Don Welch on the Gwen McCrae Benefit Concert & the Future of House Music

I was alerted to the plight of classic house diva Gwen McCrae by old friend Don Welch of the Underground Network. Ms. McCrae, best known for her smash dance track “Funky Sensation,” suffered a massive stroke in London on June 3rd. She has thankfully survived but is paralyzed on her left side. Her family is trying to get her home to Florida where they can take care of her. A fundraiser has been set up for next Wednesday the 22nd, at Ajna, 25 Little West 12th Street, from 6pm till 4am. The outpouring of support from the community has been spectacular. House legend Colonel Abrams is hosting, and I have been told that Melba Moore will also be on hand. The incredible number of participants is too long to list here so I’ll just post the invite. I am told that new people are getting involved daily. This is one of those must-attend events, not only because of the good that it will do for Gwen and her family, but because that room will be filled with genius and love and that’s hard to find these days.

Don Welch is old-school, old-school. He is one of those quiet, behind-the-scenes people who has shaped the house universe. As briefly as I can I’ll list some of his too-numerous-to-list accomplishments:

Don Welch is a DJ, co-founder of the internationally-renowned Underground Network, former Billboard reporter, CEO of OHM Music & Film Works, and an event promoter. He DJd Eddie Murphy’s wedding at the Plaza Hotel. He received gold and platinum records from Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, C&C Music Factory, Crystal Waters, and De La Soul. His Underground Network has hosted relevant events since 1992. Him, along with Barbara Tucker, created the Dance Music Industry Night, with legendary DJ Little Louie Vega doing what he does. The list of promoters and celebrities and DJs that have graced his events is a who’s-who of dance and pop culture. In 2006, Don launched Soul Party NYC, promoting classic R&B events. He’s still throwing that party. On September 8th, at Commodore Park, Barbara Tucker and Don will celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Underground Network.

I caught up with Don as he was getting the word out about that Funky Sensation Gwen McCrae:

It’s amazing how the community has gotten together for this cause. Tell me about the event… who is involved?
Well, I was first told about Gwen McCrae’s condition from singer Colonel Abrams, who was in London on the same show; Gwen fell ill in her hotel room and never made it to the stage. When Colonel came back to the states he told me Gwen was still in London in the hospital after a massive stroke and was paralyzed on her left side. As a DJ, Gwen has brought me and my audience amazing memories of dancing to her music, so I’ve always felt very close to her. I posted her condition on my Facebook page & the love and support was incredible. That’s when I spoke to her family and was told about all the astronomical medical bills and the transportation to get her home to Pensacola, Florida. That’s when I reached out to friends like Louie Vega, Jellybean, David Morales, Rochelle Fleming, Bob Davis, Soulfinger, you, and so many stars in this business. They all said anything they could do to help count them in and I am so grateful for their support. We will feature some of the greatest DJs and classic singers. We have so much talent, DJs might only get to play five songs each and singers only one.  

Tell me about Gwen McCrae.
Here is the biography of Gwen McCrae: for over three decades, Gwen McCrae has been a soul and blues powerhouse singer entertaining audiences worldwide. She started out singing as a child with her mother who played piano in church. With a heartfelt phrasing for the blues and the spirit-filled sounds from her soul, Gwen has entertained audiences in countless sold-out venues and set her music in a Blues and Soul category of its own. Since the early ’60s, Gwen has paid her dues, on tour with the likes of Smokey Robinson, Luther Vandross, James Brown, The Temptations, The O Jays, Spinners, James Cleveland, and many more. Gwen’s entertaining has included concerts at The Apollo Theatre, Madison Square Garden, Cow Palace in LA, Disneyland, television shows such as American Band Stand, Soul Train, Midnight Special, In Concert, as well as various venues throughout the world in London, Paris, Germany, Scotland, and Venice, just to mention a few.

I remember house music. Nowadays the electronic dance music scene has grown enormous. Are young people still embracing house or does the energy lay elsewhere?
The electronic music scene is tremendous, but the soulful house music scene is making a strong comeback. It just needs better venues. Lots of club owners love the music but the bar sales aren’t as good as others because no real, true dancers can drink a bottle of Hennessy or Stolichnaya and dance with energy all night.

