As one half of the celebrated MAW/Nuyorican Soul team, Louie Vega's legacy as a prolific remixer and producer has been etched into thousands of slabs of black vinyl. But when Vega first started out, he was driven by the pleasure of selecting and spinning music, and to this day the art of DJing -- the communal, spiritual, above all, musical line of communication that runs between the spinner, the sound system and the dancing crowd -- is what propels him forward. If Vega isn't DJing, he isn't happy.
Vega started to spin at neighbourhood parties in the Bronx in the early 1980s and broke into Manhattan in 1985 when he was headhunted to spin at Heartthrob, which was situated on the site of the legendary Funhouse. The spinner subsequently played at the Underground Network and Dance Ritual, two of the longest-running nights in Manhattan. And since he first travelled to Japan in 1989, Vega has tirelessly spread the music -- a music that often sounds like New York but is global in its Latin, African and European influences -- to an international audience.
For the best part of twenty years, Vega the DJ has been blessed with an unfair advantage -- the ability to play acetates of his own remixes and productions before anyone else could lay their hands on them. Yet the mixmaster has also drawn in the crowds because of his uncanny ability to select and mix other people's records, and Vega's Choice compilation, which brings together some of his most heavily rotated vinyl in one sublime collection, encapsulates the breadth and depth of his "field of sound" (the aural equivalent of a "field of vision"). "There was a lot of musical variety back in the days of the Loft, the Gallery, the Garage and Zanzibar," says Vega. "Now everybody plays the four-on-the-floor house beat, but DJs used play four-on-the-floor with funk, jazz, Euro and syncopated rhythms. I mixed all of those things together on this record. I'm very proud of it."
It's impossible to listen to Booker T. & the MGs, the Joubert Singers, Lamont Dozier, the Clash and the rest of the artists who make up this collection without remembering -- or fantasising about -- New York's downtown party network of the 1970s and 1980s. "Listening to these records was a powerful experience," says Vega, "and I've tried to capture some of that power here." This collection, however, is more than a make-believe trip down fading-memory-lane. "I still carry all of these records in my crates. I think it's important to educate people who might not have heard these jams before. All of these records have stood the test of time, which is amazing. 'Time Warp' still sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday."
Two clubs -- the Garage and Zanzibar -- and two spinners -- Larry Levan and Tony Humphries -- had a particularly profound effect on Vega's musical philosophy. "I first went to the Garage in 1980 and I used to go to hear Larry at the Garage as soon as Heartthrob closed at five, five-thirty," says Vega. "I would head over there with twenty or thirty people and we would stay until it closed." Levan created an indelible impression. "Larry had no boundaries with his music and he knew how to put it all together. You knew how he was feeling when he played music -- he had a way of making each record sound special. Plus he was very theatrical. Larry was a real inspiration." So, too, was Humphries. "Tony played everything, he told a story and he was a real mixer. He would create one song out of two records or have two records talk to each other, plus he rode these really long mixes. I went to Zanzibar almost as much as I went to the Garage. Tony had a lot to do with the way I DJ today."
Even though he was playing to a young Latin crowd smitten with freestyle, Vega began to weave underground anthems into his Heartthrob evenings. "I was very much influenced by the Garage and Zanzibar, and I bought a lot of that music and played it to a younger crowd. I exposed them to that sound. I played freestyle, but I also mixed it up. It was all about variety." Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez, the "other half" of the MAW/Nuyorican Soul team, heard his future partner spin at Heartthrob and was impressed by the DJ's ability to expose these young Latin dancers to such a wide variety of music. "Chicago house was just coming into New York and there was also Latin freestyle and hip-hop. Louie played it all."
