Carbondale is filled with traditions, some famous, some that might be considered infamous. For anyone who has spent any length of time in Saluki country, there can be little doubt that one of the most well-known traditions is the abundance of enjoyable live music coming from the stages of local watering holes and wineries, to the joy of music buffs who venture out for some good times with good friends and, of course, adult beverages. Music and good times go hand-in-hand, and, during the past two decades, no other name has become more synonymous with the concept of a fun night out than the Jungle Dogs.
Though the band (bassist Eddie Chapa, saxophone player Klaus "Rock the House" Bank, trombone player Larry Daly, trumpet and keyboard player Keith Huffman, drummer John Hunter, percussionist Matt Linsin, trombone and keyboard player Jim Owens, guitarist Dan Schingel, and trumpet player and frontman D. Ward) officially retired in 2002, the Jungle Dogs have remained the face of the Carbondale party scene since 1987. Their music, an infectious mix of reggae, ska, and calypso, powered by a hard-driving rhythm and a sassy brass sound that could entice corpses into a conga line, combined with the feeling of freedom of a course completed, a mid-term finished, or a degree finally earned, to create memorable nights out for two generations of faithful fans and followers.
For several years after the group's official, life-dictated decision to disband, Carbondale stages and dance floors missed the magic that only these local legends could provide. Three years ago, however, they decided that the fans had waited long enough, and so a new tradition began-- the annual Jungle Dogs Labor Day Reunion Concert. The Jungle Dogs will take the stage of Pinch Penny Pub's beer garden Saturday, September 4. The Copper Dragon will serve as the rain location. And at this year's reunion, the band will release a new best-of CD.
From 1987 until 2002, the Jungle Dogs were as much a part of life in Carbondale as a walk across the SIU campus, cramming for finals, or a Friday or Saturday night stroll through the intoxicating nightlife of South Illinois Avenue. Nearly every weekend found the band, many of whom came proudly from the SIU School of Music, on stages, not only in Carbondale, but as far north as Rock Island and Chicago, doing what they loved (and still love)-- using music to make people happy. Those early days created memories that endure to the present, as charter band member Chapa recalls.
"Jungle Dogs goes back a long way," Chapa tells Nightlife. "We actually started around 1987. I don't know if I specifically remember the very first show we played. I do remember that our first gig was at the Hangar . I always tell people that's where we were born and bred out of. The Hangar was our stomping ground. It was always such a great band to play in; that's why we still want to get together and do it. We retired the band in 2002, and a lot of that was because some of the guys didn't want to travel as much, and we were kind of spread out, so it was a little more difficult to travel. But we always loved to play. This is a reunion as much for us as it is for the music. This is a brotherhood. All bands have their ups and downs, but with the Jungle Dogs, the concept always was 'Hey, let's put a band together that's going to be fun, be a party band, and have a good time. We wanted people to be able to come and just have fun. We wanted it to be a positive thing."
Having fun was not only the Jungle Dogs' founding credo, but it became the promise for anyone who ventured out to a venue that boasted the infectious ensemble and their one-of-a-kind blend of island sounds. The effect was instantaneous, and, over the years, created lasting memories not only for the band members, but for the scores of book-wearied students who shook off their worries and cares with some good friends and great tunes.
"One of the best compliments I ever had," Chapa recounts, "was from a guy when we played a show [up north]. The sound guy had his friend there, who was a bass player in a band. He came up to me and said, 'Dude, I just want to shake your hand. I came here tonight and I was all bummed out. My girlfriend just broke up with me. But after seeing you guys play, it was such an uplifting experience. You just really cheered me up. I just had so much fun.' That, coming from a musician, is one of the best compliments you can get. We have fun and the people who come to see us have fun. That's always been one of the key elements of the band."
Playing in Carbondale for fifteen years, most of the band members agree that another key element of the group's success and widespread appeal has been due, in large part, to the synergistic energy produced by the Jungle Dogs and the legions of SIU students that flocked to their shows during their heyday. They return to the beer garden at Pinch every Labor Day weekend, often with their teenage and twenty-something children, to introduce future generations to the music that made their college years special. It is something that the group regards with great pride.
"SIU was always a big part of it." Chapa says. "We were always really proud to say we were based out of Carbondale-- we were a Carbondale band. We formed when we were all college students. Many of us came out of the [SIU] School of Music. We always loved the fact that we came from Carbondale. We would tell everybody wherever we played, and we played in Chicago, Saint Louis, and Kansas City. Being in a college town, that very much played a part into the substance of the band. We're a party band, and Carbondale is a party town. We went hand in hand. And it's always a great compliment when people tell us, 'You were a big part of my college experience,' because college is sometimes some of the best years of your life. It's something you remember forever. A lot of people meet their spouses or mates, and it's a time of coming into your own as a grownup. If [the] Jungle Dogs can have a part of that, that's a great feeling; one of the best feelings ever."
