The night after St. Patrick’s Day is a tuff night for a show. Add in the fact that it’s a Monday makes it even harder. But, if there is one band that can get me out on a night like that its The Specials. I have been a fan since I was in Sixth grade. Seems like it was yesterday when I would wear button down shirts like them and dress like them and act like them running around the house driving everyone crazy!
There was an older kid in my neighborhood that rode a Vespa and wore a trench coat with patches on it. He wore cuffed jeans and penny loafers, plaid Fred Perry shirts and Pork Pie hats. He was the coolest guy I ever saw. I think his name was Jeff. I wonder if he knows that his influence on me has lasted a lifetime. I remember the patches on his jacket were the Mod symbol, The English Beat, The Jam and The Specials. He also had an impressive collection of buttons which I never got to see since I never got close enough to him. I never even talked to him. He was the cool older kid and was too busy being rad to talk to Sixth graders.
Anyway, I decided that he was onto something and I wanted in on that shit! I started off my mission to be like Jeff by going to the Wherehouse Record store at the Eagle Rock Plaza and asking for The Specials album. They showed me an album by 38 Special and I thought, no way would Jeff listen to this. I tried explaining to the clerk about Jeff with the buttons and patches and stuff. He finally understood and pulled out an album by Madness. It was the “One Step Beyond” album with the guys on the cover doing the synchronized ska dance that was mimicked in Breakfast Club. My immediate reaction was YES! THAT’S IT! Those dudes look just like him. That was the best moment of my life, the turning point that lead to what I would be and do now and forever! I didn’t know that at the time. I just wanted my mom to pay for it and get me home to the record player! That album led me to all the other great Two-Tone era stuff and eventually to traditional ska and reggae. I got into punk rock later. But, when it came to ska, The Specials were and are still my favorite.
So with the remains of green beer and whiskey still lingering in my body we set out for Nokia just about two weeks ago now. We got there just in time for the first song! It was an immediate rush of energy for me! There was Terry Hall in the flesh! They had the drummer that was in Special AKA and the original bass player Horace Panter (who wrote that book Ska’d for Life), both original guitarists, Lynval and Roddy, and of course Terry Hall. Unfortunately Neville Staples wasn’t there. I heard he was sick and couldn’t do the tour. Lynval sang all his parts and sounded great, although I missed Neville’s stage presence. The rest of the band was great too. Great keyboard player and horn players did their parts well and looked cool.
The banner in the background was the classic logo in black and white. Perfect! That’s the only frill they needed. The songs are what make The Specials a truly timeless and untouched band that will go down in history as one of the greatest! Nite Club, Ghost town, It’s Up To You, Concrete Jungle, Too Hot, Do The Dog and of course Toots classic Monkey Man (which I got to see Toots play a week later at House of Blues Hollywood).
Lynval said from stage the night of the Nokia show that this was only their second time in L.A. in the past 30 years. Assuming he was referring to the show at The Palace in ’96 as the first, I was there too! Now the Palace is called the Avalon.
In 1996 The Specials did a reunion tour in the states. This tour didn’t include Terry Hall or Jerry Dammers but it was still billed as The Specials and included the other founding members. I had a front row seat to 3 weeks of this tour since my band; Buck-O-Nine was asked to be the supporting act starting in Minneapolis. The Suicide Machines were support for the other half of the tour.
Being a fan of The Specials is still as important to me as it was in Sixth grade. I will listen to those albums in whatever format the future brings and will always give the vinyl versions their fair amount of play. I still have both albums in mint condition along with all the others I bought back then from the dude at The Wherehouse. Wait, where? At the Wherehouse! Hahaha! Too Much Too Young!