Vega was introduced to Levan by Jellybean, ex-DJ from the Funhouse, in 1986. "I'd stand in the booth and watch Larry work the crowd," says Vega. "He probably saw me as a young kid out there playing." If he did, Levan had changed his mind by the summer of 1987. "Larry said, 'I'd love for you to do a guest spot.' He told me at the Garage. I couldn't believe it." Vega suddenly found himself on the verge of joining an exclusive coterie that included David DePino, François Kevorkian, Danny Krivit, Joey Llanos, David Morales, Larry Patterson, Victor Rosado and Tee Scott. "Louie was coming out of the freestyle era and he didn't get respect from the more underground DJs in New York," says Gonzalez. "They considered freestyle music to be too commercial and that made Louie a bubble gum DJ. Apart from Larry Levan, who showed him a lot of love, I don't think they understood where he was coming from or what he was capable of doing."
By the end of the year the Vega was playing in the same booth as Levan-- although not at the Garage, which closed in September 1987, and not at Heartthrob, which closed around the same time, but at Studio 54. "Heartthrob came to an end when an aggressive owner reopened Studio 54 for a younger clientele," says Vega, who was invited to play at the West Fifty-fourth Street venue. "My crowd from Heartthrob followed me there. I was playing freestyle, hip-hop, reggae, classics, and more and more house. Friday nights there would be twenty-five hundred and Saturday nights four thousand." Levan played on Thursdays. "Larry needed a new home. He was doing different spots here and there. His Studio night was packed. The Garage crowd came out to support him."
In 1989 Vega mixed a number of Todd Terry releases (including "And The Beat Goes On" by DMS and "Just Make That Move" by Black Riot) and produced his first house track ("Take Me Away" by 2 In A Room), and the following year he teamed up with Gonzalez to form Masters at Work and remix "One Step Ahead" by Debbie Gibson, which included a special dub on the B-side that set underground dance floors alight. For a while Vega focused more on his studio work than his DJing, in part because he wanted to make a clean break from the world of freestyle, and the move paid off. By the end of 1991 MAW were recognised as the most exciting remixers on the New York scene and one of their fans, Don Welch, who was DJing at Savage on 23rd Street, invited Vega to guest at the Underground Network night he was running with his partner, Barbara Tucker. "Don had an R&B following and he wanted me to bring in an underground house crowd," says Vega. "Both sets of dancers blended perfectly, so we did it again." When Welch asked Vega if he would like to DJ every week he replied, "When we've got the right venue."
That venue turned out to be the newly opened Sound Factory Bar, where Frankie Knuckles was spinning on Friday nights. "We went to check out Frankie's night and it was really happening," says Vega. "I loved the space." Hosted by Welch and Tucker, Wednesday night became Underground Network night, where a mix of industry insiders and funky dancers gathered to hear Vega work the wheels of steel (and make a decisive break with the freestyle scene). "The regular heads felt special because they were coming to an industry party and the industry people liked being with the dancers. Within a couple of months the night was flourishing."
The Underground Network allowed Vega to put his DJing philosophy into practice. "I finally had a home where I could create a whole scene," says Vega. "It was the same vision that Larry had. The music didn't have a colour and if it was good I played it. The crowd became very multicultural, very open to different sounds. I'd play a Tribe Called Quest record, I'd play a Latin record, a rare classic, house, whatever." Club-kid-turned-producer/remixer Adam Goldstone remembers Vega's ability to meld distant continents and distinctive epochs. "One night he played the rootsy Santeria chants and percussion sounds of 'Yemaya Y Ochun' on the India album. From that he segued into the African outro of Lamont Dozier's disco classic 'Going Back To My Roots'. And then he moved into a dark tribal house track. That's five hundred years of Afro-Cuban musical history in three records, and, boy, did it sound sweet."
