Ska, I got your back!

I have been reading a book for the last month. It’s a good book. It’s well researched and thorough.It’s not just good. It is a great book.

My initial plan was to tell you about that book. I changed my mind.

I woke up this morning and realized that I don’t want to tell you about the book. I do want you to read the book though, so here’s a little story about how I stumbled into a love of Ska.

I grew up in the midwest in the late 70s and early 80s. Life was easy. We loved Night Ranger and Loverboy. It’s what you loved if you didn’t pledge allegiance to Conway Twitty each and every night. We turned the radio on. We turned the radio up.

Maybe I had it easy on my path to Ska, but I grew up in a reasonably diverse household, musically speaking. My dad loved a wide blend of hippy music and acid rock, and my mom was way into Motown. I started to climb a mountain. That mountain’s name was  Rock and Roll.  

I will do you a favor and fast forward you a bit through the horrors of later 80s rock radio. It was a lot more bad than good. Let’s leave it at that.

Radio rock aside, I wasn’t really much into music. My older brother was. He was my gateway into other music. It was hit or miss for a while, but when he played Appetite for Destruction for me, I started to come around. When a friend of his was over and played the new Suicidal (How Will I Laugh Tomorrow) I was hooked. I can still feel my hair growing. That’s how metal I was.

New forms of music became my thing. I liked to be on the forward front, all “Have you heard this?” This continued when I went away to college. New Pantera, cool, but “Have you heard the new Voivod?” “Hey what if we listen to Ween?” In that  quest for “new”, I found new. New to me anyway. In 1993 I heard “Don’t Know How To Party” for the first time. The Bosstones had me hooked on a new thing. 

Later that year I was in a music store (Big Don’s Music City) in Joplin, MO. There was a message board near the front. (For the post-internet crowd, physical message boards were a place to connect with like-minded individuals to sell used appliances and find bass players.) That message board had a “take-a-number” sheet on it looking for members to start a Ska band. Influences including: Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Let’s Go Bowling, Toasters. Welp, I had heard the one, Let’s hear more. 

I liked this Ska stuff. It had horns. (was a trombone player once) It was opinionated, but at the same time, friendly. 

About a year later, MU330 rolled through the college town I was living in. I don’t even think they had an opening act. Just them doing a solid hour set. Afterward the sat down to chill and talk to the fans. I remember sitting with Dan and Jason (who was on lead vocals at the time). Jason shook my hand with the kind of handshake where you cover the entire handshake with your other hand, and don’t let go until you know the other person’s hand is fully shook. … if you know what I mean. It’s the handshake of long lost friends; the hug of handshakes. We chatted a bit, Jason, Dan and myself. I asked Dan, “how do you get those guitar sounds? I like it, but everything I try comes out sounding like Black Sabbath.” Dan said, “There’s nothing wrong with that. Keep Trying.” Better words were never said. 

I was in love with Ska. I tried to tell my brother, to share a bit of what he had given to me. He wasn’t into it. I think maybe the first stuff I played for him wasn’t quite aggressive enough. He was still pretty much a metalhead then. … but things change. Something stuck and he was asking me if I knew of more Ska bands, and where I could get more CDs.

I was living in Portland at the time and my brother came to visit. I took him to Ozone Records and he bought every Ska CD they had in the store. If I have my chronology right, later that year, maybe early the next, I went back home to visit. My brother picked me up in Kansas City and we went to Lawrence for a show at The Grenada. Less Than Jake, Skavoovie and the Epitones, and Chris Murray. IT WAS AMAZING. 

Special shout out to Chris. Skavoovie’s keyboard player had decided mid-tour to go back to college (I think that’s the story) So Chris played his opening “Campfire Ska” set, then went backstage, jumped into a suit, and proceeded to rock the full Skavoovie set on the keys. (Many years later Chris played my 20th wedding anniversary party.)

I bought my first Asian Man Records shirt at that show. It was magic. Later that night we went to the record store next to The Grenada. My brother bought me Mepheskapheles “God Bless Satan”, and Spring Heeled Jack (usa) “Static World View”. 

Life was a whirlwind back then. I was young, living in a city. Bands were playing all the time. So many. It was hard to keep up. I saw the Pietasters for the first time then. I was enamoured. Cool jazz guys almost, in wrinkled suits, with a couple of drinks in them. Good times. I bought a CD copy of OoLooLoo. I was blasting it in the apartment and one of my neighbors was all “Pietasters? Fuck Yeah!” She was from DC and totally on board with hometown music hitting the West Coast

A little anecdote here, but while I was living in Portland, my rather concervative grandmother came to visit. She wasn’t happy about a lot of the music I listened to, but she loved The Pietasters. She said it reminded her of big bands from back in the day. 

Nothing ever changed for me after that, as it pertains to Ska. I mean, one time I couldn’t get tickets to Less Than Jack and Reel Big Fish because the show was sold out. Life goes on though. I didn’t turn my back because of that. I just found new stuff. I’m like, “Up yours Reel Big Fish! I’ll listen to Thumper instead.”

