The Specials’ recording career came to a violent end when the ska-punk wizards' guitarist, Roddy “Radiation” Byers, was unable to play the haunting chords in their swansong hit Ghost Town, according to band founder Jerry Dammers.
“Ghost Town contained the dreaded diminished chord, the so-called devil’s chord, which you could supposedly get hung for playing in the Middle Ages,” Dammers tells writer Lois Wilson in the latest issue of MOJO, out now. “It had never been used in reggae as far as I know. Roddy was great, except when some of his Chuck Berry licks started wrestling with that devil’s chord. He got more and more frustrated and was smashing holes in the wall with his fist, but no way was he going to let me show him the notes in the chord.”
The initial sessions took place at Woodbine Studio in Leamington Spa in April 1981, and followed growing rifts within the group after their mercurial rise to fame less than two years earlier.
“Roddy was smashing holes in the wall with his fist.”
“[Roddy] had already smashed his guitar over my keyboards on-stage without a word of explanation, and had become abusive towards me most of the time,” recalls Dammers. “I said to everyone, ‘This can’t go on,’ but instead of backing me up Fun Boy Three [singer Terry Hall, rhythm guitarist Lynval Golding and toaster Neville Staple] walked away.”
On its release in June 1981, Ghost Town reached Number 1 in the UK singles chart, but the group split two months later after a fractious tour of North America.
Read the full interview with Dammers – in which talks about his early musical influences, The Specials, his work with the Anti-Apartheid movement and the group reuniting without him – in the May 2015 issue of MOJO (#258).
Watch The Specials in action in 1979 below...