Early On: Sound of the Sun, Axles of Evil, Wannabe Herd, Exploding Inevitables, Animals are People Too, and other band names in training
r with a wild frizz and a little kalimba. He led the bus crew in a sun-filled high vibration west African call and response number. The duo played a bagel shop in the mountains and the party van at a kayak race and busked in Boulder, Colorado, Isaac on the Djembe and Kipchoge on the acoustic. The month-long trip forever cemented their musical bond.
Fossil Fool was on the bus, too. Actually, pre-Fossil Fool, when he was still Paolo.
Fiddle Fantastic, aka Furry Murray, aka whatsisfunny? (immortalized in the song “Legalize Him” from Where the Rubber Meets the Road) played a bunch of gigs with them and became part of the ever evolving loose tight core. Then Hayes Burris came on board with bass. Isaac started playing more kit drums. The trio, sans exiled fiddler, self-produced an album in Grass Valley, CA (the aforementioned WTRMTR) that included the local hit spoken word peace poem “How Much“. They got invited to tour with bicycle the band, by bicycle, around the Puget Sound. bicycle’s manager drove a van carrying a bunch of equipment and the musicians rode their bikes loaded with instruments about 500 miles from Seattle south east north south back to Seattle over 8 days. Jeremy Fisher was also on that tour.
He had ridden his bike with his guitar and amp across Canada the previous summer and was an insta hero to the ninjas. A seed was planted. Then the band hit the wide open summer in Alaska, sharing the bill with Borrina Mapaka, the congolese singer songwriter sexy dancer maestro of all things musical. He was an instant fan of their new Dick Cheney song, and vowed to produce it when they returned to Cali, just in time for the 2004 election. Hayes felt his inner ninja calling him elsewhere after that session and headed into the night, leaving the Isaac/Kipchoge duo to pick up bass players here and there.
Isaac himself rotated in and out of the lineup as the band toured the west here and there. They toured with New Belgium Brewery’s Tour de Fat through Arizona, Colorado, and Texas, towing a 10,000 pound solar stage behind their little veggie-oil powered Millie. It was on this fateful trip, when, after getting kicked out of Carlsbad Caverns National Park and banned from every other national park in the state, the motley band found itself biking over what’s left of the Rio Grande, from El Paso into Juárez, with instruments. We got off the bikes and played a street market until 2am, got some people dancing, some drunks heckling, some singers along, even a pair of cops on beat on beat. It wasn’t the biggest show of our time, but it left a deep impression of the need for us to journey farther afield into the Mexico of our imaginations. Another seed was planted. We thought we’d do it that year, or maybe the next. That was 2003. The same year, at Kipchoge’s birthday party at the Microshack, a new friend misunderstood the words to the song “Ride to Believe” and asked if the band really planned to ride to Belize? Isaac seized on the idea. Kipchoge thought it was crazy.
In a preview of things to come, the band decided to stage and off-road, off-grid, invite-only, you’re-lucky-if-you-can-find-it, “festival”. On a Thursday night. Outside. In the winter. On State Park property. Illegally. They called it Shrimpfest and handed out little secret fliers that said “come clandestinely with Ninja intentions”. About that time a sparkling, unusual, apparently ginger cake appeared in the band fridge. It had a note that said, “Eat me.” It was signed “love, the ginger ninja”. Isaac yelled “The Ginger Ninjas!” The band ate the mystery cake and rode bikes to the river, loaded with drums and a battery powered sound system and tricked out bike lights made by fossil fool. About 30 souls braved the chill and mysterious directions and risk of arrest to attend that first shrimpfest. Some said it was the best festival they’d ever been to. Another seed planted.
The Eco Epoch
Water passed under the bridge. Then in 2006 Kipchoge went to a wedding in Hawaii. He played at a little show at Small Town Coffee in Kapa’a. Eco (sounds like “Echo”) Lopez, Uruguayan Princess, attracted to the ginger ninjas’ name, and to Kipchoge’s hot buddy Gregg, came to the show. Afterwards Kipchoge and Eco sat at a piano and made a transendent connection over a song that they had mysterio-magically each already written half of. He invited her to go on tour to Mexico and she accepted without hesitation. Back in California, they recorded a mini-album, the “Pleasant Revolution Sampler“, with Isaac drumming, Borrina bassing and again producing.
