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Sweeping Up the Ska: Talking three decades of rebel music with The Toasters 

Now in his fourth decade in the ska business, Rob Bucket Hingley keeps The Toasters on the move.

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"I feel like the ska janitor, you know? I'm coming through with a broom and cleaning up everybody's mess," says Rob "Bucket" Hingley, the front man and sole remaining original member of The Toasters.

His metaphor is more than apt. While it's difficult to know for sure, The Toasters were most likely the first ska band to come out of America back in 1981. Now, some 30 years later, they are one of the most well-known bands of that genre still on the touring circuit. Sure, they benefited from the ska explosion of the mid-1990s, but whereas so many of those horn-laden, suspender-wearing acts faded into oblivion (you just don't hear people talking about Save Ferris anymore, do you?) the Toasters, or at least Hingley, has survived. And if he has to clean up the genre, then so be it.


Surrounded by an army of international hand-picked musicians that he jokingly calls "Bucket's Foreign Legion," Hingley still takes the Toasters out on extended tours - like the one that the band recently embarked on that brings the band to Mountain's Edge Bar for a two-night stand on Friday and Saturday. After they leave Bend, The Toasters have gigs lined up almost every day (with a couple brief breaks) until July in cities ranging from Lubbock, Texas to Frankfurt, Germany.

"We basically go to all the places where other bands might not reach or ever even see," says Hingley, adding that most places have some sort of ska scene, some proving more vibrant than others.

Hingley has little interest in rolling out new Toasters albums, not only because of the music industry's shift away from record sales over recent years, but due to the fact that ska music is best heard live.

"It's kind of rebel music and that has always been best portrayed on a stage in front of a live crowd," he says.

The Toasters began just a year after Hingley moved to New York City from the U.K. in 1980, leaving the two-tone music (a blend of reggae, punk and ska sounds) scene there in the hopes of playing music in the States. But when he got to the U.S., he soon realized that the style was still foreign here.

"The Toasters were my protest against coming to America and realizing that no one knew anything about this music whatsoever," says Hingley, "It didn't get much coverage because it was black people and white people playing in music together and the industry really didn't understand that unless it was K.C. and the Sunshine Band."

He says that in the band's early years they would be taunted when playing areas of the deep South because of The Toasters' bi-racial makeup. Thankfully, he says, this sort of sentiment has since passed.

The Toasters made a living off fiercely political lyrics and infectious dance sounds throughout the 80s, but - like many ska bands - gained increased notoriety in the mid 1990s when the genre exploded. Already touring veterans and elder statesmen on the ska scene, The Toasters now had a much larger legion of followers, many of whom still come out to their shows.

"I'm not going to lie, we did pretty well out of that boom, and whether you like it or not, or whether you approve of the bands, is that in 2010, a lot more people know what ska is than in 1990. It put ska music on the map," says Hingley.

Over the years, as most of the ska bands from the 90s explosion have been reduced to piles of dust in the hallways of music history, Hingley and his Toasters have been there - like he says - to sweep them up. Sure, Hingley has seen more than 35 names role through his roster during this time, but he's still there and now that he's entering his fourth decade as a musician, he's realized his own staying power. And if he has to be the janitor, well that's just fine.

The Toasters, Necktie Killer

9pm Friday and Saturday, February 19 and 20. Mountain's Edge Bar, 61131 S. Highway 97. $10. 21 and up.

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