Industry powerbrokers didn't just go to the Underground Network to meet each other. They also went to hear (and meet) Vega. "The most influential club for me was the Sound Factory bar," says Gladys Pizarro, A&R executive at the then hot new dance label Strictly Rhythm, who started to hand Vega her latest releases and commission some of the finest deep house productions and remixes of the 1990s. "Louie was my hero! I followed Louie throughout. He was like, 'Get away from me already!'" Seasoned spinners from the seventies and eighties -- heads who had danced at the Loft, the Gallery, the Paradise Garage and Zanzibar -- listened to Vega pump the sound system and joined in the rapturous applause. "A lot of the music Louie made in the early 1990s was timeless, so I really looked forward to hearing him play," says ex-Body & Soul resident Danny Krivit, who now spins at the hot and heady 718 Sessions at Deep. "I thought he was an extremely accomplished DJ. He had very good taste in music and he would regularly play some classic that I really didn't get to hear with other DJs. He would reach a little further and play it very well."
Vega shared his newfound wealth with veterans and novices alike. When François Kevorkian mentioned that he wanted to start playing again, the Underground Network DJ offered him a residency in the downstairs Funk Hut, and when Joe Claussell struck up a friendship at Dance Tracks, Vega invited him into his booth. "Joe started coming to the club and he'd play on the crossover while I was spinning. He would always get to have a go at the end of the night." Vega also invited the likes of Tony Humphries, Frankie Knuckles and David Morales to take over the wheels of steel on special occasions, and when Lil' Louis agreed to make an appearance he insisted that the Chicago legend take over the main room. "I played downstairs in the Funk Hut that night," says Vega. "We always closed the Funk Hut at four so everyone would go upstairs for the last hour." Vega arrived to hear Lil' Louis put on "Thousand Finger Man". "The atmosphere was just amazing. It gave me another perspective." The Underground Network was living up to its name. "It was important for me to have great DJs come in and play, and it was great for these guys to play to one of the best dance crowds ever."
Following in the slipstream of the Paradise Garage, the first underground club to regularly showcase both new and established talent, the Sound Factory put on shows featuring Barbara Tucker, India, Tito Puente, Michael Watford, Loni Clarke, Dajae, George Benson and many more. "Louie really thought that the Underground Network could mean something," says Ralph Muniz, a diehard fan of the DJ since the days of the Devil's Nest. "All of these huge names started performing their records there. People were hungry for the music and the underground sound really flourished."
Puente's appearance, which coincided with a special birthday party for India, was particularly memorable. "The crowd went wild when Tito walked out," says Vega. "They played 'Love & Happiness' and then at the end of the song he kept playing like crazy. He was going mad and India started singing with him. After a while nobody could take it any more. The club just blew up." Benson, who performed "You Can Do It", turned in an equally compelling performance. "We had just released 'You Can Do It' and I wanted to him to see how the crowd was reacting to the song," adds Vega. "He couldn't believe their response and ended up jamming with us for a couple of hours. He sang 'Give Me The Night', 'Masquerade' -- all of the classics. Everyone went mad."
The Underground Network came to an end when the Sound Factory Bar closed in the autumn of 1996 and Welch and Tucker passed over an opportunity to move to Vinyl with Vega, who ended up playing Saturday nights at the downtown venue until Shelter returned two years later. By that time Claussell, Kevorkian and Krivit had started to stir up their Body & Soul storm on Sundays, and for a short while Claussell teamed up with Vega to play at a new monthly night, dubbed Dance Ritual by Claussell. "Roy Ayres and Jocelyn Brown played at the opening," says Vega. "It was an amazing night." The parties subsequently switched to Wednesdays when Vega decided he wanted to put on a weekly party. "The new night started slowly but as the nights grew they became even more multicultural than the Sound Factory Bar."
Industry insiders were less drawn to the earthy environment of Vinyl and, according to some, the loss was a gain. "Louie developed more of a Shelter vibe at Dance Ritual," says Kevin Hedge, one half of the Blaze production team. "It was more about people coming in, dancing and getting into the music. In a way it made it a better party." Krivit agrees. "Dance Ritual was more focused on Louie, less on the industry, and it's stayed that way. It's just about Louie playing good music and people enjoying it." Six years on and counting, Dance Ritual hasn't simply survived Mayor Giuliani's sustained assault on New York's Nightworld -- it is positively flourishing. "We moved from Shelter to Pinky to the new Shelter. Now we're at Cielo and Deep as well as Shelter," says Vega. "It's become very intimate, very family oriented. Everybody knows everybody in this core crowd of four hundred. And it's growing."
