As part of our celebration of Uncle Jamm’s Army around Red Bull Music Academy Festival Los Angeles, we’ve been combing through the archives for material around the influential party crew. In addition to our extensive oral history, journalist Brian Coleman has been kind enough to allow us to publish one of the most extensive interviews ever done by Uncle Jamm’s co-founder Rodger Clayton before his untimely passing in 2010. This collection of quotes, taken from an interview in 2005, reveals just a few of the reasons why Clayton and his crew was one of the most successful promoters on the West Coast throughout the ’80s.
I was raised in South Central, Los Angeles, on 111th and Hoover. I was a gang-banger, a blood, in the ’70s. But I’m not trippin’ over that. I was DJing garage parties in ‘72, when I was 13-14 years old. Then when I got to 15, I started charging 50 cents. I’d end up making $60.
My father had an original Sanyo quadrophonic receiver, with four speakers. I’d get that, and then I was running two turntables, one on the right channel, one on the left. This was 1974. I’d drop the needle on both records [that I was playing]. I’d hook up the receiver through a guitar amp, because it had reverb on it. [laughs]
I had a band, too, in high school. A funk band. We didn’t have no name, we just used to jam.
My father was a bus driver for the school board. He used to record cassettes for different groups of kids he was driving for. If he was driving Latino kids, he’d put Santana and stuff [that was] on KHJ radio [930 AM] at the time. If it was a black student group, he’d record James Brown and Marvin Gaye. So, I learned all that stuff from my father, when I was eight and nine years old. This was in 1966.
My father had one of those old Wurlitzer stereos, the one-piece ones, with the turntable inside. And he would plug a portable Sanyo cassette recorder into it [to record]. He’d stack up the 45s on a spindle and just let ‘em roll, and he’d record it.
When I started DJing, I called myself The Ace of Dreams. I worked with Lonzo [Alonzo Williams, founder of World Class Wreckin’ Cru] back then, he started Disco Construction. We hooked up together on the circuit and started doing parties. We’d wear costumes and throw fire and flash paper [pyrotechnics]. I’d put incense under my hand and get the flash paper and put it in my hand and throw flames. I was real, real theatrical.
The LA party scene in the late ’70s was at hotels. Kids like 16 to 24 [years old]. This was before gang activity got real big. In ‘72 and ‘73 I was playing Dr. John, “Right Place, Wrong Time”; Stories, “Brother Louie”; James Brown album cuts and productions; early Kool & The Gang.
I also used to be a dancer, on American Bandstand. My older sister was on Soul Train. I was on American Bandstand for like two years, and another show out here called The Real Don Steele Show. I was dancing and DJing at the same time, I was one of the early lockers.
Read our extensive oral history of Uncle Jamm’s Army here
THE BIRTH OF UNCLE JAMM’S
Uncle Jamm’s was first called Unique Dreams Entertainment, in 1978. It was me and a couple buddies that I had gone to high school with. One of them, Ronald Byrd, who is a roadie for Outkast now [in 2005], used to work with George Clinton, too. We all grew up on funk, so in 1979 we decided to call ourselves Uncle Jamm’s Army, and George gave us his blessing.
George went through some lean years around 1980 and 1981, when we was coming up. They would bring their records to us to break them at our events, but people just wouldn’t dance to them. “Hydraulic Pump,” that stuff. Shit just didn’t work back then, it cleared the floor.
FROM EGYPT TO BOBCAT
In 1979, Uncle Jamm’s was me, a DJ named Dr. Funkenstein, and another DJ named Bleebs. Bleebs was one of the best funk DJs out there, he never got his due. He got into drugs. He was with us from 1979 to about 1982. And back then, Egypt [Egyptian Lover] was a dancer at our parties.
Around 1981, I needed some more DJs, so I had a DJ contest at the Long Beach Holiday Inn, and Egypt won. So he was in the crew.
I dated Bobcat’s [Bobby Ervin’s] sister. He was about 13 in 1982 and his sister kept trying to get me to check him out. He had two of the sorriest turntables I’ve ever seen in my life [says this very solemnly]. But he was still killin’ it. Cheap-ass DSR turntables, they weren’t even direct drive.
Bobcat started coming to [local club] the Playpen when he was about 15, after he had been getting some gigs. He would just watch Egypt mix and learn his mixes at home.
