Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Interview with Richard "Sammy" Brooks from The Scofflaws

Dressed in a long military green over coat and a black beret Richard "Sammy" Brooks caught the perplexed attention of the recruiters who were standing in their office.  We passed them, bought couple of burritos at a local Mexican restaurant, a few tall boys at 7-11 and drove back to Rich's house. In his living room was a still Greek tortoise getting warm under a lamp as well as a few cats who were staring at me as I took a seat on a sofa.  There will be two parts for this interview - since we hung out for more than an hour.

In fact, there are not many interviews on the web on either The Scofflaws or Richard Brooks who uses the stage name, “Sammy.”  Yet, this is a band that toured the US and Europe and still have a strong legion of fans.  Recent years, their gigs have been sporadic, playing mostly on Long Island and some gigs in Rhode Island or in Manhattan.   

We covered the very beginning as well as the concept of third wave ska which is what The Scofflaws are considered.  The first wave was bands from Jamaica such as the Skatalites, Desmond Decker and Bob Marley and the Wailors.  The second wave was known as the Two Tone bands.  Two Tone was the record label based in the UK.  Bands such as The Specials, Madness, The Selecter and Bad Manners as well as The English Beat.  The second wave captured the energy and aggression of punk.  It is interesting to see the progress of the ska wave; from Jamaica to the UK to the third wave which was global.  Within the US, bands such as Toasters, Fishbone (which was one of my favorites) The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Untouchables (who I saw perform back in the 80’s in San Jose) No Doubt, Sublime and Rancid.  The Scofflaws played with many of these bands. 

But they were not always known as The Scofflaws, the band started as The New Bohemians.  You may recall Edie Brickell (“What I Am”, 1986) and The New Bohemians.  There was no affiliation.  Richie sold the name for $500.00 to her management.    

The ska movement peaked in the ‘90’s.  All of The Scofflaws albums were released during this time, The Scofflaws, 1991/Moon Records, Ska in Hi Fi 1995/Moon Records, LIVE (Vol. 1) 1996, Moon Ska Records, Record of Convictions/1998Moon Ska Records.  Some of these bands which sold millions broke up. Some ska labels such as Moon/Ska Records folded.  By 2000 the third wave had crested.  What is left is the surviving ska bands who still tour, play at ska festivals and are adored their passionate fans.  Yet, there are new ska band who continue to create and forge their own “rude-boy” path.

