Friday, February 1, 2008

Brighter Days: The Go-Steadys (1991-1996)

From L to R: Laura Richards, Jesse Lauricella, Eric Fickes, Mike, Robbie Fitzgerald, Dan Gminksi, Brian Lysne, James Joyce, circa 1995.

Here is the download:
Go-Steadys Complete Discography

So I learned about ska music through my friend Miles Peterken, who also introduced me to punk and jazz, so you can say he was a pretty influential person in my early musical development. This was maybe 1989 or so, and in his bedroom he would pin record covers on the walls instead of posters. He is really the only person I have ever known to do this in this exact way. He liked to hang up all sorts of LP covers, and I distinctly remember seeing the first albums of both the Specials and Madness on the wall of his room, and possibly the first Selecter album as well.

If you remember what these covers look like, it completely blew my mind as a 15 year-old just getting into decent music. Both of these covers featured photos of the bands, which had a mixture of black and white members (for the Specials), and the trademark Madness group leaning-stance, or whatever it’s called, for their album. Both pictures showed members who were definitely not American in any way, and looking insanely cool. The Specials looked like some crazy gang, and Suggs from Madness probably looked to be about the coolest person I had ever seen. I didn’t hear these bands until at least a year or two later, when Brian Lysne bought the Specials Singles Collection on tape, I believe from Camelot Music, and we both listened to “A Message to You Rudy” for the first time on his boom box after returning from the mall. I can honestly say that I was initially totally bewildered by this song. It sounded like a bastardized reggae (definitely not Jamaican), with some kind of doo-wop vocals and really different recording sound. It sounded like some kind of working-class skinhead music, which I guess it was, and maybe not something we were going to understand, much less love to death. However, once “Do the Dog”, “Concrete Jungle”, and some others from the first album came on, we knew this music was awesome and totally unique in comparison with the music that was around at the time. Immediately we started looking for ska music in various tape and record stores, but the local Turtles and Camelot Music only had the ska bands that really had crossover success with mainstream music. We got English Beat (although Special Beat Service was the most common release you could find at that time), Specials and Madness. All three of these bands had amazing first albums, but highly questionable and confusing later albums. Finally I got a tape of Bim Skala Bim’s “Hows’ it Goin”, and started to break into the true ska music scene. When we started heading down to Little 5 Points and buying records at Wax N’ Facts, I got more records such as The Toaster’s “Pool Shark”, the Deltones’ “Nana Choc Choc in Paris”, as well as a few other great records of the genre.

