The influential ska band he launched 35 years ago is still together, and Richard Brooks,
saxophonist, singer and heart and soul of the Scofflaws, is ready for more gigs in 2022,
including April 15 at Amityville Music Hall. Brooks, who is 65 and lives in Huntington, said his sax skills remain strong.
“I’m playing better than I ever did,” he said. “I have a better vocabulary because I’ve been in the game a long time.”
To many, Brooks is Sam the Busdriver. Early on in his school-driving days, he was rolling down Broadway near Little Plains Road in Huntington. A kid asked his name and, knowing the nickname a teen would come up with for Richard, he thought about a faux moniker. Brooks looked out the window and saw the restaurant Sam’s. Sam the Busdriver was born. Some Harborfields grads recall being the last one on the late bus, and Sam asking them to move to the front, to hear some funky music playing from the cassette player he’d installed.
Brooks was in the New Bohemians band in the mid ‘80s, playing clubs such as Chelsea’s and Sparks, the sets a mix of soul, R&B, TV show themes and a few ska songs. Fan Mike Drance recalled “a really eclectic collection of music.” He mentioned Brooks pulling him onstage one night for a stunt that saw Brooks teach an audience member how to play sax. Drance picked up the fingering and became part of the band.
There was another New Bohemians, out of Dallas, and fronted by Edie Brickell. Her business manager approached Brooks about acquiring the band name outright. Brooks listened to their demo, and did not think they’d be around for long. He got $600, and put it toward a new P.A. system. Drance would bring ska records to New Bohemians rehearsals. Ska predates reggae, with lots of horns and a relentless party vibe. Brooks had been a fan of English ska bands, such as the Specials and Madness, and the New Bohemians became the ska-focused Scofflaws in 1987.
“It was a style I thought was a little more accessible,” Brooks said. “I heard it and thought, that’s the kind of music I could play.” Robert “Bucket” Hingley, founder of Moon Ska Records, signed the Scofflaws.
“I thought they had a great live act,” he said. “Richie’s zany frontman antics–he is also like that in real life–were propped up by an immense rhythm section. The horn section was also top notch. They had a lot of talent to draw on out on the Island and they made the most of it.”
The Scofflaws’ eponymous first album came out in 1991, and they played New York Avenue in Huntington, Club Voodoo in Deer Park, The Wetlands and CBGB’s in Manhattan, and clubs around the country. A legitimate Long Island ska scene broke out in the ‘90s, including Edna’s Goldfish and Spider Nick and the Maddogs, and many credit the Scofflaws, who showed people that the horn they learned in the nerdy high school orchestra could translate to a role in a cool bar band.
“I was in high school and played sax and bass,” said Brian Diaz, who was frontman in Edna’s Goldfish. “I didn’t have a use, really, for playing sax in a band, but after seeing the Scofflaws play live at a teen night at Club Voodoo, I kind of got the bug.”
The Scofflaws did not get bigger than those ‘90s days, and Long Island’s ska scene began to thin out over time. These days, Brooks lives down the road from the former Sam’s, now a sushi place, with his girlfriend Nicole, cat Pumpkin and four tortoises. He’s a courier by day, delivering building materials, reams of paper and whatever else around Long Island. He was born in Huntington Hospital, went to Huntington High School and lives in Huntington. “I’m a real Huntington dude,” he said with a smile.
A few dozen people have been in the Scofflaws across their 35 years. Today, Brian Duggan,
Brian Kelly and Greg Bucking play guitar, John Soldo is on drums, Jared Dubin plays trombone and Ed Kern is the bassist. The first album was recently released on vinyl, and the Scofflaws are eager to play out.
get up there, I get into character and do my bit,” Brooks said. “It seems the wilder I go, the more people like it.”
He’s okay with the Scofflaws never quite breaking out beyond Long Island. “Ska has always been a niche market,” Brooks said. “I’m happy with my place in it.”
The Scofflaws will be playing with Skappository, Stop the Presses and Clover’s Curfew on April 15 at the Amityville Music Hall, 198 Broadway, Amityville. For more information, visit www.amityvillemusichall.org or call 631-397-0578.