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Wisconsin reggae band visits Iowa City

BY NINA EARNEST | JUNE 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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mp3 samples: T.U.G.G.

"Lovers Rock"

"Mexico"

He set his eyes on a Bob Marley record when he was 10-years-old. The boy spotted it on a road trip with his parents, but knew nothing about the Jamaican legend or the genre to which he belonged.

Yet Andrew Hughes has been obsessed with reggae music ever since.

“I just think there’s something really entrancing about reggae music, whether it’s about the beat or the upstroke chucks,” he said. “It’s hard to be in a bad mood when you’re listening to reggae.”

Despite his Midwestern background, Hughes eventually transferred his love of the genre into a band called T.U.G.G.

T.U.G.G. will perform at 9 p.m. on Friday at the Yacht Club. Admission is $6.

The group’s origins go back to 2001, when most of its members were just college kids at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. They picked up their reggae sound in 2003, largely inspired by bands such as Sublime.

“I remember having to sell people on our band,” Hughes said. “They didn’t know how to classify us.”

And in 2009, when they added current drummer Ben Rohde and keyboard player Joe Gantzer — Hughes said the sound clicked.

Bass player Jake McLees, one of the original members of the band, said the new dynamic had everybody working to make the best songs possible.

“[It was] just the freshness of new musicians joining the group, and everybody having the same kind of work ethic,” McLees said.

In summer 2010, the band recorded a full-length album, Come Sunrise, with Brad Ziggen of legendary Orange County band the Ziggens — which often toured with Sublime.

Ziggen said he returned to Wisconsin from California with hopes to record local groups.

He soon found T.U.G.G.

“I wanted to find the best band in La Crosse as a start,” Ziggen said. “I asked around and kept hearing their name.”

His interest in T.U.G.G. stemmed from the repeated recommendations he heard at the music store where he taught drum lessons — the band’s interest in his music was secondary.

“It was just the idea they were the better band,” Ziggen said. “It was ironic and kind of satisfying that they were familiar with my material and they would think enough of it to try to chase that.”

McLees said he hoped to work with Ziggen again shortly.

“Just experience-wise, it was nothing like anybody I’ve ever worked with,” he said. “He was definitely more knowledgeable and reactive to what we were doing, which was really cool.”

Hughes said he hoped their music could serve to bridge the gap between the influences of reggae, ska, and rock they grew up with.

“There’s hidden reggae and ska fans in everybody,” Hughes said. “But they just haven’t had the chance to be exposed to the music.”

And slowly, the band has gained recognition despite — or maybe because of — being a reggae band from Wisconsin. T.U.G.G. performed at Chicago’s Wild Hare, a famous reggae venue, before it closed after a quarter-century of business earlier this year.

Hughes said the authentic Jamaican reggae bands “did a double take” when the band came to perform.

“Luckily, we’ve been able to hold our own and win them over,” he said.


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