It’s been about a year since we last updated this blog, but we certainly had a fun-filled 2012: Reggae in the Park at the Mann Center w/ Jimmy Cliff, Beres Hammond, Luciano, and so much more talent; a Radio 104.5 Summer Block Party at the Piazza w/ Dirty Heads and I am Dynamite; a couple of fun sets at Musikfest‘s Volksplatz Stage; and a bunch of other fun shows, including some unforgettable times with bands like John Brown’s Body and Tauk. We finished the year celebrating the arrival of a little new addition to the Razor family, but now we’re getting ready to get back in full swing for the spring and summer of 2013!
The best way to stay up to speed with our show schedule is by following us on Facebook and Twitter. Signing up for our newsletter is not a bad idea, either. But this first spring show announcement is so big, we had to launch a full-on social media assault.
We’ve been asked to open for the legendary Toots & the Maytals once again, this time at the Trocadero on Wednesday, April 10th. When we opened for Toots a couple of years ago at the Blockley, the show sold out fast, and tickets sales are already looking great. So order yours today, or let us know ASAP if you want to skip the service charge by getting your tickets directly from us.
We just want to express our gratitude once again for an unforgettable release party last Saturday night. The Social Lounge was packed with both new and familiar faces, and it really brought us back to the good ol’ days at Spence Cafe. Lots of dancing, lots of screaming, nuff inside jokes to make us plenty sentimental, great performances by Allyson (saxophone) and Ian (trumpet)…. Seriously, unforgettable.
Donnie, Nash, and all of the staff at the Social Lounge: thank you for helping us celebrate this new album in the best possible way. We look forward to returning very soon.
We’re extremely happy with Against the Current, our 2nd of many albums, and we’re excited to share it with as many people as have ears to hear. After so much hard work, it was great to perform the album in its entirely, along with some old favorites, for such an enthusiastic crowd. You all reminded us of why we do this in the first place: because music moves us all, and we love helping the Steppin Razor Massive move in the most positive way possible. We offer our infinite thanks for your support, and we hope you’ll continue to spread the good vibes….
Last week, B. Hold called and asked me to write a brief bio of him for the Steppin Razor blog. It was around 4 in the morning when my phone rang, and B explained that he always gets up so early to milk his neighbors and gather the flying squirrel eggs. He rambled on for several minutes, snoring intermittently, and barely conveyed his reason for calling: since he had written the blog posts about James, Johnny, and Mark, the band wanted someone else – someone with no knowledge whatsoever of who or what Steppin Razor is – to write Ben’s bio. Since then, I have been familiarizing myself with the band’s music, and it’s okay, I guess. But what really impressed me as I talked to band members was their high regard for one another as individuals, a respect that is unashamed of the most personally revealing information.
James Hoy, for example, offered a graphic account of Ben’s first attempt at colon-cleansing:
We were loading in for our weekly Wednesday gig at Spence Cafe in West Chester, and Ben was the last to arrive, as usual. He came in haste, almost crashing into the dumpster, yelling something about how he might have soiled his pants with falafel and rancid apple juice. Luckily, his boxer shorts intercepted most of the mess, but he was left with rotted bean curd sepia colored pantaloons, and no change of clothes with him that night. I had to stand behind him when we played at Spence back then, and believe me, it was a struggle to get through three whole sets on that fateful reggae night.
Since then, B always brings extra pants and underwear, his fiber-rich diet making this absolutely necessary. He admits to being a chronic sharter, but he says, “It’s nothing a little handful of Gold Bond can’t absorb.” Ben was even offered an endorsement deal from Gold Bond on one occasion, but declined when he was told that he wouldn’t be allowed to demonstrate in commercials how he applies the medicated powder. Still, everyone who knows B. Hold the Sharter considers his name synonymous with Gold Bond. John Myers recalls of the aforementioned reggae night,
On the third day after the shart of Bean, a Gold Bond sticker arose from the depths of the dumpster of Spence and was placed on the steering wheel of my chariot to remind me of the events that had taken place….and there it still lies, withered and torn, but untouched, as it is the holiest of Gold Bond stickers.
Mark Patterson spoke fondly of another of B. Hold’s famous tendencies: falling asleep whenever something awesome is happening. Whether it’s a great song on the radio, a triple rainbow, or James doing a Jack Daniels-induced chicken dance on Johnny’s face,
…he just passes out. Maybe he has narcolepsy or something, I don’t know, but this one time, we had a dance party at the old Steppin Razor beach house, and as soon as everybody started dancing, B. Hold passed out and teleported himself to his bedroom. After a few hours, we wanted to wake him up to join us, so we shouted, “To B. Hold’s room!” and charged in. Somebody placed a magic 8-ball on his chest, waking Ben up quickly, but this proved fatal. And this other time, we were all riding in the van rocking out to Lady Gaga or SOJA or something, and Ben passed out and started snoring really loud. James took a picture of Ben that time, and oh man, it looks like a dead version of that Chicken Lover guy from that one episode of South Park. It’s hilarious, but sometimes I feel bad that he always misses out on the awesome stuff that we all get to experience. But then I stop feeling bad because it’s hilarious.
