Time to Jack: Chip E on the Birth of Chicago House
Written by AMW.FM on May 18, 2016
From his position working behind the counter at Importes, Etc, Irwin “Chip E” Eberhart saw up close and was instrumental in some of the key changes in Chicago’s dance music scene. Most of the city’s most popular DJs, including Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy and the Hot Mix 5, were customers, as well as contemporaries such as Jesse Saunders and Steve “Silk” Hurley.
It was alongside these DJs and would-be producers that Eberhart played a role in defining what would became Chicago’s greatest musical export of the 1980s: house music. After tinkering with drum machines and “cheap kids synths” he headed into the studio and made his first record in late 1984, the self-released Jack Trax EP, which contained the early anthem “It’s House” and “Time To Jack,” helping to define the drum-machine driven Chicago house blueprint.
When house started blowing up in the UK in 1986, Eberhart regularly travelled to Europe to DJ. A year later, he helped produce Frankie Knuckles’ first solo record, “You Can’t Hide,” a house music cover of Teddy Pendergrass’s Philly soul anthem “You Can’t Hide From Yourself.” Under the familiar Chip E alias, he continued to be a popular draw as a DJ in the UK and Italy until the mid-1990s when he decided to take a break from the industry.
While visiting London in 2005, Eberhart sat down with Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton to recount his memories of the birth of house, talking at length about now legendary clubs and DJs, and the real story of how the genre got its name.
First of all, tell us a little about your background.
I was born in Chicago in 1966. I grew up on the South Side. Most of the guys who helped start house music grew up in the South Side of Chicago. They were pretty much from middle class working families. I started off going to parochial schools, Catholic schools – private schools I guess you could call them.
For a short time I went to high school in LA. When I was there it opened my eyes up to the new wave sound. I came back to Chicago and I guess it was more disco and such. Then I went to college to study marketing and music. I worked in a music shop, Importes, Etc, while I was in college and I also DJed. So if you put that together – the music shop, the DJing and the marketing – I had a good sense of the business of it as well as what people wanted on the floor.
How did you get into music first?
Being a child of the 1960s, my parents listened to a lot of bossa nova. To this day Antônio Carlos Jobim is still one of my favorite artists. My parents had eclectic tastes and listened to all sorts of things. When I started in high school, DJing was new and it was kind of cool. All my friends would cut class to go to a guy’s house to play records and so I’d do that. I thought I was mixing, but really I was just doing train wrecks.
I was fortunate because I had a friend who introduced me to Importes, Etc and all the good music. Since I had all the good music, they always asked me to come by. I was doing train wrecks for a long time until finally a guy at Importes, Etc called Brett Wilcox listened to one of my tapes and said, “You know, this sucks, but I can teach you how to mix. You know, I taught Frankie [Knuckles]?” I was like, “Really? You taught Frankie?” He said, “Yeah and I got his old decks!” They were a pair of old Technics 1100s. So I went over. Within about 20 minutes I went from knowing nothing about mixing except, “These are two decks and this is a mixer,” to actually understanding phrases and how to segue. It was a big eye-opener.
What kind of places were you DJing?
Mostly high school parties – sock hops we would call them – in high school gymnasiums. I started playing small places. There’s a place called the Candy Store where I played, and later the Playground. That was where Jesse Saunders and Farley [Jackmaster Funk] started DJing.
What age group would go to the high school parties?
I guess it was mostly 13 to 18 – let me step back a little bit. That was actually my second introduction to the music. My first introduction was actually when I was about 11 and I went to this place called the Loft. I was working for this high school newspaper. I got interested in doing stuff for the newspaper when I was about nine years old. I was watching a public broadcast show about this citywide high school newspaper. It was distributed throughout the city and had different staff members for each school.
There were all these people dancing and having fun. I thought, “Wow, this is something I really wanna be a part of.” From that point on I was hooked.
I was into photography so I thought, “I wanna be a part of that.” So I hopped on the L Train and went downtown, took some of my pictures and said, “I wanna be on the staff,” and they were like, “Oh, that’s so cute, come back and see us when you’re in high school.” I was like, “No, I wanna be on the staff now!” I was very persistent and eventually they gave me a couple of assignments and I prevailed. There was a guy there by the name of Eric Bradshaw who was throwing parties. He had a group called Vertigo and they threw parties at the Loft, which was on 14th and Michigan.
That’s downtown isn’t it?
