Eek-A-Mouse and Don Carlos top an impressive bill at Fox benefit show.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
The title track of Eek-A-Mouse’s 1996 album Black Cowboy begins with a military drumroll followed by a cacophony of gun shots being fired, horses braying and cowboys yelling “Yee haw.” Then the revered reggae artist pours imagery and characters straight from a Western film– Jessie James, the O.K. Corral, Boot Hill– over an elastic reggae groove. Later on, between gratuitously using the word “reckon,” Eek-A-Mouse describes being a fugitive on the run, fleeing for the Mexican border.
Though it might at first seem odd for Eek-A-Mouse, who performs at Salinas’ Fox Theater Saturday night, to pair Western motifs with reggae music, a closer examination of the Jamaican native’s best work reveals that it is more similar to country music’s outlaw songs than one might initially think. Like country music’s gunslinger ballads, Eek-A-Mouse’s “Ganja Smuggling” and “Rude Boy Jamaican” are story songs that detail the perspectives of individuals caught on the wrong side of the law.
Released in 1982, “Ganja Smuggling” finds Eek-A-Mouse describing a drug deal between singing strings of nonsense words. Meanwhile, his “Rude Boy Jamaican” is a portrait of a cartoon-ish gangster who: “Eat with me gun/ sleep with me gun/ even clean me teeth with me gun.”
Born in Jamaica as Ripton Hilton, Eek-A-Mouse released a couple of singles that went nowhere under his birth name. In 1979, he decided to go by Eek-A-Mouse, the name of a racehorse that he had lost a lot of money betting on. Luckily, the gamble of recording under a new moniker worked out, and Eek-A-Mouse scored hits with “Once a Virgin” and “Wa-Do-Dem,” which introduced audiences to his playful, singsong-like rapping of silly phrases such as “bitty bong bong.”
In 1982, Eek-A-Mouse released his landmark Wa-Do-Dem album featuring classics including “Ganja Smuggling” and the title track. It also has “Operation Eradication,” a song with a more serious bent about his friend DJ Errol Scorcher who was killed by vigilantes.
Since Wa-Do-Dem, Eek-A-Mouse has become one of the most eclectic acts in reggae music. His stage shows find him frequently dressing in costume like a gladiator, pilot and jockey. (I saw him live once in a Chinese coolie’s attire.) Meanwhile, Eek-A-Mouse has steered his reggae into unexpected directions from the cowboy-meets-reggae vibe of “Black Cowboy” to his playful cover of Led Zeppelin’s “D’Yer Mak’er.” He also dipped his feet into acting in the 1991 gangster classic New Jack City.
Also on Saturday night’s bill is longtime reggae crooner Don Carlos. Carlos is known for being one of the founders of the Grammy award-winning reggae group Black Uhuru. After starting the group and recording a single with Black Uhuru, Carlos left to embark on a solo career. In the ’80s, he became known for songs including “Dice Cup” and “Hog & Goat.” In 1990, Carlos reunited with his bandmates in Black Uhuru for one album titled Now.
With his solo work, Carlos melds soulful singing with reggae music. On his “Peace and Love,” he pours his sweet vocals over a stuttering drumbeat and a reggae groove. Meanwhile, his a capella “You Are My Sunshine” owes an obvious debt to soul and gospel music.
The reggae show, which includes performances by local acts Jonah and the Whalewatchers and Michael Annotti, is a benefit concert for the Daniel Vasquez Foundation. Vasquez was a founding member of Jonah and the Whalewatchers who passed away last year after being struck by a vehicle while riding his bike on Highway 1.
Richard Vasquez, Daniel’s brother who co-founded the foundation and organized the concert, says the purpose of the show is to raise money for scholarships that the organization will then give away. “This is a benefit concert,” he says. “Every red cent of it is going to scholarships in his name.”
The scholarships will be given away to individuals who excel in areas that were important parts of Daniel’s life: sports, music, dance and healing arts. According to Richard, the foundation has already given out three scholarships of $1,000 each. A clarinet player and Gonzales High School valedictorian, Elizabeth Miller, received a scholarship for music, while David Castro, who is also from Gonzales High School, took home scholarship money for being an outstanding athlete in football, baseball and basketball. Meanwhile, San Diego’s Bill Tillman, who studies physical therapy at Mesa College, was a recipient of a scholarship for his work in the healing arts.
Richard says the foundation is looking for more than just people who stand out in one of the four areas. They want someone with Daniel’s sensibilities. “My brother was always giving,” he says. “We’re looking for that type of giving person.”
Eek-A-Mouse, Don Carlos, Jonah and the Whalewatchers and Michael Annotti play 7:30pm Saturday, July 19, at the Fox Theater, 241 S. Main St., Salinas. $25-$35. 758-8459.