In the 1990s, “third wave ska” brought the genre to new heights in terms of popularity—and San Diego’s Buck-O-Nine was one of the bands that enjoyed the ride.
On Friday, Jan. 17, the band will be making a return performance to The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert, after playing there about a year ago.
Ska—a Jamaican style of music that combines Caribbean elements with jazz and R&B—originated in the late 1950s. It found popularity in the United Kingdom in the late 1960s; in the late ’70s and early-to-mid ’80s, a second wave known as 2 Tone began with groups such as Madness, The Specials and The English Beat. During the ’90s, American bands created the third wave by combining it with a punk-rock sound.
Buck-O-Nine started in 1991 in San Diego; frontman Jon Pebsworth became involved after answering a newspaper ad looking for a singer. During a recent phone interview, he talked about his love for ska music at an early age.
“Ska music and punk rock were my two favorite styles of music,” he said. “When I was a really young kid in sixth-grade—when I was buying my own records with my own money that wasn’t my parents’ kind of music—it was all 2 Tone ska like The English Beat, Madness, The Selecter, and all that stuff. I got into punk rock when I was in junior high and high school.”
When he saw the ad the band put in the San Diego Reader looking for a singer, he knew he had found a place for himself. “It said, ‘Ska band looking for punk singer.’ I was like, ‘Fuck, dude! That’s the band for me right there.’ The rest is history.”
Pebsworth said punk and ska have a history of working well together.
“Both styles of music are high-energy. … The melding of punk and ska together (actually began in) the 2 Tone era, when you think about it. They took traditional ska from the late ’60s and early ’70s and infused it with the punk rock that was happening in the late ’70s and early ’80s. That second wave already has a lot of punk rock in it. They seem to go hand in hand.”
The early third wave also included bands such as the Voodoo Glow Skulls, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and No Doubt, just to name a few. Buck-O-Nine released its debut album, Songs in the Key of Bree, in 1994. The band’s fourth album, Twenty-Eight Teeth, featured the song “My Town,” which made it to No. 32 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. The band was a heavy favorite in San Diego’s music scene, and wound up on tour opening for The Specials.
Third-wave ska wound up becoming watered down, and eventually left the mainstream as quickly as it arrived. No Doubt eventually went toward a pop sound, while other third-wave bands went back into the underground.
“It was a trippy time,” Pebsworth said. “With bands like Green Day and The Offspring bringing actual punk rock to the more-popular culture, a lot of people were interested in … making records that had more broad appeal. I think it had a positive and negative effect. … It was definitely positive, because a lot of people got turned on to that music, but it was also a negative, because when you have something like that that’s generating money, and bands being signed to major labels, you’re going to see watered-down versions of these bands pop up. The media sort of turned it into a frat-boy, rock ’n’ roll house-party kind of music.”
Pebsworth said the band members currently refer to themselves as “semi-retired.” The band members have families, live in different cities, and have other commitments and even day jobs. Therefore, they play eight to 12 shows per year.
“Honestly, at this point, we don’t really make any money doing Buck-O-Nine,” he said. “We do it for the same reason when we first started: Because it’s fun as shit.”
Buck-O-Nine hasn’t recorded an album since 2007’s Sustain—and it appears fans will be waiting a while longer.
“We’d like to, and seem to think we will,” he said about a new album. “We talk about it every time we’re together. Unfortunately, nothing has really materialized in the way of songs or new ideas.”
So what keeps Buck-O-Nine fun for Pebsworth?
“Obviously, the most fun part is walking out onstage with the guys,” he said. “I also love the stuff that goes on after the shows. … When we get together, we’re still the best of friends, and we have a blast. Whether it’s hanging out at the club we’re playing at, going to a bar down the street, or buying beers at a 7-Eleven and going back to our hotel, just telling jokes and fucking around—that’s the most fun.”
Buck-O-Nine will play at 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 17, at The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. Admission is $10 at the door; Machin’ and Spankshaft are also on the bill. For more information, call 760-636-5220, or track down the event page on Facebook.