The one-man powerhouse born Jeff Baker but known in musical circles as King Django is one of the most influential Americans ever in ska, full stop. In the '80s and '90s, he -- along with a handful of other figures like Rob "Bucket" Hingley of the label Moon Ska and the band the Toasters -- was responsible for bringing the originally Jamaican sound to the States. As a bandleader, Django helped accomplish that through acts like Skinnerbox and the Stubborn All-Stars, the latter of which even scored some MTV airplay for a brief blip in the late '90s.
But as the scene went underground, Django didn't let up, and his musical explorations expanded. This meant ska offshoots like rock steady and reggae, related genres like soul, and a few left-field outings into styles like klezmer.
Latter-day solo King Django shows have often leaned toward a heavy roots sound, often played for a slightly more hippieish crowd, and he's been known to crankily rebuff audience requests for early material. Still, with nearly a quarter-century of material from which to draw, anything is technically game on this current tour, which supports a live album, Brooklyn Hangover, released last year.
Here are five songs from the old-school days that he wish he would play at his gig at Propaganda coming up on June 9. Django, can you make it happen?
King Django. With Spred the Dub and the Ruins. 8 p.m. Thursday, June 9, at Propaganda, 6 S. J St., Lake Worth. Age 18 and up with ID; admission is $5. Call 561-547-7273, or visit propagandalw.com.
"Open Season," 1995
All right, there's really no reasonable expectation to expect this to be played, ever, because this particular track is forever stuck in the context of its time. The track first appeared on the Stubborn All-Stars' debut album in 1995, then notably in 1997's Give Em the Boot, the opening salvo compilation from Hellcat Records.
I just wanted to mention it because looking back, it's hilarious. Ska dudes had beefs just like rappers in which they'd channel Jamaican toasting and lightly insult each other. Yes, back then there was a big enough scene to do things like that.
This song appeared on the same Stubborn All-Stars album as "Open Season" but had a completely different feel. It's faster, full of multivocalist harmonies, and with an overall soulful feel, like a Sam Cooke song set to an offbeat rhythm. It's actually one of the sweeter songs in the Django oeuvre, so with the whole "heavy roots" vibe he's been going for in the past few years, it's unsurprisingly he pretty much never, ever plays it.
"Pick Yourself Up," 1997
This was the kind of relentlessly upbeat song that got ska as a whole mocked, though it still avoided the cheesy punk-mashup trappings. Plus, it's like an audio SSRI. How can you crap on something so positive?
"Does He Love You," 1997
Unlike the Stubborn All-Stars, with which Django stayed pretty traditional-sounding, his other band, Skinnerbox, was much more wide-ranging in taste. Skinnerbox flirted much more often with punk guitar and whatever else seemed like a good idea at the time. "Does He Love You," however, was more like a straightforward reggae love song that we could imagine Django playing today. Interestingly, this is one of the few releases he put out on Moon Ska; the rest of his records went to other indies or his own imprint, Stubborn Records.
"Tired of Struggling," 1997
This song first appeared in early versions on a couple of compilations floating around in the mid-'90s, then on the Stubborn All-Stars' 1997 record Back With a New Batch, the record that got Django the closest he would ever come to the mainstream. This was a slightly rootsier song, though, than the other tracks' danceable ditties.
With its almost dubby vibe, there was plenty of room for reinterpretation over the years. As such, it's not a crazy bet that Django might pull it out again. After all, here's a video of him playing it on the ukulele just a few years ago.