Egypt was getting big-headed, he was blowing up, and eventually he went out on his own. So I brought Bobcat in, and he and Egypt started competing. They’d hide records from each other. Egypt was maybe 19 or 20 and Bobcat was about 15.
THE LOS ANGELES PARTY SCENE
When it came to giving parties [in the late ’70s], it was us and the Wreckin’ Cru. Our first dance was at the Alpine Village in Torrance. Then Wreckin’ Cru rented Alpine after us. Lonzo, Dre, Yella and Unknown DJ. We had serious competition [with them] back then.
Our favorite places to play back then were the Alpine Village, the Biltmore Hotel, Veteran’s Auditorium and the LA Convention Center. The Convention Center had a 5,000 capacity. Back then we used to name the parties after the hottest record at the time. “Bustin’ Out, Bustin’ Loose”; “Still In The Groove”; “Sweat ‘Til You Get Wet.” If we had a fight with a hotel [as a venue], we’d just call back and book it again under a different name. I was notorious for that.
Hip-hop came around and it just replaced funk, when funk started fading. Turntables were on the way up and bands were fading. Because when you have drum machines, you have more sounds than any band can create, and a tight groove. Hip-hop became the new funk.
We became the pulse of LA. KDAY [AM 1580] wasn’t even playing the stuff that we was playing at our parties. People would come to our parties to hear the newest grooves. We had great ears.
Uncle Jamm’s Army were the best programmers in the history of parties. We would program a crowd for 5-6 hours. I’m a great mixer, but I can kill any DJ at a party because I can out-program them. That’s the key. Egypt was an incredible raw talent and then I taught him how to program. Then he became a complete DJ.
Back then, we had the most freakiest club ever in the history of LA and it was called The Playpen. This is in 1982. That’s where the Freak Dance started in LA. The ladies had no panties on in there. When the electronic music hit LA, that was “Freak Music.”
THE SPORTS ARENA
At that time  we rented the LA Sports Arena, where the Clippers used to play. It’s next to the LA Coliseum. It had a 17,000 capacity, we would take the floor and make it a general admission dance. This is way before raves.
We gave a dance and Cara Lewis and Russell Simmons got involved. Run-D.M.C. played and we broke “It’s Like That” at the show that night. This was their first time in LA, 1983, and it was the second or third time we had done the LA Sports Arena. We didn’t need Run-D.M.C., we already had 6,000 people coming to see us play. We added Run-D.M.C. And after that show they sold 100,000 12" out here.
The first time we did the Sports Arena we had 64 Cerwin Vegas [speakers] and 16 BGW amps. This was just Uncle Jamm’s. We had a lot of the bottoms [bass cabinets] hooked up and a lot of the tops and it looked good as hell. Four turntables, a Roland 808, an SH101 Roland synthesizer and a Radio Shack Realistic keyboard on stage. Egypt and I would play the keyboards over the beats.
In the audience, in front of the stage, was Dr. Dre, Yella, DJ Pooh and Joe Cooley. All the DJs would come and stand at the stage and see what we was doing.
I was at KDAY before I was on KGFJ. Greg Mack got to town and hooked up with Uncle Jamm’s, because we were doing all the [biggest] parties. Greg got us a mix show on Saturdays called “Saturday Night Fresh.” Me, Egypt and Bobcat. It was the first mix show in the history of LA radio, before Dre. This is the fall of 1983. Our mix show had a fuckin’ 11 share in LA. We were beating Rick Dees on Kiss.
The thing people need to realize is that KDAY was a hip-hop station, but it never turned its back on funk. I was listening to them since it came on in 1974. They played funk then.
KGFJ got a new Program Director, Barry Richards. KDAY was an unpaid gig, but we would sell our own commercials. KGFJ offered us $37,000 or $40,000 a year and KDAY would only give us $12,000 part-time. I went to KGFJ and KDAY blackballed Uncle Jamm’s. This was 1984, when Egypt left to do his own thing.
I’m cool with Egypt now, but back then it wasn’t cool. It was a rivalry. He took some of our security guys with him, stuff like that. When he left, I put a new crew together and did [the single] “Naughty Boy,” me [as “Mr. Prince”], Bobcat and [Miss] Nysa.