"...looks like a dead version of that Chicken Lover guy from that one episode of South Park." - Mark Patterson
B. Hold also considers himself something of an anthropologist, always reading things that nobody cares about and traveling to other parts of the world to poke his nose into other people’s business, thinking that he can somehow live up to his motto, “Do Good,” that he stole from somebody in Jamaica. Everywhere he goes, he carries around something to write with, convinced that he will eventually capture a brilliant idea on paper. One of his old notebooks was intended for this purpose, but it came to be used by all of the band members for jotting down random thoughts. This “Black Book,” as it is affectionately called among the Steppin Razor family, contains top secret information, most of which is written in Sarlacc language, B. Hold being one of the few people on earth who can still decode this ancient alphabet.
For all of his quirkiness and repulsive characteristics, the other three members of Steppin Razor have grown rather fond of B. Hold since the bassist first joined the band as a “bongo apprentice and triangle smasher.” Hoy recalls one of the happiest evenings of his life, “I was over at Ben’s bungalow, showing him some scratch tracks I had recorded – which eventually became ‘Against the Current’ and ‘Rise Up’ – and he made this ridiculously good adult beverage that he called ‘Vitamin Drunker,’ which was basically just cheap cheap vodka and orange juice, maybe some of those squirrel eggs, I don’t know, but it was gooood.”
B. Hold, whose contributions to the new Steppin Razor album include “All Dem Have” (below) among others, currently lives in Big Beaver, Pennsylvania with his cat and five children. He works for the CIA and none of the above is entirely true.
This week, we released the title track from our 2nd album, Against the Current. It’s our 2nd-to-last “Reggae Wednesday” release, and it’s one that represents where we’ve been and how far we’ve come over the last few years since the formation of Steppin’ Razor. You can read all about that in this previous blog post. If you haven’t heard the song yet, give it a listen right meow…
James “P. Dub” Hoy wrote the music for “Against the Current,” and both Johnny and B. Hold (that’s me!) wrote the lyrics. Then it sat on the back burner for a couple of years while we contemplated becoming a Pete Townsend tribute band, trying to learn as many of his songs as we could. Eventually, we realized that it was inevitable: we were meant to play reggae, even if none of us had the hot surfer bods, the bleached rent-a-locks, or the cute nasal vocal capabilities typical of the genre. That’s when we decided to add “Against the Current” to our repertoire and make our comeback to the world of reggae music. Like most drummers, Mark isn’t usually mentioned in terms of songwriting; but the solid, steady 4-on-the-floor riddim and the percussive accents throughout this track are but a small taste of the creativity with which he complements the other Razors.
Mark wasn’t always such a talented and meticulous drummer, however. In fact, when he was born, he was completely incapable of playing drums. It is hard to believe after all these years, but Mark was born with no arms, and only a stump, and two legs. His mother, presidential candidate Joanne Huntsman, recalls that heartbreaking day:
After hours of pointless labor, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! How did that thing come out of me? I begged and begged the doctor to take it back, to keep it there at the hospital. I couldn’t take it home with me – what would my family think? I lay there in my hospital bed for years, wishing it were just another horrible stump-baby nightmare. And all of a sudden came a miracle that changed everything.
That miracle she’s referring to was none other than Mark’s fairy godmother, who granted unto the child not just one arm, but two, and the most state-of-the-art stump extension treatment in the history of treatments. Glorious day! But the gift of a somewhat normal body did not come without certain stipulations. Before leaving the maternity ward that day, the fairy godmother said unto him, “Yea, child, thou must go forth into the world with good vibes of comfort and joy, spreading reggae unto all nations. But beware – do not play ‘No Woman, No Cry’ for any audience, unless you have been paid at least $5000 (US) in advance, lest thine arms be withered and thine stump forever rancid.”
Mark heeded the words of his fairy godmother, and has since lived a relatively happy life, considering he suffers from chronic cynicism and athlete’s foot on all three feet. He lives in an unpronounceably-named village in Chester County, Pennsylvania, blessed by a matrimonial connection to one of the world’s sweetest women, Allyson. They have a dog, Izzie, and upwards of 300 cats, all named Joshua. “It’s a lot of fun, really,” he explains. “I get a sort of sick pleasure yelling at the cats all day long. ‘Joshua, Joshua, Joshua….’ It’s kinda like counting triplets on a hi-hat: ‘Trip-el-et, Trip-el-et, Trip-el-et… Jo-shu-a, Jo-shu-a, Jo-shu-a….’ I know, I’m silly.”
