Interview: Tom Moulton

From the DJ History archives: The man responsible for the 12" record talks about his incredible career

Dubbed “the father of the disco mix,” Tom Moulton has contributed more to the evolution of dance music culture than most other producers. Born in New York in 1940, Moulton worked as a model and behind the scenes in the music industry before turning his hand to studio work. In the late 1960s, he created an “overlapping music tape” for Fire Island bar and restaurant the Sandpiper, and his innovative approach to producing and mixing disco songs first became apparent in 1975, when he turned the first side of Gloria Gaynor’s Never Can Say Goodbye album into a nonstop, 19-minute suite.

Moulton soon became a hot commodity for his mixing skills, famously delivering extended, dancefloor-friendly versions of disco tracks for such artists as MFSB (“Love Is The Message”), the Trammps (“Disco Inferno”) and First Choice (“Doctor Love”). During the late 1970s he also turned his hand to studio production, working extensively with both Grace Jones and Claudja Barry.

DJ History

Moulton has been credited with numerous innovations, including the remix itself and the 12" single. His work has been celebrated via compilations focusing on his work at leading disco labels such as Philadelphia International and Salsoul, and some four decades after his first set foot in a studio, Moulton continues to be in-demand as a remixer.

In September 1998, Moulton sat down with DJ History’s Bill Brewster to reflect on his career to date, talking at length about his innovative approach to mixing songs and the accidental birth of the 12" single.

Dan Wilton

When did you start collecting records?

Before you were born. The first record I asked my mother to buy me was “One O’Clock Jump” by Count Basie. I was five years old. That was 1945.

A 78?

Oh, absolutely. It was a 10" 78, one of the big ones.

Count Basie – One O’Clock Jump

Were you into collecting straight away?

Absolutely. I always felt like a music sponge. Things that seemed to turn me on, seemed to turn most people on. I couldn’t tell you what it was, but if I liked it I would play it over and over again. In a way, I was almost trying to rid myself of this attraction to it because it was so overwhelming, like I could never get enough of it. And it would only increase the intensity of attraction for it. I realized then the power that music had.

I grew up in Schenectady in upstate New York. I moved to Philadelphia. After two years, I struck out on my own and moved to California. Fudged my age a little bit, because you could there. You could get a driver’s license without a birth certificate.

Originally, I wanted to be a disc jockey; I wanted to be someone who exposed people to this music, because I felt that if I love it this much... I felt it was my calling, being in a position to play this for people. I envisioned myself as being the next Alan Freed. Then the payola scandal hit and that kind of killed it forever, wanting to be on radio. It upset me, the idea of taking money for playing a record. I thought they did it because they loved it. Even when I became a promotion man I never had to pay anyone for playing a record. My respect would have gone so far down for them. I’m doing a job, and you’re doing a job to play records, so you do your job and I’ll do mine – that’s how I looked at it.

I got a job working as an assistant buyer for Seeburg, the jukebox people. I had such a good time doing that, because I used to buy all the 45s for them and I felt like Mr. Powerful. You would buy these records, and in those days we were effectively a one-stop, even though we made jukeboxes. We wanted our jukebox operators to be able to go to one place for their records rather than this distributor and that distributor. They paid 3¢ more for a record, but they had the convenience of a one-stop.

In those days, when a record would come out, I’d listen to it, and the first crack you would have at it, if you ordered 500, you would get 150 free. This is before it was on radio, so you were taking a chance, because you couldn’t return it either. I was very lucky, because most of things I picked were very successful.

Patsy Cline – I Fall To Pieces

Two of the things I picked – and I almost lost my job over it, because I took 1,000 of each one – one was “I Fall To Pieces” by Patsy Cline. It bombed: nothing happened. Then, of course, about seven months later it hit and we had it when no one else did. The other song was “Mother In Law” by a guy named Ernie K-Doe. That was another record that was a sleeper and then became a number one record. But that was almost a year later.

