Sep
03
2017

Christopher Thomas: The D.C LaRue interview

Christopher Thomas from Columbia university in NYC had a conversation with cult disco figure extraordinaire D.C LaRue.  Overfitting Disco is now privileged to present the interview to you, courtesy of  Mr LaRue himself.

Christopher Thomas: D.C. LaRue was a figure of not inconsiderable repute in the disco circles of the late 1970s. He is known for his albums CA-THE-DRALS”, THE TEA DANCE”, “CONFESSIONS”, “FORCES OF THE NIGHT”,STAR, BABY” and his 12” 45 rpm limited edition of the “INDISCREET”/“FACE OF LOVE” re-edit/re-mix which was countlessly sampled in early hip-hop.  On a beautiful summer afternoon in Manhattan’s West Village D.C. kindly let me interview him.

You initially designed record album covers, correct?

D.C. LaRue: I did and that’s how I met a lot of recording industry people. I moved to NYC from Connecticut after art school to pursue a recording career.  Not a career as an art director but luckily enough with an art background I was able to attain work at record companies designing sheet music covers, song folios, album covers and whatever.  I met my wonderful friend Janis Ian when I designed her “AFTERTONES” album cover and I met Aram Schefrin, the producer of my album “CA-THE-DRALS”, when I designed his Ten Wheel Drive “PECULIAR FRIENDS” album cover.  I got art director/graphic designer jobs in the music industry and by virtue of the fact that I was around music business people all the time I would get to meet the A&R guys one on one.  Then I would present the A&R departments with demos of me singing my compositions.  Graphic design work was the back door that made it a little easier for me to connect with the important top guys at the record companies.

 

Was your initial ambition to be a recording artist despite this artistic segue?

Absolutely! I was discovered by legendary indie producer BOB CREWE and recorded my first single when I was still a senior in Cheshire High School.  I wanted to be another Fabian or Frankie Avalon or whoever but it wasn’t in the cards at the time.  It took more than a few years to manifest my true musical calling.

 

So you were briefly discovered in high school by legendary independent record producer Bob Crewe?

Well, it wasn’t so “briefly” because during those early years I recorded and released a lot of singles for Bob Crewe and a few other record companies and producers.  I had three different names (Matthew Reid/Casey Paxton/David LaRue) and I even starred in a movie distributed by Allied Artists titled “DISCOTHEQUE HOLIDAY”.  It was such a different time in the music business.  It was a “pop 45 rpm singles” time.  Most artists didn’t get to do an album until they had a big hit single.  I managed to release quite a few singles but I wasn’t fortunate enough to come up with any real hits.  My very last pop 45rpm recording session was for KIRSHNER RECORDS.  I had done some creative work for Donnie Kirshner’s label CALENDAR Records (which was distributed by RCA at the time) and I got to meet his A&R guy, Wally Gold, who produced Kansas and The Archies and Barbara Streisand among others.  I said, “Hey Wally!! I write songs!! You want to give them a listen?” I went up to his office and I sat down and played a couple tunes.  His immediate reaction was “Oh my God! You’re another Elton John!” and he signed me to a publishing/recording contract on the spot.  And I had two 45 rpm releases with KIRSHNER Records.  But I spent a few months in Europe that summer and when I returned to New York City the KIRSHNER ORGANIZATION had signed a new distribution deal with COLUMBIA Records.  Wally explained to me the label wasn’t doing pop stuff so much anymore and going in a new rock orientated direction signing groups like KANSAS. They gave me a release.  After that disappointment in 1974 I completely gave up on recording.   With so many tries and so many failures under my belt I had really had it!!

(i.e. Actually up to that time over the 12 years I was recording all those singles, the session with WALLY GOLD and KIRSHNER Records was the best single session I ever did!!  It was flawless and it was everything I wanted it to be. Unfortunately it never got a decent shot!)

 

Is this early work on Spotify or any streaming service?

Not yet. But I’ve posted the first record I ever recorded which was produced by Bob Crewe with Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons doing the background to my Soundcloud account.  It’s titled “JANE” – Matthew Reid.  [https://soundcloud.com/d-c-larue-1/jane-matthew-reid-1962].

editor’s note: To listen to more of DC’s earlier work you can check out his DISCO JUICE Internet radio program archive at www.SOUNDCLOUD.com

 

What was your music of choice during high school years?

My high school years were all about the music of the late 50s and early 60s. It was Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Bobby Rydell, Jimmy Clanton, Gene Pitney, Danny & the Juniors and such.

 

Rock n’ Roll, right?

