Interview: Godfrey Diamond on Andrea True’s “More, More, More” ... And More

The producer behind the disco classic (and Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby) talks about his long and winding career.

To hear Godfrey Diamond tell it, he was always a rocker in a disco dreamworld. He was also a budding musician whose nascent career coincided with the rise and the fall of one of the biggest, and furthest-reaching, phenomena ever to touch the recorded music industry. Together with his brother, Gregg, Diamond created some of the seminal disco productions of the late ‘70s. As the Diamond Brothers, they produced material for disco heavies like George McCrae, whose album Diamond Touch was named for the duo’s production company, and recorded glitzy disco-pop records under a motley assortment of monikers, including Bionic Boogie and Gregg Diamond’s Star Cruiser. The five-year Diamond Occupation resulted in high-gloss singles like “This Side of Midnight” and “Hot Butterfly,” a slice of predictive nostalgia that seemed to forecast disco’s fleeting presence, and featured a then-unknown Luther Vandross.

When Diamond emerges from his basement studio in Brooklyn to greet me, he certainly looks the part of the quintessential classic-era rocker, with a shaggy, side swept blonde coif and a relaxed, bright-eyed air. His studio is decorated with CDs that advertise the many albums he’s worked on over the years, alternately as a writer, engineer, mixer, producer, and session musician. Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby holds pride of placement; in one corner of the table that holds his mixing equipment sits what looks like an avocado.

I tucked that whole period of my life far away. The whole record business was ugly.

But his disco contributions are noticeably absent – you’d never know that Diamond’s career began in earnest with the success of Andrea True Connection’s disco-camp classic “More, More, More,” a song that the brothers banged out in their mother’s living room, without a singer or a plan of attack, in 1974; nearly two years later, the song became a #1 hit, and the Diamond Brothers an in-demand production outfit. The absence of any obvious references to the disco period may be dumae to its abrupt end, which for Diamond signaled both professional and personal turmoil. “I tucked that whole period of my life far away,” Diamond explains. “The whole record business was ugly.”

Diamond grew up not only in, but through the disco era, and he eventually left it behind, focusing on rock acts like Aerosmith and Billy Squier in the ’80s. His involvement with disco was serendipitous to begin with, beginning with a summer job in the shipping department of a midtown Manhattan recording studio called Media Sound. When fall rolled around, Diamond opted to stay instead of returning to school, putting him next in line to make the leap from packing up reel-to-reels to assisting in the studio. “My boss invited my mom to lunch, so she came over and saw the studio where I worked. Later, she said to me, ‘Look, he really convinced me. Try it if you want for a year, and then let’s revisit this again for the next semester.’ By that time I had a hit, and then my life got laid out for me.”

What was it like working as an assistant at Media Sound?

The first day I was bringing a coffee in, and I saw a guy producing, I said, “That’s it. I want to make records. If I have to sweep up, I’ll do whatever I have to do.” Media had a big thing with the R&B market – Stevie Wonder worked there, and so did Gloria Gaynor. In the middle of a horn session with Kool and the Gang, my mentor Tony Bongiovi had an emergency at home, and he said to me, “We can either stop right now or you can sit here and finish the session.”

Were you and Gregg already working together at that stage?

All the time. My brother’s about six years older than me, and he was always in rock bands. I would go to all these rehearsals and sessions, and I would watch, and I’d be the only little audience they had, so they’d all turn to me and go, “Well, what do you think?” I would just pick the section I liked, and try to help them work out a beat for it. I didn’t realize it, but that was the very beginnings of understanding producing. I was like 14, 15, I was this little kid. But they would listen to me, because whatever, I was there!

How did you write and record your first hit, “More, More, More”?

One day I’m at Media wrapping up microphone cables, and I get a call from my brother. He had got his hands on maybe $1,200, and he says “Listen, I got this studio, it’s really close to where you are, it’s on 54th and Broadway. Want to come over? Let’s blow this out.” I go, “Sure man, I have a break from 2 to 5, I’ll come right over!” [Bassist Jimmy Gregory] comes over and plays this great bassline, I play drums, and Gregg plays the piano. That’s where “More, More, More” happened. And that eventually turned into this team, which was Gregg, myself, Jimmy Gregory, who’s an amazing bass player, and Steve Love, who was in a band called Stories. Jimmy was in this band Five Dollar Shoes with Gregg. Gregg met Steve because they both played with Jobriath.

So we had this song hanging around for about a year. We tried different people on it, but we really didn’t know what to do with it. Andrea True knew Gregg and would come over to the house all the time. About a year after we created the demo, we get a call from Andrea, and she says “I did this movie down in Jamaica and I made some money, but I can’t leave the country with the money or they’re going to take half of it. One of the guys that I know here has a studio. Do you have anything up there I could sing on?”

