The Mighty Mighty Bosstones - Biography
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were much more than just another band that rode the coattails of the late 90's ska revival, an odd time for popular music that led to a lucrative career for No Doubt and a brief moment in the sun for Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, and Goldfinger, among others. The Bosstones, like many of the aforementioned bands, had been in the game for many years prior to the ska explosion, and were a favorite band in their native Boston. Fusing together as many as three different playing styles (hardcore punk, ska, and metal), the band are better defined as pioneers of their sub-genre, ska-core, than as followers of a passing trend. Once that trend had passed, however, the group was noticeably worn out, and broke up in 2003, calling it a hiatus because, though they had no plans to reform, the break-up was amicable. But the Bosstones are a band so popular at home that the adoration they find in Boston is enough justification in itself for their reunion, which finally occurred in 2007 and may or may not be long-lasting.
Forming in 1985 in Boston, the band originally consisted of trombonist Tim Bridewell, singer Dickey Barret, guitarist Nate Albert, bassist Joe Gittleman, drummer Josh Dalsimer, and saxophonist Tim Burton (not the movie director), better known within the band as Johnny Vegas. Also, during one fateful gig, Ben Carr went from being the band's roadie to being their on-stage dancer after a club owner threatened to kick him out because he was not part of the band. It is a role he would maintain well into the group's career. Barret, at the time, was also playing in a hardcore band called Impact Unit, part of the straight edge punk scene. Most of the Bosstones had musical interests outside of ska, mainly in hardcore and metal, and these interests would help to transcend the band's sound from two-tone ska to ska-core.
They called themselves the Bosstones to pay homage to their hometown, but quickly changed their name after becoming aware of a Boston-area a cappella act that used it in the 50's. Refusing to jettison the name altogether, they simply added the “Mighty Mighty” before appearing on a CD compilation of other ska bands called Mash it Up in 1987. Albert had not yet finished high school, and the band actually broke up for a period so that the young guitarist could concentrate on his studies. When he finished in 1989, the Bosstones were back, drawing huge Boston crowds at their local gigs. The relatively new label, Taang! signed the band and put out their debut full-length, Devil's Night Out, in 1990.
The Bosstones embarked on their first nation-wide tour in 1991, at which point a couple of members departed from the band. Bridewell was out in favor of two new additions, Kevin Lenear (saxophone) and Dennis Brockenborough (trombone). Dalsimer went away to college in mid-tour and was replaced by Joe Sirois, a friend of Barret's through Bunker Hill Community College. It would not be the last time that the band would lose two members around the same time. 1992 saw the release of a self-titled EP (Taang!) which contained some punk versions of hard-rock songs like “Enter Sandman” and “Sweet Emotion,” great examples of the band's unique blend of metal, punk and ska, by then labeled “ska-core.” Also in 1992, they released their second full-length, More Noise and Other Disturbances (Taang!). The cover of that album and the EP featured plaid backgrounds, a trademark that had been embraced by the band and their fans, who often wore plaid to the band's concerts.
The Bosstones signed a major contract with Mercury in 1993. Ska was already on the upswing of its popularity, and many bands were starting to get noticed. Third album Don't Know How to Party (1993) was the Bosstones' first release for Mercury. Following the album, they kept getting hipper and even scored a deal with a jean company, appearing in a commercial. Ska-Core, the Devil and More (1994, Mercury) was a mini-album mostly comprised of covers which served as perfect examples of the band's musical diversity. There were songs by Minor Threat, Bob Marley, and Angry Samoans. Later that year, they put out Question the Answers (1994, Mercury), easily their best album up to that point, and proof that the Bosstones could sustain interest over the course of an album. It was also a testament to Barret's smart, oft-underrated lyric writing. Still on the rise one year later, the band landed a role in the film Clueless where they performed “Someday I Suppose” and “Where'd You Go?,” two of their best songs. In the summer of 1995, the guys played the main stage of the Lollapalooza tour.
Many people who wrote the Bosstones' music off as fluff might not have been aware of the band's political bent. They helped to put together the 1996 Safe and Sound benefit album, a reaction against the shootings that took place at two separate abortion clinics on the same street in Brookline, a Boston suburb. The Bosstones appear on the album with “The Impression That I Get,” the song that would make them stars a year later. In addition, the band plays shows for the benefit of battered women's groups and many of their shows contain information booths for Anti-Racist Action Groups.
In 1997, the group completed touring as part of the Warped Tour and went back to the recording studio. Sublime and No Doubt had made the big time, turning ska into a cultural phenomenon that would prove to be short-lived. Several also-rans like Smashmouth and Reel Big Fish were not far behind. The stage was perfectly set for Let's Face It (Mercury, 1997), the Bosstones' most radio-ready and popular album. “The Impression that I Get” remains the band's biggest song, and peaked at number one in that summer's modern rock charts. “The Rascal King” and “Royal Oil” also received airplay, and the album strolled along to platinum status, peaking at number 27 in the Billboard 200.
Live From the Middle East (1998, Mercury), a document of the band's loyal and enthusiastic hometown following, appeared the next year. After the album's release, the band went through its second personnel shakeup. Lenear gave up his saxophone position to newcomer Roman “The Showman” Fleysher. Albert, with an education to complete and an ailing family member to tend to, left the band once again. He was replaced by guitarist Lawrence Katz after the band recorded Pay Attention (2000, Island Def Jam), their studio follow-up to Let's Face It. It came out on May 2nd, and, despite ska's obvious drop-off in the charts, “So Sad to Say” was a decent hit for the band, peaking at number 11.
In 2002, the band had left Mercury in favor of independent label SideOneDummy. A Jackknife to a Swan (2002), their only release for the label, was final proof that a band like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones could never have staying power on the charts with such a specific sound. It's highest position on the album charts was 131.
One year later, the band went on an indefinite hiatus. Most of the members had other projects they wanted to focus on, and the pretty much non-stop touring schedule the band had been on since 1991 had worn on them greatly. Expectations for a Bosstones reunion were not particularly high at first, but soon enough, rumors were circulating and the band confirmed their reformation with some 2007 live shows at the Middle East. That year, they put out a compilation, Medium Rare (2007, Big Rig), and they are currently working on their official follow-up to A Jackknife to a Swan.