Silly, yes. That describes Mark to a T. But T is just one letter, and without all of the other letters of the alphabet – letters that stand for awesome, percussive, funny, highly intelligent, thoughtful, business savvy, loyal – you wouldn’t have enough letters to make up the one word that describes him best: Mark Patterson.
Here's a picture of Mark playing his instruments. Johnny's son Jonah calls him "Gark," but Mark secretly hates that.
You may have heard a song we released two days ago. It’s called “All Dem Have,” and it’s from our 2nd album, …Against the Current, which is currently on its way to the North Pole for duplication. Pretty exciting, eh? Haven’t heard the new track yet? Here…
You may have noticed an unfamiliar instrument in this song, something that one of my friends described as “reminiscent of Italian folk ballads.” Though it is related to the Italian vibrandoneon, what you’re hearing is a melodica, a 20th-century Hohner invention that combines the reed technology of woodwind instruments with a miniature piano keyboard. You may have heard it before in Bob Marley’s “Sun is Shining,” anything by reggae legend Augustus Pablo, or the theme song from Perfect Strangers. It was also featured on “Jah Herb,” from our first album, Gold in Rule.
Our very own John Myers played it for “All Dem Have,” as well as “Things,” another one of my (B. Hold’s) songs from …Against the Current. Myers studied music performance at West Chester University, where he mastered over 83 instruments each semester. Though his primary concentration was the jaw harp, he also got pretty good on the bass guitar, clavichord, trombone, flugelhorn, and fundeh, all of which he played for both of our albums. The blow organ (another name for melodica) is one of his favorite instruments to play, as it reminds him of long nights in the conservatory during his WCU days.
Johnny is married to a woman (believe it or not) named Stacy, and they have a most adorable 2-year-old son named Jonah. True fact (unlike some of the things I’ve written above) – Jonah can already identify reggae music, and when his daddy’s music comes on, he recognizes it right away. Some experts believe that this is due, in part, to an experimental indoctrination process that John and Stacy have developed together; but I think the boy just inherited an ear for reggae.
Until recently, Myers had a head full of long dreadlocks that he had grown for about 7 years or so. While battling the evil Lord Sarlaac Jay in the Daalsbeep quadrant of the Blabalonn Galaxy, a puuh fighter shot a corrosive fluid into Johnny’s hair, leaving the melodica master with no choice but to chop off all of his locks with a high E string. Here are before and after pictures, in no particular order:
I (B. Hold) need to get some creative juices flowing, so I decided to do a very brief write-up of each band member over the next couple of weeks. Get to know Steppin’ Razor a little bit better with these random facts about your four favorite reggae rockers. Some of these statements might not even be true, but they are guaranteed to give you some valuable insight into the inner workings of this band.
I decided to start with our lead guitarist, James Hoy, because we just released one of his songs from the upcoming album. If you didn’t catch “Rise Up” on Wednesday, check the Soundcloud link below.
James is a 29-year-old finger ninja from Intercourse, Pennsylvania. He says the most random things to strangers, and occasionally writes down his thoughts in a collection called Deep Thoughts by P. Dub (we hope this will be released in hardback someday, after some serious editing… because James is a terrible speller). Why “P. Dub”? Well, that has been James’s nickname since the summer of 2006, the first summer that Steppin’ Razor occupied the Jersey shore. It’s a long story, but James earned the “P. Dub” title because of beer pong (or was it beer pool?) and Venus Williams. Let’s just say Hoy has one mean sinker.
James Hoy (left) walks through his field of dreams. A modern-day Kevin Costner in his own right, James "Sacrifical Lambchops" Hoy would like to be your best friend. (Photo by Brett Schoen)
James’s bragging rights: he once survived a fall down 500 stairs (he got to ride to the hospital in a helicopter that night!). He invented whiskey thousands of years ago. He can play really fast. He makes really good chocolate chip cookies. His girlfriend, “Double-N,” is one groovy chick. He fashions things out of recycled rubber, saving thousands of lives every day. It’s true.
Most importantly and pertinently, however, James Hoy has contributed some brilliant songwriting to Steppin’ Razor over the years. He doesn’t write a lot of songs, but his tunes are always crowd favorites. Take “Guidance,” for example. Featured on our 2009 debut album, Gold in Rule, this song consists of a simple but captivating riddim over which Hoy glides, whammies, and spanks notes up and down the fretboard. As we did with the title track on our upcoming 2nd album, …Against the Current, Johnny and I put lyrics over the “Guidance” riddim, a fun basis for such a collaboration. Originally, I rapped a verse, and then I remembered that I’m a dork, so I wrote some simple lyrics I could sing, which fit the song much better. Hoy’s music is a lot of fun to sing over, because it’s not complicated – it’s catchy and in-your-face, and it’s repetition doesn’t wear on you, as long as you’re willing to let go, feel the groove, and dance (or whatever your body does when music comes on). He’s also that way in person: he doesn’t say a whole lot, but when he talks, he’s to-the-point, honest, and often sidesplittingly hilarious.