For a tourist coming to NYC looking for the real deal, what parties or clubs are true to the religion that is house?
The true house parties have become mobile… always on the move until you and I open one 🙂

Will this event, based of course on a tragedy, have the effect of reuniting different members and aspects of the house community, and possibly be the catalyst for future events?
Definitely, but I’ve been bringing different types of talent together for years and will continue to do so… stay tuned.

Suit over Derek and Daniel Koch’s MPD Rages, Statement and Scoop From the Brothers Inside

In an industry with so many moving parts, lawsuits are not that common. Most serious players have someone who handles the minor stuff that could easily turn more major, like a trip and fall on a wet floor or a promise that was less than kept. With literally thousands of people getting wasted every night or week, actual litigation is rare. On the business deal side of things court room drama is also not the norm. Despite the enormous investments, convoluted partnerships, and massive egos, most disputes are settled around a dinner table rather than in court. Publicity of such actions and subsequent exposure of well-kept secrets keep it simple. Nightlife is a great deal of smoke and mirrors and most of the players are like the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz…not all that much when they come out from behind the self-created curtain. That curtain hides the trysts, the binges, the unusual predilections, shady business, and sometimes bad habits of the creatures of the night. A lawsuit can shatter the image and the brand that a player has spent years establishing.

I was shocked and awed by an email I received from the Dual Groupe that had my pals Derek and Daniel Koch announcing a lawsuit over MPD, their restaurant that I enjoyed so much. I guess the word "their" in the last sentence is at the heart of the matter. Here is the email, followed by a little Q & A with Derek Koch. I must put in my very biased two cents: I have found Derek and Daniel to be men of their words, something I hold in high regard. It is inconceivable to me that anyone could find fault in their actions. I went to MPD sometimes and was involved in an event there, but only because they were the people I was dealing with. What is Rick’s Cafè Amèricain in Casablanca without Rick, The Electric Room without Nur, Avenue without Noah, The Darby without Scott and Richie. Clubs , restaurants, and bars are usually ex-warehouses, garages, or even slaughterhouses. It is the personalities of the operators that animates these spaces into fabulousness. MPD, for
 me, was Derek and Daniel Koch. They were the reason to be cheerful there.
 
The email:
To Our Beloved MPD Family and Clients:
It is with great sorrow that we announce that on February 6th, 2012, we found it necessary to file two (2) New York Supreme Court Lawsuits, (Supreme Court of the City of New York, New York County: Index Number 150169/12 and 150170/12) and on February 9, 2012, a United States District Court Lawsuit (for the Southern District of New York: Index Number 12 Civ 1031), for past monies due and owing, and to prevent the wrongful parties from continuing to use the “MPD” name and likeness, a Trademark that is owned by Dual Groupe, LLC (“Dual”).
 
We have worked diligently and with great pride in developing and building the name and brand “MPD” for more than 2 years, and were very successful.  The wrongful parties, Gans-Mex, LLC (“Gans”), and Ginza Project, LLC (“Ginza”), have refused to comply with our “cease and desist” letter dated February 3, 2012, in which we asked them to stop using our Trademarked name “MPD”, and they have unilaterally caused Dual Groupe and the “MPD” name and brand to be irrevocably harmed. We tried to resolve these most serious issues without going to court, but Gans and Ginza have refused and neglected to have any meaningful conversations.
 
Dual worked hard at developing MPD into an enormous success, and subsequently was awarded a recommendation from Michelin, the oldest and best-known European hotel and restaurant guide. Ginza Project, the current leaseholders of 73 Gansevoort, has illegally and unlawfully operated the restaurant under the Trademark MPD, which we created, developed, and built over the past 2 years. We have sought the court’s assistance to right this terrible wrong that was thrust upon us by Gans and Ginza, but it is unlikely that they will comply with the terms and conditions of our contract and our federally filed and registered Trademark.
 
