The Beat I Seek:
An EXCLUSIVE interview with
DIG WAYNE and CHRIS BOSTOCK
By Stephen SPAZ Schnee
Often derided by critics, history will reveal that the early '80s was one of the most innovative times in Rock history. In the late '70s, the initial thrill of Punk had started to burn out, handing off the baton to the New Wave and Post-Punk scenes. At the same time, the moody, experimental Electronic music scene had begun to morph into bubbly Synthpop. By the time the early '80s rolled around, these movements had converged and, in their wake, they left behind some of the most exciting hybrid genres of the decade. From New Romantic to Rockabilly, Brit-Funk to Ska, NWOBHM to Industrial, the first few years of the '80s dictated just what direction that popular music would take for the next three decades.
With their Jazz-inspired sound, London based quintet Joboxers evolved during this fertile period in time. They not only had imagination, drive and musical chops, they had already paid their dues as well. American vocalist Dig Wayne helped nurture the Rockabilly scene in the U.S. as the frontman for Buzz & The Flyers. British musicians Chris Bostock, Sean McLusky, Rob Marche and Dave Collard had been performing together in the Jazz-influenced Subway Sect, the backing band for former Punk icon Vic Godard. When Dig and the Sect came together, the chemistry was instantaneous. And with Godard reluctant to create more music, the Sect joined up with their new American vocalist and changed their name to JoBoxers.
By the time their debut single, "Boxerbeat", hit the streets in 1983, the band had already built up a sizable following in the UK. With their no-nonsense Bowery Boys image to their timeless sound that incorporated Jazz, Northern Soul, Funk and Pop, JoBoxers became the talk of the town, sending the single to the #3 position in the UK charts.
While "Boxerbeat" may have been their highest charting release, it was the single "Just Got Lucky" that would become the most memorable release in the band's short career. It even made its way across the pond to the U.S., where it became a sizable hit. More importantly, the song's upbeat timelessness has ensured its longevity, landing it on soundtracks such as Just My Luck and 40 Year Old Virgin decades after it was initially released.
The band's diverse 1983 debut album, Like Gangbusters, has just been reissued on Hot Shot/Cherry Red Records. While many of these tracks have appeared on compilations over the years, this is the first time that the album has been released in its original running order, complete with bonus non-album tracks and remixes. While the two aforementioned singles are the band's best known tracks, the album also contains the singles "She's Got Sex" and "Johnny Friendly", both of which were sizable hits and, not surprisingly, unlike anything else played on the radio at the time. Yet, Like Gangbusters is more than the sum of its singles: it's a strong album that has managed to hold up over years with all of its charm intact. From top to bottom, this album is filled with great tunes, unbridled energy and a confident swagger that steers clear of arrogance and ego. While some of the songs may have a dated drum sound here or keyboard flourish there, it doesn't distract the listener from the great batch of tunes on display.
To mark this occasion, Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to discuss all things JoBoxers with vocalist Dig Wayne and bassist Chris Bostock…
SPAZ: It's been nearly 30 years since Like Gangbusters was released and now we are finally getting the complete album plus a plethora of bonus tracks on CD. How are you feeling about this reissue?
DIG WAYNE: It feels really good. I think it's exciting. It's just great that this thing has legs, that it has life and people are still interested in it. It's all about touching people. When I was a kid and I saw Elvis Presley and The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and I saw James Brown on TV… all of that stuff that touched me so deeply. And I thought, "God, I want to do that. I want to touch people like that!" The fact that it's been so long since we recorded that and people are interested in doing this now, its like I've really succeeded: I've touched people.
I got some copies and I gave one to my daughter. She's in the 5th grade and she gave it to her teacher so they could listen to it in class." I said, "Yeah, did you listen to all of it?" and she goes "Yeah, all but track #6 ('She's Got Sex')". I wasn't sure which track number the song was but I said "Is that one called "She's Got…." And she goes "Yeah, that one." (laughs). At least the teacher was smart enough to edit and not play "She's Got Sex" to 5th graders!
