Heritage Hump Day - Kongo Shock, "Spy Vs. Spy"
Courtesy of Onus Records
Every Wednesday is Heritage Hump Day! That's because every Wednesday from now to the end of the year or before someone really big stops us, Heritage Hump Records (a temporary subsidiary of Onus Records) and New Times will be bringing you a limited edition collector's item of a much beloved Phoenix band that walked the scorched earth of Arizona before the year 2000 A.D. We will honor that band with a commemorative digital single that you, the digital public, will have only seven days to download to your computers and smart phones before this single gets marked up to an exorbitant price as determined by the mp3 collector community. When that happens, a new Heritage Hump subject will be chosen and the free-for-a-limited-time-only cycle begins anew.
This week we review the past triumphs of Kongo Shock, Phoenix's premiere and practically only ska band for much of the '90s. The band is now reuniting in their original lineup on May 9 at Pranksters Too. (Don't worry, we'll talk all about the reunion on the blog tomorrow.)
When this em>New Times article entitled "The Ska's the Limit" ran in the June 22, 1995, edition, it had been a year since the band was picked out of 4,000 entries to perform during the New Music Seminar in New York City without so much as a demo tape or band bio in its possession. Since then they'd learned to market themselves more compellingly and had been invited to play on the third stage at that summer's Lollapolooza.
At the time they had just released a CD called Dick Triple Flip and a single, "Ska vs Spy," which was in heavy rotation on KUKQ's regular playlist. Guitarist Bob Noxious credits the popularity of that particular track, which mutated the Peter Gunn theme with a skanking beat, with landing him and Kongo Shock roadie Johnny Ductape getting a ska show on the now-defunct KUKQ at the instigation of Larry Mac.
Here, for those of you who weren't walking erect at the time, is the 1995 speed-dating version of how Kongo Shock got together.
Five years ago, Bob Noxious left sleepy Maine for the more desirable desert lifestyle (read: cheap standard o' livin'). In those days, he fronted a thrash band called Big Dog, which followed his lead out west. Eventually, the band splintered, and Bob, unsure of what direction to take next, placed a few ads looking for musicians to jam with. One player who turned up was Shadrach Powell, a.k.a. Dr. Skankalitus, Kongo Shock's bassist/percussionist/singer and elder ska statesman at 37. He is said to have played with Toots and the Maytals in some capacity a long time ago and was in the Effects, a local Phoenix ska band of long standing.
"We've been called so many different things," notes the Trinidad-born singer. "Ska funk alternative, ska punk, ska reggae. Last year, New Times named us best reggae band, and we don't play anything that sounds vaguely like Big Mountain."
"On the strength of that [mention], we went from being a no-paying-gig band to playing the Roxy and the Balboa Cafe," grins drummer Jimmy Boom Ska Boom. With more than 100 shows under its belt since then, the band also went from being a musically loose but fairly stationary aggregation onstage to the manic, near-psychotic live act you see now. Within the first few horn blasts, the six guys out front are wiggling wildly, running in place and shuffling like vaudevillians trying to shake bugs out of their trousers. "Sometimes it's mass chaos," admits Bob of the occupational hazards. "Somebody either gets a guitar in the face or somebody gets stepped on."
When asked what Kongo Shock's identifying traits are, Bob Noxious pins them to the band's sprawling song structures. "A song for us is, like, ten parts. Here's the stupid part, here's the rockin' part, here's the jazz part." Whether any part of ska can skank its way into the mainstream still remains to be seen. So far, only the Mighty Mighty Bosstones are signed to a major label. "While ska records sell okay," says Steve Naughton, "it's nothing compared to the live shows. Locally, the only record store with a viable ska section is Eastside Records."
Back in 1995, ska was not just a an alternate tempo on most punk albums. It came with its own subculture and history, including fans of warring factions and scooters.
"I have a bunch of skinhead fans that believe the music we play is for them and they're just letting everybody else listen to it," says Shadrach, somewhat perplexed that a black man can be treated well by all these warring factions. "One group of skinheads don't like another group. The two tones don't like them. The scooter boys don't like anybody because they don't have suits on. Why are you bringing that attitude when you know damn well everybody's gonna be there?"
"We've had some minor problems, but nothing too big," says trumpet player Dave "Ice Cold" Neil. "We just want to take ska music to everybody."
By the time of the second album, the seven-piece was down to its fighting five and by 1998, Kongo Shock was no more. To find out what became of them and why they are reuniting for this one-off event, join us for next week's New Times edition where we'll explore all that stuff and find out what world-famous frontman was in Kongo Shock for a hot minute!
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