A few days ago, I got to sit down with old friends Junior Vasquez and Timmy Regisford. The occasion was a management deal, with the legendary Junior getting an organized boost from Timmy, who knows a thing or three about music and artists’ needs. Both are house music legends. Both express themselves best through songs rather than words. Both sit with you as if every second counts — but it’s an unnatural state, a classic fish out of water thing. They chat and eat and things like that, but these are just distractions in between the DJ booth or the recording studio. Both seem quiet and uncomfortable in the light, and you get the sense that part of their mind is working through beats, rhythms, and sounds as you ask them questions.
For a long time, the dance floor answered all Junior’s questions. It salved all the hurts and cured all his problems. He was the reason to be cheerful for so many people… for so long. He was a demi-god, a part of the mood and the life of this city. Then the dance floors started to disappear. Many were harassed out of business, as the old hedonism was outlawed and banished to Europe and others places where the government is less involved in peoples lives.
House music and large clubs of course attract people who find the experience enhanced by substances that they must be protected from. The few remaining big clubs employ armies of security forces and secret agents to comply with this governmental crackdown. Sometimes I wonder who controls, tests, and oversees the mental in governmental. In general, clubs have gone small. Specialized venues where like minded spirits gather to agree with themselves are the norm. Differences are not as embraced as they once were. Gays and straights and those caught in between have fewer options to mingle. Races and economic groups find comfort in faces and budgets like their own. One place charges you seven bucks for a bottle of beer while nearby a joint bangs your for a grand for a bottle of champagne. It’s all good. It’s a modern world.
For Junior Vasquez, who just wants to play music, it’s become harder to find a floor he can own. A floor where his flock, as well as newbies, those he hasn’t played for, can reliably find him. These days even a guy like me can DJ. Technology makes us all seem like geniuses, but the real talent requires a certain sound system, a certain room, and a mentality that this is real and important. Timmy Regisford is devoting himself to keeping all the business and searching for the right spot out of Junior’s worry pool. He will take on those duties, leaving Junior to just play. Listening to Junior when he’s comfortable, when things are right, has been compared to a religious experience. He’s a twisted, confused soul often prone to lash out and bang the dance floor with a puncher’s power, but he has the finesse to ease you, teach you, and take you to a higher place where the music heals it all. This might sound silly to those who weren’t at Twilo or Sound Factory or Palladium or Tunnel, back when there was only one greatest Dj in the world …well, you understand.
Junior Vasquez will soon play a small room in a location near you as Timmy Regisford takes him to us. He is a legend who when things are right can still make the speakers sing strange and beautiful songs that will take you there, take you away, take you where you need to be. Timmy will make sure it happens. Right.
Steve Lewis: Junior Vasquez arguably one of the greatest DJs who’s ever lived, is sitting next to another one of the greatest DJs that ever lived, and there’s some sort of business merger here, some sort of collaboration going on, on a business level and also as a friendship. Let’s talk about the business and the friendship. Well, the new business venture and the old friendship. Junior, you want to start with that?
Junior Vasquez: We go back much further than DJing, period. I was working at Soundworks, and he was part of Soundworks, if I believe…
Timmy Regisford: Yea… SL: So Timmy, you worked there?
TR: I was working out of there…
SL: What is Soundworks?
TR: A studio…
JV: A studio underneath Studio 54.
SL: So when you say you were working out of it you were…?
TR: I went to that studio after like four or five years but I worked for MCA.
JV: That’s how I knew of him, but he was always like, kind of a mystery man. I didn’t how to deal with him or talk to him or anything because I thought he was somebody important, well, he is, but I just didn’t know how to place him in that whole situation. I mean, we go so far back I barely remember.
SL: We talkin’ like 1970’s…
JV: Yeah… And we had a chance to chill a couple times, I played one time, and I remember he told me I blew his tweeters out, I don’t know what were his tweeters but I blew ’em out… It is an odd pairing but I was kind of drowning, and I was just about out of it. The business was just not fun anymore. And he offered himself and his team to me…
SL: You’re talking about now… we’re current now…
SL: And you feel that you’re drowning because you feel that you’re bouncing around…
JV: The business just wasn’t fun anymore. I didn’t get up with a smile on my face to do it anymore, and then I was turned on to this group of people that still… It’s fascinating to me to see how this all works because I don’t have a manager, I have…
TR: A team.
