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How Ryan Hughes and Crucial Blend forged a well-rounded So-Cal sound

“We’ve played reggae, punk, ska, and even hip-hop shows”

Back to where it began: Ryan Hughes at Ocean Beach Street Fair 2022
Back to where it began: Ryan Hughes at Ocean Beach Street Fair 2022

Musicians worry about money. They worry about gear. They worry about the van. They don’t usually worry about the horn player falling over a cliff. But to hear it from Ryan Hughes of Crucial Blend, they should have spared a thought for that possibility. “We had our friend Sean [Lambert] fill in on saxophone for us during our last tour in March. While we were exploring Big Sur, we were taking a group photo by the edge of a cliff, and he lost his footing and unfortunately tumbled down the cliff into a river. Thankfully, he is thicker than a Snicker, and managed to walk away with only a few scrapes and bruises. Surprisingly, we were able to continue the tour with no medical attention. We love you, Sean!”

Hughes was happy to get back home with Lambert and everyone else in one piece. But he’s noticed a lot of changes in his hometown. “San Diego has always had a vibrant music scene in my opinion. Over the years, I’ve only seen it grow, with more and more great acts and diversity. As far as other changes in San Diego, rent is a lot higher, burritos have gone up, a lot more Zonies, and a lot more homeless.”

Crucial Blend released Disconnected in 2014 and supported the record with their first west coast tour in 2016, doing dates from San Diego all the way to Seattle. Their 2017 EP Full Grown (which includes a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf”) was followed in late 2018 with the Enough Already EP. Their next full-length appeared in April 2020, No Bad Daze, while a late 2021 EP called Cruel World was nominated for a San Diego Music Award — their third SDMA nod. Through the years, they’ve shared the stage with fellow reggae-inclined locals such as Mike Pinto and E.N. Young, as well as Morgan Heritage, Marlon Asher, Ballyhoo, Tunnel Vision, Bumpin’ Uglies, and others.

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However, the band’s trademark swirl of reggae, ska, and hip-hop, didn’t occur to Hughes right away. “Growing up, I was first influenced by the classic rock my parents were playing as a kid — the Doors, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd — then the grunge scene that was big on MTV at the time, [with] Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, etc. Then later, I started to get into hip-hop and the ‘90s ska revival. Some specific records that heavily influenced our sound were Sublime, 40 Oz.to Freedom, and Rancid, …And Out Come the Wolves.”

The sound evolved as the band was forming. Crucial Blend was founded “just by scouting local musicians in the Ocean Beach music scene. When putting the band together, I wanted to incorporate all the genres of music that I loved and give people a diverse and well-rounded So-Cal sound. I didn’t want to discount anybody. We bounce between a lot of different sounds, and I feel like that has given us a sort of advantage. We have played reggae shows, punk shows, ska shows, and even hip-hop shows. I don’t know a lot of bands that can do that. And that’s how we also got our name. It was crucial for us to have a blend of different musical genres.”

Ocean Beach Farmers' Market

The blended approach also opens crucial doors. “We’ve definitely had a bunch of interesting experiences. Some great gigs that come to mind were opening for Mickey Avalon at The Holding Company, and also opening for H.R. of Bad Brains. Those are two artists we really like, so it was an honor. Winstons’ reggae night shows that Carlos Culture used to host — RIP — were some of our best gigs coming up in the scene. We really cut our teeth on those Wednesday night Club Kingston shows after the Farmers Market in OB. It was always a great time with great bands and they gave us a lot of exposure. Our worst gig is still our early show at the Andaz in downtown San Diego, where the whole band got drunk. The epitome of a shitshow! The weirdest show in recent years was probably playing at Pure Platinum, the strip club in Kearny Mesa. Mainly because we played in a separate room from all the dancers and we would have preferred to play on stage with them.” That last comment is offered with a smiley face.

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Back to where it began: Ryan Hughes at Ocean Beach Street Fair 2022
Back to where it began: Ryan Hughes at Ocean Beach Street Fair 2022

Musicians worry about money. They worry about gear. They worry about the van. They don’t usually worry about the horn player falling over a cliff. But to hear it from Ryan Hughes of Crucial Blend, they should have spared a thought for that possibility. “We had our friend Sean [Lambert] fill in on saxophone for us during our last tour in March. While we were exploring Big Sur, we were taking a group photo by the edge of a cliff, and he lost his footing and unfortunately tumbled down the cliff into a river. Thankfully, he is thicker than a Snicker, and managed to walk away with only a few scrapes and bruises. Surprisingly, we were able to continue the tour with no medical attention. We love you, Sean!”

Hughes was happy to get back home with Lambert and everyone else in one piece. But he’s noticed a lot of changes in his hometown. “San Diego has always had a vibrant music scene in my opinion. Over the years, I’ve only seen it grow, with more and more great acts and diversity. As far as other changes in San Diego, rent is a lot higher, burritos have gone up, a lot more Zonies, and a lot more homeless.”

Crucial Blend released Disconnected in 2014 and supported the record with their first west coast tour in 2016, doing dates from San Diego all the way to Seattle. Their 2017 EP Full Grown (which includes a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf”) was followed in late 2018 with the Enough Already EP. Their next full-length appeared in April 2020, No Bad Daze, while a late 2021 EP called Cruel World was nominated for a San Diego Music Award — their third SDMA nod. Through the years, they’ve shared the stage with fellow reggae-inclined locals such as Mike Pinto and E.N. Young, as well as Morgan Heritage, Marlon Asher, Ballyhoo, Tunnel Vision, Bumpin’ Uglies, and others.

Sponsored
Sponsored

However, the band’s trademark swirl of reggae, ska, and hip-hop, didn’t occur to Hughes right away. “Growing up, I was first influenced by the classic rock my parents were playing as a kid — the Doors, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd — then the grunge scene that was big on MTV at the time, [with] Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, etc. Then later, I started to get into hip-hop and the ‘90s ska revival. Some specific records that heavily influenced our sound were Sublime, 40 Oz.to Freedom, and Rancid, …And Out Come the Wolves.”

The sound evolved as the band was forming. Crucial Blend was founded “just by scouting local musicians in the Ocean Beach music scene. When putting the band together, I wanted to incorporate all the genres of music that I loved and give people a diverse and well-rounded So-Cal sound. I didn’t want to discount anybody. We bounce between a lot of different sounds, and I feel like that has given us a sort of advantage. We have played reggae shows, punk shows, ska shows, and even hip-hop shows. I don’t know a lot of bands that can do that. And that’s how we also got our name. It was crucial for us to have a blend of different musical genres.”

Ocean Beach Farmers' Market

The blended approach also opens crucial doors. “We’ve definitely had a bunch of interesting experiences. Some great gigs that come to mind were opening for Mickey Avalon at The Holding Company, and also opening for H.R. of Bad Brains. Those are two artists we really like, so it was an honor. Winstons’ reggae night shows that Carlos Culture used to host — RIP — were some of our best gigs coming up in the scene. We really cut our teeth on those Wednesday night Club Kingston shows after the Farmers Market in OB. It was always a great time with great bands and they gave us a lot of exposure. Our worst gig is still our early show at the Andaz in downtown San Diego, where the whole band got drunk. The epitome of a shitshow! The weirdest show in recent years was probably playing at Pure Platinum, the strip club in Kearny Mesa. Mainly because we played in a separate room from all the dancers and we would have preferred to play on stage with them.” That last comment is offered with a smiley face.

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