Fans, bands and musicians from all around Washington gathered last Tuesday night at The Pug on H Street to celebrate the vinyl release of The Pietasters’ 1995 hit CD “Oolooloo” and raise money to support the family of a local musician.
“It was fun to play one of their great albums on vinyl,” says Tony T., proprietor of The Pug, an iconic DC watering hole that boasts an impressive collection of ska and punk album covers on its walls and often plays ska music. Oolooloo includes The Pietasters’ biggest hit “Maggie Mae,” a touching ode to a local waitress who “pours our beer and cleans our mess,” one of many songs on the album that uses DC as a backdrop.
The Pug event also raised money to help the family of DC hardcore band Iron Cross bassist Dmitri Medvedev to get his motorcycle out of insurance impound and returned to his family. Dmitri was killed in September while riding the motorcycle on Route 50 in Virginia.
The Pietasters are not strictly a ska band, having been tapped by the late James Brown to perform as the Godfather of Soul’s backing band. The soul feel of The Pietasters is evident on Oolooloo on songs such as “Can I Change My Mind,” which features the traditional ska guitar “skank” – a quick, clipped upstroke on the strings on the second and fourth beats – but also a long organ intro, soaring horns and powerful vocals that could be straight from a Motown record.
“We’re proud of the record,” says Stephen Jackson, lead singer and principal songwriter for The Pietasters since their 1990 debut. The long play vinyl version of Ooolooloo came about thanks to two record companies who created a Kickstarter fundraising campaign called the “3rd Wave Ska Preservation Society Vinyl Reissue Campaign.”
“It’s a great album and the cover looks awesome in the bigger format,” says Cameron Seip, trumpet player for local ska band Free Lobster Buffet. “We do a cover of “Freak Show’ and crowds love it. We could play any song from that album, they’re all fabulous.”
Keith Duncan is a typically devoted fan of The Pietasters. Duncan is a musician himself, playing trombone for The Shifters and is also the founder of BlueBeat DC through which he organizes monthly ska shows.
“True story: in 1995, my girlfriend told me I had to stop listening to Oolooloo because it was all I ever listened to in the car – so I dumped her,” says Duncan. “Listening to Oolooloo on record confirms my suspicion all along, that I made the right choice.”
The Pug’s Tony T. says the event was a “warm up” for a planned fundraiser at The Pug in March to benefit a scholarship fund set up in honor of original Pietasters bassist Todd Eckhardt who died in 2001. The funds raised at that event will benefit the Duke Ellington School for Performing Arts.
“At the end of the day it was a few Pug regulars helping out a few other Pug regulars,” says Tony T.
[tab title=”What the F is SKA?”]
Ska music is more than just reggae played by a punk band. Ska began in 1960’s Jamaica as a melding of Jamaican calypso and American Motown. The style faded in popularity as ska musicians like Toots Hibbert and Bob Marley shifted to reggae in the early 1970’s.
A second wave of ska emerged in England in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s spawning The Specials, The English Beat and Bad Manners among others. This second wave was also called Two Tone ska after The Specials’ founder Jerry Dammers’ record label with its distinctive black and white checkered logo emphasizing the racial inclusiveness of the music. Two Tone ska also influenced many other bands of the day like The Clash who adopted ska elements in their music.
The third wave of ska music emerged in the early 1990’s largely in Southern California and enjoyed brief mainstream popularity with groups like Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger and No Doubt. Ska now enjoys “cult” status through die-hard fans, all of whom vacillate between denouncing the death of ska and claiming we are mere days from the apocryphal fourth wave.