Yeah. Their preferred DJs were the Chosen Few, who were essentially Wayne Williams, Tony Hatchett, Jesse Saunders and Alan King. Later they added Andrew Hatchett. I was 11 or 12 the first night I went in there. It’s amazing Eric got me in there because I had no business being in there. Everybody there was between 15 and 18. I remember it just like it was yesterday. It was packed full of people, it was a proper loft, and the floor was moving up and down because there were way too many people in there. The music was pounding, they were playing Martin Circus’ “Disco Circus” and Alan King was on the decks. There were all these people sweating and dancing and having fun and I thought, “Wow, this is something I really wanna be a part of.” From that point on I was hooked.
Did you go to any other clubs around that time?
I went to the Warehouse once. I remember hearing First Choice “Let No Man Put Asunder” for the first time.
It wasn’t going a long time was it?
It started around ’79 and went on to about ’83. Here I’m gonna blow all the myths, because really house music has very little to do with the Warehouse.
Controversial! Did you get to see Ron Hardy during his disco phase? Did you go to Den One?
No, I never made it to that. I first came across him in about ’83 when the the R2 (Reactor 2) Underground first opened, it later became the Music Box. I don’t know if you guys know, but Robert Williams, owner of the Warehouse, also had a club called the Music Box in Texas and he would go back and forth between them. Eventually, he decided he wanted to open a Music Box in Chicago and he brought Ron Hardy in because he had Frankie Knuckles at the Warehouse. At that point the Warehouse was kinda winding down – they had some problems with the building and weren’t able to renew their lease. Frankie decided he wanted to move on and do something different and that’s when he went on to the Power Plant. So Robert found this guy Ron Hardy.
Same ownership? Frankie and Ron were rivals weren’t they?
That’s what people thought: that they were rivals. But they really were good friends. For instance, they really didn’t compete much – Power Plant was a Friday night crowd, Music Box was Saturday. On Friday you might find Ronnie hanging out at the Power Plant and on Saturday Frankie at the Music Box. They were great friends. Everybody else on the outside tried to make them out as rivals.
But that’s good for business anyway isn’t it?
Yeah. So where were we?
You just dropped the bombshell that the Warehouse didn’t have much to do with house. What do you mean by that?
A lot of things. Here’s where the term house music comes from: it’s related to the Warehouse but you have to realize that house music came at least two years after the club closed down, so the Warehouse never had the opportunity to play house music. Frankie played R&B, disco, funk, soul, he even played country and western, but he never played house music [at the Warehouse]. The way the term house came into being was through Importes, Etc: I was one of the buyers there at the time. It’s important to note that before there was house music, the genre of dance music, there was a culture in Chicago of the kids and young adults that attended the Warehouse parties, and they were known as “house.” This is where much of the confusion happens, between defining the origins of “house music” and “house culture.”
We were talking about disco records. We said, “All you gotta do is make a record and put “house” on it and it’s gonna fly off the shelves.”
Kids were coming in looking for the older disco music. They’d come in and say, “I want some of that music played at the Warehouse,” and this was referring to disco music. We found that if we put up signs that said, “As heard at the Warehouse,” the records would fly out of the racks. Eventually that got cut down to just, “The ’house.” That became the vernacular. But we were talking about disco records. It was basically myself, Farley, Steve Hurley and Jesse Saunders, and we said, “You know what, all you gotta do is make a record and put “house” on it and it’s gonna fly off the shelves.” So I thought, ”Why don’t I make some new music and call it house?” That’s essentially what I did.
Steve, Jesse and Farley have probably three years on me so they would’ve had the opportunities to go to the Warehouse, but they avoided it because they were very homophobic at the time and the Warehouse was known as a very gay place. We weren’t gay so, you know, we didn’t go. But we understood the power of marketing. We all understood the power of using that word “house.” So we all kinda gravitated towards that and making our own music. So true enough, Jesse made one of the first records he calls house music, but I kinda think it’s not ’cos “On & On” was a remake of a bootleg by some guys in Florida called Mach. So how can you remake something that already existed and call it something new, you know?
But if people receive it as new then it can be perceived as new. The story he told me was that it was his theme tune that he used to open with and then someone stole it, so he was like, “I don’t wanna lose my theme tune,” so he reconstructed it.
Wayne Williams, his half-brother, is really important to the story. Wayne did go to the Warehouse and Den One and these places. And Wayne is the guy who brought this music back to the South Side.
So he’s basically the guy who was going to the Warehouse and bringing the music back to the straight clubs?