By November of 2007, we were finally ready to launch the bike ride tour to the end of Mexico (over the years Belize had lost its luster as a destination). Here’s a post from mid-ride:
“The short story is that we finally have an ass-kicking, road-worthy band, contrary to my as-recent-as-December belief that it might be completely impossible. It’s hard enough to find great musicians who have spare time for a new project, and want to work with your music, and who have the drive are sober enough to get up in the morning and practice, and who have compatible personalities day after day, and who will get in a van and hit the road, and who, once on the road, won’t choke each other over the choice of where to eat. (Most bands fail not because they suck but just because the members choke each other.) Throw in the requirement of physically capable of, freespirit foolish enough, and spiritually enthusiastic about a 5000-mile bicycle tour through Mexico carrying all instruments and sound equipment on your bike and the likelihood of gathering the tribe drops significantly, maybe even to zero. Or so I worried. As it turns out, and as Eco constantly maintained, the system isn’t linear, it’s magic.
As you may not know, this adventure we’re on was originally the outlandish idea of Isaac James, the first Ginger Ninjas drummer, spritual center, and lifetime honorary member. But for some reason I always had the feeling that he himself wouldn’t be in attendance. Sure enough, when it came time to hit the road, he had himself a beautiful little baby and went on paternity leave.
The Enoc Epic
The two drummers ¨hired¨ on day one parted ways with the tour on day 8 or so, just as we rolled into San Francisco. One, Enoc Zamora, later
became an angel for us. That left a ¨band¨ of me and Eco and Jesse Louis, the bass player of the previous couple months. (I had met Jesse on a peach farm a couple years before and planted a mexico bike music seed, which eventually sprouted.) That was on the California coast, and the music was the low part of things, Jesse unhappy without a drummer, static energy among us all. But there were other musicians around, Shake Your Peace! and Cello Joe and the mystic spirit Mazie with her fiddle and shoulder bag and wild tangle of hair, keeping the spirit of the adventure alive. Then Jesse and his girl split in LA and suddenly the Ginger Ninjas was Eco and Kipchoge again. We had just a few days playing just the two of us and they really were magic and evolutionary. We got a peek at what our duo sound on stage could be. Eco advocated for keeping it that way, after so much recent bad luck with musicians and so much fighting just to be able to hear herself and so many egos to contend with. But my vision of traveling by bike with a whole
band persisted. I had a lot of diversions in California that kept me often from being fully present with the tour, first in trying to get money for the film, then getting gigs, then finding a film maker, then negotiating with the film maker, then helping the filmmaker buy equipment, then some more showganizing, then trying to find a drummer (while we still had Jesse). I spent a lot of time on the cell phone and computer, looking foward to the freedom of throwing the phone in the Pacific when we crossed the border (no one told me the crossing wasn´t on the ocean). North of LA, on craigslist San Diego, San Francisco, LA, Portland, Sacramento, and Seattle I posted:
¨I’m on tour with my band for the next three months, through so cal and mexico. our whole band is riding bicycles. if that sounds like your idea of a good time, check out our myspace and drop a line with some samples.¨
I got a few responses, one being:
¨Hey There! I’m a drummer who is on the adventure called life and am really interested in what you guys/gals got going on here. I Just moved to san diego from Jacksonville, FL in search of a band and more importantly unique experiences. I ve been playing for 12 years now, Im 25, single, ready to travel, and play reggae rock jazz any style really. This is my myspace page: www.myspace.com/brocksmuzikpage Check it out and let me know what ya think! Peace & Thanks Brock“
He came to see us a couple nights later at a campfire gig in Laguna Beach and then we crammed all 10 of ourselves into the place he was couch surfing (a one room basement). He wanted to join but only had 400 bucks, so he decided to sell one of his drum kits. But then he decided to really join, and he sold his car, and bought a new Xtracycle. We found a hippie on craigslist who was coming from san francisco the next day driving a bus who needed gas money; he brought the custom nesting drum set that we had left in sf when the other drummers left the tour, and we had ourselves a new drummer. He´s been an incredible addition, a talented patient musician with lots of drive and hunger for adventure and a love of his newfound lifestyle. Cello Joe has been playing the low end for us, but is soon on his way home to farm with his sweetie in Santa Cruz mountains for the season. Eco has been getting more and more confident, and with every turn, more talent oozes out. A pilgrim in Talpa, wearing riding chaps and a stetson, said (in spanish) he thought he only liked norteño, but now the ginger ninjas have turned him on to rock.
