PRINCE BUSTER with DELROY WILLIAMS & the LYNN TAITT BAND and WILLI WILLIAMS at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Wednesday (November 8). $38.69. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
When the greatest living ska artists convened in Toronto for the Legends Of Ska shows at the Palais Royale, Prince Buster's electrifying performance made it clear that the innovator behind such influential rude boy classics as Judge Dread, One Step Beyond, Ten Commandments Of Man, Madness and Al Capone is not coasting on his past accomplishments.
Unlike many of his ground-floor contemporaries who now sing for nostalgia's sake, he still retains a palpable sense of danger about him. That comes with his well-cultivated outlaw hero mystique, which has been with him ever since he took off the boxing gloves to work security for Coxsone Dodd's Downbeat back in '61.
Whether it means selling dancehall reggae 45s at Buster's Record Shack in Kingston or rocking wealthy European bebop snobs at the Montreux Jazz Festival, the old-school street hustler in Buster is still prepared to do whatever it takes to remain a vital player in the game.
And as his 2003 left-field UK hit collabo with Mint Royale, Sexiest Man In Jamaica, confirmed, Buster hasn't lost his ability to raise a chart ruckus, even if the comeback buzz never reached as far as Kingston.
He calls the media silence a conspiracy.
"I just came from England," says Prince Buster from his home in Miami, "and Sexiest Man In Jamaica is still being played there. But would you believe that none of the papers in Jamaica mentioned anything about my song being in the UK charts?
"I played the Montreux Jazz Festival recently, and we paid to fly a Jamaican journalist to Switzerland to cover the show. I saw him having a good time in the front row and taking pictures, too, yet no story has ever been printed.
"When I've done interviews in the past and spoke about how the whole concept for Perry Henzell's film The Harder They Come was actually my idea, they edit all that out from the stories.
"That's why I stopped doing interviews with the press. There seems to be a media conspiracy against me."
It may sound like the paranoia of a once famous artist struggling to get back into the public eye, but the staunchly independent Prince Buster - who's worked in every facet of the music business from songwriting, production and promotions to running his own labels and operating a jukebox business and retail stores - has made his fair share of enemies over the years. So if he feels there are some highly placed people working within in the industry determined to keep him down and crush the rebel spirit he embodies, his concerns may be well founded.
"In Jamaica, you must understand, I'm not the kind of person that the music business and society are oriented to push. I'm my own man and not easily led. I was always the one taking chances, not Bob Marley. I was the man in the street with the people, fighting for justice. There have been police raids at my house and court trials. Some cases are still pending now, so I don't want to say anything more about that."
Since Prince Buster was recently honoured with a request from Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller to perform at the annual Independence Gala at Jamaica House - where he pointedly chose to sing They've Got To Come My Way and Judas - it appears that he's at least gaining some political support.
"For 45 years now, I've been writing and singing the songs that really made Jamaica, and would you believe that the first time I've ever been invited to sing at Jamaica House was in August? I have to thank Portia Simpson-Miller for that. It took a woman to get elected as the prime minister for me to finally get in.
"The puzzling thing is that I've known different politicians over the years - some of the previous prime ministers have even been my friends - but I've never been asked to sing at Jamaica House until now. You have to wonder what was really going on."