Every label in New York passed on this record.

So we go down there with our demo, throw on her voice, make it sound as good as we can because she wasn’t really a great singer – we had her sing it like a dozen times, over and over, so we got this thick version of her, this big, lush, breathy and sexy vocal. Then we edited it, cleaned it up and put a bunch of reverb on it so it has that big effect. We come back to New York, Gregg hooked up with some lawyer that he knew, they shopped it around, and every label in New York passed on this record.

One of the guys we talked to in that time was Art Kass, a very smart guy who had a record company called Buddah Records. He’d let everybody pass [on records], and he’d be the guy that calls later and goes “So what happened?” So after everybody passes, I get this call from Art, and he ends up drawing up a deal for the record, and signs Andrea True as the artist. When it broke the Hot 100, me and my brother were like, “This is the best we’re ever gonna do in our life, we hit it, this is it.” And it just kept creeping. It took like eight months to get into the top 20. And then we’ve got a #1 record on our hands.

In the late ‘90s, Len came out with “Steal My Sunshine.” They used an insert from “More, More, More” where I’m playing the bridge. That’s just me playing the cymbal and the drum and the kick. I went to see Go, and this song’s playing and my friend looks at me and he goes “I recognize this song,” and I’m like, “Recognize it – that’s me playing!” And so bang, I had another Top 20 record.

How did you meet Luther Vandross?

Gregg met Luther during the Andrea True sessions down in Philly. Luther had just done Bowie’s Young Americans. When we did “Hot Butterfly,” that was like Luther’s coming-out party. That’s one of my favorite songs that Gregg and I ever did, even more than “More, More, More.” Luther helped a lot with the lyrics and the melodies. Unfortunately, I love my brother very much, but he just wasn’t so big with sharing credit, which eventually led to me not working with him anymore. For the first five, six albums, I’m just happy we get to do it again, and I don’t care about credit. We were pioneers in the beginning, and we were doing it together.

You were the little brother in the equation. Do you think the age difference played into that?

He would go to the art meeting, and leave my name out of a couple places. If you left it up to him, it’s guitar, drums, bass, everything! In fact, in one art meeting, Andrea said to him, “Wait, I think Godfrey played drums on that,” and he goes “Oh yeah, Godfrey Diamond on drums.” And then he put his name on the front of the records. It couldn’t just be Bionic Boogie – it was Gregg Diamond’s Bionic Boogie, Gregg Diamond’s Star Cruiser.

Sometimes there was a Bionic Boogie playing in New York, and there was another Bionic Boogie playing on the West Coast at the same time.

Aside from that, we were having a blast. Gregg rented a Lear jet, we all went down to Florida together, brought all our girlfriends, we would hang out, go to the beach. I knew how to make records fast, because I did it every day. So we had this machine rolling really well. So Gregg could actually be as high as he wanted, but I’m in there making sure this thing is running like a fine-oiled machine, that’s how we knocked out so many albums in this short period of time. We were working on two or three of ‘em at the same time. Sometimes there was a Bionic Boogie playing in New York, and there was another Bionic Boogie playing on the West Coast at the same time. Which wasn’t even us! We didn’t play live! We were the studio band. But when there were gigs we’d just have some guys play. We thought, “If we can have those guys play, why don’t we get some guys in LA to play, so we can have them going at the same time?!”

Meanwhile, we’d have limos waiting outside every night, we’d go to Studio 54 together, we’d show up and they would have everything out for us, they’d introduce us to Diana Ross, and we’d meet all these amazing people, and they’d put our records on as soon as we came over.

Studio 54 was at 54th street, and Media was on 57th street, so I could be mixing one of my songs for the record, and it would be getting to be maybe 11 or 12 at night, and I knew the DJ at 54. So I could come over there and burn a quick acetate, or even bring a cassette or a reel-to-reel. Because they’d want to be the first to play it! It’s not even done, but he’d stick it in between all the other dance stuff that’s going on, and Gregg and I would sit there and watch. They’d start dancing, and I’d feel the bass and the kick, and I’d hear how the vocals and the backgrounds go through the system. I’d go back and do a couple of little fixes on it and bring it back the next night.

Aside from your work as a producer, were you going out to disco clubs?

There were a few, there was Danceteria, where there was multiple floors of things going on – like a dance floor, rock floor, you know like, each floor was some wild thing going on. Then, we called it Slimelight, but there was Limelight, that church at 20th and 6th, which is now like a clothing store I think. But here’s the funny thing. Gregg and I were rockers. We loved the Stones, we loved Hendrix, we loved Zeppelin, we were rock guys. And that never changed.

