Nicky Siano on the Gallery and the Dark Days of Disco

From the DJ History archives: the founder of one of New York’s most fabled clubs chronicles ups and downs of the scene he did so much to create

Nicky Siano’s biography is as close to a definitive history of disco as one man’s life can get.

While still a young music obsessive from Brooklyn, a visit to David Mancuso’s original Loft party set him on a journey that would encapsulate all the joy, innovation and excess of the era. Captivated by the crowd’s exuberance, the purity of the sound and the uplifting power of the songs, Siano was inspired to become a DJ, and quickly secured a nightly residency at a little-known Manhattan club called the Round Table.

DJ History

There, Siano honed his craft, earning a loyal following with his eclectic selections of Philly soul, funk, gospel and dancefloor-oriented rock. Soon, though, he became disillusioned with graveyard shifts and $15-a-night paychecks. So, with the help of his brother and then-girlfriend, he established the Gallery – a club that took Mancuso’s template and pushed it in a new and increasingly hedonistic direction.

The story of the Gallery is one of great music, fabulous patrons, uninhibited sex and extravagant drug use – a combination that would eventually lead Siano into full-blown drug addiction and rehab. However, it also acted as a community hub and a classroom for aspiring young figures such as Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles.

In this piece from the DJ History archives, which combines two interviews from 1998 and 1999, Siano gives a master class on a truly golden age of New York clubland, from the best moments of his own club, spinning at Studio 54 with Richie Kaczor, the scene’s eventual demise and how he managed to remain one of the city’s best-loved DJs.

Courtesy of Nicky Siano

What part of New York are you from?

I’m from Brooklyn, originally.

How did you get into records?

From going out dancing. At a very young age, I met someone in high school and they took me to the Village, to the first club I ever went to, which was called the Firehouse. Immediately, I really dug the music.

How old were you when you went there?


What year was that?

Do we have to discuss that? [laughs] It was 1970, and about a year later, my brother’s girlfriend... I was dancing around with her, and she said. “If you really like dancing you’ve got to come to the Loft.” She took me [there] and that was it. I was hooked on the whole experience.

What was your first impression when you went in there?

It was real crowded. Well, the first time I went there, it wasn’t packed like other times. First of all, I’m not talking about Prince Street, I’m talking about Broadway [David Mancuso’s home, and the party’s original venue]. The Loft was only 2,000 square feet, with 500 square feet of DJ booth… It was tiny.

First of all, the Klipschorn speakers, [Mancuso] put them in a way that they covered the whole area and exaggerated the sound. His room was perfect to do this with. He used to be on the dancefloor, and the lights would go out, there would be these little lamps in the corner and the tweeters would come on and the lamps would go out. It was freaky-deaky. I don’t know whether I was on acid…

How did you go from being a dancer to playing records?

I wanted to play records more than anything else in the world. I mean, I was possessed by it. I’d go home. I had a little hi-fi and a stereo, and I would mix records back and forth between these two separate units. All I could think of was records… I remember I heard “Rain” by Dorothy Morrison, I could not get it out of my head until I could get it in my hand. Not many record stores had it. I just searched and searched and searched until I found it.

I met this girl in high school [called Robin Long]. I knew I was gay from a very young age – I was going out with men – then I met her and started going out together. So anyway… She convinced this club owner to let me play records. [The place] was called the Round Table, 51st and 3rd Avenue.

So, you started collecting records when you were in high school?

Yeah, I used to drag my girlfriend around the city looking for them, but there was really only one record store that was carrying these records.





What kind of stuff were you playing at Round Table?

I guess stuff like “Little Bit of Love” by Brenda & the Tabulations, War “City Country City,” “Girl You Need A Change Of Mind” [by Eddie Kendricks].

Brenda & The Tabulations - Little Bit Of Love

What was that club like?

It was empty during the week. But on the weekends it was thousands of people. It was huge. It was very high ceilings and it was great. It was a great club on the weekends, but I played seven days of the week.

Was it a straight club?

No, it wasn’t. It was mostly Hispanic gay people.

And you played every night. Five nights of torture and–

Two nights of fun. Friday and Saturday –sometimes Sunday, if it was a holiday – would be good. And I’ll never forget, I got $15 for the slow nights and $20 for the good nights, so I was making nothing.

And now you were playing, you couldn’t go out to the other clubs.