I suppose I could ramble on more about the bands that bent my ear (Suicide Machines) and all the great shows I saw, but it would all be driving to the same destination. Ska is awesome. There is, not now, never once, a reason to be ashamed. 

I stand In Defense of Ska. But, as they say, the best defense is a good offense. (I think people say that) So to that end, I say, “GO OUT THERE AND BUY THIS MUTHAFUCKING BOOK AND LISTEN TO SKA!”


-Jerry Actually

Awesome and The Asskickers

© 2014


aak_cropsAll hope was lost. Children and goats cried out in the dark of night. Productivity was high, yet morale was low. Suddenly things were different. Somehow all hope was not lost. A new album appeared and it was Awesome … … … … … and the Asskickers!

Following up on their bold and dashing EP from 2008 comes a new full length release from Orlando’s most rocking luchadores, AAK, heretofore known as Awesome and the Asskickers.

Quit Fucking With Our Crops brings 11 songs, many of which are new, seemingly better, renditions of “classic” AAK tunes. Naturally when your band is this powerful, you don’t just live on the legacy of your past material, even if you easily could. New sweet track faves include: “Tombstone”, an homage to delicious frozen bake-in-your-own-oven pizzas, (One wonders if the AAK crew ever got to enjoy sweet sweet Tombstone Pizza before their terrible corporate takeover in the 80s?) “I like Making Friends”, a wonderful song of friendship and nachos, and Still Alive, a bit more, how shall I say, musically mature, instrumental.

But enough about that. Now it’s time for this. If you are unaware of the sound that AAK’s putting down, it’s a wacky blend of Ramonesesque punk riffs, a dab of surf guitar, the Grease soundtrack, Meatmen style gruffness, a Broadway musical, and the Latino flair of Manic Hispanic. So dig on that if you can.

At any rate, there’s a new AAK release. It is your new immediate favorite. If you need to contact the band to play your sister’s quinceanera or something, you can google ‘em up on the interwebs at

If that all ain’t enough to get your guts in a bunch, I got two more questions to ask you. Are you ready? Are you ready for meatball spaghetti?

–Jerry Actually

The Big Ska Gamble

(c) 2013 Grandpa’s Casino

[rating: 9/10]

big_ska_gambleHere’s a little slice of magic for you ska fans out there: Seven 7” records. Seven artists. Seven flavors of ska.

A bad ass little box set of vinyl featuring: The Shifters, The Action League, Lockstep, The Georgetown Orbits, Do It With Malice, Stop The Presses, Sammy K & The Los East 3, and Jorge & The Landladies.

If you’re a fan of ska, reggae, calypso, northern soul, and more, do yourself a big ol’ favor and get a hold of one or more of these records. I promise that you won’t be disappointed. (for the record, if you are disappointed afterwards, I’m sorry. Maybe you need to reevaluate your listening ability.) The range on this collection is impressive. I don’t like to pigeonhole bands, but fans, of DHC, Buck-0-Nine, and The Pietasters ought to find some major enjoyment here.

It’s often a challenge to review a compilation. That’s true now. What I’d like to impart is that this is music, this is real. There are bands out there giving their all for you. I think it’d be kind of you to give it a listen.

The takeaway is this. Ska! (and really good ska, at that) So cheers to your ears! Enjoy! Need I say more? ok, I will. In the words of Ryan Lewis, “This is fucking awesome!”

–Jerry Actually

Find out for yourself:

Touch My Rash – Destined for Disaster


© 2012 Bittersick International

touch_my_rashHere’s a little freakin’ slice of awesome for ya. I’m listening to “Destined for Disaster” by a charming little trio called Touch My Rash. The name alone draws you in. It’s like a car wreck. You can’t not look, or in this case, listen.

Here’s the skinny. 12 tracks of multi-vocal layered punk rock and roll. A good time feel while the bad times roll. The songs are peppy and poppy but infused with guts and power. The trio makes great use of their respective abilities. The vocals are sweet yet snotty. The guitar riffs are solid. The bass thumps. The percussion pops. The use of the the call/report vocals are used to quite excellent effect. What more could you ask for?

The one sheet indicates that Touch My Rash is most likely a Ramones-core band with a RIYL of “Ramones, Screeching Weasel, Copyrights, Teenage Bottlerocket, Masked Intruder”. Sure there is some of that, but what modern pop punk bands don’t owe a bit to bands like the Ramones? I say that the band is more than a pigeonhole derivative reference list can define though. This group has charisma. I should add, this band reminds me a shit-ton of The Acrobrats. Shared/past members? I don’t know. Either way both great.

With that I say, check this band out. Check the hell outta them. They’re a lot of fun and a refreshing blast of energy in what can be a pretty stodgy punk rock scene these days.

-Jerry Actually

Top 10 of 2012


Wow, would you look at the time? Just do it, ok? By it I mean take a look at a calendar. It is almost 2013. Seriously, what happened to 2012? I’m old. I comment on the passage of time. Get over it. Truly though I wish I had been a little more productive here at !upstarter in 2012. I’m sure that a great number of awesome tunes slipped through my tenuous grasp.

