Skankin’ in the Tri-State Part 6: The Pietasters on a Mutherfuckin BOAT!

…Steve Jackson and I…it’s a duet!

I don’t know where these booze cruises have been all my life, but I hate that I just finally started embarking on them this summer. It’s beer. It’s ska. It’s dancing. It’s amazing views of New York City from the East River as the sun sets. It’s great people. It’s a great show on a damn boat!

Let me start off by saying we just barely made the boat at all. Traffic into Manhattan from North Jersey is a nightmare on a Friday. Add in some construction around the Lincoln Tunnel, and we have a recipe for anxiety. A booze cruise is not like a regular show in that you can meander into the venue whenever you get there. You need to be there, on the boat, by a certain time or the boat leaves…and you are standing on the dock waving it goodbye. Last time I did this, I took the Holland and barely made it. This time I figured the Lincoln would be another option. We should have taken the advice of the drunk guys in the bar in Stanhope where I picked up my cohorts for the evening (Rob and Steve) and taken the damn ferry.

I figured we would have enough trouble catching one boat. Two boats…and we might never get home.

After several frustrating hours in traffic, discussions on everything from Michael Vick to what exactly is in all those bottles on the side of the road in Weehawken, we finally tossed the car in a garage, hopped in a cab, and made the boat with about 15 minutes to spare. My advice to you, fellow Jersians… take the ferry.

After the Slackers cruise, I was not sure what to expect. This was a slightly smaller boat. My experience growing up on a lake taught me that means we are going to feel the waves a little more. I learned after only a few minutes on the boat, still docked, that this was very true! We tipped back and forth quite a bit…all of us occasionally grabbing for railing, walls, and one another for support. No matter though. One of the many reasons I love my fellow ska folks is the attitude we all have for the show, the music, and one another. No pushing or shoving required…and a grab for stability is met with a smile and a laugh.

We were on our way shortly after eight. The Pietasters took the stage shortly after that. We had been expecting thunderstorms all day, as they had blown through earlier in the afternoon. The experts at weather.com had warned us they would be back, and the boat was prepped with pull down plastic walls on the upper deck where the band was set up…just in case. The rain never came. The heat was nice enough to stay. No one seemed to care at all. We were one on that boat. One mass of sweaty, dancing, singing, beer swigging ska kids, swaying with the wakes of the much bigger boats on the river.

I tried to take a picture at one point of several guys in the front of the deck, in front of the Pietasters, who were bracing themselves with one arm holding the ceiling, but the boat was not steady enough for me to get the shot clearly.

As is usually the case, the band was amazing. The Pietasters have been doing what they do for over two decades now. Touring and playing live shows for over 20 years is no small feat, and staying power is not a common thing among many of the bands that made a name in the third wave of ska that swept through the early 90’s. But The Pietasters…these guys have it. Their sound is diverse and fun. They have the energy, they have the fans, and they have the music that will bring us all out to any club, festival, boat, or venue that they are booked in until they just decide it’s not fun anymore. Judging by how much fun we had this past Friday, I don’t see that happening any time soon. And thank fucking goodness.

I managed to squeeze my way up to the front, behind my ever delightful friend Roy Radics (of NYC’s own  also amazing Rudie Crew) as he was called to the stage for a few songs. I can’t even imagine how the guys in the band were able to play for us as long as they did, as well as they did, and as energetically as they did. It was HOT up there! Between the lights, the crowd, the plastic walls, and the heat outside…it was a sweaty mess. And I could have cared less. I took as many pictures as I could, between fits of dancing of course.

As soon as they started in with Movin On Up, the crowd was up and upon singer Steve Jackson to scream along…”Cause’ I’m bigger than you and I’m badder than you!…” I was right up there with them. The girl next to me and I taking turns dancing and screaming. There was a girl in a pretty white dress and saddle shoes who’s dancing pretty much beat the ever loving hell out of me. It seem to be my luck that at every ska show I attend, there is always a girl dancing with me in the front who’s enthusiasm equates to flailing arms and stomping feet…usually my feet. I still have bruises from the Hub City Stompers show last weekend…

…and it doesn’t bother me in the least. We usually meet up again somewhere around the ladies room or the bar, and we laugh.

My favorite Pietasters song is and will probably always be Girl Take It Easy…and once that was going, forget it. I was staying. I danced myself silly, had a great time screaming the words right back at Steve, and by the time I wandered back to the back of the boat and the night air, I was sweating like a whore in church.

It’s nothing a little cold beer doesn’t cure. I stood on the back of the boat with Mr. Radics and my friend Rob, enjoyed the river breeze and the evening scenery as we drifted back to the docks. I was sad when it was time to get off the boat. But you know it’s not over…

Thank you to the Pietasters for an amazing show. See you in DC (or Philly?) for Skalapalooza!

Get your SKALAPALOOZA information HERE!

Black and White photography by James Walker
www.jameswalkerblog.com

The integrity of an artist…where is it going?

I just saw a notification that Tony Sly of No Use For A Name has passed away.

I love NUFAN. I have been a fan since my early 20’s when a friend loaned me their album More Betterness…which I think I still have somewhere (don’t loan me CD’s you think I might like…). It was in the CD player of my Volkswagen for an easy three months before I took it out. I think that was only to bring it in the house, where I played it again. Developing my voice as well as my mind in those years, I used to BELT out Life Size Mirror, Let It Slide, and Chasing Rainbows the most. The songs were amazing. They had lyrics I related to in my post teen angst, pre-find myself mid 20’s when I didn’t know who the hell I was or where the fuck I was going any day of the week. I still love them. Still sing at high volume when the songs come up in my iPod shuffle in traffic.

The more the news of Tony’s passing gets around, the more stories I am hearing about who he was as a person, off the stage, out of the studio. The one common sentiment that rises to the top of the chatter was what a down to earth, fan connected guy he was. My friend Brett recounted a story of a Warped Tour where he was sitting around in the grass (as we all did at the Warped Tour in our much younger days) and Tony walked by. Instead of meandering on to whatever band obligation he had, he sat down with the group and joined the conversation. Just hung out.

Not long after, Brett caught a NUFAN show in New York. Crowd surfing about (ah, youth…I remember you fondly) at the show, he found himself at the stage, and climbed up. Instead of being kicked off, Tony came at him with open arms for a hug and a “HEY DUDE!” like he remembered him. Who knows if he did. It doesn’t matter. He didn’t treat the kids who bought his records and came to his shows like one a mindless ramble who didn’t “REALLY get” what he was all about. He treated them like they were new friends he met at a picnic.

