The Duff Guide to Ska: It seems like a lot of your recent work has focused on dancehall instead of ska. Why did you decide to bring Dr. Ring Ding back into the ska fold at this point in time?
I have done a lot of reggae and dancehall recordings and shows in the past, but also many other types of music, many of them not under the name of Dr. Ring Ding. If people hear more from me in dancehall, it is possibly due to the fact that it spreads faster, as the community is possibly bigger than, let’s say, the ska community.
There have been some ska recordings over the last few years. One album with Kingston Kitchen, comprising members of the Rotterdam Ska Jazz Foundation and myself. Then more recently a new album of El Bosso and die Ping Pongs (the ska band in which I first started playing), as well as some guest appearances on other bands’ albums and singles. Apart from that, I have also worked as a producer for several ska bands.
Then, it is always cheaper to record some rhythm tracks (with a satisfying sound) for a dancehall tune on your computer instead of having to book a studio and record a whole band, especially in a time when neither a music consumer nor a record label is willing to put out money for a recording. Therefore, it is true that a bigger part of the Dr. Ring Ding productions of the past few years are within the dancehall genre, as I would not like to compromise sound quality and musicianship too much. I have done a large number of ska shows though, with Kingston Kitchen, El Bosso, and also a project called “The Rock Steady Revue.”
Anyway, I really felt the urge to record a new ska album (under the name of Dr. Ring Ding) after I had played a bunch of shows last December with the Bartenders from Warsaw and Shots in the Dark from Rome. I have asked a few of my favorite fellow musicians if they would like to participate in the project, and luckily, all of them said yes. I am grateful.
DGTS: What should your ska fans expect on the new album? Can you tell us about the bands backing you--and are there any special guests?
DRD: The new album is entitled Piping Hot and the name of my ska outfit is Dr. Ring Ding Ska-Vaganza. I am really continuing what we started with the Dandimite album in 1995 (with Dr. Ring Ding and the Senior Allstars). It is traditional ska, most of it original compositions--the few covers are instrumental versions of two folk songs (one German, one Catalan)--and a pop song from the 80s.
The wonderful musicians playing are the Freedom Street Band, who provide the basic tracks (drums, bass, piano, guitar). They are a reggae backing band from Barcelona and usually accompany me on my dancehall shows in Catalonia, Spain, Southern France, etc., as they do for the likes of Tippa Irie, Chucky Star, and a number of Spanish artists. But they also can play ska and have backed people like Derrick Morgan, Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, etc.
Then there are some German friends on there, Markus Dassmann on guitar and organ--he played in the Senior Allstars and we share the stage in many different projects. Mathias Demmer from The Busters plays a multitude of wind instruments--saxophones, clarinet, flutes, etc. More horns come from GenÃs Bou (from the fantastic Gramophone Allstars) and Bruno Calvo, a young, exceptionally talented trumpet player. Some more extra people on backing vocals: Stephanie K. (an American jazz singer), Congalero Marcus Passlick (was also on Dandimite, etc.), and I am happy to have Doreen Shaffer sing a duet with me.
DRD: I guess it will be out in October. The CD will be on Pork Pie Records, the vinyl on Buenritmo, and Jump Up will release two vinyl singles with exclusive tracks from the same sessions.
DGTS: Are there any plans for some live Dr. Ring Ding dates in the USA at any point soon?
DRD: Plans no, but it’s been already been four years since I last played in the USA, and I get pretty itchy feet, to be honest. Any promoter reading this interested in bringing me over?
DGTS: What's the German ska scene like right now? Who are some of the better bands that US fans should track down?
DRD: Funny how I always get asked this question. I believe the answer has been the same over the last 20 years… There are some of the old veterans still doing it, and they are definitely worth to be listened to – bands like The Busters for instance. And I am happy to see that there are young and new bands coming out of the woodwork continuously, too. One of my favorites are The Magic Touch (although they are more rocksteady/dirty reggae than ska).
