King Django & the Soulsonics
Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, FL • November 13, 1998
I was sitting at home when I got a phone call from Joe Basi, drummer for one of my favorite Florida ska bands, King 7 & the Soulsonics. Joe excitedly told me his band would be spending a month backing King Django, the world class singer/trombonist for Skinnerbox and the Stubborn All-Stars, on a set of Florida dates billed as “King Django & the Soulsonics.” Immediately, I knew I couldn’t miss this! I was glad to find out that they pinned down the first date of their mini-tour at Skipper’s Smokehouse, a cool restaurant/outdoor venue right around the corner from my home.
I arrived at Skipper’s to find that Magadog were already on stage, playing their usual great set. I later found that this would be the first of two sets from the Tampa ska forefathers, as King 7’s van had broken down on Alligator Alley. Well, it was Friday the 13th… which, I found when the band showed up halfway into Magadog’s second set, was not the first time triskadeskaphobia came into play; apparently, Django managed to lose his pager and sunglasses, and the band hadn’t had much time to practice with him. I wondered how this would affect the performance.
Happily, the answer was surprisingly little. King 7 took the stage without Django to warm up the crowd with a couple of their own tunes, including the sublime instrumental “Alpha 66.” Of course, their material sounded great, but the true test of their acumen would come when Django joined them onstage. See, a lot of Django’s material, especially the Skinnerbox stuff, isn’t exactly known for being simplistic. In fact, Skinnerbox is one of the most technically complex bands around, so much so that Django has mentioned in interviews that the material is often a challenge for him!
I’m glad to report that the Soulsonics were more than up to the challenge. Django came on and launched into a smooth version of the old Skinnerbox tune “Sing Love,” kicking off a set that was evenly made up of Skinnerbox and SAS tunes. It was a real treat to find that the set list included a lot of older Skinnerbox numbers, such as “Jump Dung,” “Move Like Ya Gone,” and “Falafel Hommous.” The band sounded quite polished, even surprising Django at some points (he told them “good luck” before they launched into the soulful SAS number “I Can’t Touch You,” but seemed quite pleased with the results). Even the tricky rhythms of “L.K.O.” couldn’t stump the band — their hard work really paid off. Django seemed to take the opportunity to experiment a bit, switching from trombone to harmonica to (on “Does He Love You” and “Tired of Strugglin'”) a ukulele (!), all to great effect.
SAS classics like “Rise to Find You,” “Catch That Train,” and “Foolish You” rounded out a sharp set that closed with an almost-rocksteady version of Skinnerbox’s “Nex Finga.” I’m glad I got a chance to check out this sweet combination; it made for some fantastic music and a truly memorable event. Congrats to the Soulsonics, they’re playing in the big leagues, now!