The more I meet musicians who are somewhat established (if not entirely) in their craft, the more I realize how much integrity seems to be falling by the wayside. Being a groomed writer, I consider myself a bit of an artist myself. I count many musicians as both friends and family, and I understand the creative mind better than some may think. It makes you think differently than your more practical friends, sure. Your mind colors outside the lines, so to speak. However…it doesn’t give you an excuse to be cheeky. It doesn’t give you an excuse to be aloof. It doesn’t give you an excuse to be rude. It certainly doesn’t make any of these qualities sexy or intriguing. What these qualities make you is a dick.

Like it or not, those annoying people who surround you at shows, who want your opinion on their music or world issues (whether or not you like the music or agree with the world issue). Who want to take your picture or shake your hand. Who want you to meet their girlfriend that they met at your show. Who want to interview you for small zines and blogs. Those people are the very reason you have an audience at all. Otherwise, you might still just be sitting on your bed at some girlfriend’s house playing guitar. Not headlining a tour, playing a world famous stage, or cutting an album.

I am a fan. Sometimes, it’s frustrating to be a fan.

For some artists, I am a minor fan. For some, I am a massive fan. I am always afraid to meet artists I actually admire because I am always terrified that they will be a dick to me and crack that creative pedestal I put them on. I won’t hear that love song and think “Yeah, I know just how that feels!” any more. I will hear that love song and think, “Yeah well, she probably did that to you because you’re a dick.” Is that fair? No. Probably not. But I never met a listener of my radio show or a reader of my work and didn’t think it was amazing that anyone listens to me or reads what I write. Not that I have massive amounts of either, but I can at least in some small capacity understand someone being into what you do.

Not long ago, I got to see The Slackers on a booze cruise. Wasn’t the first time I saw them, but it was the first time I was going to be on a small boat in the East River where it was likely I would bump into them, if not actually get to say hello and ask for an interview for this silly blog of mine. I was terrified to meet them. Do you know ridiculous that sounds to me in my head as I write this? But I was. Because I listen to them at least once every day of my life. I love them. My kid loves them. They write music that had been an active part of my personal soundtrack through good times and bad times.

Thankfully, the guys I did get to meet were very sweet and most accommodating to my giddy requests.

And now when I listen to them, I feel something extra in the music. For someone like me who is so fiercely emotional, music is a gateway. It’s a key. It opens something into the soul with words and melodies and feeling that is only and can only be conveyed in music. Once someone touches you with their music, it’s as if a connection has been born. It’s a very personal thing. Music is very personal. While I may not understand what drove you to write that lyric or that melody, I know how my own life is reflected in it. Like a smudged mirror. And it becomes personal to me. Dear to me. As does the artists.

I know I am not alone in this.

So these intense connections can be and often are created with the audience. This is what makes it so much more monumentally devastating when you are a dick to a fan. Aside from the fact that we spend money to hear your music, own your music, and see your shows live…we love what you do. Unless you are a reincarnated G.G Allin, we really don’t go to your shows expecting to be shit on. The one thing I can say as a frequent show goer and avid observer is that this integrity…this love and appreciation for those people who put you where you are…is failing.

In the ska and punk rock scenes, it seems to still be fairly prevalent, and that is one of a thousand reasons that I have always felt a little more at home among it’s sweaty bodies and fellow misfits. At the Slackers booze cruise show, the crowd on the dance floor was constantly losing it’s footing due to the thunderstorms outside. I loved that we would just grab onto one another and smile and laugh to hold ourselves and one another up. When people would need to get out of the crowd, it was not a push and a shove to get through. It was a hand on your back or your shoulder and a polite “sorry!” with a smile.

Even some of the rougher punk and oi shows I have been to, the pushiest and most violent pits still had guys who after shoving one another as hard as they could would throw an arm around one another and sing along with the vocals. The camaraderie of the music comes in all forms down in the crowd. But it doesn’t always translate between that crowd and the stage.

The moment you start criticizing your fans, you alienate them. The moment you are rude to a fan, you have lost them. It doesn’t make you cool to act like you don’t care, or that you are above them. Never tell them or treat them like they don’t understand you. Worse, never assume one kind of person is any more a fan of you than another kind. We helped you get where you are. You touch people. Sometimes, they just want to tell you about it because that is the best way they know of to thank you for putting those sprinkles of awesome on their lives. For giving them something so much better to dance to. For writing a song they could feel somewhere down beneath what most people see of them.

NUFAN was that band for a lot of people, and the amazing thing to hear…even in the sadness of his passing…is that Tony genuinely understood that concept. He was so incredibly good to his fans. He has passed on from our world and left behind heartbroken fans, but there is light in the darkness. People right now are talking about what an amazing guy he was. That he wrote incredible songs, yes. But he was also a tremendous soul.

People always remember a tremendous soul.

Farewell, Tony. Thank you for getting us.

SKALAPALOOZA PREVIEW: An interview with Coolie Ranx

I still remember trying to learn the words to Dub 56 by the Toasters  in my younger days. The chat version where Coolie Ranx is fast talking his way through the horns and steady drums and bass line. Aside from the fact that I loved the song and all my ridiculous dancing that went with it, it fascinated me that someone could sing that fast. A budding vocalist myself, I would use it as a tool to try and improve my diction and vocal versatility. Trying to mimic what he did. The whole time, I had absolutely no idea what in the hell he was saying…

But I loved it. It moved me. It was the song that helped to light that fire that would be my love of ska.

Fast forward a decade or so to my much more evolved love of ska music and a broader understanding for exactly how much of a talent Mr. Ranx is. His work with the Toasters kick-started him into the New York City ska scene that holds him high as a pioneer among fans like myself. After the Toasters, he went on to co-start the Pilfers. A super-fun mix of heavy metal flavor and ska bred together with vocals from Vinny Nobile and Coolie Ranx, the Pilfers were a breed all their own within the scene.

Raggacore.

I have a personal obsession with the song Climbing…

After lineup changes, disbanding, and reforming a few times, the Pilfers are back with reunion shows at this year’s SKALAPALOOZA. Shows in Washington DC, Piladelphia, and New York City with bands like The Pietasters and Spring Heeled Jack already have fans like myself buzzing with excitement. I can’t wait to see this live. Coolie Ranx himself was nice enough to give me a little bit of his time for a quick interview about where he comes from, what he is up to, and what is in store for us…

What have you been up to recently?
I have been living as a working stiff viewing life through clear eyes.

Tell me about your reunion with the Pilfers…
We have done a few reunion shows in the past couple years. What makes this series special is that we are actually on a mini-tour with (friends) bands we came up with in the business. In actuality, they are responsible for me forming the band in the first place, so shout out Pietaster Steve, SHJ…

What are the biggest changes you have seen since you started in this scene?
Well, I have seen a bit of changes in my time in the scene. When I first joined the Toasters, people danced (skanked) in a line, side by side. A definite show of unity. Now it’s more of a scramble and pockets of dances and mixtures of mosh pits. All a show of unity, but just a different form.

What really kick-started your love of this music and your involvement in it?
The love of music is a way out of hell. The conditions of the hood force you to be a few things. Criminal. Thief.