Twenty years after his Manhattan DJing debut, Vega still spins vinyl with the same degree of kinetic enthusiasm as ever. Buzzing around his booth with a sparkling energy while he flips through his records and lines up mixes, Vega doesn't just play records -- he feels them. Yet whether he's teasing the EQs or riding two records for an eternity, Vega has an almost supernatural capacity to execute flawless mixes. "I remember hearing Louie when he had just got back from one of his trips to Japan," says Mr V, a long-time Vega admirer and fellow DJ. "He was energized but tired, and at one point he seemed to fall asleep with the headphone pinched to his shoulder. I thought he was just pretending to be asleep because he was mixing these two records and his fingers were still manipulating the pitch slider, plus the mix was really tight. But then the record finished and he only woke up when he heard the pops and cracks at the end of the vinyl. He turned to me and said, 'Damn, I'm tired!'"
Vega's ear is as musical as it is sharp. "Louie understands how records are constructed," says Hedge. "He will mix songs that are recorded in the same key or combine rhythms that blend together seamlessly." Vega is also inventive. "Not many DJs play with records like Louie," says Gonzalez. "He'll take two copies and work them like nobody else. He'll switch between the acappella, the vocal, the intro and the break, moving backwards and forwards. Nobody does that anymore, but Louie has always played with records like that and he still does it today. When you remix on the fly it drives crowds crazy and Louie is great at that."
Following in the sonic path established by Bruce Forest at Better Days and Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage, Vega also brings musicians into his DJ booth in order to create jams over his selections, and for the last couple of years he has employed these instrumentalists to record custom-made overdubs for his Dance Ritual parties. Vega repeated the practice -- really a gift -- on this collection. "With 'Bra' I used Danny Krivit's edit, which he arranged perfectly. I told him that I wanted to do a special version with Selan Lerner, who plays keyboards for my EOL band, and Selan just tore it up. It just adds a little extra colour to the original." Ditto "Umi Says", where Vega asked Lerner to play a live synth solo in order to enhance the song's jazz moodiness. Ditto "Melting Pot", where Lerner grooves over an extended loop. And ditto "Spanish Joint", where Lerner plays a jazzy Rhodes solo. "'Spanish Joint' was a big record at Dance Ritual," says Vega. "I wanted to give everybody a taste of the things I do in the clubs when I bring in live musicians and jam with them."
Vega's Choice amounts to a condensed expression of some of the finest, deepest, grooviest music to be played on New York's dance floors since 1970 -- year zero, when David Mancuso started to hold parties at his home on 647 Broadway and Seymour and Shelley, carrying their gay bar crowd from the West Village to Hell's Kitchen, transformed the run-of-the-mill Sanctuary into the most exciting discotheque of the period. "These are records that I feel people should know about," says Vega. "The classics had a big impact on me and today I carry on that feeling." The fact that this collection includes recordings that are both old and new reflects the way in which Vega is able to play classics without cordoning off the past. "When I play classics I mix them up and I've tried to do this on this CD. When I was working out what I wanted to include I took at lot of songs that apparently had nothing to do with each other and somehow they gelled really nicely."
