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.

Birthday Boy Sam Valentine on Friday’s Sleaze Rock Festival & His Top 10 Rock Songs

Happy Sam Valentine’s Day and Week! I’m talking about Sam Valentine; the cool, cool rock and roll promoter that I work with every Thursday at Hotel Chantelle whose birthday is tomorrow. He lives rock 24/7, 365 days. He has the hair to prove it. This week, he is all over town celebrating, culminating in his sleaze rock festival called “Big City Rebels 5,” this Friday at Webster Hall. He has the band CRASHDIET playing, and much, much more. He says that he hasn’t been this excited in years. I caught up with Sam and asked him to tell me all about it.

It’s your birthday week and you have been celebrating this blessed event. What’s happened so far and what’s ahead?
So far I’ve been taking it easy and concentrating on promoting the big event coming up on Friday: my once-a-year sleaze rock festival called "BIG CITY REBELS 5.” This year I got the leading band in this new rock ‘n’ roll movement called CRASHDIET; they are basically the Motley Crue of our generation along with the bands THE LAST VEGAS, WILDSTREET, WICKED, and NASTY HABIT… lots of new blood with lots of passion, talent, and attitude. On top of this we have the rock n roll designer TOXIC VISION doing her party “GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS” with us; we get 30 girls and dress them in her trademark sexy bodysuits and they just go wild all night. As if that isn’t enough, for the after-party we are filming for a future episode of the popular TLC show NY Ink; Megan Massacre and Jes Leppard from the show will be guest DJing along with Joe Letz, the drummer of the industrial band COMBICHRIST. This is considered to be the rock ‘n’ roll event of the decade here in NY and it will live up to that.

Before the Festival on Friday, I have my weekly Wednesday the rock party RIOT AVENUE at Webster Hall. It’s known for its high level of debauchery, and this week we have a heavy metal magician and a strip contest.

On Thursday night, my actual birthday, I’ll be celebrating with my intimate friends at Hotel Chantelle’s GENERATION WILD party; that’s where the hangover will be started, and I expect the night to be crazy. I’ve got some very special guests coming as well.

You are a true rock and roll disciple. Tell me why rock is the true religion.
Growing up I had nothing to keep me company but rock ‘n’ roll. The moment I saw bands like Guns N’ Roses, Skid Row, and Motley Crue on TV, I was hooked. I connected with this larger-than-life sound, look, and attitude. I like all kinds of rock ‘n’ roll, though I have a passion for the sound of loud guitars and pounding drum beats. It’s a style of music that rebels against the norm, and it expresses every feeling – from the love songs to the angry or just the party songs – it has it all. I don’t know where I would be or what I’d be doing with my life if rock ‘n’ roll hadn’t been there to guide me. I had no role models growing up but the rock stars on TV, which probably explains why I get in so much fun trouble all the time. 

Sam ValentineI DJ with you on Thursdays at Chantelle. You incorporate local bands into your set. Tell me why this is so important.
This is the most important thing to me. The hits that people know are needed, but these bands already had their success and got their money. The local bands are struggling to push and keep rock ‘n’ roll alive, and if we ignore them by not playing their music or rocking out to it, how is rock ‘n’ roll going to survive? Everyone likes to get a new car or a new apartment… new things are great, so why not want new music made by our generation? By playing these songs, we teach people there’s still great talent out there and rock ‘n’ roll is getting stronger than ever. It’s been growing in the underground for quite a bit now and it’s almost ready to explode again. It’s our local talent that is making this possible; their songs are as good as any classic, so why not play it in our sets? Someone has to put a stop to the same Bowie and Blondie songs being played over and over at every "rock" party. 

You swear by sleaze rock. Who are the sleaze rock players and what defines that sound?
Sleaze rock is the freshest most dangerous and fun sound in rock ‘n’ roll right now. It takes from bands like Guns N’ Roses and Motley Crue – that party, badass, rebellious sound – but it’s being made by young people from this generation, so it took a life of its own, updating that sound to what we now call sleaze. It was made popular by bands like Hardcore Superstar, Crashdiet, Backyard Babies, and such. All these bands are from Sweden. Over there it’s the style of rock ‘n’ roll that dominates, and now it has spread to America with bands like Wildstreet, The Last Vegas, Dirty Penny, Sex Slaves, and such solidifying the following over here. It’s music to party to. It brings the fun back to rock. It has the larger-than-life rockstar look. It has danger, is dirty-sounding, and speaks to us, the generation that’s fed up with all this emo and generic sound that rock has had for the past decade. Plus, it’s giving strippers all around the world new songs to get naked to!

