Jenny Whiskey has been playing the saxophone and singing in Ska/Punk bands for over 20 years and has garnered a reputation as one of the most accomplished and sought after sax players in the scene today. Here we were able catch up with her a little and hear about her beginnings, and what got her into her local ska/punk and skinhead scene.
Read her story below.
The very first Ska band I ever joined was called Professor Plum. It was sometime around 1996. I was 14 years old and a local band of high school kids from the neighboring town of East Brunswick New Jersey was looking for a Sax player and literally searched AOL profiles for “Ska” and “Sax” and that’s how they found me!
Before that, I was actually asked to join Catch 22 (called Gimp back then) by their trumpet player who I went to school with. My mom absolutely refused because it was all dudes that were older than me. Since I was oddly kind of a goodie goodie as a teenager, I actually listened to her and never joined. The only reason I was able to play in Professor plum was because they had a girl in the band on keyboards and they were closer to my age.
I guess my “Ska trajectory” would have been very different had I been in Catch 22, so I guess you could call it fate that I ended up in the skinhead centric scene. Or a very cruel karmic joke? You decide!
The very first time I heard Green Day’s Dookie basically blew my mind. I had never connected to music like I did to that album at that point. The metal and grunge that my older siblings were into didn’t really resonate with me like punk did, so of course, being it was the 90’s, Ska punk quickly came next.
I had already been playing Sax at that point and tinkering with guitar. But the moment I found Ska and Ska punk I was like “wait I can play in a COOL band!?!” And from then on I knew I needed to get my ass into a Ska band because that’s where I belonged.
The first local show I ever went to was a Gimp show at Club Bene on a Wednesday night when my friend Kevin started playing trumpet with them. Once I found out that this local Ska/pop punk scene existed I became a convert and tried to go to literally any local show I could get into. I “found my tribe” since almost no one I went to school with was into the same music as me. Once I joined my first band, the rest is history and it’s been a love affair between me and the Ska scene ever since.
I started playing music around age 9 or so with the flute. I had always wanted to play Sax for as long as I can remember but my parents didn’t have the money to rent me one and all the music teacher had available to lend me was a flute. So I played the flute! He told me that the fingerings were the same, so if I ever wanted to play Sax later on, it wouldn’t be hard to learn. After about 2 or so years of playing flute in concert band, my uncle had an old alto sax that needed some repairs but was still playable. So I started playing alto in jazz band and stayed on flute and piccolo for concert band. Over the years I kind of graduated to Tenor Sax and eventually it became my main instrument. After I joined Professor Plum, my dad made a HUGE investment in me and my musical path, and bought me a semi professional Yamaha tenor sax and fancy metal mouthpiece so my sound could be bolder and brighter. I still play BOTH of these today, over 20 years later. If it ain’t broke right!?
I’ve been “singing” for ever and I use quotations because I was always told by various music teachers and play directors that I had a “unique” voice (not really in a good way) and that I would never really have a “good” singing voice because I had a gravely, froggy voice as a kid. So I never really pursued it and kept It to singing in the shower. It wasn’t until playing with Hub City Stompers that I was able to find my voice because for some strange reason Travis decided to let me sing “Skinhead Boi” on the record. It was originally written by him well before I joined the band and meant to be an “album only” song featuring 3 female guest vocalists. It must be going over well because I keep getting songs to sing so I’m not complaining!
I couldn’t say I prefer singing or sax over the other. Sax has always been my first love and I’ll play until my body won’t physically allow it. But singing is so much fun, and i love experimenting with it and challenging myself. That’s why I joined Rude Boy George this year as primarily a lead singer with occasional Sax/flute. It gives me a different avenue to explore singing/front woman performance. They’re so different but I just can’t choose!!
I find the making of music videos to be such a weird process. I suppose there is a bit of “acting” involved which I’ve never been good at. But it’s definitely interesting and fun! If I could go back and do our most recent video for the song “Hard Place To Be” over again, I would have put some more emotion into it I held back a little but lesson learned. Hiromy Arinivah who danced in it is a friggen Goddess and I’m so glad she got involved in Hard Place. I steal her moves all the time since I saw her dancing at our NYC shows so it makes perfect sense that she ended up in video.
As far as being the sole female in a rough and tumble skinhead band, just so everyone is aware, I am just as gross, if not grosser than the dudes in the band. So being a woman has little to no bearing on our dynamic as a group. Even though I pulled a Stevie Nicks and got romantically involved with a band member, it’s pretty easy being in a band with all dudes. I talk about my bowels and periods with reckless abandon. I make fart jokes just like everyone else. The only difference is I have to go out to the van to put my makeup on on tour. If I were a more high maintenance broad I guess it would be an issue. But we all have mutual respect for one another which is ultimately genderless.
That being said, I gravitate towards other women musicians I meet in this scene with love and appreciation, NEVER catty competition. They’re like my sisters from another mister and I want to hug them all and make a supergroup that will conquer the world. Shout it to all my ladies killing it. (Babe Patrol, Molly Rhythm, The Scotch Bonnets, Pam from Rude Boy George, Across the Aisle, Damn Broads, The Droogettes, Moron Girls, Dani Radic, The Best of the Worst, Downtrodder and anyone else I forgot because I killed so many brain cells in my 20’s)
Since I was a teenager I’ve found myself having to explain to non scene folks that skinheads aren’t racist and I don’t think that will ever change. Unfortunately the biggest assholes tend to co-opt the subculture’s aesthetics and they’re usually the loudest and dumbest of the bunch. There will always be idiots ruining it for the rest of us and I’ve made my peace with that.
I think that sexism and homophobia is an often overlooked aspect of our scene that needs to addressed for sure. I’m not getting into specifics but there’s a lot of exclusion in various scenes around the country and it needs to stop. More girls. More LGTBQ representation is crucial. The skinhead scene can be kind of hyper masculine/Hetero-centric by default, but we need to take care not to alienate anyone outside of that demographic. Not to mention “womanhood” as a skinhead girl kind of gets steam rolled at times. You’re expected to be hard and tough, almost masculine in nature. But I’d like to see more women in the scene embracing their femininity and softness without apology, if that’s who they really are anyway. Or not. Whatever resonates with you. I guess it all boils down to being authentically you, and accepted in this scene, without apology, while still simultaneously being a skinhead, and not just a character in a Richard Allen novel.
All I can say is, wherever you are, don’t let the boneheads (or the Proud Boys for that matter) in. Racism/sexism/homophobia has no place in our scene and it shouldn’t be tolerated. It isn’t a matter of politics or “freedom of speech”. It’s a matter of not being a bigoted piece of shit. Just sayin.
Add Hub City Stompers to My Radar