Where do you think ska music is headed now?
I think it can go as far as the imagination leads the artists to create. The key word in that is “create”. Not duplicate or copy, but create. I believe in paying tribute to the greats of Jamaica, but we can do so much more as we have lots of music to influence us now.

What have been some of the highlights of your time in this scene?
Meeting creative souls and giving me the experience of knowing other cultures besides my own, rather than form opinions based on hear-say. I was brainwashed before coming to the scene.

What do you have going on for the rest of the year? Releases? Shows?
A slot on Reel Big Fish’s new CD. It’s a combination mash-up with Reel Big Fish, Sonic Boom Six, and myself. The release of my solo raggacore CD and the release of the Pilfers final installment. We’ll see.

See you all at the Skalapalooza shows this fall! Find me and buy me a cocktail. You can get more information on the shows as well as ticket information HERE!

Skankin’ in the Tri-State Part 6 – David Hillyard from The Slackers

I think I have gone into quite a bit of detail over the course of this series about how much of a Slackers fan I am. They are my happy music, my sad music, my dance music. I can sing you Redlight, The Question, and Self Medication from beginning to end without stopping. My seven year old son is a Slackers fan thanks to my constant soundtrack of their music in my home, and has demanded that as soon as they do any kind of all ages show, that he be in the audience. When I began writing this series a couple months ago, they were a target for me to get an interview from. Seeing as they are one of the most hardworking bands in this scene I sought to dig into, this proved a little more difficult than I had thought.

I was able to chat briefly with a few of the guys on the booze cruise a few weeks back (I wrote about it here) but boats and booze and music with one of my favorite bands don’t make me the most charismatic music journalist. They make me a dancing giddy girl.

Last Sunday evening, I was lucky enough to catch the legendary Skatalites at a little blues club near my home called the Stanhope House. Playing with them were the always a good time Hub City Stompers, the Ducky Boys from Boston, and Void Union…a band I had heard of but had not been able to catch live. On stage with them was saxophonist David Hillyard from The Slackers. Amazing band, amazing music. I was an instant fan. It was a busy day and while I passed Mr. Hillyard at the club several times, I was unable to introduce myself as properly as I would have liked. I was disappointed, but you never want to be that annoying, aggressive fan/journalist either. I would rather admire my favorites from afar than ever come off as an irritation in what they do.
But, it is also why I was delighted this evening to find out that he was kind enough to take me up on an interview request despite all my missed connections. An amazing live performer and gifted musician with the Slackers, David Hillyard’s resume also includes his work with The Rocksteady Seven and The Stubborn All-Stars. He has been credited for his work on over thirty albums, and continues to add to that list. His style is very much his own, and every time I see him perform I become more and more in awe of his talents. He is also a heck of a nice guy.
As I usually do in these instances, I sent a list of questions. Very general questions so as to leave much to the subject to do with them what they feel based on their experiences. I never want to come off like I know more than they do about the subject matter. Aside from the fact that it would be painfully obvious that I don’t, it makes me feel arrogant. I would rather inquire very generally and give them the freedom to go as lightly or as deeply into the subject matter as they are comfortable. It has given me a variety of material to work with when it comes time to sit and write these pieces, and has kept them as individual as the artists themselves. In addition, it has been a substantial and incredibly enlightening education for me. I am a fan, and as such my experiences with music remain mostly encased in my heart and my mind. My understanding will never be that of the artist who creates these wonderful sounds that become this intertwined soundtrack to my life. But my love for the music led me to want to know more. It led me to write about it, which led me to seek out those who create it. It’s been the best class I ever had, and my favorite artists have become my professors.
Mr. Hillyard went above and beyond the call of duty in this capacity. 
David Hillyard:
First off, I’m not sure what to make of these questions.  I guess my main problem is that there isn’t just one definition of ‘ska.’  There also isn’t just one ‘ska’ scene. 

 If we go by the original definition of ‘ska’ as a musical style that came out of a Jamaican fusion of Jump Blues, Latin, Mento, and other stuff, it only existed between 1959 and 1967 as a popular form of music with the occasional tribute since.  

The 2-Tone era revived the Ska name but the bands were playing a mix of punk, pub Rock (ala. Ian Dury), and other rock styles of the time mixed with all the Jamaican styles that had existed from 1959 up until 1979.  So 20 years of Jamaican music right there gets condensed.  2 Tone lasted from 1979 to 1982 in its classic form and then drifted into obscurity by the mid 1980s.

The American bands sprung up because of the slowly growing popularity of 2 Tone in the states (years after it peaked in the UK) between 1982-1985 and then slowly started up mostly on the east and west coasts but eventually all over the country.  The American bands are known for playing almost any style and still connecting it to ska.  There are two basic groupings. 

The dominant style is the ‘3rd Wave movement’ which starts with Fishbone and goes from there into the Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, Mustard Plug, and literally 1,000s of other bands.  They start with British Two Tone and bring in Red Hot Chili Peppers style funk, Metallica style metal, 70’s Led Zeppelin style Arena Rock, Beastie Boys 80s style hip hop….literally throwing the kitchen sink in for good measure.  These are the guys with the checkerboards and the shorts.  The spastically fast style that is what most Americans recognize as being ska. 

There is also the ‘roots’ or ‘traditonal’ bands that go back to Jamaican music and then start adding different American influences like Jazz, RnB, Latin, 60s Rock etc etc. Bands from this style are Hepcat, Slackers, Aggrolites, Green Room Rockers, Deals Gone Bad, Bandulus, and Stubborn All-Stars.  These bands are just as eclectic in their own way as the ‘3rd wave’ bands but they tend to avoid the funk, metal, and hard core influences.  

The ‘roots’ bands tend to sound like they have at least heard a couple of Jamaican records somewhere whereas a lot of ‘3rd wave’ bands are much more influenced by Mettallica than the Skatalites.

Some bands like the Pietasters do both of the above styles. So with any definition there is a counter example.

There is also a parallel reggae-rock-dub movement coming out of Sublime that can get lumped in with Ska bands.  Bands like Long Beach Dub All-Stars, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, and Slightly Stoopid play very rocked out versions of reggae.

So you can see why for me at least, ‘ska’ has become a label that can mean almost anything and nothing at the same time.  

Labels can just hang you up sometimes, even though its a convenient shorthand when describing things.  In addition to Jamaican Ska and Reggae, I listen to all kinds of things from Blues like Howling Wolf, RnB like Roscoe Gordon, Honkin Sax guys like Big Jay McNeely, New Orleans stuff like Professor Longhair, Jazz from Sidney bechet to Lester Young to John Coltrane, Afro-Beat like Fela Kuti, Afro-Cuban stuff like Chano Pozo….I’m always listening to music…usually obsessively so.