CHRIS BOSTOCK: It's great to see all these tracks re-united for the first time. The new album includes all the original studio versions of the singles, many not previously available on CD plus all the B sides and 12" mixes. For me, it captures the whole early era, and includes the studio versions of "Jealous Love" and "Just Got Lucky" which escaped the original album. It is also the inaugural release for new label Hot Shot Records and they've done a really great job!
SPAZ: Dig, your pre-JoBoxers musical background includes the Rockabilly band Buzz & The Flyers. How did you end up in the UK?
DIG: I grew up in Columbus, Ohio. Around the time of Punk, a friend of mine had come back from New York and he said listen to this album and he had a Ramones album. He put it on and I was like "Good Lord, what is that?" I'd never heard anything like it. I'd probably heard the Sex Pistols by then so I was aware of English Punk Rock. When I first heard The Ramones, it was something different. It was American. It had that Garage sound that I was familiar with because of The Stooges and MC5 and all that stuff that was really pivotal when I was a kid. By then, someone turned me onto Rockabilly and I thought, "I know that music! This is Elvis Presley… this is the music I grew up on. My mom used to have the 'Be Bop A Lula' single (by Gene Vincent). I kind of went all the way back to the music I heard as a real little kid. That really touched me and I thought "That's what I want to do. I want to do THAT kind of music." I didn't really want to do Punk. I wasn't angry enough to do Punk Rock. It (Rockabilly) had the same heart, the same motivation. You didn't have to be a great musician. You had to look right, your heart had to be in it and you had to be willing to learn a few chords and get up on the stage and do it. Rockabilly was like Punk in that way.
We (Buzz & The Flyers) were playing around New York City during the Rockabilly scene. This is when The Stray Cats were just kind of starting and they were opening for us at Max's Kansas City. We really had a big name in New York. We opened for The Clash at Bond's when that did that big two week residency in Times Square. The Clash's manager, Bernie Rhodes, saw us and he approached me afterwards and he said "I really like you. I don't like your band but I like you. If you ever want to come to England and start a new band, let me know." At that point, I'd been doing the Rockabilly thing in New York for a couple of years. By then, The Stray Cats had started to take off. We did go to England ourselves a couple of times and got a great reception so we thought we were poised to become really big. The Stray Cats went to England and then, all of a sudden, they came back and the were on the cover of Rolling Stone or NME or something and we're like "What?" They took off and made the Rockabilly thing really happen and, by then, we were playing and people were going "Hey, you guys sound like The Stray Cats!" That just killed me. My ego couldn't take that. I couldn't take the Rockabilly thing anymore. So, I took Bernie Rhodes up on his offer. Within two weeks, I had given away all my furniture, all my '50s clothes, everything I had. I broke up with my girlfriend. And I went to England… just like that.
SPAZ: Chris, a lot of people remember Vic Godard's Subway Sect as a seminal Punk band but by the time you played with him, the band had morphed into a jazzy Cole Porter influenced outfit. How did this come about?
CHRIS: The first wave of Punk was always about being non-conformist in both music and the way you looked and it had made its mark on us individually when we had played in our first bands. That period after punk was rich in musical styles. In the UK, punk quickly became New Wave, then Ska took off, then Rockabilly arrived and we were influenced by all of these styles and many more. There was really nothing stopping anyone doing anything new. By the time we got together with Vic, punk was long gone but we were determined that we would make our own sound and look. We immediately hit it off musically with Vic and the sound came naturally like a breath of fresh air. We ran a weekly club at London Soho's Whisky-a-Go-Go to launch the new act and the whole scene was branded as 'Cool Bop & Swing' which described it fairly well and as no other band was doing anything like it at the time, we were quite pleased with the result. We then got signed to London Records and released an album and singles.