This process of inspired juxtaposition -- barely imaginable until it is put into practice, at which point it seems obvious --was perfectly realized on Vega and Gonzalez's seminal Nuyorican Soul album, where established names recorded fresh songs and newer faces explored the archives, and this act of temporal and generic blending found its ultimate expression in a live performance for crowd of ten thousand music lovers in Central Park, New York. Opening the show with a DJ set, Vega unerringly captured the mood of the crowd when he played a Tito Puente instrumental and dropped Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech over the top. The Nuyorican Soul band subsequently took to the stage and played classics such as "City, Country, City" and "Melting Pot" to the accompaniment of a forty-strong dance troupe. And the show climaxed with live performances from Roy Ayres, Jocelyn Brown, Jazzy Jeff and Jody Watley. "It was the perfect way of giving back to the community and the dancers who have been supporting me for so many years," says Vega. "There were a lot of children in the park that afternoon. It was one of the most beautiful days of my musical career."
Vega's new EOL Band album is the next step. The project was born when Vega invited Kevin Hedge and Josh Milan, a.k.a. Blaze, to visit him in the studio and write a song over some Latin rhythms and a bass line that he had just laid down. "We gave him 'Elements of Life', which we had written eight years earlier," says Hedge. "It was the most Latin song we had written and it seemed to be perfect for where he wanted to go spiritually." The result was a sublime combination of syncopated rhythms and positive vocals. "I like to think of Louie as the Quincy Jones of house music. The production on 'Elements of Life' was breathtaking. He took a good song and turned it into a great record."
Vega subsequently formed Elements of Life, a nine-piece outfit that heavily features Nuyorican Soul musicians, and the group's debut LP will be released in the spring. "We presented the album in Miami and also did sixteen shows in Japan last summer," says Vega. "We had a great time. I loved recording the album and then giving it a live interpretation with the band." The connection with the dance floor remains, and not just because tracks such as "Brand New Day" (also penned by Blaze) have been driving DJs and dancers wild. Orchestrating the mood on New York's dance floors and conducting a hot band, it turns out, are part of the same continuum. "Elements of Life is Louie's interpretation of his musical history," explains Muniz, Vega's right-hand man. "This is what he's experienced, it's what he's danced to. Elements of Life isn't just about Louie going into a studio and producing great records. These records have meaning." Now you can hear that history, feel that history and understand that history on one compilation -- Louie Vega's Choice.
Track-by-track commentary: Louie Vega, as told to Tim Lawrence
"I'll Play The Fool"
Dr Buzzard's Original Savannah Band was one of the greatest albums of the disco era, plus the group is from the Bronx, so they were right from my neighbourhood. I was young when it came out — about eleven, I think. Usually there are two or three good songs on a live album and the rest is filler, but everything on Dr Buzzard's sounds great. It wasn't really disco. It was more of a journey through different styles of music. All of the tracks are very theatrical, very musical. "I'll Play the Fool" has a really strong beginning and ending, and the arrangement is great.
"Standing Right Here"
I heard a lot of the songs that I've included here at home or on the radio. "Standing Right Here" was a radio song. I would have heard it on WBLS, where Frankie Crocker was playing. WBLS was a unique station. Frankie Crocker was playing all these great dance records and the station was ruling. It was hard to choose between "Standing Right Here" and "You Stepped Into My Life". In the end I went for "Standing Right Here". It has a really great feel, and it builds and builds, from the very beginning to the bit where Melba Moore starts ad-libbing at the end. The groove on this record is infectious.
"You X Me"
This is a unique record, a really special song. It has a great Latin feel to it, and the girl sings in this beautiful light voice. She just floats through the track. I was playing this record when it first came out. I would put it on if I wanted to take the dance floor in a different direction. It's got a mid-tempo feel to it, and it would just take the crowd to a different place.
"Without You" was definitely a Larry Levan record. I remember Larry working two copies of the song and cutting it up, working the crossover. The crowd would go crazy and sing the chorus. I used to play it at Heartthrob. I would take two copies and cut them up live, working the breaks and the sections. I also had the group perform at the club. The record crossed a lot of barriers. It hit all kinds of people — people who went to the Garage, people who went to Heartthrob people who listened to R&B on the radio.