I went to KGFJ full time and Greg Mack hired the Wreckin’ Cru to take our place [at KDAY]. And we were competing against each other. Uncle Jamm’s and the KDAY mix shows were on directly against each other for a while. Then Greg fired the Wreckin’ Cru and they came on KGFJ, so it was us and Dre and Yella against Greg’s Mixmasters.
Greg Mack had DJs who followed us. We were the innovators. Greg’s DJs were always more techno-disco, we were always funky.
I left KGFJ when Barry got fired, and they changed the format. They brought in Kevin Flynn from Minnesota, he used to work with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Kevin did not want to be like KDAY, and we clashed.
At that point I had a slow time in my life, in 1985-’86. In the mid-’80s the parties got real bad, because of crack and gangs. My finances totally stopped. I had started the DJ’s Booth record store in 1984 but that was run into the ground, because I was never there.
I have two stores now [in 2005], DJ’s Records. One for 12 years, and one for 15 years [in 2005]. I sell classic soul, funk, jazz and oldies. I’m in Inglewood now, I used to be at Imperial and Vermont, my [old] neighborhood.
UNCLE JAMM’S ON WAX
Once we bought an 808, Egypt became a master on it. I was OK, but he was a master. We did it love at the shows and finally we went into the studio and made “Dial-A-Freak.” It took us six months because we didn’t know any better and the engineer was a crook. He told us it would take ten hours to EQ, we just didn’t know. And we put too much bass in there, because we was DJs. That was me. Egypt never liked as much bass. We made that in 1982 and released it in 1983 as Uncle Jamm’s Army. That was me and Egypt on vocals, he did drums and Rich Cason [who passed away in 2007] did keyboards.
I did “Yes Yes Yes” [the b-side of “Dial-A-Freak”] with Egypt, and I did “The Roach Is On The Wall” after Egypt left, with Bobcat [in 1985].
Read our oral history of Macola Records here
“Dial-A-Freak” sold about 29,000 copies. We gave away a lot of them, too. That was the first big record that ever came out of Macola. After we went to Macola, everybody else and their momma went down there. Wreckin’ Cru, LA Dream Team, Unknown DJ, Bobby Jimmy.
I think the first Macola record was by this dude Disco Dave, he did a rap to Rick James’ “Give It To Me” called “The Gigolo Groove.” Duffy Hooks was the original dude out of LA to make records and sell ‘em on the streets. That opened the door, and Egypt kicked the muthafucka in [with Egyptian Empire Records]. He did “Egypt, Egypt” [released in 1984] and that’s when the muthafucka went crazy.
Don Macmillan was [the guy / owner] at Macola. It was just a pressing plant. He was lucky because we opened up the pipeline of LA rap for him. He ripped us all off, because we couldn’t keep track of how many he was pressing. It was a very expensive education.
When Egypt left [Uncle Jamm’s], I really got out of the record game and into my own promotions. Stuff for Run-D.M.C., Fresh Fest and all of that. By 1986-87 I was only doing events occasionally. I did stuff at a blood [affiliated] skating rink in Compton called Skate Land. I brought Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, EPMD, Biz Markie, De La Soul. All of those acts for the first time in LA. I was the only cat who could go into Skate Land with a blue sweatshirt on!
In 1987 and 1988 we still did shows. I had Keith Cooley and DJ Pooh, Snake Puppy’s [from LA Dream Team] sister Lady Q.
I still do gigs now, and I still use vinyl. And CDs, too. I can still scratch at 46, but it’s always what I play. I’ve actually got a ¼" reel right here in front of me, probably a couple hours’ worth of stuff. I might take this to the studio and put it on a CD. I found it in my mother’s garage, I think it’s got me, Bobcat and Dre on it.
THE LASTING LEGACY OF UNCLE JAMM’S
I’m proudest of the fact that we broke more East and West Coast records out here than anybody. We were the pioneers of the West Coast rap scene. People still come up to me and tell me how much our parties changed them when they were younger. Sometimes I walk down the street and get treated like Michael Jackson.
These youngsters nowadays don’t know fun. We used to have parties almost every week, and we rarely even had alcohol there. If you were 16 to 23, you could go out without any gunshots. That’s what fun was all about.