In the 80’s, while everyone was falling in love with Molly Ringwald, SoCal concertgoers got to free themselves of mundane music with the divine sounds of a band from Los Angeles called The Untouchables.
The Untouchables are from what’s known as the soul / mod revival genre. Combine the dynamic sounds of R&B, and fuse it with a good ‘ole 2Tone / Mod-Ska beat, ala Prince Buster, and BAM… you get The Untouchables. This band is from the Silverlake area of Los Angeles, and are often referred to as the UT’s. The UT’s have been touted as the first American Ska band. At a time when bands like Madness, the Specials, Bad Manners, The Bodysnatchers, The Selecter and The Beat were at the top of the proverbial genre totem pole, the UT’s were creating a culture here in the States. That’s the thing, before the Untouchables, the 80’s 2Tone / Mod-Ska movement of great music, coupled with a great community that centered around racial unity hadn’t made its way to this side of the pond. Sure, we all think about bands like No Doubt, Sublime, Save Ferris, Reel Big Fish, The Bosstones and The Interrupters; but, they all kinda’ owe their success to the talents of L.A.’s original Rude Boys, The Untouchables and Fishbone.
As for the early days of 2Tone / Mod-Ska, the Ska kids couldn’t get enough of the music and the fashion. Suits and ties, plaid skirts, black and white checkers, scooters and creepers became all the rage. Therefore, clubs played ska tunes, followed by MTV. FM radio even fell in love with these bands. Then there was a documentary film called Dance Craze; that film made everyone want to be a Rude Boy or Rude Girl. As the music Gods would have it, The Untouchables came to life in 1981. The original lineup included Jerry Miller, Kevin Long, Chuck Askerneese, Terry Ellsworth, Clyde Grime, Rob Lampron, and Herman Askerneese. Like all newly formed bands go, they played lots of gigs, and lots of parties; then they played more and more. Before they knew it, they became a very tight sounding band. In late 1982, they had a residency at the Roxy, and many say that’s where the band learned to be better than good, they became great.
Their years at the Roxy were special by any account. The vibe they brought to L.A. provided a shift in the social paradigm of the time. In that moment, music became life, and the color barriers that plagued our world were smashed as black and white fans came together from neighboring cities and counties to simply have some fun and make friends. Consequently, the band began playing at other local venues that were the staple of the SoCal music circuit. Playing other now iconic clubs from back in the day, like the Whiskey a Go Go (Hollywood), Gazzarri’s on the Sunset Strip, The Golden Bear (Huntington Beach) and Fenders Ballroom (Long Beach). These gigs were legendary, the band was electric, they were Boingo-esque with a showmanship just like Earth, Wind & Fire. Chuck Askerneese is a dynamic performer with his high-stepping dance moves, and Miller evolved into a lead vocalist with a command of the audience.
In 1985, the UT’s set the world on fire with their release of their debut album Wild Child. Songs off that album literally became an anthem for the ska community from coast-to-coast and around the world. Inasmuch as the Untouchables were a hit here in SoCal and throughout the States, they were gaining traction on a global level as they were slowly becoming international sensations, especially in the UK. It was a dream come true for the guys, as England and other places throughout the UK gave birth to the 2Tone / Mod-Ska revival. It didn’t hurt that they were being played on the World Famous KROQ. That’s at the time when the new wave and 2Tone / Mod-Ska sound was helping them earn their World Famous wings.
As a result of their success, the UT’s were even featured in the feature films, Repo Man and Surf II. Building on their success, the guys didn’t confuse motion with action; after all, not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts. Knowing the difference, the UT’s album, Wild Child was well received. Songs like “Free Yourself”, the self-entitled uber-hit “Wild Child”, “I Spy (For the F.B.I.)”, “What’s Gone Wrong” and their cover of the Paul Revere & the Raiders classic, “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”, remain crowd favorites. Over the years the UT’s followed up with their critically acclaimed album, Agent Double O Soul. Other crowd favorites include “Mandingo”, “Double O Soul”, “Whiplash”, “Lebanon” and a very cool cover of the Drifters classic, “Under the Boardwalk”.
The Untouchables definitely brought soul to the genre, but it was their sense of community and ability to commune with their fans that has kept their message alive all these years. Truthfully, some bands lose their edge over the years, and despite the lineup changes, the UT’s have maintained a high level of showmanship even after all these years. Those early shows were intense, and outrageous, which was reflective of the scene of the era. If you want to grasp just how insane and bold those early shows were, check out the compilation album, The Untouchables Live: A Decade of Dance. The live performance was recorded at The Roxy on December 22nd 1989. This album is a history lesson on why fans believe in what the UT’s have to say. For anyone who appreciates music history, and the behind-the-scenes kind of stories, there’s another very cool and noteworthy album for all music lovers to check out, try The Untouchables: Cool Beginnings Rare and Unreleased 1981 – 1983. Their catalogue has a boldness that is genius adjacent, while providing a raw emotion that transcends the power of music to the human experience.
While some artists with longevity have had moments of flux, in 2018, Miller remains at the top of his game. Today, the band is just as tight and electric as ever with Miller on lead vocals. The rest of the band includes Dave Cassell (Guitar), Mark London-Sims (Bass) and Doug Sanborn (Drums). Sadly, guitarist extraordinaire, Kevin T. Williams recently retired from live performances. Luckily, he’ll continue to record music. That’s a testament to the band as it remains an electric experience. Miller is the only remaining original member, but Chuck Askerneese joins the UT’s from time-to-time to bring his infectious moves and smile to the stage. The Untouchables proved what was once only imagined could be realized. Like their days at the Roxy, our social paradigm could use another shift back to the past so we can build on our future, and the UT’s are the cure for whatever ills are out there.
The Untouchables perform on January 26th at Gallagher’s Pub and Grill in Huntington Beach. For tickets and full show info, click here. Also be sure to check them out at the 3rd annual Like Totally ‘80s Festival, presented by Sellout Productions.