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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | ROCKTALK

Band Hopes People Spread the Word: Ska

The Skeletones from Riverside say the dance music is gaining acceptance in California.

September 12, 1996|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Golden State may have fewer dreadlocks and better surf than Jamaica, but it also has a surprising number of ska bands. Ska, a form of music indigenous to Jamaica, has gained a serious foothold here over the years.

Ska, perhaps the most danceable form of popular music, generally attracts a lot of youthful finheads, skateheads and a lot of women as well, all striking a pose somewhere between the Heisman trophy guy and R. Crumb's "Keep on Truckin' " character.

One of the better home-grown outfits, the Skeletones out of Riverside, will open for British ska legend the Selector on Friday night at Nicholby's. It'll cost 8 bucks to get in. Dancing funny is optional.

The Skeletones started 10 years--and multiple personnel changes--ago. They recently released their third album, "Dr. Bones." The first two releases are either impossible to find or impossible to afford. Usually playing all-ages gigs, the seven-piece band will be making its fourth appearance at Nicholby's, where they have done very well in the past.

Front man and trumpet player Jonas Cabrera, on a roll with the new album, discussed what's what with his band during a recent phoner.

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How do you account for the continuing attraction of ska music?

I think it's just a cycle type of thing. It's like punk--it was in, it was out, it's back in. For ska, it's the third wave coming out now. The first wave was in the late '50s, early '60s in Jamaica. The second wave was the Two Tone scene in the early '80s with the English Beat, the Selector and the Specials. Now there's bands like No Doubt and Goldfinger that are sort of pop-punk oriented. More stuff has surfaced out of the soup. It's not all just ska anymore, but it's more mixed up. California is hip. We've got Fishbone and the Untouchables in L.A., No Doubt from Orange County, Let's Go Bowling from Sacramento, the Upbeat from Carpinteria, and us from Riverside. There's lots of good ska bands in California.

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So ska is getting bigger?

I'm not sure if it's bigger, but I think it's being accepted more. Like last night I was watching the "MTV Music Awards" and they actually mentioned the word "ska." It's coming around. It's like reggae--now it's on the radio. Maybe you'll be hearing ska on Power 106. I'm not sure if that would be good or bad.

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What do the Skeletones sound like?

I think it's a meeting of the minds. Oh, man, from '92 to '96, there's been a lot of things happening. There's more of a buzz and more of a fan base, and we're getting heat from labels, and magazines are doing stories on us. It's seven guys putting their souls into one thing. Our stuff isn't very complicated, just solid good tunes.

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How did the band get started?

Wow, the band has been going since '86. It was just a bunch of kids getting together, first at La Sierra High School, then at Riverside City College. We have a big following in Riverside. One time, we played a backyard party and the riot police showed up wearing helmets, chest protectors, with a helicopter, too. There were 500 to 700 kids there. It was pretty insane.

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What are Skeletones' songs about?

Just about everyday life, typical things people go through. Like breaking up, having trouble at work, stuff like that. There's seven guys in the band, so obviously, a lot of songs are about women.

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What do you do when the mosh pit goes off?

I don't necessarily encourage it, but I don't want to be a prude and tell them to quit, either. Usually I tell them just to be kind. Be safe. And don't hurt anybody on purpose. Every once in a while, some boneheads show up just to hit someone, but we don't get that much anymore.

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What should everybody know about the Skeletones?

It's probably how honest we are. We usually confront the issues, and we don't like to hide our feelings, and sometimes people think we're rude and arrogant because of it. There's nothing wrong with being honest. Honesty is the best policy. We usually say what's on our minds, and if people can't handle it, then maybe we don't need to be their friends anyway.

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What's the best thing about being a Skeletone?

The best thing is probably the free meals. Then there's the attention, the glitz, the glamour and all those beautiful women. It's great being loved, wanted and respected. The worst thing is probably all the behind-the-scenes stuff, the business aspects, the contracts, traveling and missing holidays and birthdays with families and friends.

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There are certain immutable laws of nature, such as the other line moves faster, the surf was better 10 minutes before you showed up, there are no good ones, stuff like that. Here's another: People do dumb stuff for money. I mean really dumb stuff.

In a potential death slot across from "60 Minutes," there's a new show on Fox called "Big Deal," sort of a "Let's Make a Deal" for the '90s, only dumber.

The guy that demolished his own American muscle car in the parking lot with a sledgehammer in exchange for some sports utility foo-foo mobile has got to be near the bottom of the food chain. Likewise the guy who sold all his clothes for $200 for a chance to take a shower with Shirley. It turned out not to be the gorgeous blond wearing a bathrobe and a smile, but Shirley the elephant, who doused the dope until his mousse melted.

What does all of this have to do with anything? Just this. The house band is none other than Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, those local kings of swing. As usual, they dress to impress, but they don't get nearly enough screen time, not even as much as Shirley the elephant.

Still, having their mugs on national TV can't hurt. Also, bandleader Scotty Morris--who basically waves his arms doing the conductor thing--gave his old guitar teacher, Mike Fishell, the lead guitar spot for this gig. That's worth a dollar.

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