Instrumental Ska with Jazz Jamaica: Rico Rodriguez in the ’90s

Here’s a rare one (for me)…an in-depth study of someone’s discography that contains almost no vinyl.  The third wave ska scene featured something that I have not seen to my satisfaction since: truly fantastic instrumental ska albums.  While paying homage to the 1st wave with lots of covers, the 2Tone era broke fully from instrumental ska.  The 3rd wave went in several directions – punk ska (aka “punk with horns”), more traditional sounding ska with vocals, and then, the really traditional instrumental ska.  It was a particularly unique time in ska history, as a good number of the original Jamaican masters were still alive and touring, their influence obvious in every instrumental release.  One of these was the late Rico Rodriguez.  Rico was wonderful, and a trombone master.  Which brings us to today’s task: tackling the very confusing discography of Jazz Jamaica, the wonderful Rico Rodriguez band of the era.  “Oh, that’s easy,” you say.  “It was just two CDs, right?”  (Okay, I know you aren’t saying that.  Work with me.)  It turns out there were several albums that were only released in Japan, several others released under different band names, and even two using the name that were really by a different band.  It took me forever to get straight.

Total aside: I tried like hell to see Jazz Jamaica and/or Rico play before he died.  The world conspired against me.  Jazz Jamaica actually flew to the States for one show in the late 90’s – a free performance in Central Park.  My car was stuck in the shop longer than expected and I couldn’t afford the bus ticket to New York at that point.  I’m still kicking myself – I even had a friend who really had no interest go as a surrogate.  Then…years later, I lived in Switzerland, and I was supposed to drive to see Rico (in Lucerne, if memory serves), but he cancelled at the last minute due to illness.  Of course, the car I was driving might not have made it anyway.  Tragic.

At any rate, let’s take a dive into Jazz Jamaica.  First, the ground rules: what counts as Jazz Jamaica?  Here’s how I am defining the band: 1. Must contain Rico.  2. Must contain a representative sampling (half) of the eight band members who released the albums under the Jazz Jamaica name.  This will become clearer in a moment.

1. Skaravan CD – 1993/1996

Readily available U.S. CD.  Easy, right?  Negative.  This one originally came out in Japan and the UK in 1993, then later in the U.S. in 1996.  Each had a completely different cover.  That’s not too bad.  But wait, there’s more…the Japanese version contained three additional tracks.  And they’re GOOD: “Dr. Kildare,” “Rasta,” and “Confucious” (a significantly different version from the one that later came out on the Double Barrel album).  There are some wonderful recordings on this album, including my all-time favorite version of “Peanut Vendor.”  All in all, a fantastic album.  It stands out above the other early ones.  If you listen to all three of the Japanese releases, it is fairly obvious why this is the one that got the subsequent U.S. release.

2. The Jamaican Beat: Blue Note Blue Beat Vol. 1 CD – 1994

This was a Japan-only CD.  Usually fairly easy to track down, as long as you are willing to pay for shipping from Japan.  This one…I don’t know.  Parts are good and others fall flat.  It opens with a rendition of “Three Blind Mice.”  I mean…it’s certainly the best rendition of it I have heard, but it’s still “Three Blind Mice,” and they opened the album with it.  It’s…an odd choice.  They do a version of “Watermelon Man” on here, which is one of my all-time favorite instrumentals.  I have always thought that this should be a high-energy song, though, and the Jazz Jamaica version is a bit more chill, with a wandering bass line.  It’s good, but then I listen to the Jump with Joey or Baba Brooks version, and feel that those are far superior.

One weird thing is that there were a couple of tracks on the disc with vocals, which was pretty abnormal for Jazz Jamaica.  Hmm…I feel as though this is coming off as too negative.  It is actually a very good album.  The second half of the disc, in particular, is really strong – “Sidewinder” and “Song for My Father” are really good.  There is also a pretty badass version of  “Take Five” on here (which Rico later did for the fabulous late-’90s Ska Island compilation as well).  This song, with its aggressive horn line, is the type of track that really showed off Rico’s trombone ability.

3. Rico & His Band – You Must Be Crazy CD/LP – 1994

The first curve ball (aside from the Japan-only releases, of course).  This is a live album, recorded in 1994, released in Germany.  It’s not officially Jazz Jamaica, but it meets the spirit of the exercise and the sound of the band.  Rico, along with Eddie “Tantan” Thornton, Michael “Bammie” Rose, and Tony Uter play on this one.  The rest of the band is different from the Jazz Jamaica releases.  It’s a very solid live recording.

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Jamaican Ska Records Are Going to Drive Me Crazy

No, seriously.  A very…let’s say “detail-oriented”…personality such as my own cannot handle trying to research Jamaican records.  I am working on a little Skatalites project right now, which I will premier a few months from now, depending on where my research takes me and whether I retain my sanity.  I was sorting out the tracks that appear on the old Studio 1 Best of the Ska-talites album, starting with the track “Air Raid Shelter.”  My LP is in fairly rough shape, so in digitizing it, I ended up with really crackly recordings.  I happen to have the 7″ of that song, so I figured I would just record the 7″ and be done with it.  Simple, right?  Negative, Ghost Rider.  The song on the 7″ didn’t match the one on the album.  I checked over on Discogs, which told me that the tracks on the record were all out of order.  Crap.  That album was my only source for about 8 of the tracks on there.  After researching the matrix codes on the 7″, I determined that it was mislabeled, and was actually “Addis Ababa.”  Cool.  Let’s double check that with the version of that one that I have on the Foundation Ska CD – that ought to be accurate, right?  D’oh…that’s an entirely different song, and was actually “Fidel Castro.”  Cross-referencing with YouTube, I sorted it all out, and “Air Raid Shelter” was actually labeled correctly on the LP.  So let’s recap…the Best of the Ska-Talites LP track listing on the sleeve does not match the one on the labels, neither of which match the actual track listing.  However, the tracks on my copy are not out of order in the same way that is documented on Discogs.  The “Air Raid Shelter” 7″ is actually “Addis Ababa,” and “Addis Ababa” on the Foundation Ska CD is actually “Fidel Castro.”  Got it.

