In this ongoing series on bands and artists that have been instrumental to the ska genre, it’s only appropriate to write a story about one of its icons, Tim Armstrong. Let’s start the story at the beginning, on November 25th 1965 he was born as Timothy Ross Armstrong. He has fans from all walks of life, and countries from around the world. People know and love his soulful yet raspy voice, and the tunes are unreal. So let’s talk about the past, present and future of this living legend and what he’s done for Ska, Punk, Rock and well… music in general.
The world first got to know Armstrong in 1987. It was a time when Madness, the Specials and English Beat were still killing it, The Untouchables, Voodoo and the Bosstones were taking off. Armstrong’s first band landed with a punch in the proverbial face of the genre. That band was Operation Ivy. Despite only being in existence for two years, their musical impact paved the way for other Ska and Ska Punk bands. Their music influenced some in the hardcore scene as well, and their logo is still bad-ass and in circulation today .
Operation Ivy signed on in ’88 with Lookout Records; Lookout became the home of bands such as The Groovie Ghoulies, The Donnas & of course Greenday! But that’s another story for another day. Needless to say, the success of Operation Ivy opened the door for other Bay Area bands.
During this crazy ride, Armstrong’s influence has proven to stand the test of time. His band’s literally paved the way for Main Street USA to get into newcomers of the era such as Reel Big Fish, Big D & The Kids Table, Suicide Machines and in much later years, The Interrupters.
Subsequently, Armstrong formed another ska-punk juggernaut in Rancid. They formed in 1991 where Tim found himself reuniting with Matt Freeman and Brett Reedthen. The trio recruited Lars Frederickson and another legendary band was born.
Joining a small list in the Punk scene, Rancid has only had one band change over, which is simply incredible. Brett Reed left in 2006 and Branden Steineckert took over and has been with them ever since.
Rancid has been one of the top credited bands with reviving Punk Rock & Ska In North America. Since then bands have popped up playing Ska, Punk & Hardcore music. Best known for songs like Time Bomb, Ruby Soho, Fall Back Down, Roots Radical, and Salvation just to name a few, Rancid has been a cross-over band accepted by both the ska scene, and punk scene as well as Main Street USA.
If that’s not cartoon-crazy enough enough, Armstrong went on to form another legendary Punk/Hip-Hop super group, the band was called Transplants. Like the Beasties, this band fused elements that brought the scene to yet another level of instrumental development. Their mega-hit is “Diamonds And Guns.” That song is still a fan favorite and can be heard in a commercials and films to this day.
What makes legends is not just what they do, but what they do to inspire others. In 1997 Armstrong teamed up with Brett Gurewitz to create Hellcat Records. This was huge and remains to be a force in music especially for the Punk & Ska scene. I mean who hasn’t heard “Give ‘Em The Boot” and introduced us to The Skatalites, Hepcat, The Slackers, The Pietasters and Union 13 and so many more.
This label has released amazing bands such as Slackers, Left Alone, Aggrolites, Nekromantix, The Unseen and many more. Circling back to the The Interrupters, Armstrong has often been called an honorary member of the band. His influence and leadership has been there since day one.
This band has found huge success not just within the genre, and they are commercially viable. Their music is in films, commercials, they’ve been on late night with Kimmel…. and they’ve had had several Top-5 hits. Some of their fan favorite tunes include By My Side, A Friend Like Me, She Got Arrested, Haven’t Seen the Last of Me, Take Back the Power, She’s Keronsene, Gave You Everything and their recent Billie Eilish cover of Bad Guy.
The Armstrong influence is evident, and as a result the fourth-wave revival has landed at the feet of both Armstrong, and The Interrupters.
The umbrella affect of Armstrong and his group’s are so influential to the music community. His band Operation Ivy had a tribute about them called “Take Warning Songs Of Operation Ivy” in 1997 as well has a Rancid Tribute that came out in 2015 called “Hooligans United A Tribute To Rancid.” The variety of bands on these 2 comps truly solidified Armstrong’s world-wide appeal.
Circling back, in 2007, Armstrong released his debut solo album “A Poet’s Life.” That album included a single, “Into Action.” That single gave him world-wide critical acclaim. He was already a legend within the ska-punk community, but that song may be the moment he became the international draw he is today. Like Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of the Clash, Armstrong became a voice of the scene.
Armstrong is also a Grammy Award-Winner for his work with Jimmy Cliff and Pink. He’s also worked with Joe Walsh on his solo album Analog Man, the track is High Roller Baby.
In addition to his music, he’s also a writer, producer and actor. He’s been immortalized as a toon in an Episode of South Park, and had a much heralded dramatic role in the re-boot of The X files.
Being from the Bay Area myself, I know that many bands from the area had a taste of something great and were influenced by Operation Ivy, Rancid and some of Tim’s other band projects. Bands like Greenday, Dance Hall Crashers, AFI, Slow Gherkin, Skankin Pickle & Monkey to name a few are all bands that came out of the Bay Area. They have all cited Armstrong as having a big influence on them and their music.
“Despite everything, no one can dictate who you are to other people“
With all these accomplishment, I think being a label owner who gives opportunities to so many bands just may be his biggest contribution to the genre. His projects have gone on to influence and inspire so many to perform in music.
So what’s next for Armstrong? There’s been talk that sometime in the later part of 2020 or 2021 we may see a new Rancid album. Rumor is it’s already in the works. There will be another huge tour once the state of the Corona-nation is settled. Personally, I can’t wait to see what we have in store from Tim! He just keeps getting better and finding ways to keep Punk Rock & Ska music alive.
Keep an Eye out for more stories on the ska-punk scene in my series SKAROUND the World with Josh Coutts