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Derrick May used to drive to Chicago and beg me to play his records on the radio. Nobody would probably even know of Derrick May outside of Detroit. There are interviews on his myspace where he says he went to the Music Box and gave his music to Ron Hardy - this is true, but the world found out about his music and the sound of Detroit from the WBMX Hot Mix 5. He's got super-amnesia. He used to drive all the way down from Detroit some five hours away to meet me in front of our cornerstone for music in Chicago, Importes, Etc. record shop, just to ask me to play his music. Check it out - I'm so glad he did, because his music was and still is the bomb. He didn't stop there - he also use to tape our mixes and drive them all the way back to Detroit, and let them hear what the Windy City was doing.

There is also the misconception that with Frankie Knuckles playing at the Warehouse, the name came from there. That isn't where it came from for me. Well... back up. It did come from there, but let me tell you how.

Leonard Rroy, one of the southside's best DJs, came to me and said, "Hey Farley, I'm going to start playing a new brand of music. It's called House Music." So I'm on the radio, I'm a major guy in the city, and he told me, "I'm going to be playing House Music in my club." So I drove straight to WBMX and said, "I've got a new thing called House Music!" I went to my club every week and said, "We play House, we play House!" Maybe it derived from Leonard Rroy being at the Warehouse and that's where he got it from, but I only heard Leonard say "House". I took it from there and said "We're doing House Music."

So this brand, this label, has gone from this one guy, Leonard, saying something to me about House Music, to the New Music Seminar, then back to The Playground which was the biggest club in the Midwest, then to the radio station where an average of three million people tuned into us every Friday then another three million on Saturday... Are you starting to get my point? From here we're seeing it spread to all of these different places.

Frankie Knuckles had his club. It was a gay club that held 300 to 350 people. Now make sure you get this clear: it's not about anyone being gay, because I love all people, but that club flourished because gays didn't have a lot of places to go back then. A heterosexual club could be anywhere - you can be yourself anywhere you go. Why were people going to the Warehouse? It was great music, great fun - but it was where they could go and be gay without pressure! If someone there was straight, they were the minority now. They had their own place and it was always packed. The same with the Paradise Garage, although that place was as big as my club, The Playground, and to me it was 70 to 80% gay.

People get it so twisted. It was a wonderful, mystical place, but it truly existed on the heels of being a gay club because they finally had a place where they could go be free in their own world. We're talking about going through the 1970s and 1980s when people would get beaten up just for saying they were gay!

I would like to say that in that situation, the music had to be secondary. It wasn't because, "There's this feeling they get when they go." It was because, "Now they had a home where they can be free when they go." And now the music came in like a thundershower.

I want to go back to WBMX for a second. You left BMX for WGCI. I'm wondering how that came about - there have been stories and articles which implied that you guys on the Hot Mix 5 weren't really close.

Oh no, we were always close, always. What happened was that I wasn't being paid at WBMX. None of us were. I was really big-headed then - I wasn't a Christian at the time. I wondered, "How is it that I'm working for a radio station and I'm not making any money?" You could make money on the street anywhere, but not for DJing on the radio. We had the highest ratings in the history of radio for our show, and for that matter any show on these two stations, and we had the #1 sales team selling millions in advertising but we still weren't being paid.

WGCI at the time had a 3.7 share. WBMX had a something like a 5.3 share. This is crazy: I went to WGCI, and they went to #1 - just from me going there and doing mixes. Yet this was a really hard time in my life for me because I was bamboozled and fooled. What happened was the owner of WBMX wanted to sell the radio station, but they needed to bring the ratings back up. They said, "Farley, we really need you back at WBMX. You're the main guy - come back over and we'll pay you." I went back to WBMX and they paid me some nice money.

Twelve months later, they sold the radio station. The guy I worked with, Lee Michaels, who I considered a big uncle and who asked me to come back - he could have warned me about it. But I came back, we were a hit again, and they used the ratings to sell the station. I'd left WGCI and they didn't want me back.

