Two-Tone and Special A.K.A....

Two Tone ska logoThe British record label known as 2Tone was founded in 1979 by an Indian immigrant named Jerry Dammers, a member of The Special A.K.A.

Dammers had come to England at the age of 2, when his father, a clergyman, relocated the family. He grew up in Coventry, attended Lanchester Polytechnic as an art student, and avidly became involved in the local music scene.

The Special A.K.A. consisted of Dammers, who played organ and percussion, along with Lynval Golding on guitar and Horace Panter on bass. The band had originally been known as the Automatics (Coventry Automatics), and had begun by playing punk rock mixed with heavy reggae undertones. Mixing two completely disparate musical styles is not as odd as it might seem. The same mixture had also been pulled off by The Clash on occasion. After finding that the two types of music did not blend exactly as they had expected, the band returned to ska, finding it easier to play. One year after forming as the Automatics, they added guitarist Roddy Radiation, along with singers Terry Hall and Neville Staples. At this point they changed their name from The Automatics to the Special A.K.A. This was to avoid legal confusion with another band also called The Automatics, who had recently signed a record deal.

Two Tone ska, Walt Jabsco drawingThe big break came for the Special A.K.A. when they were offered the opening slot for The Clash's British tour. The manager for The Clash, Bernard Rhodes, took a liking to the A.K.A. and offered the band his services. Unfortunately, Dammers did not get along well with Rhodes. Taking motown as an example, he decided to start a new record label for the band's recordings. They borrowed just enough money to record one song, called "Gangsters." It included sampled sounds from Prince Buster's "Al Capone," and was written about the corrupt practices of the music industry. Dammers explains, "I never understood the lyrics although I wrote them, but I knew it was about sharks and wide boys that try and make money by pretending to run the music business."

When it came time for the flipside of the record to be made, there was no money remaining. Lynval Golding knew of guitarist Noel Davies, who had taped an instrumental at home a year earlier. Dammers got a hold of the track and overdubbed a ska rhythm guitar. The result was called 'The Selecter.'

Having a strong artistic background, Dammers designed a logo for their newly created label. Five thousand copies were pressed and the records were then distributed independently. As a result, 2 Tone records took off, and took with it The Special A.K.A.

Once released, the single became an underground hit, and their stage presence drew record executives from far and wide. Included among them was Mick Jagger. Though Dammers was firmly set against selling out, the band eventually agreed to be signed on Chrysalis records, with the condition that 2Tone wouls still exist as a sublabel of Chrysalis. Likewsie, it was to be managed by the Special A.K.A. and The Selecter, which was now an existing band formed by Davies when the single had become an instant success. By maintaining control over the label they had begun, Dammers and Davies made it possible for all of the ska bands forming in England to have their own ska label.

"I just wanted 2 Tone to be like a little club...
...And if you liked the music you became part of it."

- Jerry Dammers