Exactly. Also he was helping out guys on the radio, like Herb Kent. So he was introducing it to an even broader audience, this disco music as well as new wave and what we called punk-out music. So my understanding of it, from what Wayne has said, is that [the original bootleg by Mach] “On & On” was actually Wayne’s record and Jesse would play it. Wayne eventually said, “You know what, you can’t play it any more,” so Jesse said, “That’s OK, I’ll make it.”
So he went away, got a drum machine and ran into Vince Lawrence. Vince’s father was already in the record business, so they had all the connections. They ran into Larry Sherman and he could press the records. Myself, Steve and Farley, we saw this, so I can say he was not the inventor of house music, but he was certainly one of the pioneers. He was pretty integral to starting the scene in Chicago where people were making their own music in their own houses.
I always understood that because he was from Chicago, people heard his record on the radio and thought, “Shit, we can do this.” It might not have been good, it might not have been house, but it was made in Chicago, in a bedroom by someone they all knew.
Yeah, exactly. It was definitely an inspiration. You just put one and two together. But it was really not good. People only bought the record because there were some good DJ tools on the B side. Frankie never played it, Ronnie never played it. You’d be hard pressed to find it on any mixtape in the last 30 years. We didn’t play it then, and nobody plays it now. It’s not the blueprint for house music!
What about Jamie Principle then, he was making stuff early on. Wasn’t he before Jesse?
It was about the same time. Jesse’s record came out first, then we heard Jamie’s music at the Power Plant. For years and years it was played off tape.
That’s one of the controversies, isn’t it, how much Frankie had to do with it?
There should be no controversy: Jamie did it all himself. Frankie’s first production was a remix for Salsoul of First Choice’s “Let No Man Put Asunder” [in 1984]. Jamie is a musical genius. Jamie was a big Prince fan. And if you remember one of Prince’s names was Jamie Starr, and Principle is from Prince–
I won’t tell his first name but I’ll tell you the sign on his parents’ house says, “the Waltons!”
Isn’t it Byron?
Brian, actually. Jamie’s music wasn’t really influenced by the Warehouse or the Power Plant because he didn’t go to those clubs either. He came from a pretty conservative and religious family so he wasn’t allowed to do those things. It was a friend who took them to Frankie. So Frankie really had nothing to do with Jamie’s music.
So Jamie never heard his music played in clubs?
Not for a long time.
How was Frankie received when he arrived? The story that’s always told is that Chicago’s scene wasn’t as sophisticated as New York so straight away he was a star. Is that true?
No. It was the venue, really. It’s not that Frankie wasn’t a good DJ, but for one thing he wasn’t really mixing back then. He was kind of playing records like David Mancuso. There was no segueing, no beatmatching at all. Robert Williams came from New York and he kind of tried to bring the New York scene in via the Warehouse. I don’t know if you know, but the original name of it was US Studios.
Didn’t it move around?
Yes, it was in different lofts and warehouses, so the Warehouse was really a nickname. Its official name was actually US Studios. All the flyers would say US Studios but everyone would call it the Warehouse.
So what do you think needs telling then, what’s the truth?
Well, 20 years ago I probably wouldn’t have known myself and I wouldn’t have known to express what I did know. We were all either in our late teens or early twenties when the press first came to find out the story of house music. So we said, you know, “Oh Frankie… The Warehouse…”
They were taking disco and turning it into electronic music. What we did was take it to the next phase.
Well, it’s really the Power Plant. The Warehouse is where it takes its name but it’s the Music Box and Power Plant where it got played. More than anything I guess it’s about electronic equipment becoming affordable. When were you aware that all of that was going on?
I think it was about 1983. Disco had died out around ’81, but you still had Italo disco, Claudio Simonetti, Doctor’s Cat, Klein & MBO and all that stuff. They were taking disco and turning it into electronic music. What we did was take it to the next phase, so it’s disco, Italo disco and then house. In about ’83 everyone jumped all over the Roland drum machines, the Roland sampler, and before the Roland sampler or at the same time was the Ensoniq.
As far as sampling was concerned you had Trevor Horn who was using the Fairlight and then you had Synclavier, which was also very expensive. But for under $2,000 you had the Ensoniq Mirage, a polyphonic sampling keyboard, and for under $200 you had the Boss sampling pedal. They actually made it for guitar players, but it had about eight miliseconds of sampling on it, which was enough to do “It’s House” or “Like This.”