SPAZ: How did Dig and the remnants of Subway Sect first come together?
DIG: I went to London and he (Bernie Rhodes) took me straight from the airport to a rehearsal studio where I met the guys. They seemed pretty cool so we started talking. They'd seen Buzz & The Flyers when I came to England so they knew who I was. They were doing this thing called at the Y Club in Soho. It was like a Thursday night or something. Vic Godard was the main singer but I would sing a few songs and this female singer, Lady Blue, would sing a few songs. We would do this cabaret thing for awhile. Eventually, I began to realize that Vic didn't like to tour. Vic was a very eccentric character. I said to Bernie, "I don't want to be just one of the singers in this cabaret thing. I want to have a band. I want it to be my band. I don't want to be sharing this band with somebody else." One thing led to another and said he talked to the guys and they said "Yeah, let's do that. Lets work on a project and create something else." That's what we did. We started writing our own songs. We didn't have the Punk asthetic because everyone was very good players. We had come out of that Punk world, but everybody could really play. And that really made a difference because we weren't so limited on our songwriting and our influences. We could play what we wanted to play. That's why we took to the Swing thing, the Pop thing, Soul… we could play whatever we wanted to play.
CHRIS: As Subway Sect, we had taken our show on numerous tours of the UK, but Vic was showing signs of drifting away with other interests. One night at the Manchester Apollo, the climax of the tour, Vic didn't show up, so we had no choice but to carry on with the show regardless, maxing out our vocals with chants to make up for the missing front man - and yet despite all this, the show went down a storm! After that, we had no intention of stopping but we now knew we needed a super-hot front person to step things up. We had recently seen Dig's group Buzz and The Flyers perform in London and were stunned by their act and professionalism. They were the ultimate new-rockabilly outfit with a punk edge - the real deal - and Dig's whole performance was perfect to the last detail. It turned out that our manager, Bernard Rhodes had also checked them out. Apart from being the Clash's manager, Bernard had also managed The Specials and Dexys Midnight Runners in their formative stages and had an eye for the cutting edge. At our request, Bernard went to New York, explained the scenario and won over Dig, who agreed to come over and try it out with us as a project. When we teamed up with Dig, the new band's capabilities were suddenly unlocked and we felt that we had taken on a whole new dimension.
SPAZ: Do either of you remember the first song that you wrote when you realized that you had found your sound?
DIG: The first one that we wrote that I thought "This is it" was "Boxerbeat". How these songs came about is that someone would come up with a little riff and we'd just jam on it and I would say "Oh, I like that bit and I like that bit…" I'd record it all and take it home and write lyrics or a melody or something. Rob, our guitar player, he came in with basically the riff of "Boxerbeat" and a bit of the melody and I thought "That's really good!" I took it home and, at that time, it was the thing to do to have your own anthem, your own theme song. I thought of "Boxerbeat". It made a lot of sense. I went home and wrote the lyrics and we started working on it. When we came up with that beat, I thought, "Wow! This is fucking cool!" We had our theme song!
CHRIS: Well, the great thing about JoBoxers is that we were all involved in the songwriting. For me, that's what made it a REAL band and the JoBoxers sound was there right from the start with Dig bringing the best out of the group. There wasn't really a particular song that set the scene although the music did become a bit more refined as we went along. When we started working with Dig, the new sound evolved very quickly as the band took on a tougher edge as the much wider range of influences suddenly shone through.
SPAZ: There weren't a lot of young bands playing the kind of stuff you were. Did you feel like a fish out of water… or perhaps the leaders of a new scene?
DIG: Because most of the popular groups were Duran Duran, Kajagoogoo and that sort of thing, we realized we were different and we were creating a scene. At the same time in England, there was something called Hard Times. I-D magazine had this issue called Hard Times, so there was a bubbling undercurrent, a backlash to that pretty boy look. There was a club scene happening that was really promoting leaning towards the hard edge of it. Those were the people that were coming to see us.
