Sunday, April 23, 2017

Tony Humphries: Magic Sessions!

Tony HumphriesAsk those of us who got to instinctively feel the power of the groove who they would consider as being in their Hall Of Fame, then chances are great you’ll find Tony Humphries. Unremittingly devoted to give exposure to what he believes to be true, from his marathon sets to his radio shows, remixes and productions as a label manager, Tony Humphries has left an invaluable contribution to the Dance Music culture since his early days back in the second half of the 70’s. An obvious generosity which one could notice at first sight whenever coming to cross his path, whatever the circumstances can be, the exact way I experienced it during my countless meetings with him, be this in NYC, Miami or Paris…

The Jersey sound was more of an accumulation of various vibes; not a concept on its own. Pretend the contrary would be a big mistake, just as speakin’ about Garage as a matter of fact. Garage has never been a form of music. It represents a period which has been marked by a bunch of records Larry Levan used to play at The Paradise Garage. It could have been anything!”

A report published as a part of an issue of the memorable BMG Dance International Video Mag back at the beginning of the nineties introduced you briefly at the Zanzibar with Underground Solution’s classic ‘Luv Dancing’ in the background…
“That happened in November 1990 just before my residency at the Zanz came to an end. I think this is the very last hit we had there…”

Which brings us back to the debut of NYC seminal label Strictly Rhythm that started makin’ noise with this jam…
“Ironically I’d just signed a distribution deal with them for my Yellorange label by the time we spoke (in January 98). It’s the structure which, back then, looked the closest to the major companies in terms of running. They had the know how, the finances, the connections. They unfortunately didn’t manage to get 5 or 6 major artists in their roaster…”

US radios have never been of a help as far as House Music is concerned…
“It has been about the same with Hip-Hop at the beginning, but the rappers didn’t disappear. They managed to organize themselves, they’ve survived until the moment they started gaining attention…”

Henry Street Records label head Johnny D said to me he understood the way radio behave, based on the fact that the crowd was obviously more receptive to the said urban music such as R&B and Hip-Hop…
“Let’s consider the things in a different way. Record industry execs have a high standard of living and the expanses that come with. Therefore they don’t have a single will to think about the establishment of new trends along with the development of new artists. The main thing for them is to find the solution that will allow them to maintain their standard of living. R&B, Rock, Classical Music are sources of stable incomes, so why look anywhere else then???
The only possibility for a change to come can occur with the arrival of a new generation – us? – occupying these positions coz’ we’ve got the background. That said, this is quite generational. We hardly can beat them, and they can’t neither beat us. We sometimes tend to forget we might be like 1% to really vibe on things in clubs when a big majority of people gets there to have a drink, talks and party. This is to say how the only support House Music may get is the one it’s giving to itself.”

Things look like way different in the UK…
“The attitude for sure, and the open mindedness which may be considered as too much at times as the way they operate changes so quickly from a moment to another doesn’t seem more efficient. It’s as if your mom was forbidding you to eat sweets. It’s very restrictive, but on the opposite, if someone was to offer you a box with 30 different sorts of sweets that you would all eat, then chances are great you’d soon become sick…”

Yes, but God knows how our attention keeps on being caught up with countless new releases on a weekly basis, with so many forgotten as quickly as they surfaced…
“I’ve never looked at things like this, regardless my position which allows me to get more info than the common. It was already like this in the 60’s/70’s. Back then, you and I were just people listening to the radio and going to clubs, although we didn’t know anything about the business. About the divisions in the genres back then. About the finances needed to release a record… So, as an evidence, the more we get to know from a day to another, the more we can be astonished, but all of this is just the following of what used to happen before. The only difference coming from the fact that we only talked about Pop, Rock, Soul or Jazz back then…”

“When you give a tape or new music to Tony Humphries, he will always play it and give it a test on the crowd…” (K-Yze)
“This is because of the exposure Tony Humphries gave me that I got a record deal…” (Ceybil)

There’s this part of another issue in the series of these BMG video mags where you appear surrounded by singers considered as the New jersey divas. You were saying back then that the New Jersey sound could pretty well become the Motown sound of the 90’s…
“Yes, there was Charvoni, Ceybil, D’Borah, etc. I was optimistic. I’m not searching for any excuse regarding what happened after. But remembering this specific time, just before I left the Zanzibar, there was an extraordinary atmosphere around. Everything seemed to happen here. I had my radio show – on Kiss-FM – and everybody used to gather at Movin’ Records (a famous record shop in Jersey, but also a label owned by Abigail Adams). We used to welcome a maximum of artists each week and a major one every fortnight. Nobody does this anymore. It is to say how the end of my residency at the Zanz has been of a prejudice. Then, the first European DJ’s started to come here and this has been synonymous with the beginning of the end for the NJ sound. Something that I’m still finding regrettable nowadays…”

Could the destiny of the NJ sound have been different with the support of structures like Strictly Rhythm, Northcott or Nervous Records for instance?
“Beware of what you tend to present as an entity. The Jersey sound was more of an accumulation of various vibes; not a concept on its own. Pretend the contrary would be a big mistake, just as speakin’ about Garage as a matter of fact. Garage has never been a form of music. It represents a period which has been marked by a bunch of records Larry Levan used to play at The Paradise Garage. It could have been anything!
We got booked at the New York Seminar back in the day, being asked to introduce artists hailing from Jersey as opposed to usual people such as Ray Charles, Madonna or Chaka Khan. This is how it got started. We came up with 9 artists with 6 of them coming from NJ and the press thought we were trying to create a new genre. We could have come up with artists from London or elsewhere. We didn’t expect it would make such a noise…”

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