Well, I guess you’d call it “White Boy Pop/Rock n’ Roll”.  Like I’ve said recorded a lot of pop 45rpm singles in those early days of my career.  I kind of like I made my own set of “Matthew Reid/Casey Paxton/David LaRue’s Best Tracks of the 1960s/70s”.  That was when top 40 radio was REALLY top 40.  The music fan had hits from the likes of Jane Powell, Chuck Berry, Fabian, Danny & the Juniors, The Cleftones, The Moonglows, Perry Como, Patsy Cline, Mario Lanza and whoever…all making the Top 40 Chart at the same time.  A super duper variety of music was really what Top 40 Radio was about.  It simply doesn’t exist today.

 

Do you have an opinion on the way musicians become popular now?

Actually I wonder how they do it. I have people asking me all the time to give them advice on how to break into the music business and I really don’t have a clue.  I know that if I were 18 years old now and wanted to record I’d figure it out.  But there are pretty much only three major companies that control the music industry at the moment.  That makes it a lot harder now more than ever.  Throughout my entire career there was a totally different recording industry standard when it came to finding new talent.  There was pretty much an open door policy.  The way most young unrecorded talent would get a record deal was an artist would go into the record company’s office, get an appointment with the A&R guy and sit down at the piano or take out the guitar and play and sing your material.  Or submit a demonstration record or tape of their work.

 

Really? They’d just hear you out?

Yes!! Most of the time they’d hear you out.  Today an artist can’t even get in the record company’s building with all the security.  I had an appointment  recently at Polygram concerning the TGIF Soundtrack re-release.  I had to make the appointment with the A&R guy and then he had to leave my name at the security desk the morning of the appointment and then the guy I had the appointment to see had to physically come down the 18 floors or whatever to verify who I was and take me up in the elevator personally.  It’s ridiculous.  Before you’d go to 1650 Broadway or The Brill Building and hustle from floor to floor, record company to record company.  If they had the time they’d even listen “live” on the spot or they’d have their secretary ask you to leave some demos and they’d listen and get back with you.  They’d actually pick up the phone and say “hello” when you called for information and they would give you feed back.  No answering machines and texting and e-mails back in the day.  Today you’re lucky to even have a number to call.  And today when the A&R people not interested they NEVER give you the courtesy of telling you they’re not interested.  You just get silence.

 

But I guess I understand that too because they must get a hundreds and hundreds emails from all over the world every day. As I’ve said before I haven’t got a clue about how to get a deal today.  I can’t give anybody advice.  And recording companies aren’t making money from selling recorded CDs or vinyl configurations any more.  It’s all online “digital on demand” downloading which is not a real money maker.  So at present the recording company has to be excited enough about artist to spend a million dollars on publicity and promotion in addition to mounting a show and putting an tour together.  They have to believe in you that much which also means they ask you to sell your soul more than ever.

 

I look at a Justin Bieber or a Miley Cyrus and I don’t know how they manage to stay sane.  A guy like Justin Bieber is what amounts to a one man industry!!  He’s a business empire unto himself and he’s responsible for hundreds of people and their incomes and their lives and their kid’s college educations and for their homes in Calabasas, their vacations, the new Mercedes for the wife.  WOW!!  I don’t know how these new kids stand the pressure.  I remember when I had just a fraction of their celebrity and the fame…it was nerve wracking.  I had people all around me all the time…no privacy.  People touching me and grabbing my arm and messing my hair and trying to tell me what to do and what not to do and it was awful.  At least for me it was awful.

 

What would you say is your general perspective of fame, having been so famous in the 70s?

Well, it’s interesting you say that. Actually I wasn’t so very famous in the 70s.  First of all I never made records to be famous or to perform.  I made records because I loved making records.  I loved being in a recording studio. That first time I made that piano voice demo for Bob Crewe I was smitten.  I loved singing and hearing my voice and hearing my music come to life.  Even to this day that has never changed.  It was the experience of making the recording that was the magic to me.

 

The production part of recording?

Yes!! I’d write the song on the piano or the guitar and I’d present it to a producer like Bob Crewe. We would go into the recording studio and make the record and it was that final resulting recording that was the total fulfillment for me.  I’d take those records home and play them for hours and hours and hours.  They were the dreams that came true and they was the goal.  That’s what made me the happiest.  I loved performing!  It’s not that I didn’t love it but I’ve never had that burning desire to get on stage in front of a “live” audience.  I recently did a show with Melba Moore and we started talking about performing.  Melba loves performing with a passion.  When she’s not performing she feels unfulfilled.  I’ve never felt that way.  I’m happy at home with my cat watching a good movie or listening to music or reading.  Performing for me was an uncomfortable experience.  The grabbing, touching, grabbing, touching.  Ouch and ugh!!

 

Sounds terrible –

It was awful. But it’s amazing how so many people love it and live for it!

 

To be tended and to be guided?