No. Well, sometimes we would close early and we would go [somewhere], or the Loft was after-hours, so we’d go there. But, yeah, it was pretty weird.

Unlike a lot of clubs, the Gallery was a place to dance. People met there and went home with each other, but they came to dance.

Was it primarily a dance club?

Yeah. It had two turntables, no headphones, a little homemade mixer, and big old speakers.

So it was quite a primitive set-up?

Well, not many clubs had headphones.

Had you come across some of the other DJs like Steve [D’Acquisto] and Francis [Grasso]?

I never came across Francis and I never heard Steve D’Acquisto play… Steve played at Tamburlaine, which burned down, Christmas Eve, [I think], right before I turned 17. I remember we went that night and we watched it burn down.

And you went from the Round Table to the Gallery?

Well, I quit… About a year into playing at the Round Table, I was very frustrated. My brother, Robin and I were going to the Loft. They were like, “Let’s do one of these [nights], because there’s the only one of them around. And let’s open it for a straight crowd, because this one already has a gay crowd.”

Coincidentally, a friend of ours had just gotten this accident settlement for $10,000. We borrowed 5,000 more and built the Gallery… Then David [Mancuso] went away that summer and immediately people came. That’s when he brought back the Barrabás album… “Soul Makossa” was another one he found in some Jamaican store in Brooklyn and bought ten copies and passed them around. That became a huge hit.

Barrabás – Woman

Which version of “Soul Makossa”?

The Manu Dibango one.

Was this [the period] between the first Loft and the Prince Street one?

[Yes], before the second… 99 Prince Street was good, but nothing can compare to that original Loft. It was the most incredible space of that time.

When did The Gallery open?

February 1973.

What was the vibe like?

What do you mean?

What music did you play, what crowd did you have, what was the atmosphere like?

Unlike a lot of clubs, the Gallery was a place to dance. Although people met there and went home with each other and stuff like that, that’s not why people came there. People came there to dance. They usually came with friends, and if you met someone there it was a bonus, but it was about the dancefloor and the music.

And you modeled it very much on the Loft?

Yes, but, you know what… David’s place was his house, and you can’t ever recreate that in a club. Ours was like a club version of David’s… a more commercial kind of version. That feeling, that atmosphere was there. The caring about people and stuff like that. The only thing was that we didn’t live there, so it’s a little different. I always feel like I took what David did onto a more commercial level, and I had more of an influence commercially than David had. David [was more] underground. I mean, when I played a record, it was played everywhere. When David played a record, someone heard about it, and then if they played it, it was–

It was much more subversive.

It was more underground and it remained that way, although he had a tremendous influence on a lot of people, including myself.

Where was the Gallery?

Originally on 22nd Street. Then, 18 months later, we got closed down for improper fire exits. So did, like, seven other clubs, because right after the Gallery opened, then 10th Floor opened, and all these other kind of loft clubs. Everyone had the idea at the same time, I think we just did it before people.

So, it was in a loft?


What was the layout?

It was bigger than David’s. David’s was 2,000 square feet, we were 3,600. And what we did was – I actually have a lot of slides – it had pillars down the center, and there were three huge Altec “Voice of the Theatre” speakers, in what used to be windows, but which weren’t windows any more, because it was built against the building next door. They fit perfectly, and we got all this reflected sound from them, but then I wanted to build a wall around the dancefloor, which I did. Then I put a speaker in each corner – I bought another one of them. Then I bought bass horns, and then I bought tweeter arrays. David was the first person to have those bullets. I was the second person.

And you were working with Alex Rosner?


He’s like Mr. Experiment, isn’t he?

Alex? To me Alex was the greatest soundman. Dick Long was a great soundman but I still think Alex was better, and I’ll tell you why. Dick took it and made a certain club sound that still exists today. I don’t like that sound. It’s not what musicians hear when they record the record. It’s not true sound. It’s over-enhanced. Especially the low end. I’m not talking about, “Don’t give them low end,” but the way they’re doing it, the way those speakers are built, they are built against the laws of physics for sound.

Klipschorn – when they build a speaker, they follow the laws of physics… Dick’s bass horns did not. He wanted to build his own, and he took their design, but he had to change it a little bit because it would be infringement of copyright. What he came up with doesn’t follow the physical path of the sound… It’s skewed in some way… Alex built soundsystems that were based on true sound, on what you hear in a recording studio, on how a record is meant to sound. To this day, I think Alex was the best sound man.