1) Where do you think ska music is now as compared to 10, 15 or 20 years ago?
Well 20 years ago would make it 1992.  So at that time Ska was out of fashion musically and an underground scene in US, UK, Canda, Europe, and a few other scattered places around the globe.   The main difference between now and then was that the Ska scene in the United States was optimistic and felt that there was a chance to ‘break big’ and for a few bands around 15 years ago, the dream came true. 

But really, its not that different.  The Ska scene has always been centered around live shows.  That’s the meat of the scene.  The connection between the bands and the audience.  Its an underground scene in the states.  
With the Slackers, we are just lucky that we have been plugging away at it for long enough to build our own crowd.  We draw people who are into all kinds of music.  I always get told, “I’m not really into ska…but I love you guys.”  
That makes me happy cause we are beating the odds…but….
Its also sad, cause there is a lot of really good ska out there, unfortunately, there is also a lot of crap and that tends to drive people away from the genre as a whole.
2.) What are the biggest changes you have seen since you started? 
I started playing in Ska bands in 1985.  Well, the biggest changes among American bands is that nowadays most American ska bands are influenced by other American bands and not so much by anything that happens overseas.  The bands of my generation (mid80s-mid 90s) were listening to English bands of the 2 Tone Era and the Jamaican bands of original ska era in varying proportions depending on the band.  We didn’t have a huge amount of American role models back then.

 The bands that are coming up now have American bands that are more rootsy like Hepcat, Slackers, Stubborn All-Stars, or Aggrolites as role models…. Or…. they have the ‘3rd wave’ bands like Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, and Bosstones as their models.  You rarely hear any American band playing a purely Jamaican influenced or English influenced style.  Most new American bands are now filtered by the styles of other American bands that came before them.

A lot of what is called ‘ska’ now in the States is really reworkings of different eras of Reggae.  The Aggrolites pioneered this style.  They get lumped in with Ska bands but they really don’t play any ska at all, most of their music is inspired by the soul and reggae of the late 1960s – early 1970s.  That is, from a musical historian’s point of view.

This same thing happened with 2 Tone.   They took Jamaican music from 1960 to mid70s and reworked into their own bands styles and this was called ‘ska’ although originally the rhythms were called a lot of different things.

3.) What really kickstarted your love of this music and your involvement in the scene?
The thing that turned my life around was hearing the saxophone of ‘Saxa’ from the Beat.  I heard his sound.  That gauzy ethereal thing he did and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.  I wanted to play a saxophone and sound like that.  Well, 29 years later, I’m still trying.  Then I discovered Roland and Tommy of the Skatalites and then those guys introduced me to a world of music…jazz, blues, latin..its all connected.

4.) Where do you think ska music is headed now?
I don’t know.  I know with the Slackers we keep trying to improve.  We are still trying to make our ‘classic’ album.  Our statement.  That collection of songs that you just want to listen to over and over again.

Ska is going to always be misunderstood and mislabeled.  There will be people who get it and people who don’t.  Its a real deep beautiful music when you get into it.  It has this depth.   Like the blues, it can be happy and sad and really feed you when you are hungry. 
5.) What do The Slackers have going on for the rest of the summer?
We just played our NYC boat gigs. (I wrote my experience on one hereWe take it easy for most of July.  We are playing a boat gig in Boston and in DC.  Then we go to Europe to play festivals.  Mostly in the UK this time.
6.) What have been some of the highlights of your time in this scene?
Well, my general highlight has been the last 15 years of my life.  I get to play around 100 shows a year with the Slackers.  Maybe 20-30 with other bands.  This means I can do music full time.  I love performing.  It can be great playing for a big or small crowd.  After doing in the music thing for a while, I ten to see it as a marathon.  You’re gonna have your good days and your bad days, so don’t get too wrapped up in the perils of the moment, just get your eyes on target.  Focus on the music and play it to the best of your ability.  Try to give something of yourself as honestly as possible and hopefully someone else can relate to that.

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…I think that is advice everyone can live by. Most certainly, me.


THIS JUST IN! Stubborn Records 20th Anniversary shows and releases!

King Django’s legendary Stubborn Records celebrates it’s 20th Anniversary with shows and goodies and releases…oh my!
Here is the official press release…

~AJH
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New Brunswick, NJ – based Stubborn Records has been celebrating its 20th Anniversary year  with a series of new releases and concerts, bringing New York’s longest-running ska, rocksteady and reggae party, “Version City” to NJ for the first time.  The eclectic and festive party will hit the Crossroads in Garwood on Thursday, August 30th for founder King Django’s Birthday Bash.  Partygoers will enjoy live music all night with old-school rhythm’n’blues, Jamaica ska, rocksteady and reggae from King Django Band, a solo acoustic set by Obi Fernandez (of hard-touring ska band “Westbound Train”), country-swing-ragtime-rhythm’n’blues from Bad Luck Dice , the “rocksteady and roll” sounds of Pennsylvania’s The Snails, the Brooklyn rocksteady/reggae of The Frighteners and the New York Cumbia-Reggae-Hardcore sounds of Radio Armada.

Stubborn Records was founded in New York City in 1992 by international touring artist King Django and defined the sound of East Coast ska, rocksteady and reggae in the 1990’s. Django has made his name as a producer, engineer, bandleader, singer, songwriter, arranger, and instrumentalist, having worked with such bands as Rancid, The Slackers, Murphy’s Law, The Toasters and as leader of Stubborn All-Stars and Skinnerbox.  Since re-locating the label office and its Version City Studio to New Brunswick in 2000, Django has continued supporting local and international artists with CD and vinyl releases and consistently promoting  concerts in the New York/New Jersey area.

In honor of the anniversary, the label’s latest full-length release, Victor Rice’s “Dub Discoveries From Version City,” CD features 13 new dub mixes (Jamaican-style psychedelic remixes) of a selection of favorites from the Stubborn Records/Version City Studio archives.  Two new vinyl seven-inch singles (remember 45s?) have also been released in cooperation with Tokyo record label “Ska In The World.”  King Django’s “Anywhere I Roam” (backed by Brooklyn rocksteady outfit The Forthrights) is an infectious romp in a 1960s toasting style reminiscent of UK reggae hero Judge Dread and is backed with a lively ska/early-reggae version of The Clash’s “Career Opportunities” while the second 45 features two previously unreleased tracks by the late UK/Jamaica Punk-Dancehall legend Ari Up.  These three releases are available through the label’s website at www.stubbornrecords.com, while the Victor Rice album and the rest of the Stubborn catalog are available in digital formats through iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon and most other download and streaming services.

May 12 saw a packed crowd at prestigious Brooklyn venue The Knitting Factory for the Stubborn Records 20th Anniversary Party.  The King Django Band will appear at The Old Bay in New Brunswick for the first time on Saturday, Aug. 25.  Version City Party makes its official debut at The Crossroads in Garwood on August 30th and floats to Roxy and Duke’s in Dunellen on Saturday, Nov. 17 featuring the King Django Band, Hub City Stompers and Predator Dub Assassins.