Correct. I remember one fan that had come to one of my performances.  A big disco fan and he was so excited that he managed to get backstage.  After my performance out of the blue he started toweling off my perspiration…without asking.  That kind of attention made me so uncomfortable.  I like being touched by people I want touching me but I don’t like being touched by uninvited strangers.  I also remember performing at the Lyceum Theatre in London when “LET THEM DANCE” was a huge hit in the UK.  I remember the screaming and the yelling and the photographers.  I also remember going down to the edge of the stage to sign autographs.  The girls pulled me off the stage into the crowd and they were all over me so that the security guys had to come and pull me away.  Then they whisked me into a limousine to drive me back to the hotel some of the fans had gotten on the hood of the auto and on it’s roof and were bouncing and jumping up and down and screaming while I was inside.  It made me crazy.  It was like Elvis Presley moment but I felt threatened.

 

So you were never seduced by the fame?

I was never seduced by the fame…not even today. When I do my DISCO JUICE Internet radio program I don’t look at the figures of how many people are listening.  I know I have listeners in every country on the face of the earth…every country!  I don’t get stats from North Korea or Afghanistan [laughs] but I’ll bet some people are listening there too.  If I really allowed myself to think about the fact that I may have 250,000 people listening…I don’t know…I don’t how I’d process that.  Especially when I’m alone in the studio in Brooklyn.  I think of it as though I’m just playing the music for myself and sharing it with some friends.  To think I’m reaching all those people around the world…it’s great and whatever but I can’t really think about it or I’d tighten up.  I remember Carly Simon discussing it in an interview years ago that she hated “live” performing too.  She had terrible stage fright and she hated that touchy-feely thing as well.  She just wanted to make music.  Most times the fame is very, very important and is what drives the musician.

 

Going back to Disco, What do you think differentiated it from earlier danceable Rock N’ Roll?

Disco recordings were conceived and created in a totally different way for different reasons. I’ll tell you how I caught the disco bug.  I loved to go out dancing with my friends and one July night in1975 I ended up on the dance floor of a disco called 12 WEST here in the West Village down by the Hudson River.  There I was dancing away when the Giorgio Moroder produced Donna Summer recording of “LOVE TO LOVE YOU BABY” came on and it just blew me away!!  Eighteen minutes of sheer heaven!!  It wasn’t the first extended album cut I had ever heard.  That’s for sure!  There were lots of extended rock tracks like the Doors’ “LIGHT MY FIRE”.  Iron Butterfly, Vanilla Fudge  Cream and whatever all with those 18 minute tracks.  A Jimmy Hendrix 18 minute track was not uncommon so it wasn’t simply because Donna’s track was a 18 minute cut.  It was the way it was structured, the arrangement, the rise and fall of the energy level as it related to the dance floor.  WEOW!  The way Giorgio Moroder added the strings and bass line and then dropped out the strings and then brought back the strings, the way the instrumentation was layered, the way Donna’s locals were introduced and the re-introduced throughout the recording and so on.  It knocked me out.  I couldn’t get it out of my head so after about a week I decided to consider doing a disco concept album myself.  This is an old story and I’ve told it many times in the past but it’s absolutely true.  A few weeks later I was with my friend Steve D’Aquisto who had taken me to one of the early private disco clubs DAVID MANCUSO’S LOFT.  We were both standing there at the edge of the dance floor when there was a momentary pause in the music.  Now when you are very high and it’s 3am in the morning and the dance floor is jam packed and the music stops and you’re high like that,,,,well, 3 seconds of silence can feel like 3 hours!!  I don’t know actually how long it was when David started the music again but when he did the crowd went wild with screaming and whatever.  Steve threw his arms into the air and screamed “Discos are the Cathedrals of now!! Disco is a religious experience!!!” Honest!  And as high as I was I thought to myself that I was going to remember that moment!!.  That’s a concept that could make a great disco album.  It took me a week or so to come up with the songs and when I got them all together I started trying to sell the project to a label.  Even though I had given up on the record business the reality was that I couldn’t help but continue to write songs.  Music was just a part of who I was.  I used to walk around NYC with a little cassette recorder so that when I song came to me I could record it immediately so I wouldn’t forget it and tuck it away for posterity.  At that point in my life (the mid-70s) the muse still hadn’t flown away.  Of course when I finally got the material together not one recording company in the city was interested in backing the project.  But somehow I was re-energized and refused to give up on it.

 

Seems the lyrics of “Cathedrals” were considered too shocking for the time and when the “Cathedrals” album was finally released we couldn’t get it on radio stations here in the USA.  It was considered x-rated but the lyrics were such that there wasn’t anything they could actually beep out to make it palatable.  And conceptually it was too blatantly raw, sexual or whatever as well.  But it was what it was.  I never let anyone change a word or a melody.  I was honest and when I wrote about anything I’d write from my heart and soul.