What did the Gallery look like?

The original Gallery had low ceilings, but when we moved, the ceilings were almost three stories high. We had a balcony overlooking the dancefloor, so we built the lighting on a big structure that hung from the ceiling, so if you looked at the lighting it looked as if it was going up into the ceiling. Steve Rubell [from Studio 54] used to come and stare at the lighting all night long… I swear that’s how he got the idea for Studio.

The Gallery Courtesy of Nicky Siano

How long did it run for?

Until 1977.

And you were there the whole time?

Yeah, I partially owned it. The beginning of ’78, our lease renewal came up and [my brother] said, “You know, you are totally strung out on drugs” – which I was – “you’re killing yourself, and I can’t watch this. Are you gonna clean up, or are we going to close the club?” I was an arrogant little drug addict, I just said: “Close it! I don’t give a shit.” And he did. Then I went over to [a club called] Buttermilk Bottom for a year, and I went to Europe, and when I came back I had lost my following… Then again, I was still on drugs and still all fucked up. Things that were going on in my life... My inner was reflected in my outer being. I’m drawing a bigger crowd 20 years later than I drew back then!

What were the great nights at gallery?

I think great is an understatement for nights at the Gallery. I think extraordinary… People got really out of control. I mean, there are points when the music was taking people so far out and getting so peaked that, collectively, people [would chant] “TURN THIS MOTHERFUCKER OUT.” That started at the Gallery… Can you imagine 700 people doing that? There were like 400 other people in the club, but 700 people on the dancefloor doing that and dancing together, blowing whistles, and screaming… Then [I’d] turn the bass horns up and the lights would flash and go out, and everyone would scream so loud you couldn’t hear the music for a second – and it was a fantastic soundsystem. [People] would be dancing so hard that if you went downstairs you would see the wood floor moving.

What was the record you would be playing to do that?

Well “Love Is The Message,” which was really my theme song. I discovered that. It was long associated with Larry [Levan], but it’s my record. Larry wasn’t even playing records when I started playing it… David and Michael [Cap[ello] had been the first ones with “TSOP,” and then I turned the record over and fell in love with “Love Is The Message.”

Labelle – What Can I Do For You?

What were the other great Gallery Songs?

I remember the songs I played the [opening night of the second Gallery]: “What Can I Do for You?” by Labelle was really, really big… Dirty Old Man” by the Three Degrees… Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes “The Love I Lost,” “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” by Willie Hutch.

So, you were into the Philly sound?

I loved the Philly sound, but then everyone did. They made great records. Early Trammps: “Love Epidemic,” “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart.” You were talking about what I was playing at Round Table – that was what I was playing… Then, after that, at the old Gallery, O.C. Smith’s “La La Peace Song,” [Ultra High Frequency] “We’re On The Right Track”, Doobie Brothers “Listen To The Music,” “Long Train Running,” “How Can I Forget” by the Realistics… These were Round Table records: “Rain” By Dorothy Morrison and “I Got It” by Gloria Spencer, [Little Sister] “You’re The One.”

What equipment did you have?

Oh, I had the best. I had a Bozak mixer, I had [Thorens] TD125 turntables, which still to this day I prefer. They don’t give feedback.

Do they have pitch control?

Yeah. Very slight – maybe 2 or 3% in each direction, which is all you need. You don’t need to bend a record 8%. Who the fuck are you to bend the record 8%? I see DJs doing this and I think, “You’re an asshole. This is not how the person who recorded this record meant it to be, and… I mean, you just don’t.”

When I learned to play records, you weren’t to fuck with a record beyond a certain point. If you want to enhance the sound, I did a lot of that, but I brought out the breaks, which is something that people wanted. The breaks were meant to be brought out. I don’t know… This [does some rapid EQing moves]… this is bullshit. It does nothing for me, except hurt my ears sometimes, because it gets too loud.

What would you do with a record?

Well, this whole third turntable thing… I had a dream one night, I had a dream that I was playing “Girl You Need a Change of Mind,” and then I brought in “Love Is The Message.” I used to have this plane sound effect that I would play on “Love Is The Message” – this jet plane that was blaring. I had a dream that I was playing the jet plane while I was mixing the record, like it was all happening together. So, I brought in my turntable from my house, and I hooked it up. That was the kind of thing no one else was doing. I had vision, I had creativity. There’s creativity about the music, and then there’s creativity in the big picture. You know, noticing the lighting, noticing the decorations, noticing the way the sound sounds, then taking the music beyond what it is, and making it something better.

