photo credit: James Walker
Anyone familiar with the DC Ska Scene knows the name The Checkered Cabs. For those who grew up around the region or were a fan of that region’s bands, they are royalty. Their queen is Caz Gardiner. Caz emerged as one of the most talented vocalists to ever grace a stage. Her powerful voice has been winning over fans for over 20 years and she is not slowing down. She has a brand new band called Caz and the Day Laborers.
The band features the cream of the crop of DC and Baltimore ska. Boasting former members of the Checkered Cabs, Decepticonz, Pietasters, the Smooths, and more, the band has quickly made a name for themselves. The group recently released their debut on Bandcamp this past April. By the sounds of things, they are looking to take over the world.
Caz Gardiner (vocals) – you have one of the best voices in music. How did you get into singing?
Steve, thanks for the compliment :-)
I guess you can say that I got into singing as a little kid. Probably in elementary school was when I noticed that I really liked singing and could carry a tune pretty good. I started writing songs about that time too in my room with an old weird red and white organ that was just around the house. I don’t know how to play music but I’d fiddle with that and write little songs on rainy days or days where I had no one to play with. It sort of came natural to me.
Jorge Banales (bass) – when did you start playing bass? Has it always been your main instrument?
My first musical instrument was a classical guitar with nylon strings. I was in 8th grade and it was my first chance to take on a musical instrument because my family had moved around a lot prior to that (Uruguay, Argentina, Venezuela) and by 1984 we had the stability necessary to afford and plan lessons. I took lessons for a couple of years and then discovered the electric bass via listening to The Police. Because that band was influenced by Jamaican music I started to gravitate toward that kind of music and bands that played it around 9th and 10th grade. I took class piano and music theory in college and I probably feel more comfortable on the keyboard than on a guitar. About three or four years ago I started to take trombone lessons. It’s a horn I’ve always liked, plus it’s written in bass clef. I have not kept up with it but that is an instrument I want to practice again.
When did you start to get into ska?
JB – Probably when I first heard about The Specials around 1985 when I was in high school. I got into the 2-tone era bands and some of the then current U.S. bands like Fishbone, The Untouchables, some DC bands. I then got into traditional ska via cassette and LP compilations. I was never into the “third-wave” of ska bands, except for the ones that survived the “era” and actually did not play third-wave type ska like The Slackers, The Scofflaws, Hepcat, etc.
CG – I started getting into ska in high school. I met a girl at a Teen Leadership conference that my mom had me attend and she was there. I was into alternative music but coming from a predominately black school in PG County, Maryland the exposure to that music was limited. She was my bridge. We started hanging out and sharing music. That’s when I was introduced to ska music. I liked it because I had been exposed to reggae at home but ska spoke to my age and current experiences.
The Checkered Cabs were always one of the first DC bands people pointed me toward as I was getting into ska. When did the band begin and how did you get involved in the band?
CG – I joined the band officially in 1990. I was one of the founding members. I had always wanted to be in a band but wasn’t sure if my voice would translate well into that genre (I was singing a lot of blues and jazz tunes but never rock or anything like that). A bunch of scene folks used to go to The Company in Georgetown in the late 80s/early 90s for Ska Night and I met Digital there along with our first drummer Jose. We decided to get together and see what happened and the rest is history.
JB – I got involved with the Cabs during their last years. I answered an ad in the Washington City Paper in the summer of 1998 and played with them until the summer of 2000.
What were the shows and scene like at that time? I always felt that DC had one of the strongest ska scenes in the US.
JB – The late 80s and 90s were a great time for ska in DC. My first ska show was a matinee show at the old 9:30 Club with Fishbone. Fishbone came around here a lot and I must have seen them around half a dozen times back then. A lot of the New York bands also came down. One of the best shows from back then was at the old 9:30 Club with The Toasters and The Busters, from Germany. That club would also host “The Super Bowl of Ska” which was held around the time of the Super Bowl and it was a whole day of ska bands from 2 p.m. on. The Safari Club had ska shows, The Bayou, Chicago’s, etc.
CG – The shows were good and in abundance. There were a lot of bands and a lot more gigs. Back then people were really dedicated to the scene and loved their bands. You’d see the same people time and time again and it got to the point that you had this on stage relationship with them. They’d joke with us and really got into the music. There were ska fans and I was one when I first got into this music. I don’t really see that that much anymore. Not like that but sometimes we have little glimpses of the old days.
Is there a place that fans of the Checkered Cabs can still find their music?
JB – La Bamba is available on Skandalous: I’ve Got You Covered, Volume 2 on iTunes. Fight for Your Woman (which I play bass on, and Buford O’Sullivan is on the trombone) is available on Version City Vault, again on iTunes. The Checkered Cabs self-titled CD is on Amazon.com, with “new” copies going for $49.99. The Ambitions are available on Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and eMusic. Caz and the Day Laborers are also available on Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, eMusic and Rhapsody.
