By Charlie Swanson
Jonathan Korty has been a Marin music scene staple for two decades. He used to have a music column right here in the Pacific Sun called “The Space Cowboy,” he formed—and plays keyboards in—the eclectic party band Vinyl and his resume includes managing stints at 19 Broadway Nightclub and Sweetwater Music Hall.
Korty even stars in Les Claypool’s 2006 mockumentary Electric Apricot, a spoof that does to jam bands what This Is Spinal Tap did to metal bands.
Recently, Korty has focused his music in a new direction, assembling an all-star roster of North Bay talent for his latest venture, Soul Ska. The band specializes in classic Jamaican and first wave British ska, paying tribute to the likes of The Skatalites, Madness and the Wailers.
Soul Ska opens for Jamaican legend Yellowman on Tuesday, October 25, at Sweetwater Music Hall. They also headline the Halloween Costume Ball at Bolinas Community Center on Oct. 29.
The idea to revive the ska sound came to Korty several years ago. “I think there’s a huge love of ska in everyone I talk to,” Korty says. “I started with that idea and slowly I gathered this band together.”
Korty first recruited members of the Monophonics’ horn section and brought in Sean “Stymie” Sharp, from San Francisco’s Stymie & the Pimp Jones Luv Orchestra, to be an energetic frontman.
Korty’s ska juices really began to flow between 2013 and 2015, when he and other members of the band played several shows with Ernest Ranglin, considered a godfather of Jamaican ska. “This was an inspirational experience and we came away with a newfound desire to play ska,” he says.
Today, Soul Ska is a nine-piece combo that features members of El Radio Fantastique, The Shams and other Bay Area outfits. Vocalists like Jethro Jeremiah and Noelle Glory also regularly join in on the action.
In the same way that Vinyl is a live version of a DJ playing records at a dance party, Korty says Soul Ska’s vision is to keep people dancing with real horns, real vocals and that original two-tone ska energy.
Soul Ska will go into the studio later this year, though Korty says the focus is on playing live and building a local fan base. “It’s evolved into something really special. Our shows are starting to get crowded and the vibe is getting really good,” he says. “I think there’s definitely a resurgence going on with ska right now. We’re feeling it.”
Soul Ska joins Yellowman on Tuesday, Oct. 25 at Sweetwater Music Hall, 19 Corte Madera Ave., Mill Valley; 9pm; $20-$25; 415/388-3850; sweetwatermusichall.com.