If you thought ska died in the ’90s, Josh Coutts, aka Jr. Ska Boss, is here to prove you wrong. The founder and co-host of Viva Ska Radio just celebrated seven years of being on-air, and the Internet station is only a fraction of his musical responsibilities. Coutts is also the proprietor of the monthly Soul Shakedown dance party and the on-hiatus Viva Ska Vegas music festival, and when he isn’t spreading the rocksteady gospel, he’s promoting punk and rock shows throughout Las Vegas. “[Ska has] just been a part of me for so long,” Coutts says. “I don’t want it to die off.”
Born in San Jose, California, Coutts grew up in punk and ska bands, one of which ending up serving as an opener for Sublime (Bradley Nowell-era Sublime, he stresses). Now 38, the punk scene booster moved to Vegas in 2003 and quickly started DJing and promoting shows.
Eventually, he landed a gig opening for English ska legends Madness—“my favorite ska band ever,” he says with a smile. From there, he was offered a show with Double Down Radio, where he stayed for nearly six years before eventually landing a spot with Radio Vegas Rocks. Coutts and co-host Joseph Guadamuz (aka Selecta’ Scream) currently spin every Tuesday from 9 p.m. to midnight.
“It’s an amazing spot,” Coutts says of his new radio digs. “This station has helped me to grow a lot more.”
Guadamuz also helps Coutts run Soul Shakedown, which celebrates soul, mod, ska and reggae and frequently pops up around town; previous locations include Jammyland, Velveteen Rabbit, Backstage Bar and Billiards and Golden Tiki, with a new spot slated for December. “We got a lot of crap for calling it Soul Shakedown when we play ska and reggae and punk, but ‘Soul Shakedown’ was a Bob Marley song and it was a reggae tune,” he says.
Those folks might not actually know that ska predates reggae, growing out of Jamaica in the ’50s by combining calypso music with American jazz and R&B. And while Coutts acknowledges that ska can have a bad reputation—skinheads tried to appropriate the genre during the 1970s—the reggae enthusiast vehemently denounces any of those associations.
“We’re here to support gay, straight, blue, green—it doesn’t matter what color you are. Music is music, people are people,” Coutts says. “We created Soul Shakedown for people of any race and sexual orientation to come out and party with us and have a good time.” The radio show, he says, is just an extension of that—“to get the word out and to get you to listen to everything from the ’50s to current ska and reggae.”
As for how he got into ska, Coutts has one person to thank. “My dad showed me The Specials and Madness, and that’s pretty much what started it,” he says. “It was a lot of early soul music that got me into everything, and I got to see The Clash and the Ramones together when I was like 7 or 8 years old. Without my dad, I wouldn’t have any of that. I thank him every day for showing me cool stuff.”