Tue. Dec. 12, 2017

Larry Levan: Paradise Garage forever!

Larry Levan I never got the chance to meet Larry Levan, nor the opportunity to ever show up at The Paradise Garage. Although I instantly felt a connection with him and this mythic place while given a listen to the music he was playin’. Mind you, I was a teenager, livin’ in France back then, in my early days of spinning. Light years away from figuring I would get to meet the late Mel Cheren in the mid-90’s. A mythic figure whom Larry Heard considered as his stepfather.

I just suppose, looking back as to how things went, that they were simply meant to happen… I mean I would get most of my records at the time from a Parisian salesman whose sister was livin’ in the Big Apple. Sending him weekly recorded tapes from a famous radio by the likes of WBLS. The head of which happened to be Frankie Crocker. A genius who would stand close to Larry Levan when he was spinning at The PG. Then program on the following Monday some of the acetates Larry Levan was testing in front of the crowd. That same man who I would get in contact with soon after. With the wish/will to give birth to an equivalent of WBLS in Paris. Although without success due to local political issues…

Although I never experienced the unique atmosphere of The Paradise Garage, as I said, I sort of could figure what the place was about. This when comin’ to discover what to me stood to a certain extend as its sister place by the likes of Le Palace in Paris. A venue itself with its charismatic resident DJ – Guy Cuevas – and its mastermind – Fabrice Emaer who, just like Mel and Michael Brody, made of it an open space where everyone would come together as one, regardless their differences. As many things which, to me, would be for much on my decision (back in 2002, with the first version of Indamixworldwide) to sort of perpetuate that spirit of diversity. And therefore remain true as much as possible to Mel‘s prayer to transmit this legacy to the younger generations…

“It’s so wonderful to live with this feeling of having brought something to someone…” (Mel Cheren)

Mel Cheren remains on many people’s hearts as the guy who would be the New York by night guru at the time. As so many people born the same year as him were already retired back then, one may easily wonder where and how he managed to find such an energy. How, despite all the difficulties and the pains which have punctuated his existence, he kept on seeming so enthusiastic.

Many people being on his shoes would probably have given up. But him, no way! Despite the closing of his label further to the one of The PG a few months earlier. But, even more, the death of the one who was the club resident DJ – Larry Levan – speakin’ of whom Mel was seeing the son he’d been unable to have…
Such an amount of circumstances could well have seen Mel diving on the drugs if not wanting to commit suicide. But instead of that, he remained true to the promise he’d made to look after Larry Levan‘s mom. But also expand his contribution to the fight against AIDS, and give some help to the younger generations…

From there, he would make himself seen almost everywhere. From that UMM night he would attend to alongside long time West End Records producer Kenton Nix during the WMC’98. To his countless appearances to parties such as Shelter on Saturday nights at Vinyl. Then the day after at Body & Soul. But also giving a hand alongside François K. to Jeannie Hooper on her way to raise money for the broadcasting of her weekly ‘Liquid Sound Lounge’ show at the end of that same year.

And there was also his book – ‘My Life and The Paradise Garage – Keep On Dancing’ – which took him almost 7 years in the making. Then the resurrection of his label before making Kevin Hedge formerly of Blaze his successor at the command of West End Records. Then last but not least what, on a personal note, stands one of my biggest regrets… The second tone of his book which he invited me to collaborate on editorially speakin’ by the very last time we met, a few months prior to his death…

How do you explain radios such as WBLS and Kiss FM have turned their backs to Dance Music the way they’ve had for more than 20 years, in favor of Hip-Hop and R&B ?
“A guy like Frankie Crocker (WBLS‘s head of programs back at the beginning of the 80’s) was clearly aware of the potential of the clubs. Not to mention the one of the Paradise Garage. He used to stand next to Larry Levan when he was coming and see what he was playing. He was then in the ideal position to make himself an idea while seing the reactions of the crowd. And what Larry Levan was playing during the weekends, e would program it the following Monday without us asking for anything.

Today’s music is most likely the work of consultants sitting around a table. In comparison, Paris and London to me seemed more receptive. Even though I came to know that the French Government had imposed quotas of local music on local radios…”

One of the facets of the US Rock scene at the end of the 60’s, Garage is also remembered as the term illustrating the most soulful side of the House Music production. Quite ironical speakin’ of pieces of music which Larry Levan didn’t managed to play. As they most likely saw the light after the closure of the Paradise Garage…
“Many are those who, at the time, have talked to me about a West End Records sound. And I’m probably the only one who’d never known what this was about… I was simply coming to release a song when I loved it. I’ve never tried to have a particular sound on West End. Loose Joint, Raw Silk or even the first releases on the label such as Michelle and Karen Young… Everything got out on some heart feel of mine.

I have a list of all of those who’ve sampled our music like DMX Crew, KRS-1, Puff Daddy and many others on the Hip-Hop camp. And I’m very proud of it, being the owner of the copyrights. As long as they’re paying, no problem. It’s the sign of the impact that our music has had. And if not, why would they use it? Ini Kamoze’s ‘Here Comes The Hotstepper’, which borrowed parts of Taana Gardner’s classic ‘Heartbeat’, has been a #1 worldwide hit!”

Andy Reynolds aka Andyman who’s been in charge of the promotion at West End Records for some time, sent me a compilation of Larry Levan’s remixes back then before asking me what was my favorite tune. I answered him Billy Nichols’s ‘Diamond Ring’ although it wasn’t on the aforementioned…
“This is all the magic of our work. Everyone has his own favorite tune. For some, it’s gonna be Taana Gardner. For others, Raw Silk. Not to mention all these pieces of music and remixes that we never put out. We have tons of unreleased material for release any time on comp projects. Like those ‘Larry Levan Classic Mixes Made Famous At The Paradise Garage’.

“Larry Levan and I used to be like two fingers out of the same hand. He to me was a genious. And I’m doing everything I can in order to have his memory respected. He remained lucid until the very last moment. He asked me to keep an eye on his mom after his passing. Having me as his executor and I’m the only one allowed to use his name…”

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Story teller, record pusher, compiler & web designer…

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