For more information, you can contact Stubborn Records Here

Skankin’ In The Tri-State Part 5 – Show Reviews: The Slackers On A Damn Boat

…so to answer the question from my previous blog, it IS indeed possible to dance on a boat. Even when that boat is a rockin’ due to the very flashy thunderstorm happening over the East River that we happened to be floating around in. Not that it mattered. This was not some ordinary booze-cruise.

This was The Slackers.

I’m a Slackers fan. A big one. They are beyond a doubt one of my favorite bands. Ever. Period. I could probably sing you Redlight and Self-Medication from beginning to end without missing a word. They are in my constant iPod rotation, along with the rest of their releases. Vic Ruggiero is one of my most admired artists, both with The Slackers, and in his other collaborations and solo projects. Once this event was on my radar, I was going to get there. No matter what. It’s been a rough few months for me for a myriad of reasons. I have not been out too much…and I needed it…but I was more excited for this show than I can remember being for much of anything in a long time.

North Jersey on a Friday in the summer is hell at rush hour. It’s only worse trying to get yourself from Morris County to the Holland Tunnel. Three hours later, I was finally within some proximity of where these boats were apparently at. Not that I could find them. In a panic (no way I was missing this damn boat!), I parked my car at the first garage I found and hiked to the docks. I had the nicest garage guy ever who was in as great a mood as I was. This is probably why, in my rush, I forgot to ask him what it was going to cost me.

I met up with my friend Roy Radics of the Rudie Crew at the dock. I was not aware of this, but going to a show with Roy is like going with the mayor. He knows everyone. Or everyone knows him. Not surprising, as his and his band’s own delicious breed of NY ska is steadily getting into clubs and ears all over. Plus he is a heck of a nice guy. Which of course made this evening all the better.

I had e-mailed someone off of the Slackers website some time ago to inquire about an interview. I had e-mailed Vic. I had sent notes to twitter and FB accounts. I think I said this before, but I am annoyingly persistent when I want something.

We walked onto the boat and up the stairs to the second level, and Roy stopped to talk to someone. I walked right past Vic Ruggiero and didn’t even notice. In my defense, he was dressed as a sailor. I might have drooled a little. Thanks to a stellar introduction, I was able to pull Mr. Ruggiero’s ear for a moment or two about this blog, this series, and he gladly agreed to an interview. I am holding you to it, sir. Look! It’s in print!

We departed shortly after 8pm, and it was not long after that the Slackers hit the stage. The dance floor immediately filled, and even standing along to the side, I could not help myself but start moving. The Slackers remain one of the best live bands I have ever seen. Let alone in the ska scene itself, where they rank at the absolute top of my list. They are amazing live musicians, ready to ad lib and improvise where needed…even if just for the laugh of it. They don’t show up and play a list of studio perfect, cold and compressed tracks, void of sincerity. They show up and throw out things you don’t expect to hear, and everything you want to. They covered the Misfits. They threw out Watch This and Have The Time (which I could not help but dance around like a crazy person during).

Outside on the river, the storm kicked up at one point. Lightning streaked across the New York sky, and the boat would tip from side to side. In my head all I could see was Shelly Winters in the Poseidon Adventure. These were BIG tips! Radics and I would laugh and grab the tables (thankfully bolted to the floor) and I would look to the packed dance floor to see the crowd of people shift and grab one another for support. The dancing never stopped though. That’s dedication! (or booze…)

The band played two sets, with a fifteen or twenty minute break in between. Though I was disappointed not to hear Make Me Smile, which ranks as one of my top five favorite songs…probably ever…they did a simply fucking fantastic version of David Lee Roth’s Just a Gigolo, and an amazing cover of Sam Cooke’s Cupid, completely laced and threaded with ska flavor. I had made my way to the front prior to this when Radics was called to the stage to do what he does best on the microphone. It was a ton of fun to watch the mashing of talents, all smiles across the stage. It was like that for the whole show, the whole band. Nothing makes a show better than performers who really, honestly LOVE what they do…and it is evident across the stage at a Slackers show. I stayed up front until the end. Dancing my tush off, and singing right back.

I walked back to the now slowly diluting crowd, and was probably smiling ear to ear. I don’t think that dopey grin has left my face yet. I also found myself reminded of how different things are in this scene than others. I have been to a LOT of shows. I listen to all kinds of music, and I love the vibe and the energy of live music. But the ska scene, at least in New York and the East Coast in general is like that of a huge family. You see it in the bands. How much they support one another. They are in the crowds for one another’s shows. They are pulling each other up on stage. Smiles all around. But beyond that, it’s in the crowds. It’s in the fans. Most shows I go to, there is a lot of shoving. When someone wants to get by you in a packed club, they simply push through. It’s just the way it is. Impersonal, and cold.

Last night on this boat, I found myself on the sidelines for much of the show, in a direct line between the front door and back doors of the second level of the boat. This simply meant that there was a constant line of people coming through. There were not shoves though. When someone needed to get by, there was a hand on your back or your shoulder to let you know they were there, and an excuse me or a “sorry!” with a smile as they went through. When the boat would tip and someone would bump into you or grab at your for support, there were just smiles and laughter between us. The ska scene is different. And I love it. And I love The Slackers. They gave an amazing show. I am beyond disappointed that I am presently sitting on my couch in pajamas and not back on that boat for the second night’s festivities.

By the time I made it back to pick up my very expensively parked car (next time I will pay more attention) from a very jovial attendant (I did appreciate that) I was on my way home. Still smiling. Eagerly awaiting my interviews with this incredible band of scene pioneers. Reminded of the many reasons this music moves me, this scene helped define me, and why so much of my heart is on that dance floor.

Skankin’ In The Tri-State Part 4 – Steve Jackson from The Pietasters

Steve Jackson is one of the nicest people I have gotten to meet in this journey called life, and that is the truth. Not only did he take my months of pestering him for an interview for this series with a smile, he was also the first ever phone interview that I did on my weekly radio show. He took time out of his Super Bowl Sunday to take questions from some DJ he never met about goofy shit like where the name “Pietasters” came from and was a gracious gentleman the whole time.



Enter my friend Rob Alapick again. (keeps nosing his way into my blogs) Since he had been nice enough to set up my interview with Steve, I was excited to finally get to thank Mr. Jackson in person at Rob’s house deep in the weirds of Pennsylvania when the Pietasters were playing a show with Hub City Stompers and Rudie Crew. I made my way all the way out to his house, which quickly filled with band members, friends, and the like. Steve Jackson shook my hand and was perfectly ready and willing to embark on an interview with yours truly…but it was sound check time…and away everyone went. I took ill that night and missed the show.

