Original Uptones History

The Original Uptones formed in Tucson, Arizona, in 1980, when several members of Tucson jazz/rock fusion band, Chameleon, played a Halloween gig with other musicians, in a theme costume as a performing reggae band called the Upsetters. They had so much fun playing ska and reggae cover songs for several hundred enthusiastic dancers and an interested booking agent, that they decided to start a real band featuring original ska and reggae material, called the Uptones because there was already a band called the Upsetters, initially playing at bars near the University of Arizona with local punk and new wave bands, including The Pills, Phantom Limbs and Giant Sand Worms, and eventually headlining at major music venues in Tucson, Phoenix, New York, New Jersey, L.A., San Diego and on cross-country tour stops in Sante Fe, the 1982 World Fair in Knoxville, and Wilmington, Delaware, on their way to a summer gig as the house band at Rick's American Café on Long Beach Island, at the Jersey Shore, and then commuting to gigs in New York City, Philadelphia, Trenton, Lancaster, New Brunswick, Asbury Park, and Atlantic City for the rest of the year. 

The Original Uptones opened concerts for Peter Tosh, Steel Pulse (Tucson and Trenton), the Twinkle Brothers and others, and closed a popular Tucson nightclub (The Pawnbroker) when 1,000 Uptones fans turned out to grossly exceed the club’s legal capacity, resulting in the club losing its liquor license. The Original Uptones were also the last band to play at Tucson’s premier club concert venue, Dooley’s, just before an insurance scam arson fire tragically destroyed the historic building. The Original Uptones and their part-time horn section, called the Big Roach Horns, packed Tucson bars and dance floors by quickly developing a large, devoted, interracial following, ranging from U of A students and faculty, to old hippies and young punk rockers. They were designated "Tucson's Most Popular Band," in 1981, by the Newsreal (Arizona arts & entertainment newspaper) and have a 30 plus year living legacy in popular, Tucson, reggae band, Neon Prophet, formed by lead singer, David Dean, after the Original Uptones disbanded in 1983.

On the east coast, singer/drummer, John Sferra has been keeping the reggae beat going in New York, New Jersey, and Miami with No Discipline and the Verdict, while gifted songwriter/guitarist, Mark Wilsey, has composed 100 new songs in an acoustic jazz guitar vein with classical, country, and world music twinges for Tucson's Reno Delmar. Sax wiz, Greg Armstrong, is a studio musician in L. A. and Tucson with too many album credits to list and also performs in a variety of musical groups, including The Tucson Hard Bop Quintet, Presidio Saxophone Quartet, Cool Breeze Latin & Calypso,  the Arizona Dance Orchestra, the Tucson Jazz Orchestra, The La La New Orleans Dance Ensemble, Jazzberry Jam (dixieland band), Go for Baroque (classical chamber ensemble), and has played with famous name acts including Rosemary Clooney, Les Elgart, Benny Goodman Orchestra, Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, Debbie Reynolds, Susan Anton, The Temptations, Lou Rawls, Tommy Tune, Gerald Wilson, Albert Collins, Bobby Shew, Billy Davis Jr., Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Bono, Scott Record, Diane Schuur, Billy Taylor, Paul Horn, Dennis Rowland, Brian Traynor, Tommy Reed, Pete Escovido, Kenny Rogers, Judy Collins, Helen Ready, Tito Puente, the Platters, the Four Freshmen, the Diamonds, Bill Watrous, Robert Goulet, Ann Hampton Calloway, and others.


The Upsetters and Early Original Uptones: Moses Smith on lead vocals, vocals, and percussion, John Sferra on lead vocals, vocals, and drum kit, Wes Lawson on rhythm and lead guitars, Gerry DeMers on loud bass, Jon Browning on keyboards, and Zebo Miller on conga drums and percussion with Stefan Gordon mixing sound and Mark Wilsey added on lead guitar and vocals.

Prime Original Uptones: David Dean on lead vocals, vocals, conga drums, and percussion, John Sferra on lead vocals, vocals, and drum kit, Mark Wilsey on lead vocals, vocals, and lead guitar, Greg Armstrong on saxes, flute, and percussion, Gerry DeMers on loud bass, Wes Lawson on rhythm guitar and Dwight McKnight mixing sound.

The Big Roach Horns: Albert Woods on Trumpet, Chris Dunn on Trombone, and Brad Kohl on Saxophone.