There was a guy down there called Madman Muntz, who used to make Muntz TV. He bought the patent on an eight-track tape machine, where really it was two-track, but played four different tracks in stereo. This was in late ’59. And he had this idea to have stereo in the car, and of course stereo was just starting then. I was fascinated with the sound: two ears, two speakers. It just opened up so many possibilities for music, and anything that would help people turn on to music, I wanted to be a part of. So I started working for them. They were in it for the money and I was into educating people. After I worked for Madman Muntz, I worked for King as a promotion man.

Freddy King – San Ho Zay

What, James Brown’s label?

That’s the one. And I loved it. Out there Freddy King was starting to get very popular out in San José, which is why he made that record “San-Ho-Zay.” It was a tribute to the city. “Hideaway” was a pop record there – the white kids loved Freddy King. Elsewhere, it was “Freddy Who?”

Who else was on the roster?

James Brown, Little Willie John, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Nina Simone. We were doin’ all right. Then there was an illness in the family, so I moved back east. I had the idea to go back to retail. One weekend I went to Boston and I was in this store and all these people were asking for different records, and this clerk kept saying, “Just a moment, I’ll look it up for you.” So I said, “Listen, do you mind? This is ridiculous. What else you looking for?” I was spitting the answers out left, right and center. Finally the guy says, “You really know your music, don’t you? Do you wanna job?” So I went to work for Crays in Boston. I took the job on the condition that if a job came up in promotion I could take it.

I made one mixed side of 45 minutes and it took me 80 hours. I thought, “This is ridiculous.”

I worked for Crays for a couple of years, but I was getting angry at the way it was going because I was ordering stereo things and they would have a fit. The owner would say, “Why are you buying this crap? We sell 95% mono and 5% stereo.” I said, “OK, we’ll change that.” But it cost more: $3.98 for stereo, $2.98 for mono. People would come for a record and I’d say, “Mono or stereo?” They’d say, “Which is cheaper?” So I’d say, “Excuse me? You have two speakers. Let me show you: This is what you’re getting. Here’s the mono. Now listen to this one.” “Oh my God, it sounds so alive,” they’d say. Spending $2.98 is like having nothing, so by spending one dollar more you can have the whole world.

The Supremes ‎– Where Did Our Love Go?

It was in Billboard that year how one store had reversed the trend from mono to stereo. This was in the early ’60s. Finally we got this new record on a label called Motown and it was the Supremes. It was called “Where Did Our Love Go?” I ordered it in stereo and the distributor said, “You’re going to have to take a box.” Fred had a fit. I played it and naturally we sold it. People didn’t know, but they wanted to learn.

Then I got a job at RCA in ’66/’67. I was gung-ho for stereo. I was a salesman for the company. I had the account for Jordan Marsh, the big downtown department store in Boston. And they had the stereograms right next to the record department, so I asked if they could play this album on their stereos and put a card on it saying what was playing. Well, we sold 7,000 copies in a month. It was by Hugo Montenegro, “The Music from A Fistful of Dollars & For A Few Dollars More.” I just felt I was meant to get into promotion.

Eventually though, I got completely out of the business because of all the bullshit. Then somebody invited me out to Fire Island, and I’d heard so many negative things about Fire Island. I thought it was all drug dealers, low-lifes. I thought, “Sodom and Gomorrah, here we go.” But I went. This was 1971. But it was fascinating. I was a model, so I was using my body instead of my brain.

The guy who was at the same agency as me owned a place called the Botel out in Fire Island and they had a thing called a tea dance where people would come back from the beach and they would dance. I was so fascinated, especially seeing all these white people dancing to black music. I thought, “Hey, these are my kind of people.” It was nothing to do with the color – it was just good soul music they were dancing to.

