Some people might know Sammy Kay from working with bands like The Slackers and Westbound Train. They might know him from playing in the Forthrights or perhaps know him for his solo work with The Fast Four. If you’re into ska and reggae, at some point you’ve heard of Sammy Kay. Last year, he released an excellent ska/rocksteady album Love Letters and plans on touring the US and Europe this year. We did a quick interview with him over email and it went something like this…
1) Having worked with bands like the Slackers, Skatalites, and Westbound Train in your past, how did you first get involved in the ska scene?
I first got into music as a whole through my father as a child. Him and his buds had a band, and they would sit and play music every week in the basement. It was very much grungey-garagey-punk. He always played music for us, things from Rancid to The Clash, to Toots and the Maytals, Jonathan Richman, and al green. I was always well versed in everything. I got into ska, I was maybe 10 years old. Maybe 11. My older brother… Of course, it’s always the older brother… Has a crush on some girl with blue hair who went to these local shows. That’s where I discovered the local scenes. I jumped around. Punk, hardcore, and ska.
2) What compelled you to pick up the guitar and start playing?
Again, I gotta say it was my father. I wanted to be this “cool dude”. I wanted to be in a band, I wanted to be a rockstar. Looking back, it’s a stupid reason to pick something up and “learn” it… Learn in quotations cause I really have no idea how to play the thing…but I’m glad I did. Music saved my life time and time again. Now I can contribute.
3) You currently work with the East Lost 3 on the West Coast and the Fast Four on the East Coast. How hard is it to coordinate and work with 2 completely different sets of musicians on 2 coasts?
The East Los Three was basically a studio band, the house band if you will at this great hideout in Whittier, called the Steady Rock Easy Groove Factory. It’s a mouthful. It’s led by Joe “JQ” Quinnones, and the group of musicians in the Delirians, the Steady 45s, Pachamama, and JQ’s own band, The Review. Everyone in the EL3 couldn’t tour, due to contracts, and other bands and couldn’t tour. The Fast Four is the original project, and the touring band. We’ve cut a bunch of material and released bits and pieces. I wasn’t, and still am not ready to put out that record. It was a time and place thing. One day…
As for the difference, they all have gems that are better and worse then the other. I love em all. The family! They all are great to work with!
4) You play a very classic based soul-ska-reggae sound. What drew you to that and how do you put your own stamp on it?
I always was drawn to the early 60s culture, music, and attitude. The mods, the greasers… Everything is great back then. We took the roots, and with how I sing, threw this Tom Waits… Early Springsteen… Southside Johnny… Jersey blue eyes soul thing to it.
It ain’t a thing unless it’s your thing. Ya know?
5) You recently released your long awaited and awesome Love Letters album. How do you think it came out and what would you have done differently? More flute playing?
I’m super amped on how Love Letters came out. Wouldn’t change a thing! And come on. Three part flute line are bad fucking ass!
6) Guys like you, Vic Ruggiero, and King Django are a rare-breed of ska troubadours, have you ever talked about doing a tour similar to what Chuck Ragan does with the Revival Tour?
Maybe 5 years ago, my old band, The Forthrights, did a tour like that with Vic and Chris Murray. It ruled! I’d like to do another one like it in next few years again. Don’t know who yet. Maybe Hillyard, Jesse Wagner, maybe Greg Lee, mr. T-bone… Who knows.
7) You’re currently working on a new non-ska album. How’s the recording going and what made you decide to give ska/reggae a break?
I’ve always been in love with rock and roll, and Americana music. American folk… The Greenwich village thing in the 60s was, and is punk rock. I write almost everything folk, and then we change it to reggae, ska, or soul. It’s nice to make a record how they were written. I’ve been making it at Little Eden, with Pete Steinkopf from The Bouncing Souls. It’s been great, super easy. There’s no drums on most of the record, and the instrumentation is basically all acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, accordion, piano, harmonica, mandolin and banjos. It’s gonna rule. I’ll never give ska and reggae up, but it’s nice to do something different.
8) Starting in May, you’re going on tour for most of the Summer and then you’re touring Europe in the Fall. Tell us what you can about the tour and what are you looking forward to the most?
I have about 200 shows for the rest of the year. Gonna be pretty crazy. I have the May tour with the fast four, which is hitting a cool weekender in Des Moines, called the fistful of ska, a week in Florida with The Snails and Deal’s Gone Bad and ending with a ska festival in NYC. June, I got some great shows with The Beatdown in Canada, and the east coast. July, I’ll be out with an acoustic guitar with my bud, Jared Hart from The Scandals, and then September starts the long one. 85 shows straight across the US, Canada, and Europe. Maybe I’ll take the second half of December off. But I doubt it.
9) What has been your favorite moment on stage so far?
There all great. Standouts… The last time the Fast Four was in DC, Skalapalooza in NYC, Dave Hillyard’s California record release shows ( the band was me, and basically Hepcat), the Vic, Chris Murray, and the forthrights show in Chicago. There all great. But those are the standouts.
10) What are 3 things you love & hate about New Jersey?
I love everything and I hate nothing! Guidos, punk rock, weirdos, toll roads, and Asbury park. Bridge and tunnel till I die!
11) Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, anything else to promote/plug?
Grab a copy of Love Letters! Come hang out! Let’s have a drink and make some memories! Keep smilin, stay postive! And remember. PMA. All day. Everyday!