JV: I have management. I always call it “Team Me,” but his coming to me, and coming to hear me when I played at District, that was such an honor to me, that he would just come out and listen to me play. In this case, it’s down to the absolute music. House hits, house purists, without all the drama and the drag queens pulling their balls down outta the thing… but that’s basically where we’re at now. These people have all been great, they’re running things that… I’m too creative, I can’t sit and do that; Facebook and all them things. I can barely read email. But this great man here has taken me under his wing basically.
SL: First of all, how did this happen? How did you come to take over Junior? You’re grabbing him by the back of the neck and saying, ‘we can take care of the things that you’re not good at.’ And, leaving you to do the things that you can do well, and don’t worry about the other stuff, we’re going to handle it.
TR: I think his history goes a little bit deeper than mine, so I have a lot of respect for what he’s done. And I saw in the last four or five years, that he’s been playing in a lot of places, hasn’t stuck, and for a guy that has the kind of history he has in New York, it was a bit scattered. So, Dale (Aratan) came and said to me, ‘I’m good friends with Junior,” and I don’t know him that well, I just know his work, I respect his work, and we come from two different genres of music…
TR: In the same world, but he’s Dr. Gay. He played for all the gays in New York and everybody that came through his house, that was his party. I was a bit mixed, and I had a mixed crowd, but I was urban. SL: To an outsider, they look at house music, and everybody throws electro in it… Tiesto’s house, and all these superstar stadium DJs, and all that…House is this world-wide phenomenon. Where, the music that you guys play (I would describe him (JV) he’s a bit happy house these days) but electro and deep house, and I don’t see the difference. to an outsider its house music with different styles from dj to dj
JV: I don’t put labels on it. This is all dance music…
SL: I’m not trying to label it. I’m trying to ask… whether you play to a straight crowd, because that’s the way the promotion works, or a gay crowd… what is the difference in the music? Is it the beats? Is it the melodies?
JV: I think it’s more melody, I think…
TR: I’m more song oriented. I am a song guy. I listen to the song first, before the music. If the song works I know I can get the music to create under it. I want somebody to leave the dance floor saying they heard a great song, not they heard a great beat.
SL: And you, Junior?
JV: I’m always challenging myself, first of all. At a time, I was able to break records, and play them until they liked it, whether they didn’t at first or not, but I’m a little edgier, I think. Edgier and, unpredictable.
TR: He’s track orientated. Track orientated with a lot of funky baselines so it adds itself where it’s not tech. It’s kind of soulful house but in a more track orientated area. A little bit more high energy than what the urban guys are used to, what I’m used to.
SL: Now as far as your management, you’re going to find Junior a place, a home. How do you promote him?… you’ve had this Shelter party which has been going on forever, had a loyal following… forever, and your crowd, I’ve been there, some of the people are in their fifties, maybe even higher, as well as the younger ones. Junior had a huge crowd. He was the number one DJ in the world, undisputedly, for massive amounts of people for a very long time ; Sound Factory, Twilo, he was a dominant force. And now, he cannot fill a Twilo on a regular basis. How are you going to get him to a point where the public appreciates what he’s doing? how do you bring ths focus back on him. and how’re you going to focus Junior Vasquez?
TR: I’m going to put him in the position where he has the comfortability of spinning in a place where… I don’t want it to be huge, I want it to start small… and I think when what comes out of the speakers talks, everybody will follow. I always believe that no matter what you do, the speakers talk the loudest. So, if he does his job correctly, like he used to, and how he knows how to focus, everything else will come together.
SL: Now Junior, when we talk, and we do talk once in a while, sometimes you’re very sad. You fight depression.
JV: I do.
SL: You do. But in general, I think that you’re a happier person in many ways, than you’ve ever been. I mean I know that you were a miserable motherfucker back in the Sound Factory days, and you used to torment us. I remember walking into the Sound Factory and saying, ‘what kind of mood is he in?’
SL: No body’s complaining, I’m just saying, people would discuss your mood. No one’s complaining.
JV: People saying, ‘oh he’s in a bad mood? He’ll play better.’
SL: That’s right. I’m not saying it was a bad thing….
JV: Oh his boyfriend doin’ something’ bad? He’ll play better.
SL: I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing that you were in a bad mood, we all came to hear and let you take us to this place…
JV: And you were waiting for that particular place when I did cause drama…
SL: Are you in a better mood on many levels than before? Or are you more depressed on certain levels?