Coincidentally around this time, two major events occurred to solidify our involvement with ska music. The first was WREK starting the “Afriskamatic” radio show, which was amazing, but also interesting in that at first they didn’t even have enough ska music and had to play African music to fill out the entire 2 hour show. We would record it on tape and listen to it all week in the car. It was funny to find the albums that they were playing on the show years later when ska distribution became better and recognize the songs that I heard first on that radio show, like Symaryp for example. Another great example is a song by the Terrorists, which was an NYC ska-punk band who did a song with Lee Perry called “Guerilla Priest“. When I bought their discography many years later, I completely forgot about the song, and then when it came on I had this immense wave of nostalgia and insane laughter when I heard it. The song is truly a Lee Perry classic. The second big event in our ska development was Jesse Lauricella moving to Atlanta around 1991. Since my last name is Joyce, he was naturally put into my homeroom class as it was organized in alphabetical order. I believe he was behind me, and Brian Lysne was behind him. He came from New Jersey, and was very knowledgeable about the NYC ska scene, mainly revolving around the Moon SKA record label. He had seen many of these bands live, including the Toasters, Scofflaws, Let’s Go Bowling, and many others from that era. He also brought a selection of tapes for us to dub and enjoy. One of these was the “Skankin’ Around The World” Volume 1 tape, which I believe is the best ska compilation ever created, and I still listen to it on a regular basis. After hanging out with him for a few weeks, we decided that we needed to form a ska band and show everyone what was up. Jesse would naturally be the singer, and Brian would be the bassman. We got Eric Fickes to play guitar, as he was always game for musical projects back then, and I would play drums. We were pretty rough at the beginning, and had a few members come in and out for about 6 months or so. Michelle Ward played keyboards for a practice, Jesse’s friends Paul and Dave played sax and trombone, but they were not technically horn players and did not last. It was too bad because Paul was possibly the scariest guy I had ever seen in person. He was about 10 years older than us, and had full sleeves of tattoos, had the physique of a marine out of Paris Island and always wore a wife-beater. When Jason Griset joined the band on sax, he was actually too scared to tell Paul how to play any of the parts because the dude was so menacing. We also had this African-American skinhead singer named Fran├žoise for a show, who looked really cool, but not very talented in the singer/frontman department. Eventually, we ditched all of these secondary members and acquired the three real talents for the band and completed our first full group of seven members. This was comprised of the four of us (Jesse, Brian, Eric and myself), along with Jason Griset on Tenor Sax, Kyle Richards on Trumpet, and Shawn Simpson on Drums. I met these guys in my band class (the main place to find horn players for your ska band in those days), and in the case of Jason and Shawn, happened to be some of the most talented musicians I have ever played with (then or since). Sometimes when we would be playing a show at the Hoyt Street Station in Athens, for example, they would set up in the parking lot before the show and have a sax-drums duo playing jazz music, and it was amazing. Since they were so unbelievable on their instruments, I naturally switched to rhythm guitar while Shawn took over full drumming responsibilities. We started doing ska versions of “Freddie the Freeloader” and “Miles Mode”, and these guys truly legitimized the Go Steadys for us.

As for the actual band name, we kind of ripped it from “The Steadys” out of NYC, but nobody in Atlanta had ever heard of The Steadys, so we became The Go Steadys. In the spring of 1993, I recorded a 4-song demo of us as the original seven piece band in my basement, and I have included it in the attached file:

1. What You Are
2. Anthem
3. Brighter Days
4. By My Side

“What You Are” is lyrically probably the most misogynistic song I have ever played. Jesse was particularly angry about a break-up with a girl in our class, and really wanted to get his vengeance. High School can be a difficult time for all of us. We used to play this song first at all of our shows, and it always got the crowd moving. “Anthem” was written after we played with the Special Beat, and Jesse had the urge to write a nice xenophobic ska song about Americans playing ska, including the chorus “bust out that American ska and a piece of apple pie, if those tea-sipping jerks got something to say we’ll put a fist right in their eye” – classic Jesse Lauricella. “Brighter Days” was one of my favorite songs by the band, especially played with this lineup. “By My Side” was so new that Jason hadn’t learned the horn part, so Kyle played trumpet on it alone, and I actually like this version better anyhow than the one with the full horn section recorded later. Also, I have to say about the original lineup that I really liked Shawn Simpson’s drumming on this demo, which was much different compared to other ska drummers. He added a real swing to the group, but also kept the intensity of the music high. He would play my crappy drumset with only one rack tom (no floor tom), one cymbal, a snare, high-hat and bass drum, and still completely kill it every time.

From L to R: Jesse Lauricella, Brian Lysne, Jason Griset, Eric Fickes (on floor), Kyle Richards, Shawn Simpson, James Joyce - Spring 1993.

