Buck-O-Nine formed at the end of 1991 and by early 1992 had played their first club gig, opening for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones at the Spirit Club (now Brick by Brick). Rumor has it that after seeing Buck-O-Nine’s performance, Dicky Barrett of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones commented that they were the worst ska band he'd ever seen! Nevertheless, Buck-O-Nine persevered and solidified the lineup.
There are several stories about where Buck-O-Nine’s name came from. One was that someone used the phrase in the context of a joke they were telling (“yo mamma don't weigh more than a buck-o-nine,” or something to that effect). Another version was the band pooled their money for beer and all they had was a dollar and nine cents.
After the first few shows, the lead singer was replaced by Jon Pebsworth, and Dan Albert and Tony Curry joined the band to fill out the horn section.
According to Pebsworth, “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.”
Pebsworth's entry was solidified after the first rehearsal. Pebsworth had a binder full of lyrics, and as the band went through its material for him, he began flipping through pages and plugging in lyrics for each song, almost as if the lyrics had been written for the music without him ever hearing it. At the band's next rehearsal, Pebsworth showed up with his shoulder in a sling — he had broken it the previous weekend while stage-diving at a local punk show.
Likewise, Dan Albert and Tony Curry had been playing together in reggae bands for several years, and had developed a large repertoire of horn lines and riffs that had gone unused, yet somehow fit perfectly into many of the songs Buck-O-Nine would write over the next several years.
By the end of 1992, the band prepared to release a 12-song demo tape entitled Buck Naked,which featured a cartoon drawing by then-drummer Steve Bauer depicting a naked deer sheepishly covering its private parts. Steve was attending art school at the time, and used the album art as one of his class projects.
During the recording process, Jonas Kleiner was recruited to play guitar. Most of the guitar tracks on the demo were recorded by bass player Scott Kennerly, with Kleiner recording guitar tracks on one song. The demo was released on cassette tape on the band's own pseudo-record label, Working Class Records, which would also be the pseudo-home of the band the Mountain Men, composed of friends and roommates of some members of Buck-O-Nine.
Shortly after the demo was released, a 7" record, known as the California 7", was released on Silver Girl Records. The front cover of the record sleeve features the license plate from Kennerly’s truck, attached to the bumper of an old car at a junkyard and photographed by Kennerly.
It was during this early period that the band began establishing itself in the San Diego all-ages music scene by playing regularly at the well-known club Soma. Originally located in downtown San Diego, Soma was a unique venue because it had a basement stage area (affectionately known as “The Dungeon”) where new bands would perform with hopes of drawing enough fans to be promoted to the main stage located above on the main floor. Buck-O-Nine was able to move from the dungeon to the main stage within a short period of time, and thus began opening for local favorites such as Sprung Monkey, as well as nationally touring acts like Skankin’ Pickle. By the time Buck-O-Nine released its first album in 1994, they were regularly selling out the venue, with an estimated 900-1000 fans attending most shows.
In 1994, the band released its first full-length album, Songs in the Key of Bree on San Diego label Immune Records. The following year, they released their second full-length album, Barfly, on Taang! Records.
In 1996, after two years of constant touring, Buck-O-Nine saw the Taang! sales increase substantially to well over 60,000 copies sold, despite distribution problems and a dire lack of promotion by the label.
Pebsworth recalls “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.
Buck-O-Nine’s next full-length release was the 1997 album 28 Teeth on TVT Records.
With the release of this third album and several years of touring under their belts, Buck-O-Nine began to see increased national radio airplay with the release of the single “My Town.” A video was shot and received limited airplay on MTV. 28 Teeth sold over 200,000 copies, appearing in a top spot on the Billboard HeatSeekers chart at one point, and appearing in the Billboard Top 200 chart for several weeks. The band toured constantly to promote 28 Teeth, sharing the stage with a wide variety of bands, both in and outside their genre. Notable appearances included the 1997 Warped Tour and being picked by Primus as the support act on their tour for The Brown Album.
The band's fourth album Libido was released on TVT Records in 1999. It demonstrated an evolution in the band’s sound, steering somewhat away from the ska and punk sound that defined Buck-O-Nine in the earlier years. By the time Libido was released, the popularity of third- wave ska in the U.S. had crested and was beginning to recede. The band continued to tour throughout 1999, but stopped working full-time after this.
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. Says Pebsworth, “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.”
Buck-O-Nine’s last national tour almost ended in tragedy when bassist John Bell fell ill with severe stomach pain. After sound checking for a gig in Pittsburgh, PA, Bell collapsed backstage and had to be rushed to the hospital, where doctors discovered he was suffering from Meckel's Diverticulum. Surgery followed, and eventually the band headed straight home for San Diego, while Bell recovered with his parents by his side.