Did you use two copies of the same record to do your own mixes?

Well, actually, that idea, Richie Kaczor was playing at [a club called] Hollywood, and he did this thing one night with “Girl You Need A Change Of Mind.” He offset two copies, and it was going, “Girl you need a change… girl you need a change” [singing, as if in rounds]. It was in perfect time and perfect sync, but it was wild. It was just fabulous, just incredible. But one of the things I would always do was, if there was a break on a record, I would extend it back and forth, play the break back and forth over and over. Or if the beginning was hot, I would play the beginning over and over, and then bring in the song.

Because the records were much shorter then.


When did people start doing that?

I think it was happening for a while… David didn’t do it at The Loft, but Michael Cappello did it a lot. He was the alternate at the Sanctuary [before moving on to the Limelight]. Francis [Grasso] was the main person.

Francis used to do things like that. He was probably the first.

He was probably the first. I don’t know what happened with Francis’s career.

Frankie Knuckles said, “I know this kid – he’s a little crazy but he’s very talented. Could I bring him over?” I said, “Sure.” That was Larry.

So, the Gallery… Was the crowd drawn from people you knew?

Do you know Stephen Burrows?


OK. Stephen Burrows had won a Coty that year [1973]… He was a fashion designer… Willi Smith – very famous fashion designer… Calvin Klein… I mean, these were people who came when they weren’t really big. At one point Mick Jagger and David Bowie were there one night… Patti Labelle.

But it wasn’t a club that was about celebrity…

Right. They were looking for a really hot spot to dance, and people said, “Go to the Gallery.”

It was focused on the dancing. It wasn’t a pick-up place.

Have you been to Body & Soul?


Very similar to that – the emphasis was on the dance. Body & Soul times 100, then you’d have the Gallery. I mean at the fiercest point at Body & Soul – with the screaming and yelling – on the dancefloor, times that by 100, and you could equal the Gallery.

A lot of people got their start at Gallery. Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan were working there. How did you meet them?

They just came there, and Robin came to me and said, “This guy Frankie wants to work for us.” I said, “There are 600 people here, and we don’t have anyone working for us – maybe it’s a good idea.” Then Frankie came to me one week and said, “I know this kid – he’s a little crazy but he’s very talented. Could I bring him over?” I said, “Sure,” and that was Larry.

Frankie went off, and we are still good friends today, but I was very close with Larry. We lived together, we were lovers for a while… He did the decorations and he worked the lights for a while, and we would go on [the turntables on] the off nights and play some records. I would tell him what David Rodriguez taught me: Don’t cut off the lyrics on a song; try to make the tempo match.

Back then, and I still think so to this day, I think the selection is more important than the mix. I don’t know where all these people think every record has to match. I think that is the most retarded thing I’ve heard of. I would just end a record, put on some special effect and start a new record. That’s the only way you’re gonna create a night that moves. Otherwise you’re gonna just… “Plateau DJs,” that’s what I call them. [In a monotone:] “All the records just match exactly and they’re all the fucking same.” Who cares about that?

Nicky Siano and Larry Levan Courtesy of Nicky Siano

Danny Krivit said that your style was very much about the vocals. It was very much a vocal narrative that you wove.

Well, one night I played [recently], my last songs were “I Want to Thank You,” “Mighty Love” [by the Spinners] and [The Trammps] “Love Epidemic.”

So, it’s the meaning of the lyrics.

It’s talking to the people through the lyrics, yeah. When I was playing “Mighty Love,” people were on the dancefloor, looking into each other’s eyes and singing the words. It was incredible. It was a real moment… Sometimes I’m really aware of the intent, and sometimes I’m in an altered state and just picking things out that are moving me… For a while, I was like, “I love this shit, I love it,” and now I’m more conscious of it [as something that’s coming through, rather than me than me consciously doing it]. When I step out of the way and let it come through me, it’s the most powerful experience. Unbelievable.

What do you think it is?

Love. Which is the same as saying “God” or “spirit.” And I’m not talking about religion, because religion has totally fucked up this concept. I think just like the 100th monkey story

The love in the room…

Right! There is a force that connects us. And if I connect with that force, which I think is love, if I connect with that force and I’m playing from that center, we’re all gonna get it, we’re all gonna get off on it.