We played some of our best shows at this time, even playing in Athens for college crowds while we were still in high school, which is pretty rare. We played with the Woggles and the Earthworms in Athens, as well as the Special Beat, Toasters, etc. that came through Atlanta at that time. We also started playing with a new breed of Atlanta ska bands, including the Skats (which featured Brian and Rob Kincheloe as well as a very young Mike Griffith on drums), and Brumski (featuring the soon to be legendary Tom Cheshire). Unfortunately, we lost Shawn, Jason and Kyle at the end of our Senior year as Shawn and Jason went to music school in Denton, TX and Kyle went to Boston to study medicine. Kyle started playing bass in Boston bands, and I would get demos from them occasionally. Jason returned to the Go Steadys later on when he transferred to Valdosta, but I never saw Shawn Simpson again. At the end of this time, I switched from guitar to trombone, and we went about finding new members for the group. Kyle recruited his sister, Laura Richards, to join the band on trombone (now we had two trombone players). She was super nice, but a little young, so she became kind of the little sister of the group. I was dating a girl named Crystal Bradley at the time, and she was in another ska band called 7/10 split, and I believe she was the one who found our next drummer, Robbie Fitzgerald, and our trumpet player, Chad Paulin. Jesse’s friend Mike moved down from New Jersey and took over secondary vocals, and we got a friend of Jesse’s named Dan Gminski (I'm not sure of the spelling) to play bass clarinet. Crystal also joined us on keyboards and Jason Griset returned to start helping us on sax duties, so that brought the total band membership up to 11 (Jesse, James, Brian, Eric, Crystal, Robbie, Laura, Chad, Dan, Mike, and Jason). This was insanity from a band logistics perspective. It was hard to even get everyone to the show on time. I remember once playing with Skankin’ Pickle at the Chameleon Club in Buckhead, and the band went on without me on trombone because I was over at Tower Records wandering around being oblivious. Also, keep in mind that this was before the advent of cell phones, so there was a lot of legwork involved with these shows and practices. We recorded a few more songs under this lineup at Dwarf studios in Ellijay, the place where Car Vs. Driver recorded their first 7”.

5. Goin’ Away
6. Fallen
7. Brighter Days
8. By My Side
9. King Tone Corporate Anthem
10. No. 5

“Goin’ Away” was not really our best song, and extremely difficult for Mike and Jesse to harmonize on, but it had an end-of-show kind of feeling to it, so it was always part of our set. “Fallen” was probably my least favorite song we did, but had a great rockabilly-style riff from Eric that he could really belt out, and the crowd always loved it. “Brighter Days” was played with more horns this time. “King Tone Corporate Anthem” was an instrumental with a name borrowed from the “Devo Corporate Anthem”, and had the big “S-K-A” intro that was fun to play. I think we did a few mambo lines through the audience with that one. “No. 5” was also another almost-instrumental, and had some pretty good trombone playing on my part if I do say so myself. Crystal adds some good keyboards as well. As you can see, Robbie Fitzgerald couldn’t really keep up with the virtuoso drumming of Shawn Simpson, but he transformed the band into a more modern, driving ska band of the new third wave era. Two of these songs (Goin’ Away and Fallen) were pressed as a 7”, but not for sale at shows. We only used them for sending to clubs and promotion. Also something strange about the 7” was that it had an 8” cover, so it didn’t fit in any 7” boxes. Mine is currently filed in the 10” section of my collection.

The Go Steadys 7" in an 8" sleeve.

Only 100 Pressed. I got #31.

Unauthorized Reproduction Punishable by DEATH.

Live at the Somber Reptile in 1994/5: Dan, James and Brian.

We were playing several times per month and having a great time, and also playing in Huntsville, Athens and Auburn, but I was also in Car Vs. Driver and The Midget Farmers as well as pursuing a degree in Physics and Astronomy full time. By about spring of 1995, I was getting seriously burnt out on the strain of being in a band of 10+ members, and wanted to get out. As what usually happens in the Go Steadys, if you leave the band, it is almost expected of you to recruit a new person to join, and I got Steven Cummings brought in on tenor sax. He was in my Astronomy class, and once I found out he could play sax, I ensnared him as soon as possible for practice. They continued on for a few years without me, and recorded a few more songs (if anyone has these, please send them and I will post them to this blog entry), but after another year or so Steven left, along with Robbie, Brian and Eric to form other bands. The first three started The Del Rays in Athens, while Eric moved to North Carolina and joined the Stingy Brims, another ska band from the region. Jesse kept adding and replacing members, until he fell in love with a girl down in Mexico and moved down there to be with her, and the band officially dissolved. When he returned a year or two later, he started a Latin-influenced ska band called Mandorico, and they have been working very hard as a band for years and years, although I have yet to see them. Chad joined the Robustos in Atlanta, and had much more success as a third wave ska band than the Go Steadys ever had. Crystal Bradley moved about 10 more times before settling in DC for a few years and starting a band with the singer from Bratmobile called Partyline. They were hugely popular and came to Europe several times while I was in Amsterdam, but I was always out of town and never got to see them play. I do not know what happened to Dan, Laura or Mike, but that’s the way it goes sometimes in these situations at that time in your life. Supposedly Dan works as a tatoo artist in Germany, but I have not confirmed this. Brian moved to Japan for several years, and then became an accountant and moved to Minnesota (I believe). Eric became a computer programmer and moved recently to Denver where he and his wife are raising their first child – Fletcher Fickes. Steven Cummings draws comic books for a living and is almost impossible to hang out with due to his hectic work schedule. I haven’t seen Jesse in almost ten years, but maybe I’ll catch Mandorico one of these years and say hello. I see they moved to LA and seem to be doing fine.

