Dr. Ring-Ding & the Senior Allstars
Di Doctor is In
If you’ve paid attention to anything I’ve written in Ink Nineteen, chances are you’ve heard me rave about Dr. Ring-Ding & the Senior Allstars. Over the course of five years, this seven-piece band has established itself as one of the leading names in traditional ska music, and has released two albums, Dandimite! and Ram Di Dance, that easily belong at the top of a list of the decade’s best ska records. While this is a pretty impressive accomplishment in and of itself, it’s even more amazing when you consider that the band is from deep in the heart of Germany, far from the shores of Jamaica! How did a band from Germany become one of the world’s most authentic and talented ska bands? That’s just what I set out to find out, as I caught up with the Doctor himself (alias Richie Senior, born Richie Jung), on his recent trip to the US, which found him playing trombone and singing with the Toasters.
How did you first discover ska music?
I discovered ska music with my first band, which was a band from school, they played ska. At that time, I didn’t know what it was. I’d heard of Madness and all that, and I knew the music, but I didn’t know it was ska. Then this band, El Bosso & die Ping Pongs, which was my very first band, played, and I enjoyed their music so much that I asked them if it was possible to join them. They said yes, and this is how I got in touch with ska.
Obviously, your music is very much inspired by the early Jamaican music. How did you ever manage to dig so deep into it that your music became so authentic sounding?
When I’m interested in something, I really try to know as much as possible about it, like a music style. When the music really interests me, I go to the shops and buy everything I can get, I read everything I can get on the subject, and that’s why. I’ve got a huge record collection, and I just love the music. I always try to find out “how do they do this? How do they do that?,” and see what types of similarities there are with other types of music, and all that. I do it for pleasure.
How did you come to choose Dr. Ring-Ding as a stage name?
It is a song by Roland Alphonso. Did you hear that he passed away a few days ago?
So there’s a song called “Dr. Ring-A-Ding.” When we first played a session with the band, we also played that tune, and after that session, I just christened myself Dr. Ring-Ding. “Ring-Ding” means “great enjoyment” in Jamaican dialect, and it’s also a game for kids, a street game. There’s also a radio show dealing with folklore in Jamaica called “Ring-Ding,” so the name was well-picked, although I didn’t know about all of this when I picked the name.
Did you ever get the chance to speak with Roland Alphonso about it?
Yes, we played a couple of gigs together, we were supporting [the Skatalites] quite a few times. In Germany and France we shared the bill quite often. I know these guys personally. We also did a tour where we backed [Skatalites vocalist] Doreen Shaffer, and we also recorded her solo album, we were the backing band on that one. So, I’m pretty proud to know these guys, and to get appreciation from them. They know our music, and they tell us they like it. I think that’s the greatest compliment that you can get.
I understand that all the members of your band were members of other ska, jazz, and reggae bands before joining the Senior Allstars. Can you tell me a little about their lineage?
The lineup was changing [a lot] in the beginning of the band, because it started pretty much as a session band. Myself, I’ve been in different bands — I’ve played with rhythm & blues bands, and swing bands, and funk bands, and all that. My former band was El Bosso & die Ping Pongs, and I also played with reggae bands, so all the musicians that are in the band, I knew them from all these different bands where I come from. The sax player (Oliver Wienand) was playing in the funk band and in the reggae band. The bass player (Andre Meyer) used to play in hardcore rock bands, he was an old classmate of mine from when I was 10 years old. The guitar player (Markus Dassman) was in the same reggae band as me. So, it’s mainly from a pool of musicians from the same town that meet each other with different projects and different bands and different sessions.
Is the ska scene in Germany very active?
Oh, yeah, it is. It’s becoming bigger and bigger, at the moment. The last “wave” of ska music was in the late-’80s/early-’90s, and then it went down a little, and now there’s a whole heap of young new bands that play ska, and all different styles of ska. You have trad side, and the modern thing, and the pop-rock ska and all that, pretty much the same as here. We don’t have swing-ska, though. It doesn’t exist in Germany, as far as I know. But the scene is pretty active, there are many, many shows and festivals, and all that. The biggest ska festival in Europe, at least, takes place close to Berlin in Pottsdam. There’s much going on.
How did you come to sign with Moon Ska Records in the US?
Well, we didn’t actually sign with them. We are on the German ska and reggae label Grover Records, and they work a lot together with Moon Records, as Moon Records is also a booking agency, and Grover Records is connected to Mosquito Promotions in Germany. They work a lot together, so that means that Mosquito Promotions is bringing over the American bands, like the Toasters, when they’re on tour. This is why both our albums have been licensed to Moon Records, from Grover Records. I’m really happy for that, because people seem to accept it over here, and seem to like it, as I can tell from playlists and all that from the Internet. It makes me kind of proud.
So you feel like you’re getting a really good reaction to your albums in the US?
Oh, yeah, I think so. Whenever an American band has come over [to Europe], like Skavoovie & the Epitones, and Hepcat, and the Stubborn All-Stars, and so on, they always tell me they know about the music, so it’s kind of crazy.
Why are you here playing with the Toasters?