Sometime between a day job and a band project of my own I managed to squeeze in time for 25 reviews this year. That’s one per fortnight, I guess I shouldn’t sell myself short on production. I’m sure that last year wasn’t much different. But down to the guts and glory, if you made the list, a big round of applause. If you sent something in for review and I missed out on something awesome, there is no penalty for re-submission. Without further adieu, I present the best of 2012:

1. Morning Glory – Poets Were My Heroes

2. The Downtown Struts – Victoria!

3. Classics of Love

4. The Atom Age – The Hottest Thing That’s Cool

5. Masked Intruder

6. Harrington Saints – Pride & Tradition

7. The Real McKenzies – Westwinds

8. The Ducky Boys – Chasing The Ghost

9. Problems – Make It Through The Night

10. Eli Whitney & The Sound Machine – Mickey

Backyard Surgeons – No Anesthetic



It’s been a while since I’ve done a DVD review. This one is well worth the wait. (the DVD, not the review)

If you are a fan of travel, roadtrip movies and things like NOFX: Backstage Pass, this little travel doc from Melbourne’s Backyard Surgeons is a must see.

DIY funded and booked, a largely unknown band (at least here in USA) sets out to bring their brand of poppy punk rock to China. It’s heartfelt and real. Train rides, beers and good times abound.

Sorry for the bevity, but I’m on a tight deadline (self-imposed)

At any rate, this is so worth seeing. If you’re a fan of making your own way in this world and would like to bring punk rock to the masses, by all means, get a hold of this DVD. I think you can find them here for the time being:

On a more personal note, having owned a Gibson Explorer for 20+ years, I know what a bitch it can be lugging that thing around, kudos to you brother. I never had to lug mine that far in such a short time.

–Jerry Actually

Andrew Jackson Jihad – Knife Man


© 2011 Asianman Records

If you do not love this band, you are a fool!

Knifeman is the brand new release from Phoenix band Andrew Jackson Jihad. For those unfamiliar, check ‘em out at their internets page

Musically the band is a bit unusual and hard to quite define. I think freneticly obtuse and awkawardly scathing might come close. The tracks are laced with biting social commentary and presented in an in-your-face interface. Folks have said that AJJ is Americana and I suppose I can see that, however it is a new manner of American both jaded and tempered by an Internet age. You know, kind of like if Neil Young (yeah yeah yeah, I know he’s Canadian … so, um North Americana, right?) and Charlie the Unicorn went on a quest to meet Ween or something. … A stretch? Perhaps.

Musings aside, what you do get is 16 tracks of keepin’ it real music; Music that is leaps and bounds outside a generally narrow scope of music, and track titles like: Gift of the Magi 2: Return of the Magi … how awesome is that? If you’re not aware of the context of Gift of the Magi, you should probably watch Emmitt Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. (or you could read the original story, but that one has no muppets. You’ve been warned.)

So yeah, the breakdown; If you like your music loaded with quirks and off-the-wall genius; If you want to impress your grandparents friends by your appreciation of president named bands that don’t involve Reagan Youth or Dead Kennedys, this is the game to get in on.

–Jerry Actually

Peacocks – In Without Knockin’

(c)1999 Jump Up Records

Oh my God, these Swiss cats fucking rock. Punkabilly with a slight two-tone twist. This disc is not to be missed. If you don’t like it then you’re a DICK!. This CD is the second release from Switzerlands Rockabilly combo “Peacocks” In Without knocking left me wanting more and more and in bad need for a U.S. West Coast Tour. From the gritty Rockabilly of “You’re Not Better” to the silly acoustic of “Fleamarket” Peacock’s are a blast buy this album play it for your friends, play it for your mom. I’m taking these guy to the top of the stairs so get out of the way

–Jerry Actually

’09 – I apologize for the poor punctuation. I’m so going to see these guys in July.


Anthem for Odyssey [Come Blister the Sea]

Anthem for Odyssey – Come Blister the Sea (c) 2007 Purewicked Publishing I am oddly at a loss as to what, precisely, to say in regards to Anthem for Odyssey.  They are pretty and haunting, ethereal yet substantial.  It is the moment where sleep and dreams collide.  Come Blister the Sea, by length, is a five track 18 minute EP.  So by punk rock standards, a double album.  Though some of the songs clock in at over four minutes, they move lithely enough to not leave you bored, yet the continuity of the arrangements is fluid enough that it doesn't create a rift.  Sonically, Anthem for Odyssey, is what I would akin to eastern euro dreampop, reminiscent of The Rentals or perhaps a softer version of Salt.  This is a great CD for the musically adventurous.  In all likelihood I wouldn't have picked this one out for myself, but I find myself listening to it over and over again like the siren's song of a different odyssey.  Enjoy, but beware the trap, as it all to quickly draws to an end.–Jerry Actually