Overall, I can honestly say that this was the most fun that I ever had on stage with a band, and that is truly saying a lot. It really gave me so much joy during my late high school years to play in this band and experience everything we experienced – jumping around, wearing crazy clothes, Jesse doing back flips off the stage, mambo trains through the crowd, bringing everyone up on stage for our version of “Monkey Man”, playing “Don’t Worry Be Happy” with the Skats, crashing the front porch of a house in Athens from dancing so hard, playing a party at a loft on Memorial Drive where the crowd literally knocked down the wall to the adjoining loft and started looting the place while we played – dancing around with all the neighbor’s stuff in their arms (!!!), Shawn Simpson driving 100+ mph up to Athens for shows, looking everywhere for a good pork-pie hat, smoking cigars, acting like complete assholes, and generally having the time of our lives.


  1. Awesome! was great to see the history. I need to finish downloading all of the songs, but wow it brought back some memories! Phillies Blunts come to mind???
    How come you didnt upload goin away?
    I think I still have some tapes of the stuff we did with that experimental band.

  2. Thanks for pointing this out. For some reason Goin' Away and Fallen have fallen off the set. I will re-upload those tomorrow.

    Send me a message via my myspace page so I can get in touch with you.

  3. I don't remember which member of the Go-Steadys I talked to, but I remember being at a show of theirs/yours at the Hoyt Street North in Athens.....smack dab middle of the summer. Hot as balls. I remember one Go-Steady was wearing, what looked like, his dad's old wool (WOOL!) ill-fitted suit to "look the part." I sauntered up in my shorts and t-shirt and asked him two things. 1. Does your dad know you stole his suit? and 2. Are you about to die? Sweat was pouring down his face. I was a smidge buzzed. Decent show, but jesus christ, dress for the weather, not the fashion.

  4. There is nothing worse than a ska band playing in shorts. It was an awkward time - we were in high school, so whatever suits we could find at the Memorial Drive Value Village was what had to do. It took me a year or so to find a damn pork pie. We were also big on punishment, either to others or ourselves, and if that meant wearing a wool suit in the Summer, then that was your penance. It conditioned me well for later bands, when everyone would be complaining about the heat, etc. but I had always been through much worse. This was also the early 90's, and Eric was really into the baggy clothes trend, so it was probably him that you talked to. The rest of us made sure our suits fit.

  5. you just made me remember that me and a certain gal pal used to stalk brian lysne when we found out he worked at lettuce souprise you...

  6. The dude was always stalked. You have to go to Hokkaido to stalk him now.

  7. Holy smokes James, can't believe I found your blog after punching in "ska/Go steadys" into the google machine. Was mentioning you guys to an old friend today on another VW forum. Hope you're doing well and thanks for the nostalgia

    Blake M.

  8. I actually might have some info on Mike’s whereabouts nowadays, I am sure that this Mike is my band teacher in ATL because he was a member of The Go-Steadys so that might clear up what happened to him

  9. I was just Googling Jesse's name, and came across this article. The Jesse's friend "Paul" is my older brother. I remember Fran├žoise well too. I don't think Paul actually had any musical talent.