Generoso Fierro is a longtime friend of Boston’s music and art communities, and he’s one of the sweetest guys you will ever meet (I met him when he backed me up in the throwing-out of some slimy individual from my old house venue in Brighton, The HOSS). Gregarious as hell and longtime captain of one of the finest radio shows in this land or any other (really), Generoso should be put on your radar now!!! His magnificent radio program, Generoso’s Bovine Ska and Rocksteady (on WMBR, 88.1 FM), turns 1000 (episodes) tonight at midnight!!! We thought we should check in!!!!!
Who are you, and what is it you are involved in doing?
My name is Generoso Fierro and I, along with my wife Lily, produce a weekly early-Jamaican-music radio show on WMBR called Generoso’s Bovine Ska and Rocksteady that airs every Tuesday at midnight. The show started in 1996, and I have been producing it with Lily since 2011.
How did you get into classic ska, reggae, rocksteady, mento, and other classic Jamaica music? What fostered your obsession?
When I was 11 years old, my friend’s older brother took us to see the Specials and the English Beat at this thing called The Weekend Jam, a kind of touring compilation of new-wave bands that descended on a racetrack outside of Philadelphia, where I am originally from, for one low ticket price. Because of my sister Rosaria, I had always been a music fiend, but seeing those bands pushed me over the edge. I had first heard the Ramones on the old syndicated Dr. Demento Show (“Teenage Lobotomy,” to be exact), and that pushed me away from mainstream radio pretty quickly. After I saw the English Beat and the Specials, I went out and bought their records but noticed that some of the tracks were written by C. Campbell (Prince Buster) and D. Livingstone, who weren’t in the band, so I went to Philly Record Exchange and Drastic Plastic and found a thing or two on vinyl which pulled me closer towards early Jamaican music.
I have been a huge fan of your radio show for many many years, a decade-plus at the absolute very least at this point. How is it that you started the Bovine Ska and Rocksteady radio program?
Thanks for listening, Dan :). In the summer of 1996 my close friend Chris Hardgrove had a show on WMBR called Spiddle, Urine, Phlegm, and Blood. I came to his show a few times, and one week when he couldn’t do the show I subbed in for him, playing all of this Jamaican music that I had been listening to for years which was coming into vogue in the mid-1990s, mostly of the Ritalin-fueled “ska-core” variety. So, I thought that folks would be happy to hear where it all came from, and a bunch really liked it. I started incorporating rocksteady into my fill-ins, and eventually early reggae and mento (Jamaican calypso) too. The program director at the time heard one of my fill-ins and asked if I would consider doing radio at WMBR. During this time, I worked at a company in downtown Boston for two gentlemen who loved music as well. The job took place during third shift, and I was rarely happy with the radio that was on late night; so I proposed doing a show at midnight for all of the other third shift workers who wanted something fun to listen to during their jobs, and so that’s where I’ve been ever since.
You are also a connoisseur of film, organizing the European Short Film Festival at MIT each year, as well as being a documentary filmmaker. Can you tell me a little bit about how your interest in film overlaps with your deep love and appreciation for Jamaican music? Also, what projects are you currently involved with?
I had been friends with Eli Keszler, the drummer of a ska band I once produced called Mass Hysteria. Eli and I shared a love for film and music, especially Jamaican music, and we both idealized Nearlin “Lynn” Taitt, a Trinidadian-born guitarist who came to Jamaica in the early 1960s and who everyone credited with creating the “rocksteady” rhythm which dramatically changed/slowed the then-popular ska rhythm on the island. Lynn’s background was in calypso, so he added the “stick” guitar to the bass line and what you had was rocksteady. Eli and his friend and brilliant trombonist Andrew Fenlon set about writing music for Lynn, as we had heard that he still did session work, so we invited him down to record and do a small documentary on his life and that session. One of Andrew and Eli’s professors at New England Conservatory, the legendary third-stream pianist Ran Blake, had heard Lynn play and wanted to be involved, and we thought that it would be interesting to take these two very different musicians and have them play together to see what would happen. We were very happy with the outcome and the film did very well in the festival circuit. Most recently I produced a documentary called Always Together: Chinese Jamaicans In Reggae, about the long and storied history of the Chinese-Jamaican contribution (as producers and musicians) to the growth of reggae as a worldwide phenomenon. Making documentaries is the most involved group artistic effort I have ever done, which has a wonderful high when it all comes together but requires so much more work than individual projects that I may need to take a break for a while. http://always-together.com/
On the verge of your thousandth episode . . . what are the most significant ways that you think the show changed over the years?
When the show began back in 1996, it was very, very loose. The entire show was improvised on the spot, but in 1999 when I had the Godfather of Ska, Laurel Aitken, and the Allstonians on the show as guests, I put together a spotlight prior to the show of some of my favorite work of his, and that got a great response from listeners. Ever since then I’ve done a spotlight at the midway point of the show every week. I would also occasionally start a set with a mento cut, but it would never blend with the remainder of the set so I started producing a mento set every week after the first two sets of the show. Over the years I have had a few folks do the show with me as official co-hosts, but the only “official” co-host I have ever had is my adorable wife Lily, who originally had her own ska/reggae show on WMBR that focused on more recent artists, before we met. A mutual friend suggested that we meet and we started doing each others’ shows together until she started just doing my show at the beginning of 2012. I love her contribution to the program, her selection of tracks, and the work she does to add a great deal of history to the artist spotlight we do every week. And she’s much prettier than me, which at 1:30am on a Tuesday is an awesome thing to see on the other side of the plexiglass :). We also do a blog where we write even more about the artists and tracks we played on the show that week, as well as about rare films of the 1970s and new graphic novels; and we even make a video each week where we show you how to make a Vietnamese or Italian recipe. Do check it out: https://lilyandgeneroso4ever.wordpress.com/
At 1000 episodes old, please look into the crystal ball and tell me about the future of the institution that is your sublime radio program!
I would love to do the show forever if I could. Even after 19 years, I still get excited every time that I get behind the mic with Lily to present the audience with some of the vinyl discoveries that I have made since the last time I was on the air. The day may soon arrive where we have to leave this town, but we will always do this show as a podcast at least. We love the folks who tune in every week, and we will gladly keep that going for as long we can in whatever format we can find.