It had an external trigger to it so I would trigger it off the snare drum off the 909. So my first introduction to sampling was the pedal. Later Joe Smooth, who was a frequent customer at Importes, Etc, had this prototype that was the Ensoniq Mirage. So we said, “Why don’t you come in the studio with us and make a record?” That was how that happened.
Earlier we were talking about Frankie’s first production, his remix of First Choice. Again that was primarily this guy Erasmo Rivera. Erasmo did a lot of reel-to-reel tape edits for Frankie. They didn’t do any new production on it, they didn’t do any new vocals – they just took the existing music and did tape edits of it. Then you take Jamie’s music and Frankie didn’t have anything to do with that other than playing it. So at this point, to say Frankie invented house music is like saying Dick Clark invented rock & roll. He played it, but he didn’t invent it. His first actual record didn’t come out until 1986 and that was “You Can’t Hide.” I actually produced that for him.
The importance of him playing house music, as a catalyst, is very important.
Oh yeah. I just wanted to clarify his position, because it was not as a musician or producer initially.
I think the description of him as the “Godfather of House” is quite apt, because it doesn’t necessarily suggest he created it, but he was an overseer.
Yeah. I think that’s fair, and that’s why my moniker is “Architect of House Music.”
When did you start working at Importes, Etc?
Late ’82 or early ’83.
Why was it called Importes, Etc? Was it opened specifically as an import store?
Yeah. It started off as a record pool. Paul Weisberg had a record pool called IRS. Independent Record Services. Eventually he saw a business opportunity, so he thought he could sell these records to the general public. I can’t remember the name of the guy but the company was called Cap Exports.
When did he open it?
About ’81 I think. Gramaphone had been established earlier but they didn’t move into the dance music arena till later.
Why was Italo disco so big in Chicago? It’s the only place in the US where it was so big.
Well, because of the Hot Mix 5. They were some of the first DJs in the country beatmatching and Italo disco records, because they were so synthesized, were really easy to mix. Anything that came out, you’d put them on the decks and they just worked. You guys are DJs so you know what it’s like trying to mix disco records. They’re all over the place.
We were young and these guys had chequebooks. We didn’t look at them as villains – we looked at them as saviours.
I guess in New York you had hip-hop taking the place of disco where Chicago was never a hip-hop town.
Right. Can I go back to this middle-class clique that started house music? Most of the guys like me who started house music, our parents were professionals, so we had the means to go and get these synthesizers and we were educated so we knew how to use them. But that hurt us, too, because we were smart, so when people came round who wanted to exploit us, we were too smart to let anyone exploit us. So when people came round with offers, we were like, “No, no, we’re not interested.” In the hip-hop industry, when those guys came along, they were like, “yes,” and now hip-hop is huge.
Russell Simmons might have been exploiting them but he was exploiting them to build their careers and to build a scene that stood for hip-hop. No one really did that for house music. The only people were Larry Sherman and Rocky Jones and we all know about them.
I think you’re right. We didn’t have a Russell Simmons.
What was the attitude to Larry and Rocky early on?
Well, you know, we were young and these guys had chequebooks. We didn’t look at them as villains. We looked at them as saviours. They were giving us a way to exploit our music to some extent.
What sort of advances were they offering back then?
Between $500 and $1,500.
Pretty small then. Did you ever see any royalties?
Beyond advances, no.
What about when they were licensed to London Records over here?
Did you ever challenge them or take them to court?
You know when you had the advance, did you have to sign a contract or was it all done on the back of a cigarette packet?
No, it was done on a licensing agreement. It was challengeable, but I don’t know if you know JB Ross. Have you heard this name? He was their solicitor. Basically Rocky or Larry would come up with a contract, then they’d say, “Go over to JB, he’ll help you sort out the contract.” You didn’t understand that that was their solicitor, who’s working on their behalf. Most of the contracts were five or ten years licenses and they’ve all expired now.
Rocky Jones ran a record pool, didn’t he?
Yeah. I think he started off being very genuine in his intentions. I think he was corrupted by the power. All of a sudden he had the capability of finding these artists in Chicago and selling their music all over the world. The MIDEM conference [in France] was critical in house spreading worldwide, outside of London and the UK. This was before the internet and it was a way of getting to all the markets at one time.
Tell us about the first time you saw Ron Hardy DJ.
