History Of Disco – Pt 1
- I can recall going to Disco’s in the early 70’s. Long before "that stupid movie" came out in 1976. These discos that I went to were quite a bit differnt than the one depicted in "that stupid movie"
They were usually located in inner city neighborhoods and were either converted warehouse facilities, abandoned resturants and the like. People would show up to these places at around 10 pm or so to dance & mingle. We called them "discos" but another name for them might be "Funk House" !!………..they were very different kinds of places than what younger people today might think of as "disco". People would come dressed in "full funk regalia"…(afro’s, ‘nik nik’ shirts, applejacks, etc) and dance/mingle till the wee hours of the morning.
These places were always enourous in size, with a big dance floor and sometimes with multiple levels with strobe lights and other special lighting effects. However there was nothing fancy about these places, they were always "down & dirty"….(having more in common with a ‘juke joint’ than ‘Studio 54’). They always had a "bomb" sound system with the DJ playing the latest hits from Black radio, but sometimes there would be a live band.
There were many of these all around NY while I was growing up (remember the ‘Iron Rail’ in Brooklyn,.. John ???) and I used to hit them every Friday & Saturday night. These places would always have at least several hundred people in attendance (sometimes 1,000 when a local group like BT Express or Brass
Construction would be appearing !!) The clientele was always 100% Black, 18-25, most of the people were (as you have pointed out in another post) ‘high’…..but guess what….there was never any violence !!
Everyone simply "grooved with each other" and it was cool.
Some of you might be wondering what the point is of the "nostagia exercise" I have engaged in was ???
Well it was not to be nostalgic, it was to point out the fact that the culture that I just described no longer exists. It ceased to exist after that "stupid movie" came out. Inner city disco’s were shut down by police drug raids which resulted in the loss of liquor licenses. They were replaced with "downtown discos" (which would many times not even admit Black people) and eventually with "suburban discos (which Black people couldn’t travel to !!)
I am saying that once the decision was made to commercialize FUNK and rename it disco the handwriting was on the wall.
The culture was also killed off because the people that had made up the culture no longer had a place to
meet and share ideas. The only place that was now available was in basements, on basketball courts and in parks resulting in .
….the the birth of hip hop in the mid to late 70’s as a REVOLT against the commercialization of FUNK !!
I saw all of this happen with his own eyes !!
- Chicago had the same history before "that stupid movie". The REAL parties were in old warehouses just south of downtown. I remember MCing one party that was so full…the building actually danced along with the people.
Sometimes all you had to do was simply stand still…and you moved as the building moved. My boys and I never got high…but we DID carry a cooler full of Golden Champale (remember Champale?? ). That was a great way of meeting the honeys ..
As a "triple threat" DJ in the late 70s (radio, disco, funk club) I saw it all. Women would offer anything…and I DO mean anything…to play their fav song. FUNK music was da joint…and everything in 1976-early 1979 was funky. The P-Funk Revolution was in FULL effect…and even the segregated Top 40 stations here like WLS played The Bar-Kays, and Con Funk Shun, and P-Funk (One Nation was
being played by all three Top 40 stations, both disco stations and all three Black-oriented stations). This was, however, THE market for BOOTSY!!! WGCI played PLAYER OF THE YEAR in its entirety the WHOLE night it was released.
- The demise of funk music came simultaneously with the demise of the Carter Administration…which ACTUALLY happened with the taking of the hostages in 1979. Anything that white America could possibly consider anti-American was out…including disco and "the music that begat disco" according to a racist member of my staff at the University of Illinois-Chicago’s WUIC…a station I ran as Operations Manager. You know what music that is?? Yes…FUNK!
With President Carter a virtual lame-duck in late 1979, a song called MY SHARONA by The Knack was heralded as the "death knell" of disco…and because FUNK was attached at the hip of disco in the mainstream culture, FUNK died also. By early 1980 the P-Funk Nation couldn’t BUY a hit, pop music was suddenly the newly washed down Doobie Brothers, Kenny Loggins and the new NEW AGE movement, mainstream America’s ripoff of JAZZ…and with the election of ultra-conservative Ronald Reagan, the black community fell into a deep apathy…an apathy we STILL haven’t emerged from.
- Why do I mention the late 70s through 1980?? We have ALLOWED our artistic legacy to be stolen. With the sudden splintering of Black radio (now called "Urban") into mainstream, hip-hop and black adult formats, mainstream radio has been able to fully control major markets all around America. You know…there is not ONE black-owned music station (not counting Gospel) left in Chicago?? And we wonder why black children are being beaten in the streets here in Chicago…
Im just getting started!!
- (Anything that white America could possibly consider anti-American was out…including disco and "the music that begat disco" according to a racist member of my staff at the University of Illinois-Chicago’s WUIC…a station I ran as Operations Manager. You know what music that is?? Yes…FUNK!)
This is a very deep statement !!
Wasn’t it in Chicago where they actually burned stacks of Disco records in a stadium and touched off a riot ?
Why would people regard "Disco" (something that as I recall was pretty universally popular) as "anti American" ??
- (I remember MCing one party that was so full…the building actually danced along with the people. Sometimes all you had to do was simply stand still…and you moved as the building moved.)