Hey, Hey, My My” rock and roll will never die, but most clubs don’t play much of it. Will rock be played in clubs in five years? Is it a viable genre for anyplace except dive bars and hipster hangouts?
I believe so. If you look back five years ago, there’s no place that would have ever let me play a sleaze rock track, but now they call ’cause every club wants that edgy look that this scene is bringing. I believe that in five years the sound will be just like the ‘80s again. It will be everywhere. It will be a great time, and everyone is going to want a piece of it. The pop world has drowned itself. Kids are bored. They need this new edge that sleaze rock and sleaze metal is bringing to music again… plus, it’s feel-good music and no one can be against that. In five years, I think my word will be proven right; it will be rock ‘n’ roll land once again. It’s long overdue.

OK, you’re going on a long rocket ship trip and can take 10 songs…what are they?

  1. Crashdiet – “Rebel
  2. Guns N’ Roses – “Night Train”
  3. Skid Row – “Youth Gone Wild”
  4. AC/DC – “Whole Lot of Rosie”
  5. Crashdiet – “It’s a Miracle”
  6. Wildstreet – “Easy Does It”
  7. Hardcore Superstar – “Run to Your Mamma”
  8. Motley Crue – “Kickstart My Heart”
  9. Backyard Babies – “Drool”
  10. Airborne – “Raise the Flag”

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Tonight the house community will gather to support Gwen McCrae who gave us the hit "Funky Sensation" and so much more. Ajna, 25 Little West 12th Street, will be packed to the rafters with DJs, performers, and hosts. Gwen suffered a major heart attack in London and this event is being held to raise cash to get her home to her family.

Tonight: Partying with Erik Foss, Domi Dollz, & Shell Sheddy

I’m not going to sweat it, but I did RSVP for multiple events tonight that I can’t possibly physically attend unless "Scottie" starts to "beam me" around town. Two of them are uptown and the other two are downtown. Guess which two get my fabulous face.

OK, I’m gonna try. First on the list is a group show opening that includes my bro (we even have bro tattoos) Erik Foss. The show WAVE is presented by MISC and includes artists Judy Chicago, Michael St. John, Peter Alexander, Amany Ahmad, Shelter Serra, Colton Brown, Tom Forkin, and Angel Otero. It’s at the Fuller Building, 41 east 57th street, suite 702. If you’re into it, email info@misc-nyc.com or call 917 370 6423. While I’m up there I might as well scoot over to Hudson Terrace, 621 West 46th Street, for the APM Models’ Summer Party. I’m tight with Penny Basch and love their events.

Or, I just may stay south and pop into the last Domi Dollz evening for the summer at the Museum of Sex. These wonderful gals never fail to stand and deliver. They are sexy and sweet – sometimes – and the event promises lots of "boy toys.” The people I have sent to these soirees tell me that they can be life changing for them and theirs. It is quite educational, with zero chance of falling asleep in class.

I will surely attend photographer Shell Sheddy’s opening at Bar 82, 136 Second Avenue. This event starts at 7pm and ends at 11pm, after which the whole posse will scoot over to Hotel Chantelle for the after party, where I will DJ rock and roll with Sam Valentine. The show is titled "LES Images: The Creativity, Community and Struggle Continues," and promises that "we will be graced with Sheddy’s breath-taking visuals of raw humanity and real world, life-affirming spirit."

I also want to mention a fundraiser that I am honored to lend my name to. Old friend Don Welch asked me to help out:

"I need your help with this fundraiser I’m doing for Gwen McCrae; she suffered a massive stroke in London (June 3rd) & is paralyzed on her left side. The family is trying to get her home to Florida & it’s really expensive. I would like to put your name on the invite as a supporter & would love for you to attend. The date of the event is Tuesday August 21st @ ANJA on Little West 12th Street, NYC. Colonel Abrams & Melba Moore so far are the host, but lots of folks are calling in. Let me know what you think. Thanks."

Gwen McCrae is famous for her hit "FUNKY SENSATION.” The dance community has gotten on board big time. The outpouring of support, and the DJs and talent that have since gotten involved speaks volumes of the love and class always shown by Gwen. I will do a follow-up post just before the event to give you more details, but I wanted to get this to you early enough for you to purchase tickets and support this fine lady. Tickets can be acquired from www.ticketweb.com. Call 866 468 7619 for more information.