D. Ward agrees.
"Carbondale has always had such a great, great group of musicians, constantly," Ward tells Nightlife. "My first recollection of Carbondale was of the music scene. It was a lot easier to put bands together in Carbondale. There were always really good musicians around. I knew the first time we played that it was a good band, and we were going to have a lot of fun."
The fun that has always defined the collective essence of the Jungle Dogs and their music, Ward says, is what he believes kept fans crowding into the Carbondale clubs, and what still brings them out every Labor Day weekend to renew old memories.
"I think the music is a little bit different than what people hear on any given night, that island flavor," Ward says. "It's just a happy music. It makes you feel good. It's easy to dance to. It makes you want to get up. I also think it's the fact that the band was a bigger band. It was not quite so common around Carbondale at that time. And also, the fact that us guys in the band always had such a good time-- I think people could relate to that. I think a lot of people came as much to see the band as to hear the band. I don't know if we were a great band, but we were always a pretty good band as musicians, and we were able to put together a good, clean sound."
Like Chapa, Ward also proudly embraces the effect of the college atmosphere as a key element in the Jungle Dog's success. It is an element he cites with both pride and gratitude.
"It was huge, the college influence," he says happily. "Carbondale was the perfect size, and it has the perfect scene. When we started, a lot of the clubs headlined music. There were seven or eight places on the Strip alone that had live music. It was a small enough town where you could meet musicians, because you would see each other every day. And the college atmosphere, the fact that Carbondale had a party school, that was it. It was perfect. Without that, I'm not sure we would have been as successful as we were. That party scene went a long way to help make the band a success."
When asked if only one performance or gig could be considered their most memorable, Ward hesitates to give an answer.
"Boy, it would be tough," he laughs, "to pick just one. All of those Carbondale gigs, especially those Hangar 9 gigs, were just fantastic. What a great time that was. But there is one that comes to my mind. It was the weekend that Woody Harrelson came and sat in with us at the Hangar. I think that was quite a memorable evening for me, standing there on that stage next to Woody Harrelson, who just happened to pop in. To see him walking and climbing up on that stage at the Hangar, I just had to rub my eyes because I couldn't believe it. He did a couple of tunes with us on Friday night, and we got to hang out with him a little after the show. He was just a great guy. I think if you ask anybody who was there that night, that would be a great memory. There was a packed house, and then Woody Harrelson walks in. That was just a great time."
Making fun-filled memories, whether jamming with Hollywood celebrities or energizing a crowd of penny-pinching college students, has always been the cornerstone of the magic that still has people talking about the Jungle Dogs more than twenty years after their first concert. Of course, the other cornerstone would be the music that never fails to get crowds on their feet and dancing-- that is, if they even bother to sit down. While every Jungle Dogs fan has their favorite song, Chapa tells Nightlife that the show also holds favorite moments for the band members themselves, and certain tunes are beloved parts of every set.
"As the years go by, sometimes that changes, our favorite songs to play," Chapa says. "Sometimes you get a new song off of a new CD that you like, but I think of course, 'Cold Beer' is probably what we're most known for. That's what people remember us by. That was kind of our mantra. It was one of our most successful tunes. "Tommy" is another one. Those are all favorites that people like to hear. For me, it changes through time. But I love 'Cold Beer' just because I love the reaction we get. Everybody jumps onto the dance floor and grabs a beer and they want to be a part of it. It's great."
Like the fans, the Jungle Dogs are anxious about Saturday night.
"Absolutely, we can't wait," Chapa says. "As it gets closer and closer, the buzz is going out. The guys are coming in; we're all getting together at my house the night before to play some tunes, drink some beer, grill some burgers, and have our own reunion for us members. It's going to be awesome."
Saturday night's concert will not only bring back old memories, but will also create new ones, as the band unveils a greatest hits CD.
"If you only have one Jungle Dogs' CD," Chapa urges, "this is the one to have. It's got 'Cold Beer.' It's got 'Tommy.' It's got all the songs that people remember. And there's one song that never made it onto any of our other albums, so that's kind of a neat little bonus. I think we're going to be selling them for around five bucks, so there's no reason not to get one. It's going to be a great time. We always look forward to this gig."
For more about The Jungle Dogs, visit <http://www.JungleDogs.com>.
who: Jungle Dogs
what: funk, ska, reggae, rock
where: Pinch Penny Pub Beer Garden / Copper Dragon Brewing Company
when: Saturday, September 4