Such is the case with Roddy “Radiation” Byers, longtime lead guitarist for the English 2-tone ska band The Specials and now leader of the group The Skabilly Rebels, who will perform Sunday at Cargo inside CommRow in downtown Reno.
“I may have (played Reno) in ’90s, but I can’t remember that far back or maybe in the ’80s,” Byers said Monday during a telephone interview. “It all tends to sort of get mixed up. On the road hard it’s to remember where you are sometimes.”
Known for the unique blend of ska and rockabilly guitar, Byers helped originate and define the sound that The Specials became known for in the late ’70s and ’80s with such hits as “A Message To You, Rudy” and “Rat Race.” The band’s self-titled 1979 album was produced by Elvis Costello.
The sound that defined The Specials — and now The Skabilly Rebels — was a unique marriage of Jamaican reggae and rockabilly, which was enjoying a revival at the time thanks to bands such as The Stray Cats. Throw in some occasional flings with rockabilly’s cousin from across the pond, punk rock, and you’ll see where Byers’ skabilly came from.
Though it is difficult to understand Byers’ thick British accent over the telephone, it is easy to understand why his unique sound caught on in a day when listeners needed an escape from disco but didn’t necessarily need the frantic harshness of punk rock or the mind-numbing lull of New Wave. The music of The Specials and The Skabilly Rebels is mellow yet uppity and danceable, a quality that Byers says accounts for its appeal across generations of listeners.
“It’s pretty amazing that something we did 30 years ago is still popular,” Byers said.
Those of us who were far too young to listen to The Specials in their heyday might incorrectly believe the ska sound belongs to the 1990s and bands such as No Doubt and Reel Big Fish. A YouTube video of The Specials from 1979 performing “A Message To You Rudy” clearly shows that the suits, suspenders and hats, and trombones combined with guitars came more than a decade before that.
Byers is now several decades removed from the fresh-faced kid playing guitar in that video, but he said he is still actively penning music. The Skabilly Rebels released an album called “BLUES ATTACK!” in 2009 and Byers said has quite a bit more music he’d like to record. The title track off that album has a little more rockabilly than ska in it, leading off with heavy drums, while the track “Lonesome No More” is highlighted by the trumpet and dripping guitar associated with ska.
The Skabilly Rebels’ stage shows are a combination of new material and classics that fans of The Specials expect to hear. Though the years have slipped by, Byers said that when he gets on stage he still gets the adrenaline to jump and kick and act like he did when he was a lad, even if his body pays for it later.
“A few days later I think, ‘My god I’m getting old,’ ” Byers said.
Whatever it takes, Byers and the rest of The Skabilly Rebels will perform at 8 p.m. Sunday at Cargo at CommRow in downtown Reno. Tickets cost $10 and can be purchased online at www.commrow.com.
To read more about Byers and The Skabilly Rebels, visit www.roddyradiation.com.