Here’s one of his greats, “Rise Up” (lyrics by John Myers), from …Against the Current (coming next month).
With 2011 coming to an end, we just wanted to take a moment to reflect on another fun calendar year. We’re also looking forward to 2012, most of all because we’ll be releasing …Against the Current in the first quarter. It’s been an over-a-year-long recording project, and some of you have been a little impatient about this album. But it’s been a busy year, and here are some of the highlights:
February 25 – the night we opened for dancehall legend Barrington Levy. If you’ve been following us for at least a couple of years, you know we had a heartbreaking experience in 2009 when, so the story goes, Mr. Levy wasn’t allowed in the US in time to play the show at the Note. We were supposed to open that show, and this was perhaps the worst in a long series of letdowns for us. We may never have recovered from this disappointment and disillusionment, were it not for Jamaican Dave coming through with this great opportunity at the Blockley Pourhouse in Philadelphia this year. We’ll never forget the hundreds of faces staring at us when we took the stage as they impatiently waited for Barrington to arrive, their cold gazes melting away, much to our relief, when we started playing. But we couldn’t have enjoyed it so much without all the support from our friends and fans that night.
The first third of 2011 was a little slow for us, as our bassist, B. Hold, was wrapping up his thesis before graduating from Penn State. Inspired by his experiences with reggae music, and informed by two weeks of field research in Jamaica, this gargantuan paper, “We Black Build the Music”: Rastafarian Perspectives on Participation of Whites in Reggae and Nyahbinghi Music, was complemented by a 32-minute video documentary, Our Songs of Patience. Whether you’re a reggae musician or just a fan, we highly recommend this video to deepen your appreciation for this genre.
We did the usual Atlantic City beach bar gigs, which were fun as always, even though the rain seemed to downpour on us at the end of every gig, when it was time to take our gear across the boardwalk and back to the van. Luckily, we came away with no damage, enjoyed many a Sunday afternoon with fun-loving crowds on the beach, and made a few new friends in the process. But the highlight of summer 2011, without a doubt, was this:
That’s right, we got to open for Toots & the Maytals, legendary founding fathers of reggae music. Many of you were there, so we don’t need to tell you how incredible this was. The Blockley sold out that night, which is an impressive feat for a Wednesday night in July – but after all, it’s Toots we’re talking about.
The best things comes in threes – says this band that has never played a waltz (yet) – so it was only fitting that we got on the bill with John Brown’s Body, one of our favorite reggae bands, in November. All 4 Razors agree: JBB is one of the most talented and creative acts in reggae music today, far surpassing the majority of manufactured island pop that somehow passes as reggae. If you’re not listening to these guys, you’re seriously missing out.
Wondering what that picture is on the flyer above? Well, certain members of the band have these fancy Android-powered phones that have schmancy cameras with nifty special effects. On late-night drives home from gigs, especially in the torrential downpours we mentioned earlier, we take pictures of the road ahead of us. Mark made this flyer using one of his photos that looked especially cool and flyer-appropriate, but we have plenty more that, at least for us, symbolize the psychedelic exhaustion that comes from a long day at a gig in the hot sun, especially when you’re trapped inside of Morpheus (the band van) with James Hoy for a couple of hours at a time (you have to know the guy).
Speaking of the band van, we did have one sad moment this year (besides the loss of Johnny’s dreadlocks due to an unfortunate smelting accident). We had to say goodbye to our good friend, Morpheus. The old gray van has served us well for over three years, and we have many memories from within that we would be quite unwise to share with any of you. But here’s a shot from Labor Day weekend at the Getdown Festival in Mebane, NC, the furthest we’ve ever taken Morpheus on the road. Thanks to our friends Kim and Paul for letting us crash that weekend – Morpheus does not like to be slept in.
As we say goodbye to another great year, we look forward to an even better one. We’re starting it off with a show at the North Star Bar next Wednesday, January 4th – click here for your tickets! And in preparation of the upcoming album release, we’re posting a song on Soundcloud every Wednesday in January – the return of Reggae Wednesday, if you will. We already released track 1, “United Nation,” on Christmas Day. Please enjoy and let us know what you think.
Stay tuned for an official album release date announcement, have a safe New Years Eve, and look forward to 2012 with courage and thanks!