Too Rude Acoustic Bollocks: Roby Rogers brings punk-tinged reggae roots to Speakeasy Stage

by Ryan McDonald

One day in the late ‘90s, Roby Rogers got the type of phone call that many musicians spend their lives dreaming of: a record label wanted to sign him and give him considerable creative freedom.

“‘You do whatever you want, but I’d love you to do the reggae thing: I just want to sign you and have you do what you want to do,’” Rogers said, describing the call. “I remember my second son, Marley, was on the way, and I had the opportunity to just write songs and change diapers.’”

At the time, War Called Peace, a South Bay punk band that Rogers fronted for six years, was calling it quits. As the band wound down, Rogers happened to have been dabbling in reggae-tinged songwriting. It was a return to form for Rogers, one of the founders of Rhythm Track, the South Bay’s first-ever reggae band. And it was the beginning of Too Rude, Rogers’s second act in Jamaican music.

A version of the group known as Too Rude Acoustic Bollocks will play the Speakeasy Stage at Beach Life on May 14. It features Rogers, who also goes by “Dogboy,” on vocals, John “Flan” Flannery on guitar, Ryan “Fatal” Faye on guitar and vocals, and Alonso Vargas on cajon and the ukelele bass.

Rogers, a Hermosa Beach native, grew up steeped in the area’s punk scene, and before Rhythm Track, he played in Con 800 with future Pennywise guitarist Fletcher Dragge. In a world before the Internet, reggae was not easy to find, but the music seemed destined to find him. Growing up, Rogers had friends from Glasgow, Scotland, who brought a constant stream of music from Brixton, a London neighborhood composed mainly of Caribbean immigrants, and Handsworth, its equivalent in the Northern English city of Birmingham.

Eventually Rogers became disaffected by the violence and sectionalism that came to mark some of the punk scene in the ‘80s, and began gravitating more toward reggae and Jamaican culture more broadly. Friends of his were similarly interested, and they found that punk’s DIY spirit carried over into their new passion.

“We were predominantly punk rockers learning how to play reggae music,” Rogers said. “It was very garage. And there’s that punk element about it — that’s the thing about Jamaican music. When you listen to a King Tubby record, or a great dub record, they’re making that music with minimal resources.”

Rhythm Track, also known as the Mighty Rhythm Track, would go on to encompass many South Bay musicians, including Chris Sueta, Steve “Birdie” Burdette, Adam “Lazydread” Gonzales, “Dimebag” Dan Serragoti, Peter Carrero, Eric Neseth, “Kaptain” Matt Kahlin, “Skip,” Karl Grossman, Kelly Preach, and Cory Lombardelli.

“These guys are the reason I got to learn how to play reggae music, so you have them to thank … or blame depending on how you feel about it,” Rogers said.

Rogers said that, as Rhythm Track began to catch on and reggae became more popular, the band members, most of whom came from a punk background, found themselves in the unfamiliar position of being in-demand.

“We have this, this… not our words, but ‘likeable’ quality that we don’t really understand, we’re just trying to figure it out. And all of a sudden, all of the people that once would have nothing to do with us now want to book us or have us play their private parties,” Rogers said.

Rhythm Track and later War Called Peace gave Rogers all the experience he needed to grow as a musician. But when it came time to begin Too Rude, he found himself trying to write songs on his own for the first time.

“I’d always been a band guy, but I started becoming … I feel a bit uncomfortable saying this, but, you know … becoming a songwriter. I knew I had a vision of what I wanted. I had the whole record in my head,” Rogers said.

photo by JP Codero

Rogers is unfailingly self-deprecating about his musical abilities. “I kinda, just kinda, just a little kind of know what I’m doing,” he said, smiling and holding up a hand to show a sliver of space between his thumb and his finger. He mostly wrote songs on the bass, sometimes on guitar, and compared his process of trying to write on the piano to “typing with two fingers.” But once in the studio, he surrounded himself with talented musicians who helped him make the sounds in his head a reality.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate with people that were absolutely about making songs better, and that’s what I’m into,” Rogers said.

Too Rude would record two full albums and tour extensively, and played BeachLife last September. For the upcoming performance, Rogers is planning to mine the Too Rude archives to best fit the acoustic format of the Speakeasy Stage, playing songs that are rarely heard live and giving the crowd a few surprises.

For those unfamiliar with the music, that may include the way Rogers is able to move from the snarl of punk to the caress of reggae and back again. Rogers said that occasionally during Rhythm Track shows, some members would find themselves inspired and kick up the tempo to something resembling punk. Some War Called Peace tracks, like “Maggot Mentality (Donahue),” have the bouncy, upstroke-heavy rhythm of reggae. And songs like the title track from Re-invention, Too Rude’s second album, feature sections of easy grooves broken up by drums as charging as any Pennywise song.

The distance between punk and reggae is not as great as it might seem. The Caribbean diaspora in the United Kingdom put artists from the two genres in close contact. Rogers recalls that he first listened to Babylon by Bus, a live 1978 Bob Marley and the Wailers album that contains the song “Punky Reggae Party,” on the same day he first heard the Clash’s self-titled debut album — which, along with laying the foundation for politically oriented punk, contains a rendition of the song “Police and Thieves,” by Jamaican singer Junior Murvin.

Ultimately, punk caught on in the way it did because its speed and minimalism responded to the bloated, overproduced music that ruled the radio of the ‘70s. For Rogers, reggae provided the same antidote.

“Here’s this music where the drums rarely use cymbals, the lead instrument is bass, and the guitar is used as a percussion instrument,” he said. “Brilliant. Perfect. Problem solved.”

True Rude Acoustic Bollocks play BeachLife May 14.


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