No one knows ska’s fickle popularity better than Buck-O-Nine, the seven-member group that this year celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Ska first appeared in the ’60s with Jamaican artists such as the Skatalites and the Wailers. “Then you had the second wave with the British two-tone bands [Selecter, Madness],” says Buck-O-Nine lead singer Jon Pebsworth. “We were part of the third wave that included Fishbone and the Toasters.”
Pebsworth says that third wave’s surge in popularity propelled No Doubt and Sublime and helped launch Buck-O-Nine as a national touring band.
“When I first joined, I was answering an ad in the Reader that said, ‘Ska band looking for punk singer.’ I loved ska, but I came from punk. When we started, most ska bands were traditional. We were more like Operation Ivy. I remember going to [the now defunct] Off the Record on El Cajon Boulevard and buying the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. That was exactly what I wanted — ska rhythms with a punk singer.”
The formula worked. They released their first of five albums in ’92 on local label Taang! Records. Their San Diego–centric “My Town” got national airplay. They toured the U.S. with the Specials and Japan with Voodoo Glow Skulls. None of the members needed day jobs.
“When we first played Chicago, we would play to, like, 50 people. Eventually we would play to, like, 1200. From 1994 to 1998 we would play 200 to 300 dates a year...then things started to settle down. The third wave had run its course,” Pebsworth says. The band’s last national tour came in 2000, and it was more like their first, when only 50 people would show up per show. “It was getting harder and harder to even make enough money to get to the next town. It was harder to sustain ourselves as a touring band.”
Instead of disbanding, Buck-O-Nine shifted gears. “We decided to go on a semiretirement program,” says Pebsworth. “Most of the guys have families and kids.” Everyone lives in San Diego except Pebsworth, who is based in L.A., where he works as a music industry public relations consultant.
“We now play maybe once a month,” says guitarist Jonas Kleiner. “We’ll get in the van and play somewhere we can get to in eight hours. We’ll go on these two-day tours to Arizona or the Bay Area.... That said, we did play Montreal in May and we released a new album called Sustain in 2007.”
Kleiner and Pebsworth are two of the five members who have been with Buck-O-Nine for all 20 years, along with Craig Yarnold (sax), Dan Albert (trombone), and Tony Curry (trumpet). Drummer Jeff Hawthorne and bassist Andy Platfoot have been in the band since 1999.
“We never lost the chemistry,” says Pebsworth.
Buck-O-Nine appears December 28 at Club 710.