I was so thrilled. I asked John [White]: “You have a tape machine. I have this idea. Would you play it if I did it?” The reason I wanted to make this tape was I was watching people dance and, at that time, it was mostly 45s that were three minutes long. They’d really start to get off on it and all of a sudden another song would come in on top of it and the people would be... And he was a terrible DJ, too. I just thought it was a shame that the records weren’t longer so people could really start getting off. I came home and tried it and it took forever.

What were you doing, just recording 45s on reel-to-reel?

Yeah, but I had sound-on-sound so I would back it up. In other words I would get the record playing out and bring the other record in on the over-hang, just for two or three seconds, so they would flow. I watched how people got off the floor and they always got off the floor on the one. Now that’s interesting. Let me try and start a record that’s before the one. So that way, if they go to leave, they’re already dancing to the next record. That was the hardest. I made one side of 45 minutes and it took me 80 hours. I thought, “This is ridiculous.”

Where you splicing tape?

No, I was doing it with sound-on-sound. It was an interesting concept. I didn’t want people going, “What the hell’s going on here?” So I had a vari-speed on my turntable and I would listen to the next record I was going to do and I would mark it with a pen, then I would work out where the record playing would have to go and I’d mark that with the pen and gradually speed it up. I think it might have been an Empire turntable.

So what happened was I gave him the tape. And he said, “Don’t give up your day job.” I was so hurt. I was absolutely destroyed by this. I was waiting by the dock to get the boat back to Long Island. So this guy who was the doorman at the next club says, “What’s the matter? You look like you’ve lost your best friend.” I said, “It’s worse than that.” I told him the story. He said, “Don’t worry, that guy’s a jerk anyway. You’re probably doing something he can’t do, so why would he give you a start? Look, I don’t have much to do with it, but my partner is the one who handles the music. If you want I’ll take the tape and let him hear it.”

What’s wrong with being commercially successful? I always wanted disco to appeal to the masses. If you can get the masses, then you have power.

Anyway, about two weeks later I get a phone call on a Friday. “Oh, they hate it,” he says. “They don’t know the music.” But he calls me soon after at 1:30 in the morning and I can’t hear him because the music’s so loud. He says, “They’re going crazy over your tape!” So he calls me the next day and says, “Can you make me a tape every week?” “In your dreams,” I say. “I’ll give you $500 if you can make a tape.” “It has nothing to do with the money,” I say, it’s the amount of hours. “Can you give us one for Memorial Day? An hour and a half. Then can you give us one July 4th? And Labor Day?” So I said OK.

So I went scrambling ’round to some of the record companies, asking them if they had any instrumentals, stuff like that, because I’ve gotta make these things longer or I’m never gonna be able to pull this off. A couple of people gave me some tracks and I was able to make them longer and I did them in such a way that they thought, “Wow, it’s like a long version of this particular song.”

B.T. Express – Do It (’Til You’re Satisfied)

Then someone asked me to try and do the same in a studio. So I went in there, despite not knowing anything about studios, and told ’em what I wanted and went over to Bell Sound and they said, “Oh, it’s too long to make into a 45.” I said, “What’s wrong, what’s the problem?” “There’s too much low-end in it.” “Is that all?” So we went back to the studio and re-EQ’d everything so it apparently had a lot of low-end, but it didn’t. And that was “Do It ’Til You’re Satisfied” on Scepter. That was 1973.

Wasn’t Mel Cheren at Scepter?

Yeah, that’s how I met Mel. I was introduced to him through May James, who was National Promotion Director, and Mel was in A&R. That’s how it started.

How much did you increase it by?

5:35, that magic number, from three minutes. They hated it. The band absolutely hated it. We had a station here called WBLS and they played the long version, not the short version. And it became a number one record and they were on Soul Train. And Don Cornelius interviewed the band and asked them about the length: “Oh yeah, that’s the way we recorded it.” I was so fucking mad.

