Dave Wakeling has had a storied career. The English Beat and General Public vocalist/guitarist wrote and sang some of the biggest hits of the '80s ska revival, and simultaneously fused dance music and politics without apology. His signature Vox teardrop guitar may reside (on loan) at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and he may live in Malibu, California, just up the coast from Mel Gibson, but he hasn't abandoned his skanking or activism witness his involvement in Greenpeace, the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament, and Smile Train a charity that provides surgery for those with cleft lips and palates.
B-Sides: How's Mel?
Dave Wakeling: All quiet on the western front. I haven't had a chance to talk to him. My sister was saying that the drink doesn't make you tell any lies. It just makes you tell the truth too loud to the wrong people at the wrong time.
Words to live by. What's the current English Beat lineup?
I've been working with the drummer for over ten years, Rhythmm Epkins, one of the best drummers in the world, I think. The bass player, Wayne Lothian, I worked with in General Public and Special Beat. He has a photographic memory for every Beat and General Public song. He teaches me all these old songs. I'm like, "Oh, here's a challenge is that a song I wrote?" We have two guitars, keyboards and sax on top of that. All six of us sing every night. It's like the Beach Boys on ska at a Velvet Underground party.
How has your relation to ska changed over the years?
I have a clearer sense of my role. My job is to link the band, the audience and the songs in the same moment. You can tell when it happens. Everyone in the audience dances to the same pulse, but they're not aware of it. That's amazing in this day and age. There's still a lot of money to be made out of fear, keeping people separate and scared. It's nice to have a night where a few hundred or a thousand people realize that we are one. And all fear disappears.
Were the first English Beat gigs like that?
The first gig, March 1979, was the same weekend as the Three Mile Island escapade. We were introduced as the "hottest thing since the Pennsylvania meltdown!" That really set a tone of environmental activism in our music.
When I was in high school, I never picked up on the politics.
That's good in a way. You have to remember it was a stage, not a soapbox. We weren't trying to write political treaties. You could take them personally or politically, or you could just turn them up and dance.
How did you first get involved in Greenpeace?
Starting out, I wanted to do three things: be in a band, be in Greenpeace and be a Buddhist monk. Then I started having dreams of girls and motorbikes. I did some benefit shows for Greenpeace, and then found that my expertise in the pop world could be of use to them. I ended up working for them for five years in the '90s. We made an album called Alternative NRG, a (literally) solar-powered album, explaining the intricacies of global warming, which at the time people were still arguing about. There are still some people arguing about it, bless them! Roy Kasten
8 p.m. Thursday, May 10. VooDoo Café and Lounge at Harrah's Casino, 777 Casino Center Drive, Maryland Heights. $17. 314-770-8100.
For some reason, original Doors members Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger just aren't content to let the legacy and enormously influential catalog of their band speak for itself. Instead, the duo has insisted on continuing to tour as a Doors karaoke band first under the moniker Doors of the 21st Century (with the Cult's Ian Astbury on vocals) and now as Riders on the Storm, with Brett Scallions assuming Jim Morrison's role. (You might know Scallions as the vocalist from Fuel, one of the genero-rock bands that helped kill alt-rock in the late 1990s with songs such as "Shimmer" and "Hemorrhage [In My Hands].") B-Sides managed to gain access to a rehearsal for this current tour.
[Krieger, Manzarek and Scallions sit in a practice room; the latter is gazing at himself in a mirror and combing his hair. The barefoot ghost of Jim Morrison, long hair flowing behind him, floats into view amid a cloud of incense. ]
Krieger and Manzarek: Jim! Hey, man, long time no see. You're looking good.
Morrison: Thanks. I've been doing hot yoga with Janis and Jimi in the morning. It's done wonders for my skin.
Krieger: So what's going on?
Morrison: [looking disdainfully at Scallions] So, uh, wanted to talk to you about this Riders on the Storm business. You guys, Brett Scallions of Fuel? What, was the lead singer of Eve 6 busy?
Scallions: [looks up from mirror] But Jim, I'm dangerous now! I grew a Grizzly Adams-style beard and wear sunglasses onstage. I am the new Lizard King. [sticks tongue out like a snake and hisses]
Morrison: [rolling eyes] Uh, sure, Brett. Especially since you finally decided to ditch your bleached-blond hair, a.k.a. the hairdo that went out of style when Saved by the Bell went off the air.
Krieger: [sighing] Jim, I understand you might be a little upset that we've continued on without you. But did you read the press release we sent out? Look what I said: "Jim Morrison can never be replaced, but this project has never been about that. It's about giving a voice to the body of work we created with Jim in a live setting." The people have spoken, and they want to go see the Doo... I mean, Riders on the Storm.
Morrison: What people? Those who were stoked that Fuel had a song in the video game NASCAR Thunder 2004, or heard "Sunburn" in the flick Scream 3? The whole point of the original Doors was that they were dangerous. You never knew if I was going to be too drunk to sing, whipping out my junk onstage or simply behaving like a raving madman. This guy [points at Scallions, who is making kissy-faces in the mirror] is about as unpredictable as Wonder Bread.
Scallions: [frowning] Hey, I'm unpredictable. Today I parted my hair on the right.
Manzarek: Jim, Rhino Records just reissued gussied-up versions of our back catalog. We scored a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a big exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This tour is just another way for people to remember who we are. Plus, Brett has classic-rock cred: Fuel covered Led Zeppelin's "Going to California."
Morrison: Yes, like he was in a Creed cover band.
Scallions: [frowning again] Hey, I resent that remark. I was going for Pearl Jam. [talking to himself] Eddie is the man, dude. Ten, shiiiit, what an awesome disc.
Morrison: [starting to float away] [Doors drummer] John Densmore has the right idea, having nothing to do with such shenanigans. Good luck with this stuff, fellas. I have a tai chi class with Kurt in ten.
7 p.m. Friday, May 11. Pop's, 1403 Mississippi Avenue, Sauget, Illinois. $45. 618-274-6720.