CHRIS: Well, there was certainly nothing else like it at the time but I don't believe any of us could really have been followers. We knew what we wanted and we did it with conviction. It's that whole 'non-conformist' ethic again from the punk days with the drive to break through with something original. You just got on with it, did it well and the industry took notice. The BBC launched us on their Oxford Road Show and we quickly got signed to RCA Records. Following that, we landed a live set on 'The Tube', a really popular live music show hosted by Jools Holland and then as the singles charted we made regular appearances on Top of the Pops and all the other music shows. In the US, I remember us appearing on Solid Gold and Rock of the 80s. It wasn't long before we were aware of the JoBoxers sound and look influencing other groups. We did a big tour of the US which went down really well everywhere.
SPAZ: What inspired the band's image?
DIG: I got rid of the Rockabilly thing. They got rid of their little bow ties, which they were doing at the club. They were like these smart young men in bow ties and blazers. We were into Dexys (Midnight Runners). I loved the Bowery Boys, that whole New York City lower East Side thing. I brought that idea along. We mixed that with Dexys and, one thing led to another, and that look just kind of happened. It also happened out of the fact that we didn't have a lot of money: it was cheap to do. The most expensive thing we had on was our Doc Marten boots. We just put this look together and it was the right thing at the right time.
SPAZ: "Boxerbeat" was the band's first single and really stood out amongst all the other records of the day. Some said that you were influenced by early Dexys Midnight Runners (pre-Too Rye Aye). Was this the case?
CHRIS: For sure, the early Dexys were influential. The soul influence, the disciplined playing, the unified look, but there was so much else too: early funk, New York disco, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, The Specials, Bluebeat… When ""Boxerbeat" was released, we were on Madness's UK tour and as that tour progressed, we watched "Boxerbeat" climb the UK charts to No 3, only being kept off the top by Duran and Bowie, who was dug in at No.1 for several weeks with "Let's Dance".
SPAZ: Here in the U.S., "Just Got Lucky" became your calling card. Do you remember how you felt after writing the song? Were you aware that it was going to be a pivotal moment in your career?
DIG: We were pretty sure that one was going to be a single. Chris and I wrote that song. I used to carry this notebook around with me and I'd just jot down little phrases and sayings. I'd overhear someone say something and I'd think that's an interesting phrase or turn of phrase or something. And while I was writing lyrics, I'd always go to those little phrase to get a title. I had 'just got lucky' written down for years. I'd heard it in a movie or somewhere. Somebody said that and I thought that'd be a good title for something. So, I had it written down and Chris had the riff. We were sitting around in this funky little squat in London. We were sitting at the kitchen table and he was carrying his bass and he was playing a riff. I think the first thing we had was the chorus (sings) "Just got lucky…" From there, I wrote the rest of the song. The first line was "Your technique leaves me weak", which I got from an old Popeye cartoon. Olive Oil said it to Popeye. I thought, "That is a good rhyme. I'll have to use it someday." And I did. Every time I hear "Just Got Lucky", I think about Popeye! (laughs)
CHRIS: Dig and I wrote the song while sharing a place in London. I wrote the theme on guitar and piano and added nonsense lyrics as a rough idea. Then Dig wrote the lyrics and transformed it and when Dig sang it, we knew we had something big on our hands. There was a real buzz when we all performed it – it happened very quickly. All the JoBoxers elements are in there: the northern soul drums, choppy guitar, driving bass, Hammond, piano and a hint of sax for good measure. It defines the JoBoxers sound. We all knew this was going to be a single but couldn't have predicted just how far it would go.
SPAZ: Over 20 years later, the use of "Just Got Lucky" in the film 40 Year Old Virgin was one of the most memorable parts of the movie. How did it feel knowing that the song had managed to stay fresh and relevant after so many years?