It shattered my career on one level. On another level, it opened my career up to the European market. Whenever someone is #1, it's a hard way down, especially when you're as big-headed as I was. Nobody was speaking to me - they're laughing. "Ha ha ha, big headed Farley! Let's see what you do now that you don't have the radio station!" Other DJs were hatin' because they had always wanted to reach my plateau. And I didn't help matters with my big head, either. All of the promoters wouldn't hire me because they didn't want to pay me the money I was asking for. It got to be really difficult. Really difficult. Thank God things really happened for me overseas, and it took off from there.

So often, just in this city alone, House Music can be very cliqueish and focused on the past. Say I'm a young DJ playing some classics in a bar - and maybe George wants to get in on this too, because you've had massive overseas success as well - give me some advice on how I can break out.

GEORGE JACKSON: I always tell people that they need to broaden their horizons. At the same time, you never know people's mission. Maybe that's what they had in mind: to DJ at this small bar around the corner from their house. Whatever makes 'em happy, you know? Personally, I'm not going to go to that same bar every single week. I have to tip my hat to Czarina and yourself for doing your best to support every little party that's out there. But no, you're not going to grow doing that. Our music is big, bigger than a local hole-in-the-wall. If you're going to grow as a DJ and producer, you've got to broaden your horizons.

And for people trying to get back in the game and dusting these old records off... Buy new music! [laughs] You have some old cats coming back and saying, "House Music didn't die?" Well, no, House Music didn't die... but those old records sure did! Go buy some new music, find out who the players are and network.

FARLEY: I think it's a little different for me. You have to keep in mind that after WBMX went off the air, we didn't have a name brand person on the radio to break new music. We had B96, but how credible was B96 to the people who made things happen musically? Bad Boy Bill is still one of the best DJs that Chicago has ever seen and ever will see, but once the music became more of a "white thing", the soul left the music. Even in Europe in now, they've taken the soul out of the music.

Have you noticed that the biggest name DJs in the world play music that doesn't have any soul in it? When I say "soul", I mean that you can have a real singer singing these songs. Like Trance - you've never heard a soulful singer singing those songs. Unfortunately, promotion means more than the music - the kids are sold on hype, and they think they like it but they've never gotten a chance to hear other music. If they really knew the origins, they'd still love what they're listening to, but they'd appreciate other music just as much or maybe even more.

Going back to the old school issue, I think it's cool for the new school DJ to come in and play old school, but he's got to keep his eye on the prize. Playing this old music is nostalgic. Honestly, when I started, I didn't go out buying new records. I went out and regurgitated what Frankie Knuckles would play because I didn't have what Frankie had - remember that I'm talking pre-House Music era, these are the disco days. You see, I'm from the southside of Chicago and we played more R&B and the more heartfelt disco, the soulful side of the music, and here I am trying to get "Walk the Night" which I never heard before until I heard Frankie play it.

DJs often aren't terribly honest about that. We'll say we're sticking to our own sound but we're influenced by each other. There are a lot of dishonest people who won't give credit where credit is due. I don't know how many times Frankie was interviewed and was asked questions about Farley that never made it into print. But when the questions about Frankie Knuckles to Farley come, Farley answers those questions and tries to answer them as honestly as he can according to his memory.

I realize that our music in Chicago probably would not be as big as it is without Frankie. I know God can use anybody, but I truly believe He used Frankie Knuckles. I have no problem with people saying that Frankie Knuckles is the creator of House Music. I really don't. I really feel like I'm too old for that. If you don't know me by now, you never, ever will. At some point, we have to celebrate each other and move on. Who created Rock'n'Roll? Little Richard is walking around with a wig on right now saying, "Ahm the one, ahm the one who did it all, ahm the one!" And he's mad! Everytime he's asked about it, you can see how mad he is. When you're really that good, you don't have to tell anybody anything. Just keep it moving.


posted mar 1 2009 by terry matthew in features, march 2008 issue
terry matthew Terry Matthew is the managing editor of 5 Magazine. You can contact him at terry@5chicago.com.
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