That’s very much what David [Mancuso] said. He’s very much against the ego, and the best nights were when he didn’t know where his hand was picking the records. It was the joy in the room. Do you think that was a feeling that was articulated?

Well, what is ego? Ego is the opposite of love. If God is a reality, say there’s a force, that we could call God – let’s call it love for now, or spirit. Let’s not even use the word “God.” Let’s use the word “spirit” for now, and that’s love. Ego is the exact opposite of that, because ego connects you with everything that love isn’t. Which is like the body, the physical senses. You want to go beyond that.

One of the biggest compliments I ever had was from a friend who sprained his ankle on the dancefloor, and he came to me afterwards and he said, “I just hurt my ankle, it’s killing me, I was dancing so hard I forgot I was in a body.” So the music was moving him to the point where he was connecting with the spirit, and forgot he was in a body – that’s what music can do.

I was just listening to that song [“Free” by Ultra Nate]… I mean, that just sends me out there, it connects with something, and certainly the public proved that, because that is one of the best-selling records, without any radio play, that happened in that last two years.

Were these feelings articulated at the time, or was it just something that was in the air?

No. It wasn’t articulated. I don’t think we understood what we were tapping into. See, that’s the circle of things. I mean, that’s part of me coming back: I did all this work on myself, spiritually. And I really understand – not understand – I really know that there’s something beyond just me at work, and that it’s more a point of service.

I think David was always aware of it…

A lot of people have spoken about this. A lot of DJs have felt that it’s about more than just them and the music and the people – that it’s more of a holistic thing… I think drugs enhance it.

It’s enhanced by drugs, but you don’t need them. And at this point in time, in the evolutionary scope of things, I’m telling you that that experience can be stronger in the right environment, with the right music, than with drugs. The drugs are gonna muffle that experience, not enhance it.

But, at the time of the Gallery, there must have been a lot of drugs around.

Naaaaaaah! [laughs]

What were people doing back then? Acid?


Why do you think Larry Levan’s myth grew so potent?

Do you want me to say the politically correct thing?

No I want you to say the truth. He was very much your protégé, wasn’t he?

That’s it… You said it. I didn’t.

Studio 54 was bright and white, in the beginning. It wasn’t dark, it wasn’t dingy. It was really incredible, but Steve Rubell changed and the club changed.

A lot of people said that Studio was kind of the Antichrist… But there were a lot of good things about it as well, there was a lot of money spent on the lights and the sound–

[Steve Rubell] didn’t start out that way. He started out with very pure motives – he was into the music. When he started, very into it. But then it all got fucked up. I mean, because, well, he started doing a lot of drugs, but I think what fucks you up most is the fact that you set your goals, and then you attain everything immediately, and where do you go from there? It’s like, at 16 I wanted to be a DJ, and I wanted to be the best, and at 17, here I am owning my own club, and where do you go from there?

Wow – you were 17 when the Gallery opened?


That’s amazing.

So, that’s how it is. Steve used to come up to me at the Enchanted Garden [Rubell's pre-Studio 54 club in Queens], and I used to be playing records and he used to say, [affects a nasal voice] “Oh, Diana Ross is my favorite.” A year-and-a-half later she’s a personal friend.

I think that the first year was the most fabulous year. That movie [54] is about the last year, and it’s very dark and kind of–

After it all imploded.

Right. And Studio wasn’t like that, it was bright, it was white, in the beginning. In the first year. The lighting was… You could have been outside in the sun. It was bright light in there. It wasn’t dark, it wasn’t dingy. And the guns went off, and you’d collect confetti – you’d be able to put your hand on the floor and pick up an inch worth of confetti and glitter, and everybody had glitter all over their hair, and it’d be sticking to people’s skin. It was really incredible, but he changed and the club changed.

All these things on Studio 54 recently, and not one of them has talked about the DJs. Never mentioned Richie Kaczor. I only played there for the three or four months, but I was strung out on heroin and I was only playing during the week. Richie took it over at weekends, and Richie was a fabulous DJ. “I Will Survive”? He discovered that record. He made a hit out of it. He was incredible. I would go to Hollywood every single night while he was there, and this was while the Gallery was open, and I’d hear a lot of things there. One of the reasons Studio happened was because he was so incredible and they never even mention him. If I played somewhere after Gallery closed, I would get 700 people there. I had a following. And it’s the same today with Junior [Vasquez] and Danny Tenaglia. People follow them because they like their style of music. But, you know what, now they’re getting a lot more credit than we got back then. We were paid shit. We were exploited and kicked to the curb.