DIG: It feels great. It feels like we really accomplished something. Like I said before, we really touched people. I remember distinctly the record company coming to a rehearsal. We had that, we'd been working on it and we couldn't wait to play it for them. I remember playing them that song and when we were finished with it, they said "Yeah, that's a hit single!"
CHRIS: It's a compliment whenever the song gets used. I thought it worked well in that movie and also as the opening track to Just My Luck with Lindsay Lohan. I also get a good feeling from the seemingly endless online compliments and seeing so many bands covering it. For me, the more it gets used the better. Many decades ago, songs were written to be covered by other artists and it's good to know that it works well simply as a song without depending on any technology
SPAZ: The album Like Gangbusters featured the aforementioned singles as well as other hits like "Johnny Friendly" and "She's Got Sex". How did you go about choosing the singles from the album?
DIG: Unfortunately, we left it up to the label and that can be the kiss of death. That was kind of the beginning of our demise in a weird sort of way. It's a real learning process. That's what a lot of young bands do: they go against their own instincts. And sometimes, a record company doesn't know what's best for you. The fact that they chose to release "Boxerbeat" first in England and Europe, that was great. A lot of people were waiting for us to put out a record. The record company really got behind it and it went to #3, and we were excited about that. But I thought, "Man, what are we going to do now?" And that was the problem. If they had released "Johnny Friendly" and it had gone in the Top 30, then we could have gone with a release in the Top 20, then one in the Top 10… but we went the wrong way! We went from #3 and then to #7, to #12 and then to #18. We never really got to build a career. We just went straight up fast and kind of burned out quick.
CHRIS: Usually, the cream of the live set becomes the album and the singles should then shine out although when you like them all, it can be really tough deciding which should be the singles or what order they should be released in. Still, "Johnny Friendly" was the first written, "Boxerbeat" was our anthem, "Just Got Lucky" had the groove and "She's Got Sex" was instant and fun.
SPAZ: Were you aware that "She's Got Sex" got plenty of airplay over here, especially on stations like KROQ in L.A.? That seems to be your second best known song on these shores.
CHRIS: Well, it was certainly always popular. I remember it came together quickly in the studio and felt really good. We did two versions, an album and single version that are quite different. You could do anything with it though. In the UK, it was covered by a page three girl on her album which went double platinum.
SPAZ: What are your memories of recording Like Gangbusters?
DIG: When we recorded "Boxerbeat", I remember producer Alan Schacklock saying we really need to beef up the beat. There was a building site across the street from the recording studio. He said "Why don't we go over there and get some boards?" We went over and got some boards from the builders. We brought them back and we put them in the hallway right outside the recording studio. We set them up in such a way that all five of us could stand on these boards. The boards had a give to them somehow and they mic'd it. We all jumped on these boards and they recorded these stomping sounds and that's why you hear that pounding beat. That's the main thing I remember about recording the album. I don't remember singing "Just Got Lucky". I tell my wife that I know it's me but I don't remember doing that! (laughs)
CHRIS: The Like Gangbusters album was really the live set distilled down to the most popular tracks. Those tracks had proved themselves through live touring. As I remember it, we laid them all down in a series of intensive sessions over a couple of weeks with the producer Alan Shacklock and the backing tracks were recorded essentially live with the whole band at once, the way recording was always done before programming became more prominent.
SPAZ: Two years later, you released your second album, Skin And Bone, yet this JoBoxers fan never knew of it's existence and I've still never seen a copy (although songs did end up on CD compilations). What's the scoop on that album?
CHRIS: We recorded it in Berlin before the wall came down in Hansa Studios, where Bowie recorded his Berlin Trilogy. The studio actually looked over the Berlin Wall into the death strip and we were aware that the East German border guards in their watchtowers could see into our control room though their binoculars. That was a strange …… The producer was Chris Kimsey (Rolling Stones). Its initial release was messed up by all sorts of things but you can hear most of the tracks now on recent CDs.