Building the MPD name, brand, and Trademark has been a labor of love for us and we will fight diligently to retain same.  While we have enjoyed our time at 73 Gansevoort, Gans-Mex, LLC and Ginza Project, LLC have made it impossible for us to operate our restaurant, MPD, at that location at this time.  We will announce in the near future a new venue, where we hope to continue the laughs and make new memories together with our family, you.
To be the very first to hear about MPD at its new location, write us at: info@dualgroupe.com
 
Ciao for now and we are certain to see you soon!
The MPD Family and Dual Groupe
Q & A with Derek Koch
 
I know you are in the middle of a suit over MPD and can only say so much. Tell my readers what you can.
We sent the defendants a cease-and-desist letter to prevent them from using our legally trademarked name “MPD." MPD is a brand and concept that Dual Groupe conceived and developed without any input or support from the defendants, and the defendants are now trying to capitalize and “steal” our brand and trademark. We filed suit in New York federal court to stop the defendants from illegally using our trademarked name. We estimate our damages to be in excess of $1,000,000. Additionally, we have commenced actions to recover the monies we invested in opening the venue, as well as the monies they owe us under our management agreement.
 
What are you working on ? How is Day and Night doing?
We are currently working to open a new restaurant, garden, and wine bar concept in Chelsea. This will be a repositioning of an iconic property. We are excited about the location and will officially announce it this week or next. D&N is stronger than ever.  The brunch is presently held every Saturday afternoon at the former Buddha Bar spot. We are fortunate to have solid partners involved. We are looking forward to celebrating our 30th birthdays there on March 31st – should be a good one!
 
Most promoters/owners would love to expand their brands but tell me they can’t without cloning themselves. You have a twin (Daniel) and therefore should be ahead of the pack. What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with your twin?
The biggest advantage is trust. We look after each other’s best interest. There is usually no tit-for-tat. We both pick up the slack wherever and whenever it’s needed.   The disadvantage are our brotherly office disagreements… they can be a little disruptive – hehe. One of the smarter things we did is partner with a non-family member. He not only serves as a partner, mentor, and dear friend, but his involvement truly helps to balance out our sibling rivalry by serving to be a great tie-breaker.
 
Is your crowd immune to swings in the economy?
I believe our clients are no different than many in America who are affected by swings in the economy. Sometimes it is a true economic change in our client’s financial situation and sometimes it is their sensitivity to being compassionate to those that have less, and in that capacity they choose to not flaunt their wealth. We know firsthand that they always feel the ups and down one way or another.
 
A couple of years ago I declared that you and Daniel were "the next big things," even though I thought that was old news at the time. What have you done to prove me right and who do you see as the next big thing?
We appreciate the compliment; thank you, Steve. We continue to strive and work toward keeping your prophecy true. One thing we hope we have shown you is staying power in brand creation. Day & Night is in its fourth year of business… outlasting many a skeptic and is stronger than ever. In this business, we both would agree it is a marathon, not a sprint, and therefore we work hard every day, hone our skills, and make the client experience the best it can be. We were fortunate to have partnered with someone who believes in us completely. Day & Night was a spring board toward changing the way people perceived brunch and, together with a few others, revolutionized the day club business. We were fortunate to have started out with a bang and have kept the momentum going ever since. We have to keep up the energy with new trends and concepts to keep it fresh and exciting for our current and future clients and partners. We also have an amazing team at the
office to whom we are eternally grateful who also help generate the excitement around our brands.
 
Who do you see as the next big thing?
Cristina Civetta (Events), David Berrie (DJ), Oli Evans (Promoter), Romain Pavee (Nightclub Host), Pavan Pardasani (Marketing), Adam Alpert (Talent Agent), Micha Jesse (TV Host), Jon Neidich (Restaurant Owner), Philippe Bondon (Maitre ‘D), Eric Marx (Operator), The Chainsmokers (DJ’s), Nima Yamini (Artist Management), Mick Boogie (DJ), Jonny Lennon (Entertainer), Tim Sheldon (Door), Roberto Buchelli (Operator).