"Stand On The Word"
When I hear "Stand On The Word" I think about Zanzibar. It was a heavy Tony Humphries track. The song has somebody singing in there who sounds like a little child, and my friends and I always used to do that little part in the club. It's a beautiful song and the piano work is great. The connection between gospel and dance is really important, and I wanted to choose something that reflects this. There were other big gospel dance hits before "Stand On The Word", but this was one of the biggest for me.
"Going Back To My Roots"
If I had to pick out just one song from this collection it might well be "Going Back To My Roots". It was a big Loft song, and my sisters always used to play it to me, although I also heard it at the Garage and Zanzibar. It has a great Latin feel on the piano, the drums are very African, the song is great, and then it goes into this epic breakdown and tribal chant. "Going Back To My Roots" was a big inspiration behind Nuyorican Soul. I love doing epic productions — "Watching Windows", "Runaway", "Shoshanna" — and I got a lot of energy from "Going Back To My Roots".
D'Angelo blew me away when he did this song. It goes hand in hand with a lot of the records I've done with Nuyorican Soul. It's jazz, really, but it's also got this syncopated beat. Giovanni Hidalgo is on there, and he's one of the greatest congueros in the world. The horns are also amazing. Roy Hardrove plays and also did the arrangement. "Spanish Joint" became a Dance Ritual classic, and the version I've included here contains an overdub, which reflects the way I played the record at Dance Ritual.
I heard this song at the Garage and it took me forever to find out what it was called. There's this live sounding crowd of people, and then there's a great synthesizer solo, so it was one of those tracks that's difficult to describe when you go into a record store. It's a Patrick Adams production, one of his early tracks, and the groove really blew me away. There are certain records that take you to another place — Arthur Russell's music did that — and "Atmosphere Stut" was one of those rare songs.
"Hot To Trot"
Alfredo De La Fe was a violinist who played in the Latin scene, and I loved the way some of the cats from the Latin scene ventured into disco. Fania did it, a lot of the big Latin bands did it and so did Alfredo. "Hot To Trot" is cultural — it has this Brazilian samba thing going on at the top and then it breaks into disco — so it really struck a chord with my roots. It was another record that influenced Nuyorican Soul. Kenny loves this song, too.
"Don't Go Away"
This record was way before it's time. It begins with this really catchy bass line, then the beat comes in, and then the girl starts to sing and ad-lib. It's one of those records you can play from start to end. It was a huge Larry record. The bass sounded good on a big sound system, especially the Garage, and when Larry played it arms would go up in the air. After I heard "Don't Go Away" at the Garage I went out and bought it as soon as I could.
I had to include "Melting Pot" on this collection. It came out in 1971 on Stax and was a big song from the neighbourhood, a big break-dancing anthem. It was also played on the radio, but it's got a super street edge to it. If I had to choose an all-time top five, "Melting Pot" would be there. I do a really long ride with this song on the CD, like two or three minutes. It was something I just felt when I was doing the mix.
"Bra" reminds me of house parties, neighbourhood jams and then, when I started to go out later on, the clubs. It didn't matter what you were into — break beat, disco, Latin — "Bra" would get the party going. Cymande are one of my favourite groups. They were real tight and had this powerful West Indian dub influence. They really developed their own sound. The break in "Bra" is one of the most sampled, most played breaks out there.
This was a big Dance Ritual record. Mos Def is really versatile. He raps on records and is very poetic. "Umi Says" is on a dance tip. It came out at the same time as Nuyorican Soul and I received it in the mail on promo. It's pressed up on red-coloured vinyl and as soon as I heard it I said, "Wow!" Kenny got the record at the same time and he really wanted to turn me onto it. He's a heavy vinyl collector and he's always turning me onto great music — Brazilian funk recorded in Italy, that kind of stuff. We both heard Mos Def and we both felt it at the same time.