Any time I did a record after that, I said, “I want to talk to the producer first. I want him to know exactly what I’m doing so there are no problems.” Essentially, I was trying to make hit records longer. If I heard a record that had some magic on it, I would want to get my hands on it. Sometimes the people concerned would not even know it was a big record, but I could feel it. I wasn’t right all of the time, but a lot of the time I was. It was a big thrill for me, especially when everyone else thought it was a great record. Then they’d get a long version of it and they’d go, “Wow!” But I’d always do a short version of it, too. I always wanted to make sure that the short version was chopped up from the long version, but it was actually just the opposite.

Don Downing – Dream World

When was the next time in the studio? Almost immediately?

Yeah. “Dream World” by Don Downing. That’s where I met Tony Bongiovi and Meco Monardo, and they were thinking of doing a Gloria Gaynor thing. I had this idea to make this medley, because the disc jockeys would play it, because then they could go to the bathroom and it would be 18 minutes long; one song straight into another. It would be perfect.

Sure enough, the Never Can Say Goodbye album came out and that’s what it was: three songs all put together [“Honey Bee,” “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “Reach Out, I’ll Be There”]. And considering it was three two-and-a-half-minute songs, that was quite a feat. I remember sitting in the office and Gloria hearing it and the first thing out of her mouth – I’ll never forget it – “I don’t sing much.” I felt so hurt over that.

Every album after that I had to use that same concept, but I had only wanted to do it for her. I liked the idea of working with the same artist, so we would grow together. I had to be careful though, because at this stage people were really starting to make a lot of money and I was just charging my fee plus one point on a record. I wanted everybody to pay the same price and everybody to be able to afford me. The only problem with that was that I went from 30 to 40 so fast I got scared. I thought, “Wait a minute, what about my 30s? They were all in the studio. Get a life.” So I got out of it for a while.

Had you been DJing at any point?

I never was a DJ! This friend of mine Barry Lederer said, “But you’ve played at Sandpiper.” And I said, “But I’m not even a DJ!” It got me. I want to be better than a DJ. I want to capture what I call a suite. Start here, and for 45 minutes I would literally have them. Control them. So you could peel them off the walls by the time that 45 minutes was up. Screaming and yelling. I wanted them to get off on the music like I got off on it.

You did the column in Billboard, didn’t you?

Yeah, but only because who else knew the disco? They contacted me. I didn’t want to write about my own records, but they said no. So I would try to be objective, but it’s almost impossible. But then I would never write anything negative about anything. I was trying to build disco, not tear it down.

So Record World got Vince Aletti and he was friendly with Billy Smith and Jacques Morali. Jacques Morali came down to Philadelphia when he did his first record. I had Studio A locked out four nights a week for ten years straight. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. I had that studio at night.

Soul Survivors ‎– Expressway To Your Heart

How many studios did they have?

Three. Joe Tarsia, who owned Sigma, to me, he’s the greatest engineer that ever lived. Bar none. I can’t think of anyone who has had more influence on music and putting class into music than Joe. First off, he started Cameo-Parkway [Records]. He did a lot of “Expressway to Your Heart,” all the Jerry Butler stuff. All those big hits that Gamble and Huff did, all of them, Joe did. The Spinners, the Delfonics, the Stylistics. It goes on and on. There are so many gold records at Sigma. And he did ’em all. Even on the O’Jay’s “Money,” that was his idea to flip the tape over and use the backward echo. I learned a lot from him. I learned that if you want to do something right, you take your time.

You were about to tell me a story about Jacques Morali and Billy Smith.

Jacques didn’t like me, first of all. By that time I was mixing so many records that he felt I was going to steal from him. God only knows what I could steal from him. He was... strange. He was very arrogant and I never heard of him before he came to Philadelphia. I know he’d tried to come before but he couldn’t get any of the guys. So the only way he could get any of the guys was he hired Richie Rome to do the arrangement.