Could it have been possible that we were at some of the same places ???…….lol
What you are depicting is a culture and a people who were alive with possibilities for the future. FUNK was a universal thing …….it was everyplace !!……..
There is no doubt in my mind that I could have showed up at the club you are describing and walked out with 10 new friends that night. I could have done that in ANY city …people were tight…The groove was there….people were not afraid of each other. Funkateers were on the move & the scene was similar no matter where you went !!
(& it all just disappeard overnight !!!…what happened ?)
- Why…you ask??? Very simple my brotha…disco was the European ripoff of FUNK!!! I always felt the anti-disco movement, led here by then-WDAI/Chicago morning man Steve Dahl (the Howard Stern of Chicago), was not only anti-disco, but anti-Black (yes, I said it!!). Dahl was the DJ who burned disco records and led the riot at Old Comiskey Park in summer, 1979 during a stunt between games at a doubleheader…a riot that led to the White Sox forfeiting game two…and a riot that precipitated the end
of disco…AND funk, and ushered in the mellow 80s. As a record promoter (yes…I was a jack-of-all-trades back then…) in 1980 I couldn’t GIVE danceable music away.
The trend became ballads…the Whispers, Commodores, even the Jacksons. In addition, ANYTHING jazzy became chartable, but if it had a dance beat…forget it!!
I was doing freelance promoting for MCA…and there was a new artist, Alphonso Surrett. He had a new record called MAKE IT FEEL GOOD…and it was VERY funky (one of those tunes so funky…ya had to wear nose clips to listen to it…). I couldn’t GIVE the record away…and it was a quality record that would’ve been a tep ten hit just two years previous. Frustrated me to no end…but the racism that was just taking over the music industry was taking root.
I also remember the days when I would go to the record store (or do you say WRECKASTOW…ebonically speaking…) and walk out with ten to fifteen albums at a time. These days…good luck finding ANYTHING worth the $12-17 you have to spend per album!!
- YOU know what happened…this country went conservative…literally. The elements of Black American life that suffered were the arts…including music, and anything perceived as positive. Again I say…WE AS A PEOPLE WENT SOFT!!!
Funk was very much a uniting factor in the late 70s...and I have always felt the conservative movement in this country saw ANYTHING uniting blacks in America as a potential threat.
I know what you mean…the parties then were live…as if everyone dancing became ONE!!! It was all about celebrating our freedom as a people…and celebrating the form of music that spoke to us and told us what time it was…FUNK!! As many say gangsta rap is the CNN of young Black America TODAY…FUNK was the CNN of the last generation…yes, US!! Think about it…ONE NATION UNDER A GROOVE…gettin’ down just for the funk of it!!! As a people freed from MANY of the injustices holding us down throughout the 60s and early 70s, we were celebrating, and FUNK music kept us informed, awake, and inspired. Bootsy’s THE PINOCCHIO THEORY…with the line "…you fake the funk, your nose is gonna grow…" was obvious to me.
Anyone lying to the Black community would be easily noticed…and ostracized!! It wasn’t just danceable…it was political, it was motivational, and it was a challenge to ANYONE who wished to "funk" with us!!
Our community fell into such a apathetic "funk" in the early 80s that we forgot to preserve the gains we had made as a people…and we also failed to move forward and become a community truly independent. There you are…1997!!!
- (I always felt the anti-disco movement, was not only
anti-disco, but anti-Black (yes, I said it!!)
One of the positive things about "disco" was that with a few exceptions it did manage to fulfill one of the objectives of the Civil Rights movement.
It brought the races closer together..!!
For the first time there were truly integrated venues where Blacks & Whites "co-mingled" freely. Although "disco’s" did in fact lead to the downfall of the "inner city FUNK HOUSE" and while it’s true that a few of them practiced "racist door policies". For the most part you could get in, dance and socialize across racial barriers.
I think that this level of social interaction must have been a source of fear to certain segments of the American society.
There have been many debates about the concept of "integration" through the history of this country. Many "pros & cons" have been discussed for many years on ALL sides of the fence. We have laws and have had "special programs" to promote integration for many years. The fact of the matter is that I have yet to see the concept of "integration" ever fully realized.
Disco was in fact one of the first (& maybe the last ??) forms of "voluntary integration" that we have seen. I mean in some ways it was really those same "long haired hippies & afro blacks"….with haircuts and clean clothes !!..(g)
The music was the same & the attitude was the same.
Yet there was a violent hatred of it by certain segments of our society…..that does not in my opinion bode well for the future.
Disco was actually a pretty good concept at the beginning, it was a universal thing and had actually "infiltrated" EVERY aspect of the American culture (much as hip hop is today).
Today it is a concept that is ridiculed with the "foul odor" of racism, never far from the surface. Could hip hop be looking at a similar fate in the not to distant future ?
Stay tuned !!!
In my opinion we are looking at several related factors:
4. Forgetting the past (complacency)
Today this music that we all love has "mutated" in to:
1. "Smooth Jazz"
2. "Today’s R&B"
3. "Gangsta Rap"
And the culture itself has become virtually non existent. With the people being so far away from the entire concept of "unity" to the point of being "dysfunctional", things don’t bode well for the future.
Hopefully we can begin to remember/reclaim the past…… ….so that we can claim the future. I already see some evidence of this happening.
(Im not totally pessimistic)