"You Can Do It"
When I recorded this song it brought tears to my eyes. The original demo went on an African tip, but when George Benson agreed to play and scat on the record Kenny and I went in a whole new direction. The original twelve-inch ran for sixteen minutes, and at the top we just let George Benson's voice and guitar run unaccompanied. When I played the demo at the Sound Factory Bar the crowd went wild. People would scream like crazy and do these amazing acrobatic moves — and that was before Kenny's syncopated beats came in. Kenny's beats for "You Can Do It", and the beats he laid down for mixes like Urban Species, were really important. They were an early inspiration for Broken Beat.
"Draggin My Heels"
Nobody pays much attention to "Draggin My Heels" but it was a big Loft record. A friend who used to go to the Loft introduced me to it. I said, "I can't believe the Hollies have done a dance-oriented record!" I started to use the song when I DJed and I remember it had a really huge impact when I played at the Precious Hall in Sapporo. I also played it at Dance Ritual when the party was held at Vinyl on Saturday nights. I used to play from ten until ten and it was great because by about five or six in the morning you could take it into that other place. "Draggin My Heels" was one of the songs that would take you there.
"Could Heaven Ever Be Like This"
Disco was really powerful. It didn't matter if you were jazz or pop or R&B — everybody tried to get into disco and give it their take. Idris Mohammed is one of the greatest drummers of all time and this was the flavour he added to disco. It's a great recording and from the beginning to the end the record creates warmness in the room. I remembering hearing Timmy Regisford play this at the Shelter and when my friend Carlos Sanchez gave me a copy I played it right away.
I have tonnes of memories of "Bostich" from the Funhouse, where Jellybean used to play. It was an import and we were all blown away. It has these powerful drums and we loved the way the guy sang. He had this really fast line that everybody tried to follow. My friend Ralphie knows the lyrics — he can sing the line. I still can't get it! Later on the song came back into our lives with "Everybody Be Somebody", which was produced by Ruffneck and featured Yavahn, may she rest in peace. They took the hook from "Bostich" and built a whole song around it.
"Take A Chance"
"Take A Chance" was a big Humphries record. I experienced it at Zanzibar. It has this incredible break, which features this muted horn solo, and this is where DJs would bring in the record. This is the way I play it on the mix CD. It comes out of "Bostich", so it's not obvious. Most people blend records that sound similar but I tried to mix it up. There's no obvious connection between 'Bostich" and "Take A Chance", but they sounded really good when I put them together.
"Standing In Line"
ESG were from the Bronx, just like the Savannah Band. They mixed punk with rock with disco. "Standing in Line" came out after "Moody". It was a Larry record and it blew me away. You got the full effect of a record when you head it at the Garage and that would influence what you would play. I was lucky enough to be playing on a great sound system at Heartthrob, so "Standing In Line" sounded great there, too.
"Get On The Funk Train"
My older sisters, Myrna and Edna, would talk about this. They were always singing the hook. It was a fifteen-minute record and Larry would play the record from beginning to end so that it would flow straight through. It's got these great whistles and I love the bass groove. It's a high-energy record and the bass line really grabs you. People always scream when the bass line comes in.
"It's Good For The Soul"
I was eleven years old when this record came out. There was a block party where I lived and it was packed. They organised a hustle contest and one of my sisters was in it, hustling to this song. Salsoul is one of the greatest dance music labels of all time, and the way they brought Latin and disco together was just amazing — Joe Bataan and all that crew. Montana developed a really powerful sound with the Salsoul Orchestra. Vince and the MFSB rhythm section — Norman Baker, Alan Harris and Earl Young — you can't go wrong with that whole crew. It was great to work with Vince when we remade "Runaway" for the Nuyorican Soul album.
Gino Soccio was amazing and "Dancer" is powerful. It's got a great drive. It was a real favourite and it still holds good today. I remember playing it at a Magic Session in Miami with Tony Humphries and Ted Patterson. Nobody expected the record to come in and everyone was like, "Wow! Where did that come from?" You can play "Dancer" when the room is rocking and everybody becomes one.