When I got my job at Media, I was 19 and Gregg was 25 or something. He had done a few records, but they were rock only. And I would come home with these mixes from Kool and the Gang, and other bands, right before disco hit big. We’d get up in the morning, have a cup of coffee, and he’d hear these mixes and be like “Damn, this is really cool.” I think because I was bringing home a different dance mix every night, it kind of got into his head and he started writing dance tunes. What we always had was feel, and groove, because we were both drummers. And dance, disco, and R&B is all about feel and groove.

I’m curious as to what your experience was with the backlash, when the whole “Disco Sucks” movement began.

I never could tell people what I did for a living. I couldn’t tell my friends what I did. Some of them knew I made dance records. But it wasn’t cool! There were records that I was, even at that point, extremely proud of, like “More, More, More,” Bionic Boogie, the stuff we did with Luther. But there was a lot of cheesy disco stuff mixed into this thing that was just awful.

How did you get to working with Lou Reed?

Around the time we recorded “More, More, More” with Andrea, another friend of ours, Mandy Newall, who was in the corporate world and worked with Alice Cooper, came over and asked me if I wanted to meet Lou Reed. He was starting to make a record that wasn’t really working, and thinking about scrapping it and starting over. So I went down and met him for lunch at this place called Ashley’s at 13th and 5th Avenue.

It was pretty wild to be out in CBGB’s and the Mudd Club at night, and every day come in and mix disco records.

Lou was staying at the Gramercy Park Hotel, was paying money out the wazoo, he didn’t even have an apartment. We went to his hotel room, and he sat on the side of the bed with his black Telly, just him, no speaker. He sings me like 16 songs, and then he takes the cassette out, and gives it to me, and goes “What do you think, you want to help engineer the record with me?” Then he calls me up like a day later and goes, “How’d you like to produce the album too?” Bing. My eyes lit up, because Gregg and me didn’t really take off yet. So I make Coney Island Baby.

Lou turned me onto like the Mudd Club, and all these really seedy funky dives in New York that I never really knew about. Back then he still had this really short chopped Frankenstein-y haircut. This was at a time when guys had long hair. And you’d walk into the bar and every guy had this haircut. I was like, “That is such an ugly haircut, why would anyone want it?” I didn’t even like it on him! It was pretty wild to be out in CBGB’s and the Mudd Club at night, and every day come in and mix disco records. The nucleus behind all those disco records, we called it the World Radio Band. These four rock guys making dance records.

When you quit the business, was that the same time that you and Gregg stopped working together?

He was a very creative, brilliant person, my brother. But he had some very destructive sides to him.

I made three big cuts in my life, because I didn’t know what was wrong. I knew there was something wrong in my life. I knew I was working 18 hours a day, I’m making a ton of money, I’m not really enjoying all this disco, it’s starting to get under my skin. I was mixing 18 hours a day, I burned myself out. And I got ripped off for too many songs. And that’s when the bus goes by. I cut three of my umbilical cords that were holding my life together: I broke up with my brother, stopped that relationship; I broke up with my girlfriend, and I quit my job. I was still pretty young, because I hit at 21. I’m 25, and I’m retiring, basically.

Eventually I figured out it was really just the relationship with my brother. I probably could have just cut that one thing out, and continued the other things. They did one more record and went in the shitter. Gregg spent $400,000 on a record that he had a budget of $250,000 on. Jimmy called me up in the middle of that record and said “Dude, you gotta come back, Gregg is going crazy.” He was a very creative, brilliant person, my brother. But he had some very destructive sides to him.

Was there a moment when you realized that disco was going south and was going to disappear?

Absolutely, and I know the minute it happened. I was out on 8th Avenue or whatever, and a bus goes by, and it says WBLS, the #1 Station in the Nation. At that point WBLS just played disco. It was disco morning, noon, and night. And that’s where Gregg and I were getting played. But, I saw that bus go by and I was like, “Ffft. It’s gonna be gone soon. Because it’s already hit third wave.” When you see it on that commercial level, like a bus going up 8th Avenue, it’s over. That was probably like ’79, and then in 1980 I quit the business, and the business folded.

My wife was a big punk, so when we met, she was like, “You were in disco?”

It was kind of the whole disco thing eating itself. That’s where the punk movement came out of, being rebellious against all this disco shit. And I was kind of on the fence with that whole thing, because there wasn’t a lot of talent in it at that point. I would go and see these bands, and some of them I really dug, but some of them just sucked. The disco records were usually played by great players, all fantastic studio cats that knew their thing. So I was torn. And my wife was a big punk, so when we met, she was like, “You were in disco?” She accepted me because of fucking Coney Island Baby. That’s the only thing she was proud of.

By Abby Garnett on August 13, 2014