I’ve played with the Toasters on their last two European tours, and also there is this live record, [the Toasters’] Live In London, that I’m on, and now they’re going to try to introduce my band and the music more to the American people, to make it worthwhile to bring the whole band over next time. So, for this (tour), I’m going to have spots (in the Toasters’ set), whether it’s my own songs or toasting alongside [Toasters frontman] Jack Ruby on some Toasters tunes.
So, if this tour does well, you’ll be looking at eventually bringing the whole band over for a tour?
Oh, yeah, sure, I’d really love that. It’s much different, you see. If the Toasters were playing a Dr. Ring-Ding & the Senior Allstars tune, it wouldn’t sound the same, of course, so I’d love to bring the band over, too. Or have [Moon] bring the band over, and make it happen. I’d really love that, sure.
You’ve done a lot of work backing ska legends like Derrick Morgan and Judge Dread. Do you have any special stories you’d like to tell about them?
Most of the time, it was very pleasant to play with these people, and to get their reaction, when they say “you guys have that Jamaican feel to the way you’re playing,” and all that, I think that’s a big compliment. We’re Germans, right? So, this is very far from Jamaica! It was very nice to be on tour with Judge Dread, and it was very sad for all of us when he passed away. We did a record with Doreen Shaffer, and recently we did a tour with Lord Tanamo, playing Germany and Italy, and we also did a whole album with him. It’s going to be out in spring, and I think it’s going to be funny, too.
How did the phone call with Derrick Morgan at the beginning of Dandimite! come about?
(Laughs) What do you mean? Were you surprised by it?
I thought it was really funny!
Well, we were in the studio during the tour, and we recorded four tracks, one of which is on the Dandimite! album, “Knocking on my Door,” that I wrote, and we also did “White Christmas” and one of Derrick’s tunes, called “I Want a Girl,” released on a single on Grover Records, and also another one called “Reggae Train,” which is a remake of “Mule Train,” but this one hasn’t been released so far. I wanted to have an intro for this Dandimite! album that we all knew was going to happen soon. The funny thing about this is, he actually didn’t say what he said there! It was cut together with a hard disc recorder, because he’s swearing on that one [on the record], and he said, “oh, no, no, we can’t do that” and then did it over and over again, and we took the best pieces and put all that swearing and did that, where he says “you really fuck it up” and “for you to play dandimite skata — rass clot,” which is a swear word in Jamaican patois. I wanted him to say “skya” instead of “ska,” and he said, “for you to play dandimite skata-rass clot — no, for you to play dandimite ska, skata-rass clot — come again — for you to play dandimite ska.” So we cut that together, and it became “for you to play dandimite skata-rass clot.” In the background, you can hear Roland Alphonso’s “Dr. Ring-a-Ding,” so there we go again.
I understand you’ve just released a seven-inch (“No Reason For Season”) that’s an answer to the whole “Open Season” battle. Can you tell me a little about that?
First of all, I really like the idea of this feud going on. This is nothing new, Prince Buster and Derrick Morgan had that, and I-Roy and Prince Jazzbo had these fights. It’s a main thing of the Calypso tradition from Trinidad, like having these Calypso wars, where the different performers try to outsmart each other, and call each other names, and all that. So I really liked the idea when Hepcat came out with “Open Season is Closed.” When I heard that, I thought, “well, let’s do something similar, and join the whole thing,” but I didn’t do it, actually. I talked to Alex (Desert) of Hepcat about this, and he pretty much liked the idea, as well, but I didn’t do much at the time. Then, something happened between (King) Django [frontman for the Stubborn All-Stars, whose “Open Season” started it all, and Skinnerbox, who released “Hepcat Season,” an immediate reply to “Open Season is Closed”] and me, and that’s why I decided to put it out. It deals with both Alex and Django, and now I hope that they are going to respond, and do other versions. I’ve already heard that Hepcat plan to do another one. There is another version, a band called Sic & Mad [featuring members of the Slackers and Skinnerbox] from New York, and they did “Fishing Season,” I heard that yesterday in the car, that’s pretty funny, too.
What else do you have coming up?
We just recorded and mixed a new single — I think it’s going to be out pretty soon on Grover Records — it is the tune “Lord Have Mercy,” remixed. Some people might know this one from the Ska United global ska compilation on Moon Records. The other [side] is a reggae version of “In the Mood for Love,” the old tune that one might know by Lord Tanamo as “In the Mood for Ska.” That’s pretty funny, again, because we agreed upon doing a reggae version of “In the Mood for Love” for the Lord Tanamo album, but when we actually did it, when the band laid down the track, he didn’t want to sing it anymore, so we had that one left, and I decided to sing it myself, and I also voiced a DJ version for the B-side. So it’s going to be a 3-track EP that’ll be out soon. At the moment, I’m writing some new music, some new songs, that are going to be recorded in January for a third Dr. Ring-Ding & the Senior Allstars album. In between, I had this dub album, Big T’ings, which was more a solo project between the producer (HP Setter) and myself, and we used different tracks from different reggae bands, [including] Dr. Ring-Ding & the Senior Allstars, but also three other bands, so this is not a proper Dr. Ring-Ding & the Senior Allstars album.
So, apparently, there is a lot more quality material to come from these very talented musicians. That’s all the prescription anyone should need to get through the new year!