"I Wanna Rock You"
I'm a big fan of Giorgio Moroder. "Get On The Funk Train" is a great track and this is also really interesting. The vocalists almost sound like cartoon characters, but when they get past the verses and into the chorus the record give you a really nice lift, a beautiful release. "I Wanna Rock You" was another song that I would hear at the Garage a lot.
"East Street Beat"
I wanted to put a song down produced by Timmy Regisford and Boyd Jarvis. They were very influential producers in the early days of house. "East Street Beat" has a classic feel with electronic sounds, plus there's a good song layered over it — the female vocals are provided by Chocolate. Timmy is still an extremely influential DJ, with Shelter the longest running underground club in New York.
"Time Warp/Nobody's Got Time"
This song is in my top-five list of all-time favourite records. "Time Warp" is a really interesting instrumental and "Nobody's Got Time" is this amazing song, plus there's a great harmonica solo. It was way ahead of its time. A lot of reggae groups were experimenting with disco in the late seventies and the early eighties, and Eddie Grant was a pioneer of that sound. "Time Warp" was really innovative. Eddie Grant experimented with synths over this reggae bass line. I still play this record, twenty-five years after it was released. People still think it's a new record.
"No Way Back"
"No Way Back" was a big early Chicago house record that I used to play at Heartthrob. It was a huge record for me. When house music first came out it was, like, What is this? The dance floor went crazy. In one respect Chicago house was simpler than dance music that had preceded it, but it also represented the next level of dance music. New York was developing its own style at the same time with Boyd Jarvis, Timmy Regisford and Larry Levan, but they didn't really have a name for it. Chicago house had this huge impact and "No Way Back" was one of the first racks to really spread out beyond Better Days, the Garage and Zanzibar.
"White Horse" appeared in the middle of the whole electro, new wave phenomenon, which was a really great time for music. A lot of this music came from England and Europe, and that sound formed an important part of my DJing. "White Horse" has this infectious bass line and the voice is really deep. I heard the track at the Funhouse, although I think pretty well everyone was playing it. It was a big record on the scene and it mixed really well with house when that whole thing started. It's a timeless record.
"Din Da Da"
I played "Din Da Da" when I first started to DJ at street parties. We were all playing it. It's one of those tracks that still lifts the crowd. The way the drummer and the guy who does the scatting feed off each other at the beginning of the track is really unique. Nobody else has done anything like it, so the record always sounds fresh.
This is one of my favourite early house records. The bass just grabs you and the way the guy delivers the spoken word is very atmospheric. I played it a lot at Heartthrob. I would cut in on the bass line the crowd would really scream. The record came out on DJ International and it has a really underground feel. It wasn't as popular as "Jack Your Body", but people knew what it was and loved it.
"Rich In Paradise"
"Rich In Paradise" begins with a guy saying, "Use a condom", so there was obviously some awareness going on. The record starts with this big bass line, then the guy says, "I'll bass you" and then there's this great piano solo, plus there's a lot of breakdowns. It's a very in your face record and was a big house classic.
"Tittle Tatltle" is a classic, a really hot record. It came out of Italy and I remember hearing it a lot at Zanzibar. It's got this little continuous four-on-the-floor thump, but there's also this little kick back, which made it really different from what was happening at the time — and maybe even now. The guy who recorded the song played keyboards and sang. He was multitalented.
The Clash were this band from the punk rock era but they were into their reggae, and the groove worked in the clubs, both the instrumental and the vocal. They groove down the track with these reggae-style delay sounds and the bass line is one of a kind. I don't think the Clash expected the record to do well in the clubs but when they came to play at Bond's the place was totally sold out, so they would have seen the reaction. "Magnificent Seven" hit all of the spots — the Garage, the Funhouse, Bond's —and I remember Larry saying that if he ever wanted to EQ a system he would put this record on. He thought it was very well mixed, very well balanced. I took his advice and started doing this myself