Heavy Manners Credit: courtesy the artist

In the early 80s, Chicago ska group Heavy Manners were an anomaly. Ska wouldn’t completely catch on in the midwest till the genre’s successful third wave in the 90s, but Heavy Manners helped plant those seeds in the decade before. Bassist Jimi Robinson, a reggae regular who frequently served as MC at hot spot Wild Hare, discovered London’s two-tone scene while on a trip to Europe at the start of the 80s. Inspired, he began jamming with guitarist Mitch Kohlhagen on similar sounds when he returned home. Roughly half a year later, the pair connected with vocalist Kate Fagan, and the three of them placed an ad in the Reader for a drummer. Through the ad they found Frankie Hill, who formally joined on sax and brought along drummer Shel Lustig, then a WXRT DJ. Since the group made rock that sounded like reggae, they could play to different scenes, and as they could carve out their own niche, their impact on the city’s music community grew. When Heavy Manners released their 1982 LP, Politics & Pleasure (on early Chicago punk label Disturbing Records), they celebrated with a sold-out headlining show at Park West. Soon they were landing spots opening for international stars such as the Clash and Peter Tosh, who was so impressed with the group he offered to record them. Aside from their 1983 single “Say It!,” the bulk of their Tosh-produced material came out long after the band broke up via a 1996 compilation, Heavier Than Now (NoVo). But in recent years, Heavy Manners have sporadically reconvened for reunion shows, and in 2010 they dropped a taut EP titled Get Me Outta Debt (Jump Up). That same year Robinson decided to retire, and Joe Thomas joined Heavy Manners on bass. In July, Robinson passed away, and in tribute to him, tonight’s “Skanksgiving” show will include video, photos, and personal anecdotes.   v