I’m just a little bit too lazy to look up where Ska started originally. I’m almost positive it was in Jamaica as a precursor to reggae (a style of music I enjoy while stoned, but not at any other time). The first time I heard ska was in the mid-’90’s as the third wave explosion kicked into full gear. I was sitting in my buddy Oscar’s house stoned out of my mind & he told me I needed to hear a new song (“Enough”) by this band called Dance Hall Crashers.
I was hooked & the deeper I delved into the genre the more I loved it. I was drawn to the melodic undertones of artists such as: The Specials, Desmond Dekker & later Hepcat. The first wave of ska was the Desmond Dekker era that influenced so many artists in the punk/ska era of the ’90’s (more on that later). Dekker opened my eyes much like when I discovered Robert Johnson. The recordings were raw & even on CD had that scratchy vinyl sound to them.
007 (Shanty Town) – Desmond Dekker
Pickney Gal – Desmond Dekker
Israelites – Desmond Dekker
The music had a nice steady beat that would later be turned into Rocksteady & Reggae. My friends & I would sit in a smoke filled room & listen to Dekker & then one day I heard the Specials & everything I thought I knew about ska was altered forever. The Specials had this mysterious element they infused into their music to make it feel a little more exotic. The only way I can describe it is that the music had Arabic tones. It made me feel like my life had no meaning before hearing those trumpets blast on “Ghost Town”.
They spoke of poverty, strife & a scene that I knew all too well as a minion of the LA punk scene. The focus was on the lyrics which enthralled me as I sat stoned listening to them speak of their hometown of Coventry, England & me drawing a correlation to my town & the desperation that surged through the streets. Madness had stoked nothing in me except an urge to move around. No, nothing moved my mind the way the Specials did.
Ghost Town – The Specials
A Message to You Rudy – The Specials
Our House – Madness
Then when I was interning for the Leeza Gibbons show at Paramount Studios I had a conversation with Alex Dessert (the blind guy on Becker) & we talked about music for quite a while until he told me he was in a band called Hepcat, a band I loved. They consisted as a throw back to that earlier form of ska but were still considered the third wave. Mainly the third wave of ska, though infused punk with ska, keeping the horn section but speeding up the melody & relying on more distorted guitar riffs.
Bands like Reel Big Fish, Sublime, No Doubt & to a certain degree Sublime were a few of the main acts to come out of that time. There was less reliance on the lyrics like the first two waves, but it certainly was much more fun to watch. They weren’t exactly cool to like once KROQ starting playing them over & over again which was ironic considering Reel Big Fish had a song played called “Sell Out” (I’ve spoken ad nauseum about how I feel about the term “selling out” so I won’t go into again).
We’d all pile into my van & head to some guys’ backyard to see Sublime or No Doubt play or go to some place like Koo’s Cafe & watch through windows, like some musical peep show, as bands raged inside. It was a glorious time to be in the scene & see some of these up & coming artists that we felt like belonged to us go on to great things like Gwen Stefanie or in the case of Bradley Nowell of Sublime tragic ones. We reveled in the happy beat & goofy lyrics. Young twentysomethings without a care in the world skanking around old school joints, like the Foothill in Long Beach, as everyone felt the vibe.
We succumbed to the tempting beat of ska & later as I hosted a radio show at KLBC in Long Beach that focused on Ska exclusively (my predecessor & former radio partner ska legend Bill Bombay retired the year before) I had the chance to meet some of the people that inspired me & brought me along on their journey through their music. As we all know musical is a cyclical thing that ebbs & flows like the rocksteady beat of a two-tone guitar & Ska is in a down phase again. There is no doubt in my mind that it will again have a resurgence & thus a fourth wave will be born. When that happens I will be again an ardent follower of the lucid tones.
Together Someday – Hepcat
Sell Out – Reel Big Fish
She Has a Girlfriend Now – Reel Big Fish