We got occasional emails from Jessie and Sherilyn, always further south in Mexico, hinting from time to time that we might rejoin. But I knew it was not to be, in part because they planned to avoid Mexico City at all cost and we’ve been aiming right for its heart; but also because there was something missing in our chemistry as traveling companions.
In La Paz we ran into a fellow named Jaffe, on his own bicycle pilgramage to South America. And it turned out he was a bass player! I thought this quite a stroke of luck since it meant not having to train and/or convince a bass player to ride a bike. But it was not to be. After a ferry trip across the Sea of Cortez and a hitch south in a semi, I think he was a little overwhelmed by the group size and momentum after so much solo traveling. He got out in 2 a.m. Mazatlan as we continued south.
Then there was Caspar, a wonderful vagabond Swiss bassist who we jammed with at home and who was always hanging around, pondering coming with us before we left. We had sporadic contact with him via his girlfriend’s cell phone, always hinting that he might be up for it. Said girlfriend is a stellar trumpet player, bonus points for Caspar. But one thing that Eco and I continued to see eye to eye on was the importance of not convincing anyone to join us. If they didn’t have the fire inside for the voyage, it was bound not to work, probably sooner than later. Caspar eventually let on that he would be traveling in Mexico, maybe, and that maybe he’d see us and we left it at that.
Brock kept talking about his buddy Jared, who he played with in his old band, Aerial Tribe, claimed he was one of the best bass players in the country, but out of money and stuck, literally and figuratively, in Southern California. He had been inviting Jared to join us ever since he himself did, and I had my doubts that it would ever happen if it hadn’t yet. There comes a time when a band is sitting around talking about something and everyone gets excited about it and sets to making it happen. We got this kind of energy around calling Jared and giving him a good pitch, about breaking free of So Cal and the magic of our Mexican travels. Subtly different than convincing, as we sensed the fire and knew it just needed some fanning. Basking in the triumph of Sayulita, Brock did call and we all gave him a good piece of our mind and he said he would come. From then on, Brock talked about his date of arrival with certainty, though I continued to be skeptical that he would actually make it happen: no money, no bike, bills, car payments, So Cal swirlings, never before left the country.
So it was with great jubilee that I heard the bell ring at Chava’s mom’s house one 5 a.m. morning in Guadalajara. I knew it was Jared, and there he was, fresh with his bike (drummer Curtis’ old bike, craigslisted down from Santa Cruz) in a box and all his fresh clothes and new drybag and long, clean hair. It was the Sunday morning of our mid-day show at the Via Recreactiva, our ride with the Mayor, and our nightime show at Café La Selva. A big day, and Jared jumped right in, riding a bike for the first time in 10 years or so, the first time ever with a load. And he wanted to play, today! And he did. Many were minds were blown by his extreme technical excellence. In the coming weeks, many hearts were won by his extreme human sweetness and indefatigable enthusiasm for the life of a pleasant revolutionary.
Back to the States
Post Mexico, the crew retired to Oregon for a summer of rest and practice before heading out to the East Coast in the Fall of 2008. Some of the raveling unraveled round about Boston. Brock decided he didn’t want to be a drummer anymore, but rather a producer, and gave notice. Eco and Kipchoge, haven fallen into a magical love early on which was torn apart over the course of the Mexico tour, decided they couldn’t really keep working together either. This all went down at a anarcho-punk musician’s collective house where the band was staying in bean town. While there, a drummer kid named Dave, the host, couldn’t stop asking questions about bike touring, announcing his intention to do it himself once he graduated from Berklee School of Music in the Summer. He said he’d love to tag along with the Ninjas, even though we already had a drummer, but that he wouldn’t quit school to go on tour with any band in the world. Then we told him Brock was slipping away into the night like so many ninjas before him and that we needed a drummer for the Latin American tour coming up in December. So he quit school. Please welcome Dave Scandurra.
Some pre-ninja band names:
Sound of the Sun, Axles of Evil, Wannabe Herd, Exploding Inevitables, Animals are People Too
On the first band album, Where the Rubber Meets the Road, the band was called Kipchoge and the Ginger Ninjas. The Kipchoge part was dropped later on when the band membership seemed like it was going to be more permanent. Though that may or may not have happened, Kipchoge at least is happy to have a less personality centric band name.