Shocks of Mighty, the rock-steady band Michael Thompson formed, turns 20 this year. Trumpet player/singer Thompson’s allegiance to the proto-ska sounds created in Jamaica in the early ’60s wasn’t what his other bandmates wanted six years ago. They fired the founder.
“They wanted more of the Rastafarian angle, which I totally respect. But that’s the reason I didn’t want to go there. That’s somebody’s god. This isn’t a joke. I think it’s extremely disrespectful to sing about somebody’s religion when you’re not a part of it.”
His ex-band changed its name to Raiz but folded within a few months. Thompson reformed Shocks, which he says is now his major calling in life.
But he learned that in order to play the sounds created by Lee Perry and Joe Gibbs, he needs sax and brass players.
That’s where it gets difficult.
“Horns are a dying art form. They keep cutting public-school music programs. When I was young they had programs for kids who couldn’t afford it. Those options aren’t there anymore. I credit everything I know musically to what I learned in elementary and high school.”
Thompson tells the Reader that he has had to turn to the Marines four times to fill out his brass section. And it’s worked out great.
“They are super dedicated musicians who have a great work ethic. When I discovered these guys, it opened up a plethora of new horn players. Plus, it breathed new life into the band. We’re all older, and these guys are a good ten years younger and bring a breath of fresh life.”
But there are challenges. Two of his USMC bandmates left the band when they left the Corps or got transferred.
Then there’s the touring thing. Marines are not supposed to travel more than 300 miles from base without special permission. And gigs to Tijuana (ska is still much loved in TJ) are forbidden. Two years ago when cartel violence escalated, USMC brass forbade all trips to Mexico, since a Marine could be a prized capture-for-ransom target.
Sax player/vocalist Josh Baca has been in the Shocks since 2011. He left the Corps last July but has stayed in the band.
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“We did, like, 300 gigs a year,” says Baca who was raised in Carlsbad. He says he would play Sousa marches, big-band arrangements, and Dixieland tunes. “We’d play ceremonies, dinners, parades.... In a military band, you have a certain way of running things. When you’re in a civilian band, none of those rules apply. It can get frustrating, but you just have to sit back and watch things. It can be so free form. It blew my mind...how could you operate that way?”
Shocks of Mighty appears February 7 and 22 at Larry’s Beach Club in Oceanside and February 14 at Til-Two in City Heights.