you’re about to see something epic! The Specials can be seen just about everywhere, especially in the UK. They play in the states at festivals like Coachella and local venues. They are headlining the Music Taste’s Good Festival in Long Beach this September.

THE HOMETOWN THROWDOWN
It took a little time, but I caught up with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Di cky and the boys have been hitting it since ‘83. Like Voodoo, they are one of the longest running ska acts around. They are also fan favorites in the scene. They are considered icons in the ska scene, and the Godfathers of Skacore. They, too, are one of those bands that command respect from many in the music industry. Like Madness, the Bosstones catapulted ska into the mainstream. The Bosstones have their annual Hometown Throwdown Music Festival in Boston. It’s an event that fans from all over the U.S. look forward to. Fans dance their asses off to "Rascal King, "Someday I Suppose" and "The Impression That I Get." When they’re not touring, you can catch front-man", Dicky Barrett, leading the band on Jimmy Kimmel Live. You would think after all these years of high-energy shows, these guys would be a little tired. When I caught up with them, they were cheerful and energetic as ever. What’s amazing to me, after all the time spent on the road, these guys get along like brothers . That’s an impressive accomplishment for anyone. Their music is powerful, moving and infectiously sublime. If you go to a Bosstones show, plan on bringing your dancing shoes. These guys are just plain fun to see!

Alvarez with The Interrupters
Alvarez with The Interrupters
Michelle Alvarez

BACK TO THE FUTURE
Of all the predictions I’ve heard, there’s one that may come true. Aaron Barret once told me that the 4th wave will come from that one song that gets radio love. Once that happens, it’s on! The band that just might pull that off may be in our midst. That band is The Interrupters. They feature the Bivona brothers (Justin, Jesse and Kevin), and a dynamic lead singer in Aimee Allen. The guys belt out a great sound, and their interaction with the crowd is always high energy. Aimee has a Joan Jett-esque voice, with a Chrissie Hynde presence. Together, they put out a sound and stage show that works! Their music literally makes their fans dance from the first song to the last. They are popping out solid tunes that are getting noticed nationwide. Their music is brash, in-your-face and fun. Tunes like: "A Friend Like Me," "Take Back the Power" and "Haven’t Heard the Last of Me" just might be the beginning of the 4th wave! The band has a new full album entitled Say It Out Loud. It will be available June 24th. Their single, By My Side, is out now and getting airplay. This is the band that just may make skankin’ uber-cool again. They’ll be on Warped Tour this summer with fellow Rude Boys RBF and Less Than Jake. Mainstream America, get ready for that musical 4th wave tsunami that is the Interrupters!

POP LIFE
Before iTunes, Napster and social media, music videos were it. Over time, the internet, reality TV and MP3’s have become the primary source of entertainment. Consequently, music videos are more YouTube/ social media driven these days. As a result, ska has immersed itself into pop culture. Ska videos, new and old; are popping up and streaming daily. Songs like Take Back the Power by The Interrupters was featured in a 2015 national T-Mobile commercial campaign. The Aquabats had a TV series called The Aquabats Super Show!, and Wakeling had two new tunes featured on a recent episode of Scooby-Doo on the Cartoon Network. Music by No Doubt and Sublime has been used in countless TV and movie projects. There’s even an OC ska-themed feature film called RUDEBOY that’s out. There are also two old school films that serve as a great reference. Check out the 1981 documentary entitled Dance Craze. This film chronicles the 2-Tone era, the bands and all that was Mod-ska. There’s also the 1979 film Quadrophenia. This film chronicles the life of Jimmy Cooper, a young London Mod. This film is less about music, and more about the life and times of a Mod.

INTERNATIONAL BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS
The Latin-ska sound is blowing up. Los Angeles has given birth to a scene that may be on the verge of being a monster, and the kids are eating it up. L.A. Skacore bands infuse ska / punk with Banda, Salsa and Cumbias. The energy kids bring to the scene is the main reason why L.A. is becoming the place for ska. Shows like SKA WARS (L.A.) feature Skacore bands that kids want to see: Voodoo, Banda Skalavera and LaResistencia are reasons the scene is so popular.

International ska bands are becoming just as popular as the Cure and the Smiths were back in the 80’s. Ska fans worldwide are talking about Los Rabanes from Panama and other notable international acts like Ska-P from Spain, Hoffmaestro from Sweden and from Mexico there’s Tijuana No! and Los Kung Fu Monkees. From Japan, look out for Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, and an all-girl band called Oreskaband. From Argentina there’s Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. Last, but definitely not least, there’s Melbourne Ska Orchestra (MSO). They’re from Australia and feature 36 bandmates who belt out a jaw-dropping sound. MSO features one of the most dynamic leads you’ll hear in front-man Nicky Bomba. You haven’t lived until you hear them perform Nite Boat to Cairo (Madness cover).

ONE STEP AND BEYOND
Coming full circle, bands that feature the alt / ska / reggae sound are Iration and Pepper. They also bring us that Jawaiin sound from the Islands. 311, Dirty Heads, Aggrolites, Slightly Stoopid and Rebelution bring us the reggae- ska-punk sound. These bands tour regularly and can be seen at festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Punk Rock Bowling.

For now, commercial success is focused around festivals and showcases. Shows like the London International Ska Festival, Viva Ska Vegas, Ska Wars and Ska Luau are part of that driving force. Things in the world of ska are happening. Old-school bands like Madness are touring. Pepper and Iration have albums out. Meanwhile, Sublime with Rome and Voodoo are killing it. The Aggrolites, Buck O’ Nine, Mustard Plug, RX Bandits, The Skatalites, The Toasters and Mad Caddies continue to play. Bands on the cusp of making it big can be seen from coast to coast. From Boston, look out for the Doped Up Dollies. From Brooklyn, look for the Far East, who feature an incredible lead in Maddie Ruthless. From L.A., there’s Matamoska. From the OC, look out for Stupid Flanders, Hooray For Our Side and Karate in the Garage. Put a spotlight on Karate’s Tahlena Chikami, she is a gifted entertainer! A band I wish was still around is Suburban Legends, they put on a stage show that was surreal. Hopefully, we haven’t heard the last from these legends. The Suicide Machines would also be cool to see again.

LIFE IN THE KEY OF SKA
If history has taught us anything, it’s this; you need to know where you’ve been, to know where you’re headed. Names like Wakeling, Black, Barrett, McWane, Miller, Casillas and Mashburn may be tied to the genres past, but these Titans of ska are also the link to its very bright future. I wish I could write about every single band I have interviewed, but I’d need a book deal for that. I’ll tell you this much, the bands, the fans and everyone I met over the years welcomed me to the scene. What’s most important; they treated me as if I was part of their fantastically dysfunctional, happy, successful, weird, and loyal family. As for what’s in store; regardless if that 4th wave is around the corner or not, ska is here to stay. If you love good music, check out your local ska scene. You just might see a band that’ll make you super cool because you knew them before everyone else.

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