Late one night after his wife and kids were asleep, Scott Aiges started strumming Tom Petty’s “Refugee” on guitar, but with a reggae lilt. A light bulb went off: Wouldn’t it be great for a band to only play reggae versions of Tom Petty songs?
No, he quickly realized, it wouldn’t be great.
But a band that only played reggae versions of the most cliché New Wave hits from the 1980s — now that was a good idea.
Thus was born Jamaican Me Breakfast Club, Aiges’ “pop rock steady” cover band.
Jamaican Me Breakfast Club recently released its self-titled debut CD. It opens with A Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran,” then recasts the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me,” Modern English’s “I Melt With You,” a-ha’s “Take On Me,” the Cars’ “Just What I Needed,” Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” and Devo’s “Whip It,” among others.
Duran Duran’s “Rio” segues into the opening guitar lick of Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny”; that lick soon downshifts from the original tempo to a far slower, reggae tempo.
Occasional cheesiness aside, they’re “quite decent songs,” Aiges said. “And good songs can translate to any style.”
Jamaican Me Breakfast Club will showcase songs from the CD, plus other Rasta-fied ‘80s hits, during an 8 p.m. set Thursday at One Eyed Jacks, ahead of the venue’s weekly ‘80s dance party. Admission is $10.
Aiges played guitar with bands in college before realizing he wasn’t destined to make his living as a musician. But he still intersected with the music industry from multiple angles.
From 1989 to 1995, he served as The Times-Picayune’s first full-time music writer. He then managed several bands, including the Continental Drifters. From 2003 to 2005, he was the city of New Orleans’ director of music business development.
For the past 11 years, he’s worked for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit that owns Jazz Fest. His duties include producing the Crescent City Blues & Barbecue Festival, the Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival and the Congo Square Rhythms Festival, as well as the foundation's free concert series.
For his 50th birthday, he bought himself a new guitar, an answer to a mid-life crisis that, he notes, “is cheaper than a Corvette.”
Noodling around on that guitar gave birth to the Jamaican Me Breakfast Club concept. Grafting the bass riff of Bob Marley’s “Natural Mystic” to the intro of “I Ran” “became the launch pad,” Aiges said. “That set the tone for everything.”
He spent a couple years assembling the band in fits and starts, building a roster around lead guitarist Steve Chyzyk. Aiges recruited veteran jazz saxophonist Derek Douget from the Jazz and Heritage Foundation staff. He’d known Rueben Williams for years as the manager of Samantha Fish, Tab Benoit, Mike Zito and other acts. But before his managerial career took off, Williams sang in a reggae band.
“He’s a great frontman,” Aiges said. “He’s a soulful singer, and he’s got the moves and the presence.”
The band’s sound improved immensely with the addition of female backing vocalists Chrishira Perrier, Kayla Jasmine and Tank & the Bangas’ Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph.
As the leader of a relatively new band, Aiges has learned new skills. Patience, for one. And tolerance, as everyone involved “has their own little quirks, myself included.”
Additionally, he’s discovered the “fine line between being persistent and a pain in the ass.”
He is the talent buyer who books bands for the Jazz and Heritage Foundation's festivals. As a bandleader, his role is reversed: He lobbies other talent buyers to book his band.
“I wouldn’t have the gumption to ask them to consider hiring us if we sucked,” he said. “I think I would be able to tell if we did. But the reaction we’re getting leads me to think we're not entirely terrible.”
The band made its debut at Gasa Gasa in summer 2016, a gig Aiges describes as a “catastrophe. But we still had lots of laughs.”
They quickly got better. That fall at Tipitina’s, they opened for another New Wave reggae band, Talking Dreads. (Aiges had originally considered that same name for his band, before settling on a mash-up of a Jamaican pun and “The Breakfast Club,” director John Hughes’ quintessential ‘80s movie.)
The improved Jamaican Me Breakfast Club opened for the Skatalites, a “real” reggae/ska band, at Tipitina’s, and scored a gig at this year's Bayou Boogaloo festival. They are nominated as best cover band for OffBeat Magazine’s upcoming Best of the Beat Awards, and their recordings are featured on Russian iTunes.
Not bad for a band initially launched as a lark. “Playing the Lusher (school) crawfish boil was the height of our ambition,” Aiges said. “But it kept getting more and more fun.”
Sometimes he “can’t believe that this is really happening. I’m grinning from ear to ear.”