This is the transcript of our interview with Farley Jackmaster Funk for The Armando Project. Farley was interviewed via phone in mid-January 2008. Errors in transcription are the fault of the interviewer.
FARLEY: I met Armando when I was on WMBX at the time, and I was going through a record shop at Evergreen Plaza called JR Records where Armando worked. He was just so energetic and so wanted to be in the industry and just pushed and pushed and pushed. Everybody came to JR's, so he got a chance to meet so many people from the industry and he knew that's what he wanted to do.
Off and on he kept in contact with me, and he'd carry my records to some of my gigs. After awhile, the respect level changed from him just being a kid to being a very formidable DJ, and on a personal level our relationship changed from him being "just a kid" to being a friend. We developed a really strong relationship that way.
So this was around the late '80s?
FARLEY: Yeah, I would say late '80s.
Did you play any parties with him?
FARLEY: Oh yeah, I had a residency at a place I would play at a place called The Playground and I would let him DJ sometimes there, and I'd put him on the radio on WBMX. This was in the late '80s and he had quite a few records he'd had made - "Land of Confusion," "151". His records really became a huge underground force and had a lot to do with the way music changed in Chicago.
A lot of us pioneers had gotten a little bit older. We didn't like so much "noise" in our music and we wanted to go to more "musical" things. The younger guys were bringing up the back-end with the more noisy acid tracks. It kind of kept me on my toes because I had this new youngblood around me that was so energetic. It couldn't help but to rub off and even inspired me.
Out of all of Armando's tracks, what's the one that you think really stands out? "Land of Confusion"?
FARLEY: Yeah, I think definitely "Land of Confusion" and "151". "Land of Confusion" wound up being that whole commercial type of House track and "151" was like that dark and dusty, Warehouse/Playground/Music Box type of track... I like to call it "imaginary music" - when a person can close their eyes and go anywhere when this music is on - without drugs! That's what those type of tracks were.
It's funny, but the first time I heard about Armando was from a Latin rave promoter. He used to tell girls he was the DJ Armando to impress them. He looked nothing like him but I figured it worked.
FARLEY: Ironically, you mention that story, because I remember one time when Armando called me on the phone and told me, "Farley, you have to get down to JR's. I don't want to tell you what it is, but come on down."
I rushed down to JR's. When I got there, he said, "You see that guy over there? You see all those girls around him? He's tellin' everybody he's Farley Jackmaster Funk." I step right next to the guy and I ask him, "Hey man, can I have your autograph?" He didn't even know what I looked like. He signs his name and gives it to me, and I'm like, "Man! Thank you so much, Farley! I've been following you for years! How do you scratch and and all that stuff you do? I see all the ladies around you, how do you do it?"
And he's like, "Well, I practice what I do. I stand firm in what I believe in the music." He just kept going, because the girls were around him, you know? So I said, "Man, can I give you my business card? I'd love for you to give me a call!" He looked at me like, "Uh, can I talk to you outside please? Can we talk outside?" Sure, sure we can.
I thought it was quite hilarious - I wanted to be mad but how can you be mad when, wow... Where I come from - I mean, I had a wonderful upbringing with a loving mom and dad there and everything. But all of this struggle - years behind the turntables, trying to create this thing... But I told him, "Well, make sure if you get anyone pregnant - please tell them your real name!" [laughs]
How did you feel, being from the first generation, to see these new guys taking this in a different direction? You mentioned the sound being noisy, was it a matter of earning your respect?
FARLEY: Well, we all worked together. I had made those kinds of songs and those kinds of tracks previous to everyone jumping on the bandwagon. That was one of the reasons why in 1989/1990, I started doing rap. I was sick of House Music, because I had done it already. Once I went into that field, I had to come back from it - first of all, to be brutally honest, I just didn't make it in hip-hop. It wasn't my thing. House was always my thing. So I came back home to it. It was a very humbling experience, but every now and again, we need to be humbled. That was my humbling experience in coming back to it.