JV: I just think I’m generally depressed, unhappy… most of my life I think I’ve been like that. I think that’s the artistic side of me. I don’t have any business brain sense. Artists are always… they self medicate, they’re depressed when they don’t need to be. I don’t need to see someone for it, I just have to work. Working every week is what helps me. When you jump around and you start to say ‘ugh…’ and the reason I’m depressed is because I’m not working or I’m not doing anything related to business. So when I’m not playing, then I paint and draw and sculpt and spray everything in my back yard, but it just comes from being put in a position of not trusting people. It’s a hard weight to carry. SL: So Timmy here, and his crew, his team, because it’s a team effort is filling in your blanks. And when those blanks get filled, you feel that you’ll be evened out…
JV: I’ll be a lot better because…
SL: Is that good? Or is it better that you’re totally fucked up, for the music…
JV: No that’ll be great because, like you said, all I have to do is worry about playing. And I can do that every week, I can start making original songs… they’re just handling everything that I hadn’t had for a while.
SL: And that’s what makes you unique, I mean you are a DJ, and you are therefore exposed to the pressures… in fact, I’m a DJ too not quite like you two..strictly little league, but when i’m in that booth, it’s really kind of lonely sometimes, especially when you’re just not feeling it.
JV: I don’t think Timmy feels that , I can’t imagine that he feels that.
SL: (to TR) Do you ever feel this isolation sometimes?
TR: I am not depressed dude, I am not depressed.
SL: Do you find it in other DJs?
TR: I don’t go to get personalized, I go to listen to somebody. I want to hear what comes out the speakers. That’s the only thing that counts to me.
SL: The dance floor counts.
TR: What comes out the speakers.
JV: hopefully down the line, he’ll know when I’m not feeling so good, and he might just, give me a lolly pop.
TR: I don’t wanna know when you feel good I wanna know when the people on the dance floor feel good.
SL: So, when you look at a dance floor, when both you guys look at dance floors, is it important that everyone’s dancing? Or that, there’s certain types of key people that are dancing? For example, you break the record, and you look down, and maybe not everybody’s getting into it, but, really cool people are getting into it…
JV: I’m not sure if he goes through this but some of them are really listening. Not that they’re not dancing, but they’re listening, and they’re thinking and they’re texting someone…
TR: My object is to make sure someone is… if I’m playing a dance floor I want everybody dancing. I think that the time that we live in now, everything moves so fast. I travel around the world, and if you lose their interests, they tweet, they Facebook, they on the phone, and it destroys what you’re trying to create as a party. You have to work three times as hard now to maintain the dance floor than you did three or four years ago, because everything just moves so fast: the music, the people, the interactions. You can’t stay and play an eight minute song anymore, it’s impossible. But you still have to try and tell a story, so people could understand what you’re doing. If you lose them, it creates a whole mood where everybody’s tweeting and this; and you lose your whole vibe.
JV: But if you’re building something that you’re trying to do on a slower, kind of basics, a slower build up, it’s a good way to weed the people out that don’t get it. If in the beginning, the first hour somebody’s in there, and they see it so empty, and they get on their phones and say ‘ oh no don’t come here,’ have them check their phones, have them check their phones with their coats.
SL: So when this house music thing was happening, there was a woman named Judy Weinstein, and people like her, and they would send you records, the best DJs in the world. In fact, I used to say, that Junior Vasquez, and guys like you get the best tracks fast, they only distributed a certain amount, so that the DJs at the top of the list actually had music before the rest of the crowd did, and therefore, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy: they were the best because they had the freshest music. Nowadays how do you get your music?
JV) I get most of my music through friends and contacts: most of the mixes I play are exclusive either new mixes of classics songs I played or unreleased mixes of songs I like. Recent example I liked Adele/Linken Park and some friends did mixes for me to play then I did my own version of Rolling In The Deep.For example Fumi is one of my engineers and he submits me exclusive mixes using acappellas. he is fab. Sometimes Fabrizio gives me unreleased mixes of artists he loves like: Madonna for example that are part of my collection. Furthermore there are a couple of sites I look at that are for djs where we go through new stuff.I get stuff from some record companies directly. I still do 2 or 3 tracks for special events like the Stones and Sandy B and Janise Robinson and Lady GaGa and of course Madonna private mixes and many of lost dubs and white label versions from my newly found bangin songs and tracks from back as far as Sound Factory/Arena etc from my hard drives I found in the vault its like I found a lost treasure