Way back in 1991, the men of Mephiskapheles made a deal with the devil to be the most famous band in the world.
But Satan haggled with them, and in the end, they sold their souls just to be famous in the world of ska. "We took it," says longtime trombonist Gregory Robinson. "We didn't have anything better to do."
It's been over 20 years since that fateful pact was sealed in blood. And even after a 12-year-hiatus, Mephiskapheles is bigger than ever -- which goes to show that, for all his faults, at least the devil is honest.
See also: Florida's Ten Best Ska Bands of All Time
Last year, the nine-man crew played Chicago's Riot Fest, opening for headliners Blink 182 and T.S.O.L. Later this year, the band will release a new album. And soon, Mephiskapheles will be right here in Miami at Churchill's Pub, conjuring the spirit of the dark one with hellish horn-heavy songs like "Doomsday."
The band first got together in New York City's East Village. As Greg recalls, "NYC at that time was full of awesome music. All the great jazz musicians were still hanging around. Salsa was happening, reggae, hardcore, metal, punk, a lot of cross pollination. We just kind of fed off all the different influences."
Mephiskapheles also soaked up ska soul from the Specials, the Toasters, and Fishbone. But according to Robinson, there was one outfit in particular that stood out. "The Skatalites played all the time, with the original dudes: Roland Alphonso, Tommy McCook, Lloyd Brevett, Lester Sterling. Those guys were around. You'd just go to the bar and check 'em out for five bucks. And we did that all the time."
It was a high time for ska. The third wave was in full swing, and the circus horns of bands like Reel Big Fish were all over the radio. By 1995, Mephiskapheles had put out its first album, God Bless Satan, signed a distribution deal with Moon Ska records, and gotten the "Doomsday" video on MTV.
Two years later, Greg and the crew found themselves in Detroit during Devil's Week at the metal club Harpo's, opening for Gwar.
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"The fans were throwing bottles at us," Robinson remembers. "We cut the set short by three songs, and then the promoter ran back, paid us, and told us to leave. The crowd was getting ugly, and the police wouldn't come down to that neighborhood."
In all, the men of Mephiskapheles actually spent three weeks on tour with GWAR. "The Melvins were opening for them, and they couldn't take the abuse from the fans. So they quit, and we got the call.
"That was a memorable tour, for sure. It was brutal. Getting shit thrown at us every night. But Dave Brockie, R.I.P., was one of the most dedicated people I've ever seen. Running the whole show. Rockin' out in a 100-pound suit. Managing the roadies and the slaves that filled the tanks with blood."
Throughout the mid '90s, they also played extensively with fellow ska stars like the Blue Meanies, Inspecter 7, and Less Than Jake, visiting Miami for the first time in the summer of 1995. "Florida was always great," says Robinson. "I know we played in Miami, and stayed in Miami Beach, and had fun."
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And now that Mephiskapheles is back, Greg says he and the crew are ready to do it all again. "We're lucky to have many of the original band members. We have the original drummer, original keys, original lead singer, the Nubian Nightmare, AKA Invidious. He's a big guy. We just fell back into it and picked up exactly where we left off."
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Mephiskapheles. With Fotre, Saganaki Bomb Squad, Simple Principals, Stereotype the Masses, and Stop the Presses. Presented by Idle Hands Productions. Friday, April 4, at Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets cost $12 via idlehands305.com. Ages 18 and up. Call 305-757-1807 or visit churchillspub.com.