Slow Gherkin began in the summer of 1993 when AJ, Zack, Phil and I (James), all Santa Cruz High students, decided to try out a fresh and exciting style of music played by Skankin’ Pickle, Bad Manners and a few other ska bands that had played in our hometown of Santa Cruz. Zack dreamed up our nonsensical name during one of his three ceramics classes. We practiced all summer in AJ’s dad’s garage and hosted our own debut performance at Phil’s house that August. Our set consisted of “Skankin’ Weasel”, “Phil Bluetelle (Working for the Man)”, “Drunken Sailor”, and about four other songs through which we haltingly ground to the amusement of our friends.
During the ’93-’94 school year, we added Brigham Housman on trombone and pre-med UCSC student Josh “Monty” Montgomery on trumpet and began to play bar shows at the Redroom about every six weeks. These shows and the occasional party kept us pretty busy considering our inexperience, and by the summer of ’94 our chops were solid enough to warrant a recording. We recorded a 4-song EP, “Death of a Salesman”, in two days and produced and released it ourselves, ultimately celebrating it’s release at a Palookaville show on December 23. All of the sudden our audience had changed from our friends and a scattering of old drunks to six hundred kids, many of whom we didn’t know. The end of ’94 also marked the induction of “Polka” Peter Cowan (initially on accordion, then keyboard), Rob Pratt (member of local ska bands the Square Roots and the URJ) on tenor sax, and Matt Porter (another Santa Cruz High kid who AJ and I had been playing music with since 7th grade) on trumpet.
We started taking “Weekends with Gherkin”—two day trips to Southern California, Reno and Arcata. An upstart label run by members of a Sacramento ska band called Punch the Clown asked us to contribute to it’s first release, so we recorded “Thumbs Down to Generation X”, “Este Torro”, and “Meatdance” at a fancy studio in San Francisco. This is Raj…and This is Ska sold an impressive amount (though nowhere near as much as a well-produced comp sells these days), inspiring Raj Records to put out our first full length album.
We spent most of Summer ’95 polishing our eleven newest songs at AJ’s mom’s house in Bonny Doon, and then recorded them slo-o-o-o-wly, section by section, over the next six months. We came up with the title, Double Happiness, while eating at a Chinese restaurant in San Jose called BoTown.
In the Fall, I moved to Berkeley to attend school, and we decided to have me stop playing drums and just focus on vocals and lead guitar. That led to the addition of Zack “Ollie” Olsen, a music student from Cabrillo College, on drums. He played his first show December 1995 at Palookaville opening for Let’s Go Bowling. With Ollie acting as our automotive expert, we bought an orange and white van, dubbed it “The Creamsicle”, and on January 3, 1996 embarked on our first tour. Accompanied by the Janitors Against Apartheid, we made our way through Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, and up through California, landing back in Santa Cruz two weeks later, dazed but exhilarated. That May, Double Happiness came out and we spent the rest of the year supporting it around the Bay Area, plus a short, passionate summer tour with Punch the Clown that took us as far as Vancouver, BC. By January ’97 we were ready to go again, and did another two weeks of western states with the Janitors.
By that time, we felt ready for a long, coast-to-coast tour. We united with the Siren Six! from Minneapolis, and collectively booked 6 weeks (July to mid-August) of shows spanning roughly 22 states. This tour helped us to promote the re-issue of Double Happiness, which we had transferred to Asian Man Records, a new label from Los Gatos which was run by our friend Mike Park, formerly of Skankin’ Pickle. The tour went well, so we decided to try playing full-time, unhindered by work and school. We finished the year playing around California, including a two week mini-tour supporting the release of Bay Area Ska, a compilation put out by Tomato Head Records. During the Fall we were also nominated for a Bay Area Music Award (Bammie) as an “Outstanding Ska Band”. In November, Rob left the band and we took on nineteen-year old, Ross Peard, formerly of Monkey.
Our last gig of 1997 took place beneath the Town Clock at the Santa Cruz First Night Celebration. Then, after a two-week hiatus, we hit the road once again, playing across the Southern United States in a six-week endeavor. We came home on March 1, took five days off to rest up and then left again, spending four more weeks on the road, with this tour covering lots of new ground through the Mid-West and New England.
With three coast-to-coast tours under our belts, the time seemed right for a new album. We rented a rehearsal studio and practiced six hours a day, five days a week for the next two months. It was hard work, and the pressures to be creative day after day sometimes seemed too much. But we pulled through, and in June recorded 14 songs, and picked the best twelve to go on the album.
Now it’s August, and we are taking our longest vacation from the band (one month) since it started five years ago. Most of the band has left town, resting up for the fall tour in either Mexico or Hawaii. I’m stuck in summer school at the university, Ross is touring as a substitute horn player for our label-mates Unsteady, Ollie is back to playing gigs on the local jazz scene, and the Creamsicle is in the shop getting prepped for many long driving days. We’re all excited about the October release of Shed Some Skin, and a very busy fall and winter on the road.
— James Rickman, August 1998