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A Hard-Working Hobo Makes Camp in Ventura : The Berkeley pop-rock group with punk influences and a ska background joins a bill at Nicholby's.


Big Bad Voodoo Daddy usually packs Nicholby's in Ventura, site of its CD release party and probably the band's favorite venue. Those fans who aren't fashionably late to Friday's gig can avoid the long line down the stairs and see a very good opening pop-rock band, Hobo. No bum jokes this time, because often the only difference between an upstanding citizen and a derelict is a job.

Hobo is four guys with day jobs, hoping for more night work. All Berkeley locals, the band consists of Eric Dinwiddie (guitar, vocals), Paul Jackson (keyboards, vocals), Ben Eastwood (bass, vocals) and Tom Pope (drums, vocals). While the majority of bands have one or no good singers, Hobo has four.

All but the drummer used to be in a ska band called the Uptones, which made a lot of people dance until Hobo came along. The band signed with its hometown label, S.O.B. (Son of Berserkley), a record label resurrected by the same owner seven years after the demise of Berserkley Records, onetime home to the Greg Kihn Band and Jonathan Richman, among others. Hobo has a self-titled album and another is threatened.

Jackson spoke about those four bums in Hobo during a recent phone interview in which he said the album is "doing pretty well. It's been out a year now. We've been up to Oregon, Washington and British Columbia a few times--a couple of stations have picked it up. It's moving us along."

What's Hobo music like?

It's like punk and pop rock in a rock 'n' roll setting. It's a four-piece that offers some new sounds, I think.

What's up with S.O.B. Records?

Our album was the first S.O.B. release. There's been a couple of other releases--one is Linda Brady, sort of a folk singer with an all-star Berserkeley band backing her up. Then there's Repulsa, sort of a heavy-metal (band). Our next one will be the label's fourth release. With a small label, money is always a factor. But I only live two blocks from the office, so it's sort of like it's my label in a way, and not like some big bureaucracy. I've known the owner, Matthew Kaufman, for years. He's in it with us, so it's not like some voice at the other end of the phone in a big building somewhere. Also, I work at a lamp shop two blocks from the office.

Is there a Berkeley sound?

Well, there's certainly a lot of bands coming out of this area. The Counting Crows are a huge success. Green Day is just taking off. Our record came out the same time theirs did. We hope we'll be next.

Did you guys quit ska too soon?

We were at the front of that wave. It was us--The Uptones--up here and the Untouchables down there. Then Fishbone came along, but they're not ska anymore. We just wanted to become more of a songwriting unit instead of just a dance band. But there's always going to be a market for ska because there's always going to be kids that want to go out and dance. But there's yet to be a ska hit. You have to go for it in this business, and a hit record is what we're after. Hobo has been around longer than I'd like to admit--five or six years.

So what's the plan?

Well, the plan was to put out the first one to kind of open the door for us. Now we want to become more of a working live band. We're ready to record our second album. It's going to be a different type of album. We're going to record it live at our rehearsal studio. It's going to be quite a bit rawer than the first one. We're shooting for a January release date, but February is more likely.

What do you do when people ask for Uptones songs?

We do a couple of Uptones songs. There's two of them on the album, and we're working on a couple more. We just rock them up a little bit. When the place is packed, the people seem to enjoy dancing. But we're used to that because we were in a ska band. Others just like to sit and listen, and we always get applause. We're a class act.

What was your paying-your-dues gig?

OK, it had to be at Whistler, a ski resort in British Columbia. It was Christmastime and we thought it would be a great gig. We ended up playing for the bartender and one drunk guy who never turned around. And we had to play three sets. We were there three days, but at least the bartender got us drunk and we got to go skiing. That one was definitely the weirdest. I think next time, we'd rather have Nirvana and the Beatles open up for us at the Oakland Coliseum.

What's the songwriting process for you?

Both Eric and I write and sing, pretty much 50-50. Usually, I sing what I write and he sings what he writes, but sometimes we trade off. Sometimes a song will start off as a title or a riff or just an idea, then you just go with it. We have, probably, 60 of our own songs. We do a couple of covers--one by the Eddie & the Hot Rods, one by the Clash, one by Ian Hunter and a Beatles song.

How did you guys get a gig in Ventura?

Our booking agent, Elvis--yes, he's still alive--got it for us. I think he just sent some stuff to the venue. I'm not sure--I work all the time.


* WHAT: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Hobo.

* WHERE: Nicholby's, 404 E. Main St., Ventura.

* WHEN: Friday, 9ish.

* COST: Five bucks.

* FYI: Call 653-2320.

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