You had fun there, right?

I had a ball, but I only played the first four or five months.

You played the second night and from there you had a regular gig?

I played the second night, and then I played Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday. Then they had me there for special parties, like Bianca [Jagger]’s party, and stuff like that. I was using a lot of drugs, but also my style of playing was not straightforward. Richie played very straightforward. Everything matched, and although he built nights, a record never ended [before] another started. It was very, very seamless, because that’s what they wanted.

The emphasis wasn’t on the music. They didn’t want it to impose.

That’s right. They took the emphasis off the music, and that’s, I think, where it went wrong. Also, in 1980 people were screaming, “Disco sucks, kill disco,” and everything. That was the end of Studio… That was the third year.

Studio 54 epitomized everything [those people] didn’t like about disco.

It just made everything so commercial.

Was there a sense that the party was over, with the “Disco Sucks” thing and Saturday Night Fever coming out? Everyone hates Studio, because they can’t get in…

The party was over… I mean, in the beginning there was no word “disco.” If you were going to David’s you were going to the party, if you were going to Tamburlaine or Limelight you we’re going to the club. You were going out dancing, you weren’t going to a disco. I hate that word, to this day.

I think coining that phrase, Billboard starting the charts and Studio opening brought what was an underground, kind of incredible party into the mainstream, made it big business, and basically ruined it. It’s like anything you commercialize. It’s like, how far can you take it? One of the great things that Francois [Kevorkian] decided was an interview blackout for Body & Soul recently. I think his idea is that the club is more popular than he wants it right now.

He’s scared of it getting out of hand. So, what did people do in 1980/1981? Did they just stop going out, because they felt it wasn’t happening any more?

A lot of people did. I don’t even think there were as many clubs then as there are now. There was like one club to go for the white crowd, one club to go for the black crowd.

It was very segregated?

Oh, it was. Much more segregated than it is now.

And gay and straight, as well?

No, there was never a big straight club scene. Never. Even now. People go to straight clubs to pick up. It’s not about dancing.

And I guess the sad thing was that the party was over and then people started dying.

The reality of HIV. That’s right. People didn’t have time to go out dancing. People were very concerned with taking care of their friends.

Was it something that suddenly came into view?

All within about two years. It was like, “Oh, my God.”

[Break to look at photographs]

This is David Rodriguez…

He played at a place called Ginza?

And then at the Limelight. He also played at a couple of other clubs.

How did he play?

Honestly, his music didn’t move me to craziness, but he is the person who influenced me most. He was the person who came into my booth and said, “Don’t cut off the words, blend it here, blah, blah, blah.” He really stayed with me a lot, and he was just a wonderful friend. He really helped me launch my career.

He liked discovering records, but not breaking them, because he would discover so many of them he would never concentrate on any one thing. He probably discovered more records than anyone else. He was out there looking for new records all the time, and would turn other people onto them, but of the five that he discovered that week, two would be really good.

He would turn us on to the same five, and Michael [Cappello] and I would look at each other, and we’d both pick the same two, play them over and over, and really get the crowd going. [At David’s] night, he would play all five, so he sort of he never really left an impression on you – but really he took more risks in playing new music than anyone else back then. He really did. He was a real innovator.

[Looking at more photographs]

Here’s Michael [Gomes], looking up to the booth…

Did he DJ?

No. He was a promotions man. He first wrote this magazine called Mixmaster for a while which was very popular with the underground crowd. He donated his Mixmaster newssheets to the [New York Public Library for the Performing Arts], and they don’t even know where they fucking are! You know, if he donated them today, they would’ve had a party to celebrate it. But then, disco was a dirty word.

Is David Rodriguez still alive?

No. He died. He was one of the first people who died of AIDS…

[Picking out another photograph]

There’s Larry… This is when they were flying me back and forth. I would finish playing at the Gallery at 8 AM, and then I’d jump on a seaplane and run out to Fire Island and play there. This was on the ferry to Fire Island. It was really magical.