I think some friends of mine had taken me to the Music Box. I think it was one of the nights that Frankie was hanging out with him. It was very dark and narrow. It just had an incredible soundsystem and minimal lighting, compared to what contemporary clubs were. It had a couple of Mars lights, like police lights, and a couple of strobes. The music was incredible and the energy in the place was just unbelievable. It reminded me of the Loft – pounding music, dancing and sweating. It was nothing like the other clubs, which I called S&M clubs because people went there to “Stand And Model.” People would put on their Versace suits and they wanted to look good, they didn’t want to sweat.
Even at the Power Plant?
It was kind of like that. People wanted to dance and have a good time, but they didn’t want to sweat too much. The Music Box was down and dirty. A lot of times people would carry separate “sweat clothes” because they knew. They’d carry towels with them, too.
Do you remember the kind of music he was playing?
He was playing Sylvester “Don’t Stop” and he was playing a version with an edit on the breakdown – it just went on and on forever. The next day was when I discovered Importes, Etc, like Columbus discovering America, because after I heard that song I asked my friend, “Where do I get music like this?” I picked up my two copies of “Don’t Stop.” He was playing First Choice, “Together Forever” by Exodus and MFSB’s “Love Is The Message.”
And he was pitching MFSB right up?
I think that was a lot later. You hear the stories about him being on drugs and pitching things up, that may have come later, but for all the times I was a patron of the club he played everything pretty much at normal speed or whatever was appropriate to the mix. And he wasn’t really doing a lot of drugs. The drugs came later with the popularity and esteem.
Pierre told a story about when he made “Acid Tracks” he sat on the front for two hours waiting for Ron to turn up. There was that kind of adoration among people.
Yeah, there was that. There was a sense that if you wanted to get a hit, if you wanted to get people to hear your music then you had to get it played at the Music Box. Also with Ronnie and Frankie as well, these were guys who were pretty open, but Frankie not as much as Ronnie. Frankie you really had to be in the inner circle to get something played. I was very fortunate because I worked at Importes, Etc, so he was one of my customers.
How would you describe the difference between the Friday and the Saturday and between the two of them?
Ronnie was kind of skinny and Frankie was kind of fat. They really did play similarly, but Ronnie would take more chances. I could go on a Friday night and take a tape to Frankie and he might wait around for two or three hours, listen to it in the headphones and say, “I think I can fit it in here.” With Ronnie, I could take him a tape and within ten to 15 minutes he would put it on. Then he’d play it several times in the night. He was much more courageous in his style of playing.
The one thing I noticed listening to tapes of the two of them is in the style of edits that Ronnie played, which were really repetitive and very “house.” Was there a difference in the style of edits they used?
Neither Ronnie nor Frankie did any of their own editing. Erasmo did editing for both of them, but there were a lot of people who gave both of them edits of mixes.
When Robert Williams started the Music Box, he specifically started it for a younger, more mixed crowd. You had black, white, Latino, gay, straight whatever.
The ones Ronnie played are definitely different in style to Frankie’s.
I think that was because of his audience. It was a younger crowd. Frankie’s crowd had followed him from the Warehouse and went to the Power Plant. They were older. When Robert Williams started the Music Box, he specifically started it for a younger crowd and for a more mixed crowd. You had black, white, Latino, gay, straight whatever.
Hip-hop didn’t really take off in Chicago for a long time, but that hip hop sensibility was there. There were even battles, weren’t there?
Oh definitely. From the early ’80s, when the Hot Mix 5 first went to the New Music Summit [in New York], they just took over because they were the first guys who were really beatmatching. Farley in particular – he just had an incredible style with scratching and all these tricks of the time like triples, phasing and backspinning. For instance on “Like This,” one of the reasons we put the “L-l-l-like This” vocal at the beginning was because we knew DJs liked little pieces like that that they could manipulate.
How much did the Hot Mix 5 influence taste in Chicago? Were they more important than Knuckles and Hardy because their audience was bigger?
Yes, because they were on the radio. Later they had a daily lunchtime slot, but originally it was part of a show on Saturday nights. Armando Rivera was the host and it was called Saturday Night Live Ain’t No Jive Dance Party.
So their part was a section in his show?
No it was the whole show on Saturday night. The whole city was tuned into the Hot Mix 5’s show and if you had to go out you made sure somebody was taping it for you.
How much were their tastes were shaped by Hardy and Knuckles?
I would say not much at first; Harley and Jesse were big followers of the Warehouse. Again I was working at Importes, Etc, so I know what the guys are coming in and looking for cause there was essentially only two records stores. If you were a DJ in Chicago you had to come to Importes, Etc. There was no way around it. The Hot Mix 5 were members of the IRS record pool.