In 2000, Buck-O-Nine released Hellos and Goodbyes, a live album which also included new unreleased tracks that were demos of songs intended for a fifth full-length studio CD release (though Buck-O-Nine eventually decided to not pursue this album).
Between the latter part of 2000 and well into 2001, things quieted down for the band, and they considered calling it quits altogether. However, an offer to tour the U.K. saw the band regroup near the end of 2001 and release a U.K.-only album composed of tracks from the band's first two albums and EP. A successful tour of much of the U.K. ensued, and in the aftermath, Buck-O-Nine found itself re-energized and continued to play regional shows and write new material.
Between 2002 and 2004, the band wrote close to 20 new songs, but most of them fell by the wayside until 2006 when they got serious about putting together a new album. Only three songs that had previously been written survived the cut, and the band relentlessly pumped out another nine original songs throughout the end of 2006. The philosophy was simple — to stick to what the band did best, which was to write and perform high-energy ska-influenced music that combined elements of reggae, punk, and rock ’n’ roll.
Before entering a professional recording studio, the band recorded the entire album using its own recording equipment and rehearsal studio so that they could get a better feel for what the finished product might sound like and iron out any underlying issues with arrangement, tuning, and tempos. The band decided to return to Doubletime Studios in El Cajon, California, where the first two studio albums were recorded. In early 2007 they began recording tracks during several weekend and evening sessions. At the end of recording and during some preliminary mixing sessions, they decided to have the entire album shipped to the Blasting Room in Fort Collins, Colorado, for final mixing and mastering.
The album, Sustain, was released on Asian Man Records in August 2007, coinciding with a Japanese release on the label Dude Records. Produced by Buck-O-Nine with engineer Jeff Forrest and mixed by Jason Livermore (Lagwagon, Descendents), it’s the band’s first new studio full-length since 1999’s Libido. One of the new songs off Sustain is featured on the Warped Tour 2007 compilation CD. In addition, the band appears on the Ska Is Dead compilation alongside 22 of the best ska bands performing today.
Buck-O-Nine won eight San Diego Music Awards between 1995 and 2000.
Previous to Buck-O-Nine, saxophone player, Craig Yarnold was in a ska band called the Spy Kids, which also included Matt Hensley from the band Flogging Molly on guitar and Scott Russo from the band Unwritten Law on keyboard.
Singer Jon Pebsworth was formerly in a Hardcore Punk band called Labeled Victims, which also included Pat Kim (Unwritten Law bassist). In late 2010, he joined a new band, The Black Pacific, featuring former Pennywise frontman Jim Lindberg, who quit that band after 20 years.
Original Unwritten Law bassist John Bell was the bassist of Buck-O-Nine for two years after the band’s original bassist left in 1999.
Guitarist Jonas Kleiner is also guitarist and singer for the San Diego band Destrung.
Previous to Buck-O-Nine, trombone player Dan Albert and trumpet player Tony Curry were in a reggae band known as T Irie Dread.
Drummer Jeff Hawthorne became the drummer for the San Diego band Plural, which includes former Buck-O-Nine bass player Scott.
Steve Bauer, original drummer, became a successful tattoo artist in Colorado Springs.
In May 2012, the band played in Montreal, Canada. By that time, recording commercial jingles had become another good way for the band to help pay their bills. They were one of five local artists asked to record a 60-second spot for “Movin’ and Groovin,’” a TV and radio ad campaign created and paid for by the Metro Transit System (MTS) to get San Diegans to appreciate public transportation.
Vokab Kompany, Buck-O-Nine, the Kneehighs, Ron Fountenberry, and Todo Mundo were each paid a flat fee of $1500 for their jingle, and MTS has the rights to each jingle for three years.
As 2013 dawned, “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 worked as a music industry public relations consultant for SideOneDummy Records until 2011.
“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.”
As of 2012, Kleiner and Pebsworth were 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 had been in the band since 1999.
In early 2013, drummer Steve Bauer rejoined the ska rockers, and singer Jon Pebsworth began working on a solo full-length, Let It Sting, recorded with the Midnight Welders and funded via Kickstarter.
In late 2017, the band released a video for “Don't Be Afraid” featuring plenty of skulls and bones, from a Cleopatra Records Halloween Compilation containing the band's first new music since 2007’s Sustain.
They released a new album in April 2019 via Cleopatra Records, FunDayMental, with a video released for “Top Of The World.”