DRD: The band was made up from pupils of my school (but for one). They had played a show at some school festival there. I saw it, I loved it, and asked if I could join. I could, and this is how I started to learn about this music. That was in 1987, when I was 16 or 17…
We split somewhere in the early 90s, but had a few revival shows every four years or such, and then we decided at some point to loosely play together again every now and then. That made the bandleader/songwriter/guitarist Skacus eager enough to compose and record an album’s worth of material – hey presto!
We kind of always kept faithful to the concept of using German in our songs. On one hand, due to the main songwriter’s bad English (and good German), on the other hand, it made us stick out from the rest – so why change a winning concept?
DGTS: The early 90s ska scene in Germany was pretty hot (Busters, No Sports, Skaos, Butlers, Bleichreiz)--what are some of your fondest memories from those days?
DRD: First of all, these were my first years on the road – that is always something special and the music will always remain in my memory as the soundtrack of my Sturm-und-Drang period. The many festivals we played, sharing the bill with the above mentioned, were like big family meetings. And also getting to know some of the bands we had on record, listening to them play live, was great. The Toasters, The Trojans, Desmond Dekker…
I am really happy that playing this music actively got me deeper into the matter. Getting to know the veterans of ska, playing with them live, recording with them (such as Doreen Shaffer, Lord Tanamo, Judge Dread, etc). Playing in a country for the first time, releasing albums, having them released in different countries, getting people to sing your songs – all that is really satisfying for a musician.
DGTS: What record or experience was your first introduction to ska/reggae music?
DRD: Some of the music I had heard without knowing what it was. I knew Madness’ version of “One Step Beyond” and “Night Boat To Cairo” from the radio, but had no idea what the genre was called. I enjoyed listening, though. I had also heard some reggae, but didn’t quite like it at that time. Everything started when I joined El Bosso and die Ping Pongs. The bassist gave me some music to listen to: The Specials, The Selecter, The Beat, more Madness, and some old stuff, like The Skatalites and some compilations on Trojan Records. I found a few reggae albums in some boxes left over from the last bazaar in the basement of our church, one of which (Burning Spear’s Social Living) is still my favorite to date. I started buying ska and reggae records myself, Desmond Dekker, Toots and the Maytals, The Ethiopians… and when I finally went to see a show of Desmond Dekker in my home town, it was clear that I would from now on be a diehard reggae and ska fan. I also started listening to Mutabaruka and LKJ at that time and learned a lot about the language.
DGTS: Which ska/reggae musicians and releases are your favorites (and why)?
DRD: Anything from Toots and the Maytals – one of my first and still one of my favorites.
Anything from Desmond Dekker. A fan since I saw him live.
Burning Spear: Social Living. Roots reggae at its best. Great production.
I am fascinated by Ken Boothe – after a dozen of albums, many hours in the car together, and having him seen live numerous times, I still can’t put my finger on it.
Winston Francis – a wonderful singer and a wonderful person. And totally underrated.
The Skatalites – how can you not love them? I was lucky and privileged enough to join them for two weeks as a trombonist a few years back.
The ska recordings of Byron Lee and the Dragonaires. Great!
Prince Buster – a real teacher.
Hepcat – loved them from the first moment I heard them.
Dancehall artists like Josey Wales, Yellowman, then Admiral Bailey and Cutty Ranks; and from England, Tippa Irie and Macka B. They have influenced me a lot.
Damn, this list is getting long…
DGTS: What else is in store for Dr. Ring Ding this year (plug away, baby)?
DRD: There are a few releases coming up. Besides the ska album, the will be one in computerized dancehall style of the late 80s, produced by Dreadsquad from Poland, whom with I have already worked on a bunch of singles. Then a reggae album with the Sharp Axe Band (and guests), my backing band in Germany. Then there is still one album in the pipeline for Stubborn Records, produced by King Django, and I am also working on a French project… and all this is only Dr. Ring Ding, mind you.
Other than that, more shows hopefully – I love to explore new countries and come back to see old friends in the ones I have already been to.