MG: When you were introduced to ska?
RB: The Two tone error had a real impact on me.  I liked the reggae stuff which preceded that.  But when the two tone thing hit and Elvis Costello, it had that punky edge to it, I really embraced it, so that was the late seventies. 
MG:  What were some of the bands who influenced you? 
RB: The Specials came through first and I missed them and people were saying, oh man you should have seen this show, these guys were unbelievable, this was the next new thing.  About a month later Selecter came through and I caught their thing.  It was a lot of fun and that was at My Father’s Place in Roslyn.  That was their first tour.  It was an all black band with one white guy on guitar.  They did the James Bond bit and they put a spot light on the guy and the guy became James Bond, it was really cool.  Now, her whole line up is different, but that original band was very good.  So, around that time I started doing the New Bohemian thing.
MG:  What year was that?
RB:  It was around 1984 when The New Bohemians were born.  Prior, to that I was playing with some garage bands.  But that is a whole other area of my career.
MG:  You had mentioned directing as something you always wanted to do which led you to leading a band, so what inspired you?
RB:  I always like the idea of directing, putting out the right kind of material out there.  What really sparked the idea was when I went into a bar looking for a friend of mine.  The guy is not there and I look around the room and I think it’s pretty cool and I ask them, ever think about putting music in here?  And they tell me, they thought about.  And there’s this guy Gene, he’s a brick layer and he’s sitting at the bar.  And he tells the owner, “Oh, you should hire this guy’s band (Rich’s) they’re really good.  I didn’t even have a group, but Gene thought like a business man.  Get the gig and then get the musicians, so that is how it sparked.   Just as a lark I called a whole bunch of friends and said, hey listen, I’m doing like an open mic this night, come down.  I did that for a few weeks and started getting offers for other gigs after that.  It was formerly known as Snyder’s and became 89 Wall Street.  I’m thankful to Gene to this day.
MG:  So, you had the New Bohemians and Scotto became your manager?
RB:  Scott didn’t come onto the scene till later.  What happened we were playing CB’s and getting in on the scene and then Edie Brickell’s manager contacted me.  I think his name was Monty or something.  So, I explained I was using the name (New Bohemians) for three years by that time.  And I said I can prove it since I had back issues of The Voice for the times when we played CB’s and we’re in the add and it’s dated.  So you, know at that time I sold it.  The name had a kind of beatnik connotation which was very cool, but we were into the idea of getting people dancing and the ska thing was what we were going after so it was a good time to change the name.  My buddy and I were on the phone and there was a good band around called The Citizens and you don’t think of a rude boy when you think of a citizen, you think of a nice guy who cuts his lawn or something.  So we said we needed to go for something tougher than that.  I thought of Scofflaws and from that moment on we started using that and it has served us well.  It’s cool because once you get out of the New York area; a lot of people haven’t heard that.  It’s kind of a regional thing.
MG:  There are four releases as The Scofflaws, were there any more than that?
RB:  Well, there were some rinkey dink compilations we were on.  The first was a vinyl release, we were on it, it had a ska face and it was on Moon Records.  It was us and The Toasters, The Boilers, No Doubt, Let’s Go Bowling.    Shortly after that we recorded the first disk (The Scofflaws  Moon Records 1991) The sessions included Tony Mason and I don’t why he did it, but anyway.  We finished up the sessions and then he left the group.  So, John started drumming for us.  I remember doing this gig at SOB’s and Tony came down.  We were opening up for the Skatalites and the room was filled.  So, I can see the expression on his face.  Tony, we had the whole thing recorded. You really should have let us promote it before you made the decision to leave.  But he wound up getting into other things and I lost contact with him.
                In music that’s the biggest problem, is everybody’s ego.  When the ego gets in there, it becomes this big wrestling match and it stifles creativity.
MG:  How do you deal with that in a band?
RB: When someone brings in something; usually we know right off the bat if it’s going to work or not.  We try it on for size.  If it flies we keep it in.  Anybody can bring anything in.  People know the concept of the band.  I never wanted it to be one sided when it’s always about me and my choice.
MG:  What are some examples when someone else suggested a song?
RB:  Night Train, on our first album.  It was someone else who suggested it.  And it was big.  It was on our first album and we did it for a long time.  I still quote it in Skallacart.  Different band members bring in different tunes…anything can be put to the beat… with the right arrangement.
MG:  What was the relationship between you and Buford O’Sullivan, it seems on the last album (Record of Convictions Moon Ska Records 1998) your role within in the band may have diminished?
RB:  It can be referred to as a Buford album.  At the time I was going through a divorce and stuff.  My life was mired in shit.  I was not the driving force behind that one.  Compared to our first two, but still I let others take the lead.  I didn’t want to make all the decisions. If someone had some expertise in one area, I’d let them have it.  Putting the right guy: in the right place.  I always wanted the musician to do their thing within our thing, that’s when you get the optimum from a musician.  I’ve been very lucky to hook up with people who have been very talented and sympathetic.
MG:  Moon Records was releasing all of your releases and went under.  What was the situation with them?
RB:  It was kind of a musician’s co-op.  It was never a cash cow.  They did this crazy thing where they would give you product and you sell it and supposedly you made more from it.  Rob (The Toasters and owner of the label) had a heavy tour schedule and would sell all of his releases, so by the time we pulled through all of our records were sold.  So, it got it little weird that way.  We did a fair amount through stores.  We never thought we’d get rich doing that.  We aspired to do that and for a little while it happened, but I always had a part time job I could jump back into.  I never really did it full, full time.
MG:  Yet, The Scofflaws toured the US and Europe. Who organized your tours?
RB: Moon had a lot to do with that.  We worked with two different booking agencies.  There was an English lad who was getting us gigs.  When you have a power house agent it makes the difference.  They set everything up in advance.
RB:  He did, prior to us.  Scott did not come till the mid nineties by then things were picking up and MG:   So going back to Scott, I know he managed The Mosquitoes.
we were on Moon.  Scott is a good negotiator and was a good representative for the band.

Look for Part II in the near future…

Thank you for reading this.

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