And of course, as soon as “Brazil” comes out it’s called the Ritchie Family. Richie, Ritchie. Family, MFSB. That’s who it was: MFSB, arranged by Richie. So if you were part of that family, you could get the guys, but if you weren’t it’s like you’re speaking a different language. And then the record would come out and Vince Aletti would get a copy and I wouldn’t get one. I’d get a copy a couple of weeks later. So they called the publisher of Billboard up a few weeks later and complain: “Oh, he never writes about our records, blah blah blah.” I said, “Wait a minute. I don’t write an oldies column. If a record’s been out two weeks, how can I write about it?”

What’s the story of the 12" single?

Well, I take the credit for that. It’s a shame because most good things happen by accident. I think most things are created that way. It’s a mistake; a negative that turns into a positive. It’s like the idea of a break. I created the break, because a song modulated [changed key] and I had to make the song longer. The only way to make it longer was to take everything out of it that was music. So I had to break it down to the rhythm, but only because it modulated. Instead of it modulating once, it modulated twice. That was how the break was created.

The 12"? José Rodriguez, my mastering engineer, ran out of 7" blanks. I used to do work at Media Sound on Fridays – that’s where we did Gloria Gaynor – and I wanted to have the Trammps record cut. This was the first Trammps record on Atlantic, so I asked Dominic, the mastering engineer if he could do it, and it was Friday. He said he couldn’t do it. He was going away that weekend. “Ask me Monday,” he said. “I gotta get some refs cut.” He said, “Well, I can’t help you.” And I said, “What about your assistant?” He said, “You mean the Puerto Rican sweeper?” I went crazy.

The Trammps – That’s Where The Happy People Go

But I said to José, “Aren’t you learning to master?” “Oh yes.” “Fine,” I said. “I’ll be the ears, but you make it work.” It’s called “That’s Where The Happy People Go.” “I want you to cut me ref dubs.” I liked it so much I said, “I’m gonna do you a big favor. I’m gonna put your name on that record.” I did it mainly because I was so mad at Dominic for calling him a Puerto Rican sweeper. It was such a lousy thing to say.

But that wasn’t the first 12". I would say that the very first one – ah, I remember now. “That’s Where The Happy People Go” was the second record to have his name on it. The first one was “So Much For Love” by Moment of Truth on Roulette with José’s name on it.

Al Downing - I’ll Be Holding On

The first 12" was “I’ll Be Holding On” by Al Downing. It was never commercially available. The 7" blanks, they were out of them, so he had to give me a 12-inch. And I said, “Ugh, that’s ridiculous.” So they said, “I know what we’ll do: we’ll spread the grooves and make it louder.” And of course, when I heard it I almost died. At that time there were only about seven or eight disc jockeys around, and I used to see them on Fridays and I would give them acetates.

Who did you take it to?

Oh, let’s see. There was Richie Kaczor, David Rodriguez, Steve D’Acquisto, Bobby DJ, Walter Gibbons. A lot of fun back then. And so many of them are dead now. It’s sad. Especially because these guys... They all loved music, they really did. They would rather be admired by their peers than be super successful.

Do you not think that’s the same in any profession?

Well, the thing is you want to be successful. What’s wrong with being commercially successful? I always wanted disco to appeal to the masses, because it’s not going to do anything if it only appeals to the select few. But if you can get the masses, then you have power. Why not?

What was your first commercial success?

“Do It ’Til You’re Satisfied”

The Trammps ‎- Hold Back The Night

What other ones subsequently?

Well, “Hold Back The Night” by the Trammps. And that was something that was in the can and never came out.

How long had that been around then?

A couple of years. Because I had the idea of coming out with The Legendary Zing Album. But there was no such thing as a Legendary Zing Album, because it never existed. So I had the idea to do this thing. So they gave me a couple of things that were in the can, and “Hold Back The Night” was one of them. I slowed it down – that’s why Jimmy sounds so funny. Because it was recorded a lot faster than that.

Did you think it would be a hit straight away?

Oh, the minute I heard it. It was that groove. It just had that groove. Even they were surprised it was such a big hit. That was one of the biggest hits they’d had until, of course, “Disco Inferno.”