How long did the band go for? I know Digital (nickname for Checkered Cabs guitarist Matt Fry) went on to start Eastern Standard Time in 1995.
JB – As far as I know until 2001. Caz would know better.
CG – I think from 1990 to 2001 so 11 years I think.
Is there any material from that band that has yet to be released? Any buried treasures?
JB – There is at least one song called Stargazer which we recorded on the same day as Fight For Your Woman with Victor Rice in the fall of 1998 that could be released.
CG – Yes as Jorge stated there are those and who knows what else could be out there lol!
When that band ended, did you stop playing out for a while?
JB – No, I continued to play with an indie rock band called Villa Rosie, then I played in a rock/ska band called The Ready, Steady, Go! which included Alex Fine, Bobby Bobson, and the late Dan Hess. In 2005, I was reunited with Caz and Checkered Cabs drummer in the first iteration of The Ambitions. I also helped form the band The Shifters in 2010. I left that band in 2011.
CG – I did, but not long after I ended up doing gigs with the Victor Rice Octet when I could.
Caz –You have sung on a number of high profile releases with the Pietasters, New York Ska Jazz Ensemble, Victor Rice, and others. How did you get involved in those projects?
CG – Well, the Pietasters Strapped Live song was just Steve Jackson asking me if I’d like to do the song. I was asked later to do songs on the first NYSJE album and then after the second album with them I started talking to Victor Rice about doing some songs with his solo group.
When did the 2 of you begin collaborating on new projects?
CG – In late 2011, Jorge Bañales and I were in The Thrilltones together and we were really wanting to play more rocksteady tunes. In late 2011/early 2012, one night I saw a group that he was in with Jorge Pezzimenti and Dan Schneider at Patty Boom Boom and for me it just clicked. I wanted to be in a band like that and I wanted to do music similar to that. I mentioned that to Jorge Bañales and we worked out a plan to write songs using bass lines he really wanted to play and I would write melodies and lyrics. We shared them with Jorge Pezzimenti and then Curtis Reaves joined and Teddy “Dos Dedos” Garcia. It came together so easily!
The both of you are currently in the Ambitions and Caz & the Day Laborers. What separates the 2 projects for you?
JB – Well, The Ambitions started out as a soul, mod, hard mod, northern soul, 60s rock band. Now it’s more rocking. The Day Laborers are strictly reggae, rocksteady, oriented. Even though the other members also play in more rocking bands, we know how to keep the rock element out of it.
CG – Well, The Ambitions is our outlet for our 60’s influenced Rock/Soul side and Caz and the Day Laborers is more of our Rocksteady/Reggae side. What’s great about having it separated is that we don’t have to compromise anything. It’s very satisfying.
The Day Laborers features a who’s who of DC and Baltimore ska. How did the band members come together?
JB – Caz and I wrote a bunch of songs in early 2012 and then asked musicians we knew and wanted to play with if they were interested in hearing our demos, recording the songs with us, and putting a record out. Teddy “Dos Dedos” Garcia is the keyboardist who is on the record. He was in Los Granadians in Spain, The Delegators in England, and formed The Shifters with me. His main commitment at the time was The Shifters. We are extremely happy to have Jorge Pezzimenti, Curtis F. Reaves, and Dan Schneider playing with us. It’s a dream come true and we would not have it any other way.
CG – Well, as I mentioned above I spoke to Jorge Bañales after seeing them at Patty Boom Booms and we worked out a plan to write songs using bass lines he really wanted to play and I would write melodies and lyrics. We shared them with Jorge Pezzimenti and then Curtis Reeves joined and Teddy “Dos Dedos” Garcia. It came together so easily! Teddy had to leave due to other obligations and now we are really happy to have added Dan Schneiber to the Day Laborers!
Do you have a different mindset with your songwriting than you have in the past?
JB – I don’t think so. I think we both have the mindset that the songs have to be simple in order for things to shine. I gave Caz very simple riddims and chord changes so that she was free to create the melodies she wanted. The same with the other musicians. The premise of the band was to have simple but effective songs that anybody could learn in case we needed to have subs when we played shows.
CG – I have always written songs the same way since I was a kid so not really. I think as I get older my experiences are a bit more mature but I’ve always tried to let the song tell me what to write and feel.
What is next for both bands? Do you plan on doing any out of town shows?
JB – Yes. We are scheduled to go to Buenos Aires, Argentina in late July for at least two shows. Pezzimenti is from there and he was going to go in December to promote his own music but his flight was cancelled because of Sandy. He had a voucher for his ticket and we decided to combine his trip with ours. We want to play New York City again, as well as other East Coast Cities, the West Coast, Canada, and of course Europe.