By Dean Goodman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Mick Jones is turning the clock back to the '80s, the decade that saw his punk rock band the Clash become mainstream stars.
But the singer/songwriter/guitarist behind such hits as "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" and "Train in Vain" is looking past those glory days to focus on the cult band he formed after he was kicked out of the Clash in 1983.
Jones, 55, has reactivated Big Audio Dynamite, a groundbreaking fusion of his rock 'n' roll guitar and decidedly English vocal stylings with reggae bass lines and New York-influenced hip-hop beats.
B.A.D. also sampled movie dialogue in its songs, a process so innovative that no one thought to charge the band licensing fees or sue for copyright infringement. Songs such as "E=MC2" and "Medicine Show" contained snippets from old Clint Eastwood and Nicolas Roeg films.
Unfortunately, its albums did not exactly burn up the charts. While B.A.D. gained a loyal following among the cognoscenti and college kids, mainstream success was elusive. Record stores did not know what section to put the albums in, and radio stations were similarly vexed. The band, also dogged by many lineup changes, has been largely forgotten.
But Jones, true to his punk-rock outsider roots, sees the underappreciation as a positive thing.
"We remained underground and that's stood us in good stead ... We can do what like, almost, which we are," he told Reuters hours before the band's original lineup played its first American show in more than 20 years on Thursday.
As he sees it, reunited bands that peaked in the '80s are "chasing that illusion of the past," while Big Audio Dynamite's only crime was to be ahead of its time.
"WE DIDN'T FLOG A DEAD HORSE"
The band just finished a brief tour of Britain, while its American leg consists of one club show each in Los Angeles and New York bookending a 55-minute appearance at the Coachella music festival, 130 miles east of Los Angeles, on Saturday.
"We've been very good about our reformation, because we didn't flog a dead horse (by reuniting) every couple of years," Jones said. "It's just these shows and we don't even know what's gonna happen."
The band will likely return to North America in the summer, and new music is a possibility. But since the old songs will be unfamiliar to plenty of people, it's not a huge priority.
The set list draws heavily on the first two albums, 1985's "This is Big Audio Dynamite" and 1986's "No. 10, Upping St.," and the film samples are reproduced in their original glory. The latter album was co-produced and co-written by Clash bandmate Joe Strummer, who reconciled with Jones after throwing him out during the Clash' chaotic denouement. Strummer's death in 2002 killed any chances of a band reunion, though.
For better or worse the Big Audio Dynamite song that gets the most enthusiastic recognition is "Rush," their biggest hit: It was recorded by a brand new version of the band that Jones assembled in the 1990s.
Getting the original lineup back together was not a major problem, even though it split on bad terms after four albums. Jones said he had become intolerable after emerging from a life-threatening combination of chicken pox and pneumonia with a messianic complex.
They all live in the same area of London and would hang out from time to time. Jones' recent band, Carbon/Silicon, included B.A.D. bassist Leo "E-Zee Kill" Williams. Don Letts, on vocals and effects, is a filmmaker and DJ who helps oversee Clash reissue projects. The group is rounded out by keyboardist Dan Donovan and drummer Greg Roberts.
"Musically and professionally we've come a long way, but personally who knows?," Jones said with laugh.
(Editing by Jill Serjeant)