What relationship did you have with DJs?

I liked people who liked what I do. And then some of them wanted to start getting into mixing. So I said, “OK, but it’s rough, there’s a lot to have to learn.” I tried to help a few people, but it’s not that easy. How can I explain it? I would talk to Tom Savarese; this is my approach to it. You can’t let people intimidate you just because they know more than you. But you’ve gotta go in with a basic idea. You have to have a goal. You have to say, “I am going there.” So if you know you’re going there, you may go here, and here, but you’re still know where you’re going.

Alicia Bridges - I Love The Nightlife

Jim Burgess wanted to get involved in mixing. I said, “Let me see if I can throw anything your way.” I went over to see Rick Stephens at Polydor one day. He played me this song and I hated it. It was Alicia Bridges’ “I Love The Nightlife.” I hate it to this day. I just said, “Jim Burgess is the one to mix this.” I was just doing Isaac Hayes (“Moonlight Something” and “Something Lovin’”). Anyway, Jim got the record and it became a big hit. But oh, I hated it. I don’t care how much money you offer me, I can’t work on a record if I don’t like it.

Did you go to Infinity? What was it like?

Crazy. Spectacular. I liked the mood of it. Of course, nothing compared to the Garage. People went to Infinity because it was a great place to go. But when you went to the Garage you were the serious party dancer people. One of my favorite places was 12 West, because I loved the DJ there. His name was Jimmy Stuard. Jimmy was really something. We introduced Grace Jones there.

Even Sandpiper, it was predominantly gay, but not all gay. But then I realized that they were the only ones who weren’t inhibited. Most people hear a new song, they walk off the dancefloor, because they don’t wanna be taken some place if they’ve never been there before. They want to be familiar with it. They’re very self-conscious about their dancing. In the gay club, if it’s good they wanna move, you know? I guess they trust the DJ.

Do you think it was to do with the restrictions placed on them outside? That this was their territory, so they could relax more?

I never thought of it that way. Well, I notice that when something became very commercially successful, they moved on. That was yesterday. The first time I heard, “What We Do Today, Everyone Else Will Be Doing Tomorrow,” I didn’t understand what it meant. But I do now.

I wish more DJs were like David Rodriguez. He was probably the most aggressive DJ that I’ve ever known.

I was more fascinated with the fact that they liked black music. The roots of black music, it just loosens something in you, shakes you up. It’s like Walter Gibbons. He played in a black club and he was as white as can be. But when it came to black music he’d give you a run for your money. He’s Mr. Soul when it comes to deep, deep black [music]. He knows his stuff.

Which club? Galaxy 21?

Yeah. It was mainly black. And it was dark. And David Rodriguez. I wish more DJs were like him. He was probably the most aggressive DJ that I’ve ever known. I think if he were around today, I think music would still be a predominant force. He never let what other people played influence him. He’d take the microphone and say, ‘“OK, I’m in a bad mood, it’s gonna be a down night. So if you wanna go somewhere else, you’d better go now.” This was at a place called the Limelight on 6th Avenue in the Village. Oh my God.

Eddie Kendricks – Date With The Rain

At that time there was a song that everybody like called “Date With The Rain” by Eddie Kendricks. And everybody kept saying, “Play ‘Rain’! Play ‘Rain’!” So he said, “Not ’til you dance to this.” And he played “Make This A Happy Home” by Gladys Knight & the Pips, which was a kind of uptempo ballad. Nobody would dance. “You’re gonna hear it all night, then.” The owners are banging on the glass. He plays it over and over again. Finally, he says, “I’m serious. Unless you get up here and dance, this is all you’re gonna hear, so you better leave.” So they get up and dance. And he says, “OK, one more time with a little more enthusiasm.” Then he played 15 minutes of these crashing sound effects and all of a sudden you could hear the rain, the rain, through the noise. And they started screaming and yelling. It was unbelievable. But David played what he wanted to play when he wanted to play. If he said, “I’m in a good mood tonight,” get ready to party. And he played what he wanted. He never worried what other people thought.