Armando was always there encouraging me. "I don't know why you're not releasing a House record. You've got all two thousand records that you've never even released, just on cassettes." So I just jumped right back in.
I'll put it to you like this - House is a 4/4 beat with some sounds around it. How can you lose? You're either being creative or you just suck! Sometimes even when you suck, to some people it's still great. They don't know - they think you meant to do it that way. It's really important not to take it too seriously but to have fun with it. That's what the younger generation showed me. Just keep having fun with what you started. Just have fun with it.
When Armando became sick, were you around at the time?
FARLEY: It was a very very sad time. I was trying to encourage him - you know, I'd given my life to the Lord right when he was sick, so I was constantly preaching to him and telling him to be encouraged things of that nature, and whatever he was doing, to stop doing it so it could subside, whatever it was that was happening to him. It was a very sad moment, because I'm like family to his mother and his brothers and everything. But he got better, then worse, then better, then worse and worse and worse, and that was the end. A very difficult time...
He was one of those young guys that was so loveable. In Chicago, it's like an unspoken code. People often say that they want to work together with each other and things of that nature, but will feel threatened by another guy who may be better or his name might be stronger. They actually won't work with a guy - they'll say, "Hey, let's DJ together," but then they won't do it. He was one of those kind of people that had such a good spirit about himself that he went from working with me, to Mike Dunn, Lil Louis at the Bismarck... He was that guy that everybody said, "Man, he's just so cool, man. Sure, you can work with me." Then he turned around and started throwing his own parties. He'd DJed for everybody and now was throwing his own parties. He was a very smart promoter as he learned from Marvin Terry and some of the other people.
You mention the Hummingbird, that was the first place that I ever commercially DJed, back in 1978. That was the first. Of course I played a million parties after that, but come later, Armando asked me to DJ there. He's like, "Please, c'mon..." So I return to the Hummingbird, and I'm thinking I'm going to rock the house. I put on a few records and people just looked at me like... "He's horrible! Where did you get this guy from?" And he's saying, "That's Farley Jackmaster Funk!" And they're like, "Yeah okay... but when are you getting on the decks, Armando?" Because, again, I was too musical for that generation. That generation wanted some noise. They wanted video crash noises all night and stuff that had like one word in a song. If it had more than eight words in a song, it was too difficult. They got to the point where they wanted what they called then "minimalistic music". They didn't want a bunch of disco, or a bunch of chords in a track. And that's where we are now - we're back to real music again. Like what Roy Davis is creating - it's dancefloor music again. I love hearing it again.
It was kind of like they took your elephant foot... and everything else was gone.
FARLEY: Yeah. But in that situation, I still take blame for it because I made those same type of tracks an era ahead of them. They were repeating the cycle, but the only thing they missed is that I was balanced. I made minimalistic tracks, acid tracks, but I made songs too. The reason I made the instrumentals was so my set could breathe. So every song wouldn't be a vocal song, and in my sets, I could take people on a journey with the music. They could breathe, cool out for a little bit, and then go for it again and jack. The younger generation though thought that when I made those type of tracks, that was going to be the transitioning point for us to go into another genre of music and that's where they stayed with it, and didn't come back to songs.
You have this common thread - all of these anecdotes people have about Armando giving them a break, giving them a record, giving them encouragement whether they were big or just fans or struggling DJs. For the last year of talking to people - even when the subject was nothing about Armando - they kept coming up. Bear Who was telling me a story about being just a guy at a party, and asking Armando about a certain Chaka Khan track that was out of print. It blew his mind that he was just some guy, not a friend or anything, and Armando would hand him a rare record to duplicate.
FARLEY: Actually, those were probably my records. [laughs] I left all of mine in his basement.
He was playing out of your crate?
FARLEY: Yeah, but he'd color 'em up and tell me they're not mine. [laughs] "Look at this little spot right there - that's my record. What are you doin'?" Ah, that's funny - you reminded me of something, I forgot all about that.
So he was generous with your vinyl!
FARLEY: Yeah, he didn't have records from way back then! But I didn't mind though, I didn't mind.