This August however, that won’t be happening. The Pietasters will be taking to the high seas (or the East River) on August 10th for the Rocks Off Concert Cruise Aboard the Half Moon. Ska, booze, and boats. What could possibly be better than that? I will be there. You can buy me a cocktail.

You can be there too! Buy tickets here!

Founded in Washington DC in 1990 by Steve Jackson, The Pietasters debuted their first self-titled album on Moon Ska Records in 1993 after opening for British ska legends, Bad Manners. Following that were releases on Hellcat, Fueled By Ramen, and Indication Records. It’s wonderful to say that here we are, 20 years after that first release, and the Pietasters are still going. Still bringing people to the dance floor, still bringing their brand of ska around the country and beyond, and still gracious enough to humor this girl’s love of ska music, the local scene, and giving me an interview. I love The Pietasters. I listen to Girl Take It Easy whenever I am sad. Night Before reminds me of being 18. The whole Oolooloo album is ingrained in my soul. This was, to say the least, quite an honor for me.

Steve Jackson awesomely took some time out to answer some questions for me about the scene, the band, and where it’s all headed:

Where do you think ska music is now as compared to 10, 15 or 20  
years ago?

In my opinion, Ska is alive and well, having survived the late 90s marketing feeding frenzy that introduced the mainstream American to this form of music.

20 years ago ska was a little known sub-genre of reggae music.  The first bands I was familiar with were the Two-Tone bands from the UK such as Bad Manners, The Specials, Madness, etc.  Here on the east coast we were lucky to have The Toasters, The Bosstones, The Scofflaws, NY Citizens perform live.  Otherwise it was just DJs spinning tunes for the 25 people in DC who liked that sort of music. In DC the punk and ska scenes mixed well.  DC is a pretty small town when you get down to the local music scene so even if you didn’t like HarDCore or ska you’d still go to bar nights or shows with friends because that was all there was to do.

15 years ago was the high water mark for ska music in the mainstream. Bosstones, No Doubt, Sublime and others were selling a lot of albums to a lot of people who, five years earlier, had no idea about this strange subculture.  It was also a time when anyone with a horn or who was in marching band thought they could start a ska band.  We mix a variety of styles into our interpretation of ska, but we tried(try) to be sensitive to where the music came from and what we listened to while growing up.  While there were some successful marriages of punk and ska, there was a lot of crap music around at the time masquerading as ska.

10 years ago the ska ship had sailed.  The record labels had sucked the life out of the ska genre and their marketers had moved on to other styles of music like garage and the umpteenth coming of punk. The best part was that some good bands, the Slackers for example, had survived the successes and excesses of the late 90s.  The carnival ska bands had graduated from high school and moved on to other interests. 
I’m happy to report that there are some great new bands out there  playing their take on ska. The Snails (Philly), The Shifters (DC), The Pressure (Pitt) are but a few of the young bands playing a good version of this style of music today.

What are the biggest changes you have seen since you started?

See above!  Ha ha.  Also, the changes the music industry has seen are pretty amazing.  When we started playing, people would mail cassette mixes to each other.  I had to wait for a month for some fanzine in CA to send me a hand labelled cassette with Hepcat on it.  That is probably the biggest change. But some things remain the same. We still play with local bands who rock out covers of Little Bitch or Skinhead Girl. Timeless songs!

What has been the highlight of your time with the Pietasters?

Getting to play with so many bands that we grew up with, looked up to would have to be the highlight for me.  From The Bosstones, to Joe Strummer, to James Brown, to Ice T, Reverend Horton Heat, Bouncing Souls, Ramones, Chuck Brown, Dave Grohl, Henry Rollins, Skatalites, Toots and the Maytals, Symarip, The Business, and on and on.

Where do you think ska music is headed now?

I don’t know.  It’ll be interesting to see how the next wave of  
musicians interpret this style of music.  From the beginning, ska was about sharing ideas and pieces of songs. It has always been  
evolving. And even though it’s got that damn guitar upbeat it’s  
amazing how different the various waves and bands sound.

What do the pietasters have going on for the summer?

We just got back from playing a bunch of beach shows.  That’s always a nice part of summer touring.  We’re looking forward to playing a fest in NC with The CroMags (Age of Quarrel is a perfect album!), then we head to British Columbia for the Victoria Ska Fest.  We do our annual NYC Boat cruise on Aug 10 (see you there).  We’ve got a pretty busy summer.  Mixed in with all of these fun shows we’re working on some recording.  It’s fantastic how much the cost of recording has come down.  So, look forward to some pie-songs in the near future.

See me there, you will, Mr. Jackson. I will be on the boat with my dancing shoes on. Wait…can you dance on a boat?

Of course you can.

Tickets for the NYC Cruise HERE

More information on Victoria Ska Fest HERE

More PIETASTERS goodness HERE

Skankin’ In The Tri State Part 3 – Bucket from The Toasters

The Toasters have a special place in my heart. Many nights in the summer days of my late teens were spent flying around with the windows down and Dub 56 blaring from the speakers (…before you ask, purists…BOTH versions). They were partially responsible for pulling me into the wonderful world of third-wave ska  in the NY scene in the first place. Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down has been one of my unofficial theme songs on an average weekday at work for many years. It’s also played quite often in my house, and is one of the most dancable songs I know with it’s infectious beat. They are East Coast ska scene pioneers and have influenced and help launch a mastery of other bands in their wake. 


Robert Hingley, better and most affectionately known as Bucket to most of us, started the band in New York in 1981 while working at a comic book store. That was long before the ska sound had caught on here in the states the way it has today. The band released albums through the end of the nineties, into the new millennium and continues to tour and play shows to this day, though Bucket remains the only original member. Still, that is a 30 year ska career. Pretty freaking incredible for any musician…let alone a genre of music that is not exactly acknowledged by the mainstream.


He was also the mastermind behind the legendary Moon Ska Records up to 2000 when it disbanded after well over a million and a half copies from The Toasters and other amazing artists in the scene. In 2002, he launched Megalith Records which continues to put out recordings from bands such as the Hub City Stompers, Rudie Crew, Los Skarnales, Victor Rice, and Deals Gone Bad…just to name a few. There are a LOT. It’s one thing to be a musician. It’s something else entirely to help launch other bands who aspire to walk the roads you have. To call Bucket a legend in the scene is not credit enough for what he has done and what his music has meant to so many people who call the weird and wonderful world of ska music “home”.





Bucket was nice enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for the series:




1) What attracted you to this music and this scene in the first place?


I bought my first Ska record in 1964 when I returned to the UK from Africa. That was My Boy Lollipop by Millie Small. I still have that 7″. It’s as thick as a dinner plate. In England in the late sixties there was a ton of Ska music on the charts and in the discos. From there it was an easy progression through the trojan Explosion to 2-tone. That’s what really got me hooked.

2) Who have been your most prominent influences?


Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly——

3) What is your best memory from being a part of the NYC Ska Scene?

Probably putting out the NY Beat compilation in 1986. That was a time when all the bands worked together towards a common goal. We could use some more of that now…


4) What are you working on now? Shows in the works? Music coming out?

Touring in Europe, Australia, China, Japan. Fall and winter tours in the USA. Next year Mexico, Brazil, Russia/Siberia, lots of gigs. As far as music is concerned we are tracking a new 7 inch in Boston next week. 

5) Where do you see the ska scene in NY headed as we move on from 2012? 

Not in a very good direction. There isn’t a regular gig since the Knitting Factory closed. The bands need to get together and make something happen in Manhattan as the Brooklyn-centric scene just isn’t cutting it.


6) What are you most looking forward to in the coming months?


Going to Australia. It’s the only continent that I haven’t been to. I probably won’t want to come back. I am also working on a beer festival BREWDOWN with Kevin Lyman. That is going to be a lot of fun.




It;s always fascinating to me to hear from an artist what they think about the scene that they helped to create and define as to where it is headed. It’s why it remains a consistent question as I request (pester) folks for interviews and write these pieces on this scene. Ska music has grown and evolved quite a bit in the last 50 years, and each location within the music itself has created it’s own sound…it’s own vibe…it’s own separate definition of ska music. Be it fused with other genres…a punk rock sound, a dancehall sound, rocksteady, straight reggae. It is all like a wonderful recipe that brings us to the clubs, to the dance floors. You can hear NY Ska in the Toasters. Buckets voice is a beacon to the scene. To hear Bucket himself say that the scene needs to come together, dammit…we NEED to come together!


If the younger bands in the tri-state area have anything to do with it, I think Bucket will be damn proud. 


I would be happy for another 30 years of Toasters shows. I will still be dragging my tush to the floor. I will still be singing along with I Wasn’t Going To Call You Anyway in my car as I sit in North Jersey traffic, dreaming of better times had at a ska show. The scene needs more like the Toasters. The industry needs more like Bucket.


Skankin’ in the Tri-State Part 2 – Roy Radics from The Rudie Crew

A few months back, my friend and show promoter Rob Alapick dragged me out of my apartment to a show at the Stanhope House. It was down the street from me, and he promised me The Toasters. Even in my weepy state, I figured that was just what I needed to cheer me up. I ran into some good friends (pretty standard for a ska show) and was sitting around hunched over my diet coke licking my wounds, when out of the corner of the club I heard them hit the stage. Who in the world is this and why have I not heard them?! My feet were immediately tapping all over the floor. I forgot I was cranky.

Rob informed me…this is The Rudie Crew. (to his credit, he had told me I would like them…)
I was blown away! The bass lines and the horns grab you immediately, but then in comes the vocals with this fresh dancehall sound, and you are hooked. I was hooked. This is great, tight, danceable ska. This is summer nights in sweaty clubs, ants in your pants on the dance floor, fast-talking ska flavor. THIS is the sound that has been missing! If you can catch Rudie Crew live, and you can manage to stand there and not dance, I don’t know what to do with you and you are probably lacking a soul. This is the music that grabs you by your soul and drags you to the floor. It’s exciting, vibrant, beat-heavy, brassy ska with an authentic and warm reggae flavor. It’s funky and energized, but soulful and grooving. But the thing that caught me the most was that they have a sound all their own underneath all those essential ska/reggae components.

This is not a ragtag bunch of thrown together characters either. The Rudie Crew is comprised of professional musicians from across oceans and scenes. They have seen years and many a lineup change since their 2003 debut, Invasion. Seems to me they found the perfect formula now. El Husey brings the tenor sax and vocals, and Dan Dulin with trumpet and vocals. Both started this train in ska fusion pioneers Skinnerbox.  Add in Chris Malone on trombone and vocals, Phil Wartell on that grooving bass, BeatBlast rocking drums, Dean Wartell handling keys, and Dave Parsons on guitar. Singer Roy Radics brings a JA/UK flavor to ice the top of the whole production. What you end up with is a tight ska sound with dancehall flavor and reggae groove. The Rudie Crew is it’s own sound, it’s own vibe, it’s own taste of this scene…and it’s not only fun on the floor. It’s intelligent and exciting in your ears. It’s impossible to listen to and sit still. Try it. I dare you.



2011’s release This Is Skragga! Is a perfect example of this unique take on a familiar sound. “Propaganda” opens it up, and throws you in, full force. See if you are not singing along on your second listen through…”Propaganda Propaganda…!” The brass is clean and funky, and I love the guitar work and the bass lines. My favorite track is “Pretty Girl”. It’s in my headphones right now, and I am not hiding the fact that I would rather be dancing than sitting at this desk. Hear this live? Forget it. This is why I go to ska shows. This feeling. This groove. A sound that gets inside and lights you up, makes your legs and your hips move. The Rudie Crew nails it, and I am left aching for a show.


I was able to catch up with singer and heck of a nice guy, Roy Radics, for an interview and got to delve into what the band was up to as well as the story behind his own unique style. I don’t review or chase down anyone for an interview that I don’t genuinely like anyway, but I was really excited to do a profile on these guys! I am fascinated with this sound, and Radics was happy to let me grab him for a few questions.

What attracted you to this music and this scene in the first place?

As a child growing up in the UK from a Caribbean heritage, I always loved music and my brothers used to play a lot of original ska and reggae along with other genres…but it’s the feel of ska and reggae that grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, and I never looked back. What fueled the fire was we used to go to these parties that my uncle would throw and he had the best record collection. Prince Buster, John Holt to Stax and R&B and Reggae… So I would often sit on the stairs waiting for the ska and reggae to drop so I could nod my head feel the vibration. Later it got to a point where I would imitate the singers, especially the MCs. Then the Two Tone scene hit and I was smitten and could relate. I could really appreciate the hard edge punky style mixed with the Ska & Reggae. I often used to think they brought it out especially for me. 
To cut a long story short, I started listening to a lot of Two-Tone and original ska and reggae, and began writing my own stuff and practicing my early MC style from the dancehall era of Super Cat, Early B and many more (I could list all but it would be pages long) to cap it off the local sound systems like Saxon Sound, Unity and Sir Coxsone steered towards us English youth, chatting our own unique style and interweaving it with a faststyle chat. Finally I came to New York and started following Moon records, The Toasters etc and met up with El from the Rudie Crew at Wetlands. We talked and clicked, next minute I was the MC for a song or two before taking over and becoming the Lead singer and MC …..my respect will always go out to El Husey ,Dan Dulin and Buck from the Toasters who always believed in me….. 

What are you working on now? Shows in the works? Music coming out?