A few of the guys thought like that. The guy today: “Oh, I can’t do this, we need the beats in the beginning; we need the beats here.” You take away all of their creativity. Absolutely. It’s like castrating everybody. Fine. But just remember you guys did it to them. By giving them what they want, you’re taking away their creativity.

How do you think it was for us to play a record and it had no intro? But if you loved it enough, you’d figure out a way to play it. But once you make it easy for everybody, it’s just another one of those easy records to get in and out of. You’re killing the thing that you want to preserve by making it easy for them. It’s a shame. Nobody can stay on top forever. You have to change; you have to move on. People are gonna get bored with it.

Do you still keep all of your records?

No. I finally got rid of them. People started stealing them from me, so I gave them to a friend.

You mentioned the Garage earlier on. What are your memories?

The thing I liked about the Garage was that it was really Larry Levan’s club. People went there because Larry always managed to put on a good show. He always, but always, delivered a good evening. You never went there thinking, “Oh, it might be a good night, or it might be a bad night.” It was always a good night. He never came out and said it to me, but I believe he always wanted to please the people, to give them a night to remember.

But he was very clever, very creative and I think he really cared about the people that came there, he really did. And I can’t say that about many guys, because not many people felt like that. Everyone had their club and Larry had his, and Larry never compared himself to anyone else, because you couldn’t. Larry always played good music that made you wanna move. A good record was a good record.

Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive

It’s like when they had the Studio 54 movie. I said, “Oh well, at least they’ll have ‘I Will Survive’ on there.” “Oh, no, they’re not going to put it on.” “Well, then it can’t be about Studio 54 then.” I remember when Richie first played that record. It’s the B-side of “Substitute.” Everyone walked off the floor. He kept right on playing and finally turned it over. Became his biggest record. But that was Richie Kaczor. People always try to change history. The minute I think of Richie, I always think of that song. He used to spin at a place called Hollywood. Oh, I loved Hollywood. That was on 46th Street. And Le Jardin was where Bobby DJ played.

What happened to him?

He died. I used to be so friendly with these guys, but I certainly wasn’t into a lot of their lifestyles, which were a little beyond my comprehension. These creative little enhancements. I’d gone beyond that, age-wise. People would go around with these things of pills and they’d be like, “Do you want some?” I’d be like, “Do you think I’m stupid?”

I think when you’re young you think you’re gonna live forever. And maybe I was too mature for that. I took a step back from that. “Hey Bobby, how are you?” But, like, keep one step back. And then I found out that another DJ was selling drugs on the Island. I was really annoyed over that. He said, “Sometimes I can’t make enough money playing.” I said, “I know, but how can you sell stuff like that?” I dunno, it bothered me a great deal.

What’s the thing you’re most proud of?

I think you might be surprised. When I was a promotion man I never felt like I was dealing with gods [i.e. the DJs]. When I got out of it, I got the impression that they thought, “Hey, if we don’t play it, no one’s ever going to hear it.” I thought if we can make this disco thing work, and we can get people to buy a record and it’s not actually on the radio, we could influence radio stations so much that they would have to play it; that would be amazing.

[Gloria Gaynor’s] “Never Can Say Goodbye” was proof of that. That record was selling 20,000 copies a week in New York and no radio station was playing it. Billboard took an ad themselves saying, “How can a record be selling like this, and the radio isn’t playing it and the record company isn’t getting behind it?” Radio was having a fit: “How could this record be selling without us?”

Which is your favorite record?

It’s kind of unfair to ask me. I loved the Trammps. I would’ve done their songs for nothing. Anything they did, they just brought out a joy inside me. Like I was at a church revival. It was an honor.

This interview was conducted in September 1998. ©

By Bill Brewster on November 29, 2017

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