Pette Discogs’ Best Albums of 2016 (and Late 2015)

‘Tis time. My annual music review has been something I have put together for several years, but I have generally limited it to a personal Facebook post. That seems a little silly, considering these vast tools at my disposal to reach at least 5-10 additional people who might care. So, I’m expanding the reach this year. Here we go: my favorite albums of 2016 (and late 2015, if I did not get to it by 2015, but it counts because I make the rules). The first few entries here are interchangeable in my rankings – they are all albums I have listened to incessantly since I discovered them.

1. Tacocat – Lost Time
I was way late to the game on Tacocat. Then, I was listening to extensively curated female-singer-indie-rock channel on Pandora, and Pandora and I had a discussion, which essentially amounted to Pandora saying, “Um, you like Tacocat, dumbass. No, really. Get on that,” and me saying, “Mmhm.” We had that conversation about three times before I paid attention. Pandora was correct, and I have remedied the problem. I am now caught up. The good news is this happened at the perfect time: about a month before the release of a new Tacocat album, followed by not one, but two rare DC tour appearances. It’s true: I  Tacocat and you should, too. Their newest album, Lost Time, covers all kinds of fun topics, but I will leave that to you to work through.

Highlights: Talk
I Hate the Weekend
Dana Katherine Scully

2. S P O R T S – All of Something (2015)
Heartfelt, energetic, solid indie rock with a distinct hint of a midwestern sound. This album grabbed me immediately…I just didn’t hear it until early 2016. I read a review of All of Something shortly after I heard it that made it sound as though this band had all the makings of one that was not long for this world (some members – but not all – graduated from college and moved from Ohio to Philly). It hasn’t done them in yet.

Highlights: Saturday
Reality TV

3. Bloodboy – Best of Bloodboy EP
No, Bloodboy is not a hardcore or metal band (at least not yet) – just solo singer/songwriter Lexie Papilion. I am still trying to figure out how I found my way to this EP. It contains sounds one would normally expect to find exclusively in ’80s songs (and for those of you saying, “I love ’80s songs!” I did not mean that as a positive). It works, though. It really works. These are phenomenal songs. Intense, biting, and infectious – I have been listening to this EP repeatedly for the past couple of months. If only there were a physical product so that I could give her money for her music… Anyway, this EP is a stellar debut and I look forward to what is to come.

Highlights: Keep Your Disease
Hey Kid
Fuck Yourself (I find it endlessly entertaining that Amazon refers to this one as “Fuck Yourself [Explicit]”…y’think?)
Mom, I’ve Changed

Oh, just listen to the whole thing. It’s all good. The last track doesn’t hold my attention quite as much as the first five, but it’s still good.

4. Blowout – No Beer, No Dad
Blowout sounds like early Lemuria…I mean they REALLY remind me of early Lemuria. This is a fantastic development – I miss early Lemuria. It’s catchy indie-punk songs at their finest. This is their first full length, and it has also been occupying my stereo with great regularity in the latter part of this year.

Highlights: Guts Grown Up
Cents Cents Money Money
Green Couch

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Preposterously Rare Hepcat Alert

So, I had always thought that the Hepcat Nigel 7″ existed solely on black vinyl.  It is rare enough in that format.  However, after I posted my Hepcat discography, someone clued me in to another version on clear vinyl.  That message board discussion also led to the revelation that there were only 25 copies made on clear vinyl, and most of those were given to the band.  I cannot confirm that part, but I can vouch for the fact that the clear vinyl version is excessively scarce.  That said, the stars seem to have aligned, and I was able to get myself a copy.  This one is either a record collector’s dream and nightmare.  Thanks to Lawless for the heads up.  The value I have placed on it is entirely speculative, but I am ballparking it at $80-100.

Moon Records/Moon Ska

Alright, folks.  This is a big one.  I have added full discographies for Moon Records/Moon Ska Records.  Really.  There are many, many pages of skatastic fun for you here.  There is an Album Index and a Single Index.  I am proud of this one – it took a great deal of work, and I could never have done it without the trail blazed by Jeremy Patton of Megalith Records.  So, here you go. Collect away.


Now we’re cookin’…just like that, Hepcat’s part of the discography site is now live!  That was much easier.  I need to do a few more like this…four albums, four singles, five comps.  Good stuff.  Enjoy.  The “diskagraphies” are underway…

The Slackers

Well, that took a while.  The Slackers pages are now live on the discog site.  I think I should have chosen some shorter discogs for my first couple of ska-related bands.  Instead, I went with Fishbone and the Slackers.  Time to do some shorter ones before I get into something like the Toasters, don’tcha think?


Fishbone is RED HOT…and is now on Pette Discographies.  I have completed albums, single, and compliation sections for them…and it took far longer than it should have.  I am happy to bring you a (mostly) complete Fishbone discography.