Oh yeah. They were screaming, but not like Gallery. I think some of that had to do with the DJ… Larry was a very controlling person… If I saw it getting out of hand on the dancefloor, I would think, “Oh, this is cool, show me how I can go further than this, because this is out of control.” Larry... That would scare Larry, and he would try to bring it back into his control. My thing was out of control… But he was a great DJ.

Was that because he was controlling, do you think?

The famous story in Mel [Cheren]’s book [Keep on Dancin’: My Life and the Paradise Gang], about Larry… This is funny too. Have you interviewed Mel?

No, we’re going to.

Anyway, one of the stories in Mel’s book is that Joey Llanos, who played at the Garage, too – David DePino and Joey opened for Larry – so, Mel said that Joey went behind the rack of amplifiers one day at the Garage, and Larry had basically taken over the sound there. So, Joey says to him, “Larry, look at all these wires – how do you find anything; it’s like none of them are labelled, they’re all a mess.” Larry said, “That’s called job security.” [That was] Larry controlling the situation.

Tell me about your studio work. You said you were one of the first DJs to move into studio work.

Well, “Kiss Me Again,” what other DJ did a record in 1977? No one. There were no DJs producing or mixing then… Oh, [that was] ’78.

So, how did that come about?

Arthur Russell used to come to my club, and he came up to me one and he said, “We should do a record.” I was like, “Get the fuck out, leave me alone.” And then I started to think, “Well, this is a good idea, and I went into the studio and I didn’t know anything, and he basically did everything. By the end of the thing, I think I might have worked on a mix more than the recording process.

So, what was he looking to get from you?

You know, now that I look back on it, it was just financing! [laughs] I financed the project. But I think he wanted input on creating an exciting dance song.

So, it was your knowledge of the dancefloor and how they would react?

Right, right, right. And what happened was I ended up really pushing the record, too, and actually this record would have gone much further than it did, had it not been for Ray Caviano, who took over all promotions for Atlantic [and] hated the record. And this record had sold 100,000 copies already. Records today don’t sell that, but back then they did.

Sofonda C. – Pick It Up

Did that lead to more remixing and production?

Well, they picked up our option on Sire. I was sick from drugs, so I went to California to recover. Meanwhile they’re waiting for the next record, and I was like, “What record?” I was not feeling well: “Leave me alone.” Then, a couple of years passed and I got clean, and that’s when I started doing one record after another. That’s when I did [Sofonda C.] “Pick It Up” and all those other records. Felix’s [Siano and Arthur Russell] “Tiger Stripes,” that was another record of mine – one of my bombs – on Sleeping Bag, when they first started.

But, I’ll tell you who is one of the most loving, sweet people – Frankie.

Frankie Knuckles?

Yeah. I’m not talking about talent or anything like that. If we as people put out a good energy and see a good energy come back to us, Frankie is a perfect example of that. He just puts out a really good energy. I would like to be more like him. Not as far as mixing or anything like that, but just how loving and relaxed he is about the whole thing, and grateful to be where he’s at.

Was he inspired to DJ by the Gallery? What was he doing for you?

He was working on balloons. He never really played, like Larry used to bug me to. Larry never played when the club was open. He only played when the club was closed, but one thing he did do was he used my connections to build his record collection. Then when he got the opportunity to play at the Continental Baths, he had a record collection.

Was Frankie learning the tricks of the trade at the same time?

Yeah, and then he moved to Chicago.

But he was DJing for a while at the Continental Baths too, wasn’t he?

Yes, but I never really went there to see him. I heard Larry there.

What was that place like?

It was very upscale. It was like, “We’re so chi-chi in our towels, cruising each other and slapping each other’s dicks.” It was like a kind of orgy.

Kind of Roman.

Yes. You had to go down the corridor and then back. And then people came out in their towels, and everyone would dance.

So, the music was important. It wasn’t just a side thing?

No, not on Friday and Saturday night. It was the focus. A lot of people came there just to dance. Women were allowed in the club at weekends, but they weren’t allowed in the other areas.

But my best memories are of [building] the first Gallery. We’d go in there and we’d paint, it would be like creating the whole place – laying down the tiles for the floor, we put the dancefloor in ourselves. It was our place, we made it all work. It was a really special.

This is an edited version of two interviews conducted in late 1998 and early 1999. ©

By Frank Broughton and Bill Brewster on February 22, 2018

On a different note