SPAZ: I've read that there was a third unfinished album almost completed by the time you split. Can we expect to see anything from that in the near future?
CHRIS: That's right, the third album was well on its way and much of it survives but has never been heard. This new release of Like Gangbusters now seems to open up an opportunity for its release, perhaps alongside the Skin And Bone album. I really hope we can finally get this out. The two albums would collectively make a great extended album to accompany the new extended CD release of Like Gangbusters. That would be really neat. I know we would all like it to be heard.
SPAZ: Is the band planning any 30th Anniversary festivities this year?
CHRIS: Well, there were some murmurs about festivals this summer. Multi-genre festivals are currently big in the UK and these are great because they showcase a good cross-section of bands and there have been some offers for appearances. Putting on shows takes a lot of organizing though. Of course it would be a lot easier if we lived on the same continent! It's difficult to say if it might happen or not.
SPAZ: What have you been up to since the band split?
DIG: I recorded some stuff in '88 with Dave Collard (JoBoxers keyboard player) and Mark Reilly (Matt Bianco) producing. Nothing really happened. We put out a couple of singles. There was some interest over there, but it was over. That kind of let me know that I didn't want to be in the music business anymore. I realized that I was very fortunate to have accomplished what I accomplished but it was time to move on. And that's when I went to drama school. I always wanted to be an actor so I got out of the music business altogether. But then I recorded an album in 2007 (Dig Wayne & The Chisellers' Shack Rouser). It's kind of Rockabilly/Roots/Americana.
CHRIS: I joined Eurythmic Dave Stewart to form the band The Spiritual Cowboys which made two albums. The band included Martin Chambers from The Pretenders and Johnny Turnbull from Ian Dury And The Blockheads. Then I produced some albums, wrote and recorded my own work, played and toured with: Paul Weller's Style Council, Sandie Shaw, Shakespears Sister, Spear of Destiny, worked briefly in A&R and now work in multimedia. I still record my own compositions and people I know often get me playing on their stuff.
SPAZ: What's next for Chris Bostock, Dig Wayne and/or JoBoxers?
DIG: I'm recording a spoken word/poetry album, believe it or not. I'm really into that. I go to open mic poetry readings all around the city (Los Angeles). The album is pretty interesting because their like little audio movies. I'm telling the story and there's sound effects. I love it. It's really where I'm at right now and it's great to do.
CHRIS: Well…following this new expanded release of the Like Gangbusters album, it would be good to get the next two albums released. I hear we are getting a few plays on national radio in the UK at the moment. I'll probably carry on working on studio projects, whatever happens. It would certainly be good to do the summer festivals though.
SPAZ: What do you currently have spinning on your CD, DVD and record players?
DIG: Oh, this is going to be interesting. On my turntable, I have Basic Library Of The World's Greatest Music, Album #19: Beethoven's Symphony #9 in D-Minor/Opus 125. I was in a thrift store and I had been looking for it for a long time. I wanted to use this particular Beethoven piece for one of my poems.
CHRIS: With music, I like a mix of the old and the newer, always did really, so (CD) The Beach Boys' finally-released SMiLE album and The Strokes. (DVD) De Niro's Killer Elite and The Mechanic (remake starring Jason Statham).
This article reproduced courtesy of Discussions Magazine (www.discussionsmagazine.com)
Special thanks to Stephen SPAZ Schnee
The JoBOXERS Official Web Site
Joboxers stormed the UK charts in the early ‘80s. Their single Boxerbeat reached No.3 while their next hit: Just Got Lucky hit No.6 plus the US top 30 and featured in the movies: ‘The 40 Year Old Virgin’,and ‘Just my Luck’ with Lindsay Lohan. The boxer Frank Bruno appeared in the video to their next hit Johnny Friendly and the band set off touring the US and Australasia.
Their RCA Records album ‘Like Gangbusters’ captures the cream of their live act and has now been released in expanded form on the brand new label: Hot Shot Records.
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