Well last year we finished our brand new album “This is Skragga” for Megalith Records which we are heavily promoting, and trying to venture out on Mini Tours so everyone can hear our unique style. We are writing and putting together ideas as we speak for new material so by next year we can come with yet another new album (hopefully). Now and again I work with P-dub on solo stuff so that’s all been happening. This weekend we are honored to be part of King Django’s Stubborn Records label celebrates its 20th anniversary show at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. We are so happy to be there as good friends playing on this night (not to be missed) And we have a special guest playing with us on this night so don’t miss it! Other than that, we plan on taking the road again in September, but I don’t have specifics as yet. 

 Where do you see the ska scene in NY headed as we move on from 2012?

I think it’s healthy right now and shows promise of rising up from the ashes, as it’s always threatened. The Brooklyn scene is really growing and as I don’t have a ska crystal ball one can only predict healthy things, and let’s keep this growing and getting stronger !!!!  

What are you most looking forward to in the coming months?

Booking shows, going on the road, taking a little break,  …but really it’s all about writing new material and doing shows so we can spread the word that the Rudites are coming ….That’s our internal alias…The Rudites …… 

Count me in as part of the Rudites faithful, Mr. Radics. I am hooked, and I will be there as they dance all over this scene and yours this summer. Roy Radics may not have a ska crystal ball, but I can tell you as a fan that only good will come of this sound and this vibe.The ska scene IS healthy, and it is busting it’s way back up from the underground. The Rudie Crew might very well be manning the jackhammer… 


You can catch The Rudie Crew at the Stubborn Records 20th Anniversary show at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, this Saturday May 12th. Trust me, you will not be disappointed. That is a promise!


More info about the show HERE:

Get your tickets to the show HERE:

~AJH

Skankin’ in the Tri-State Part 1…King Django…

…hunting season is now open…and all DJ’s are fair game…


Can I tell you how many times we used to crank The Stubborn All-Star’s “Open Season” in my younger days? I first heard it on a “Give Em’ The Boot” compilation I think I found at Hot Topic, somewhere in the 90’s. The 90’s are a blur. I still find myself quoting it, playing it regularly on my radio show (it often opens my show, because how appropriate is that?), and probably annoying the ever loving HELL out of the people who live above where we presently broadcast from in Stroudsburg, PA with my obnoxious, loud singing and dancing. Of course I do this song no justice. The Stubborn All-Stars were led by none other than King Django. I have been chasing this gentleman for weeks. I can be really annoying when I want something, and he finally gave in.


When it came time for me to launch my summer ska series on my radio show and my blog, I wanted to focus on the NYC scene…which of course branches into New Jersey and Pennsylvania, because who the fuck can still afford to live in the city? Besides…Jersey has taylor ham. New York and it’s scene has a particular vibe to it. The music that came out of it, and continues to come out of it, is a breed all it’s own in it’s flavor and it’s energy, and the ska and reggae scene is no exception. But anyone who knows this area knows it bleeds into Jersey via bridges, tunnels, and speakers, and Jersey is where I call home. Head on South a bit, and you land in New Brunswick. Rutgers, fat-cats, and King Django’s Version City Studios. It’s a magical land of ska, reggae, rocksteady, and the like expertly threaded together by King Django himself, also the home of his own legendary Stubborn Records.


It’s an honor for me to include anyone in this series who did as much for the scene as Django has, and continues to do. He is a pioneer in the NewYork ska scene going back to the 80’s. Whether it is his own projects, as a contributor, or helping to record and produce fellow musicians in the scene, he continues to put his stamp on the music that still brings people to the sweaty dance floor to this day. It’s also an honor to be able to profile someone who’s music was and continues to be in my own ears as much as his has. Be it with Stubborn All-Stars or Skinnerbox. Plus the countless artists who’s work he was a contributor to…Murphy’s Law, The Slackers, The Toasters, and Rancid, just to name a few.


Look at this crazy discography!


Next weekend, Django’s Stubborn Records label celebrates it’s 20th anniversary with a show at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. Performances by Django himself an others set this show up to be something not to be missed. I caught up with the man himself and was able to hold him down long enough to answer some questions for me.

What have you been up to? What are you working on?

King Django: I have been up to my eyeballs!  The Stubborn Records label is celebrating our 20th anniversary this year, with a HUGE party happening on May 12 at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. In honor of the anniversary, we’ve just released two new 45s in cooperation with Ska In The World Records from Tokyo Japan.  One is a new mix of  “Anywhere I Roam” with my friends the Forthrights, backed with a fun ska cover version of “Career Opportunities” originally by The Clash.  The other is some crazy electro-dancehall-roots music (Forward backed with Rescue Mission) I did with my good friend Ari Up, who is no longer with us.  I’m glad we were finally able to get that one out.  And yesterday, we just got in the first CD celebrating our 20th Anniversary- Victor Rice’s “Dub Discoveries From Version City” which is fresh, new dub versions of a great, eclectic sampling of our whole catalog, going way, way back.


In the studio,  I’ve been very busy doing a lot of recording, mixing and mastering for other bands and artists.  Most recently I have been working on an EP with The Snails from Pennsylvania, with whom I have recently played a bunch of shows.  Did some recording, mixing and mastering for some of my friends in Staten Island called “Not From Concentrate” for their upcoming EP. I mixed several tunes for the Forthrights next release, and am mixing a showcase album for CHX Sound System from Quebec City!  In between, I have been working on my next album, which is getting close to finished.  That’s going to be really fun, it features a lot of my friends from all over the place. 


What kickstarted your entrance to ska/reggae music?
King Django: I was originally introduced to the 2-Tone sound in the end of the 1970s!  After that I quickly became enamored of Jamaican music. I was not a musician at that time.  I started playing trombone specifically to play ska and reggae music!


Where do you think ska music is headed in 2012 and moving forward?
King Django: I have no idea whatsoever!  I’m a bit old-fashioned.  I tend to really listen to older music in general, and when it comes to ska and reggae, I am still most interested in the original Jamaican sounds.  I think the trend for a while has been this rock-infused version of “early reggae” but I have been hearing the stirrings of a return to the traditional ska sound…  There are only two kinds of music, at the end of the day!

What are you most excited for in the coming months?
King Django: After the Anniversary party, I am super-excited about finishing up my new album!  Then I get to move on to finishing the new Hub City Stompers record and the Dr Ring Ding Version City album!!!  Also really excited to start rehearsing new and different material with the King Django band!  We’re looking around for different venues to float the Version City party to, so I think it’s going to be a really fun summer, fall and winter this year!



No matter where it is headed in the future, I think the ska scene can count on the continued contributions of this multifaceted gentleman and his talents to be there fueling the fire, and that is a win for everyone. I for one am ready for the next chapter.

If you are wise, you will get yourself to the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn May 12th for the Stubborn Records Anniversary Party. Expect performances from The King Django Septet, Hub City Stompers, Rudie Crew, Skinnerbox, The Heavy Beat, and more. Pull on your best trousers, and get yourself on the floor.