So they had an allegiance to the store?
Exactly. So I knew what all the guys were playing. I’d say that four of the five – Kenny Jason, Ralphi Rosario, Scott Sills and Mickey Oliver – weren’t too influenced by anything other than what was sold at the store. They were looking for Italo disco. Farley, being the only black member from the South Side, was more influenced by, and understood the importance of, clubs like the Music Box, Power Plant and the Warehouse. He was the one who would play more of the older disco tunes. The other guys not at all; they would play mainly Italo, some Philly sounds and maybe some New York records.
Were there records that they played a lot that weren’t played in clubs?
Well, initially everything they played was not played in clubs but within six months it became the club style. They changed the music. Some of the early songs were Capricorn’s “I Need Love,” all the Kasso stuff and Doctor’s Cat’s “Feel The Drive.” That Mix Your Own Stars record was also huge.
What was that?
It was a Dutch compilation of rhythm tracks. These were nothing more than drum tracks. The most popular track was one that was called “119” because it was 119 BPM. And the track just went “do-do-doo-chak-chak-chak, do-do-doo-chak-chak-chak,” and it was huge. It was just a bass drum, a little snare, some toms and a clap. You could pack a dancefloor just by playing this. It was one of the early inspirations for house music.
It was an achievable sound, too, for budding producers.
Exactly. Not only that but it just fit. All the Italian tracks were using Roland drum machines so it was very easy to mix in and out of, with any record.
When we interviewed Derrick May he said that Importes had a really big mail-order business. Is this true?
He also said that they were really good at describing records because of this.
I don’t know about that, because I didn’t work on that part. They had a couple of guys who dealt with that. There were a lot of ads in Dance Music Report.
What was the inspiration for you personally to start making tracks?
Marketing class, where I learnt how you had to create a need for a product first. Also from taking a drum machine to clubs and finding out I could play any rhythm track and people would go crazy. I had a Boss Dr. Rhythm drum machine and a Casio VL-Tone keyboard, not even a professional one – it was a little toy for kids.
I made tracks with these two things, put them on reel-to-reel and I remember taking them to Jesse Saunders because he lived down the same street as me. He said, “I think you should find a new hobby.” That just energised me. I took the track to Ronnie and he played it and people went crazy. I’m not sure if it was because Jesse was hating on me or didn’t understand what house music was. Anyway, I would hang out in the basement with Vince and Jesse and one day when Jesse wasn’t there, Vince said, “I’ll show you how to programme an 808.” Then he said, “Here, take it home with you.” I took Jesse’s 808 and with my drum programming on there we played at clubs. People went crazy.
Using it as a DJ tool?
Yeah. This was ’83.
Who was first to do that? Farley says it was his thing and Jesse says it was him.
I’d say probably Jesse with an 808, but Farley got a Linn because he wanted to be different. Then it was probably Steve and maybe me. My mom spent a lot of time on the West Coast because she worked in advertising and when she went on a commercial shoot, my brother and I would have these little basement parties. We thought we were DJing and this guy Steve Hurley, who didn’t live too far away, came by and one of his friends said, “Can Steve get on the turntables?” I’m like, “I’m not letting him get on – this is my party!” Anyway he went on and tore it up. He was great and I was really jealous.
How quickly did the kids in Chicago realize how successful their music was?
When the English press started coming over. And then when we first started coming over to England, which seemed like almost monthly. The Hippodrome was the first. I can’t remember the names of any others. In Chicago, house was played in underground clubs and on the radio sometimes, but when we came over here they were playing it in elevators and on TV, on Top of the Pops.
Was there any sense when you were working on those records early on that this music would have such a massive impact?
We didn’t think it would go on for 20 years. It was something for the moment. When you’re young you don’t think about the future.
How did things fade out in Chicago?
It had a lot to do with the press, I think. They were reporting it as a black gay thing. It put those bookends on house music: house music is a thing for black gay people. It was for everybody, but no straight person wanted to be identified as gay just as a gay person wouldn’t want to be identified as straight. It was the ’80s. Crack and AIDS were always in the headlines, it made gay synonymous with AIDS, which was very wrong.
Do you think it was linked to disco?
I would say that it was initially that. When New York started doing house music they called it “garage,” so they kind of separated themselves from it and it didn’t have the stigmatism of being black gay music. New York was a tight-knit community where in Chicago there was a lot of stealing and fighting. Still too much of that today. Hopefully we move forward.
This interview took place in London in May 2005. © DJ History