 

I was messaging Janis Ian on Facebook a while back and I said “understanding you and how you wouldn’t prostitute your art and how you would refuse to be anything but honest…you changed the way I wrote lyrics.” She said “Oh yeah! I knew that. As soon as I heard your new lyrics I knew”.  Janis’ lyrics were never about anything but her truth as she perceived it.  They were about interracial romances and whatever.   Janis was very, very shocking and honest for her time and a huge influence on me.
So it ends up my 70s disco contributions were never able to get played on US radio. But I didn’t care and continued to refused to write lyrics that were anything but my truth.

 

And so you got pressure from recording companies regarding your lyrics?

Never from the record companies. Just from US  AM and FM radio stations.

 

Your “FACE OF LOVE” is my favorite song.

Great!! That’s my “almost Pop/Rock” track from “THE TEA DANCE” album.  I have to attribute the title to a JOHN LENNON phrase from his “INSTANT KARMA” lyric.   But my “Face of Love” is about having peep show sex in the back of pornography book stores.  (“all the book stores you been found in. all the goodies that you’re down on.”)  It’s about drag queens, transsexuals and transvestites. (“all the trappings that you run around in”)  Lyrics about the really dark side of the NYC street life in the 70s.  The under belly of the beast as it were!  Now aren’t you disappointed now that I’ve told you what it’s about?  Hahaha!

 

And my “DEEP, DARK, DELICIOUS NIGHT” from the “CATHEDRALS” album is about loosing your virginity in the back of a car.  Unfortunately most listeners at the time thought it was about anal sex.  Incorrect!!  It’s about experiencing any kind of sex in the back of a car!  Whatever works as it were.

 

That’s why I never got played on the radio here in the States. I never did have a broad acceptance of my work like the impression you may get from the web today.  My audience was a very limited niche audience.  Admittedly today with the Internet and social media I have gained a great deal more acceptance of my past work.  In addition the kids today are so much more sophisticated and worldly and they understand pretty much understand what I’m talking about in my lyrics and they enjoy it.

 

Forty years ago my critics would claim my lyrics were too gay. Not true!!  They were never “too gay” or “exclusively gay” in reference.  Yes, they were totally realistic and very sexual but they are pertinent to heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, and metrosexuals as well.  Just listen to my lyrics again keeping this in mind.  I don’t say anything totally or specifically gay.  I talk about sexual real-deal stuff concerning life but I’ve always felt that honesty is the best policy!!

 

Listening to your music I never did get the impression that you were making specifically gay songs.

Well I’m happy about that!   But because of the way the record broke in the clubs it was considered “gay”.  When PYRAMID DISCO released “CATHEDRALS” in 1976 it was the big important, mostly gay big city discos that were the first to start playing the record.  I remember the first four discos that got acetates of the album here in New York City were The Loft, Infinity, 12 West and Nicky Siano’s GALLERY. It’s immediate success was amazing.  The clubs would play “CA-THE-DRALS” on a Saturday night and the dancers were standing in line in front of Vinyl Mania and Discorama, Downstairs Records and Rock & Soul the following Sunday morning waiting to buy the record.   And because initially it came from play in mostly gay disco spaces (And that was only the case for a couple weeks because then it spread everywhere pretty much over night) it somehow retained that tag….the identity of being a gay record.  And people who didn’t like disco or like me would say “Oh! That fucking gay disco shit!!  It sucks!!”  But listen to any of my lyrics again and you’ll see they are not gender specific.

 

What was the inspiration for The Tea Dance?

I had come up with “THE TEA DANCE” concept around the same time I came up with “CATHEDRALS”. “THE TEA DANCE” is a salute to dance music throughout the ages.  The album actually starts out with tap dance!!  (Very amusing…we thought at the time.)  It was a salute to the slow dances “Bad News”, the sambas “O Ba Ba”, the belly dance “Indiscreet” etcetera.  And without even knowing it at the time we created one of the very first hip hop breaks with the “INDISCREET” re-edit.

 

Is that you on the album art?

Yeah. My brother-in-law artist REMO BRAMANTI did the original album art.

 

How do you feel about your influence on hip hop?

It’s interesting…you’d think because I was a white gay boy and I release this re-edit record with my face on the label that there would have been some reverse discrimination. I had PYRAMID DISCO press only a limited edition of 2000 vinyl 12” records distributed as promos only to disco DJs through their local record pools.  You’d think those macho black hip hop DJs – well, this was before their was an actual thing officially called hip hop. At that point the black DJs were simply playing local street parties in the Bronx and upper Manhattan – wouldn’t even pay it attention to it but when they heard the “INDISCREET” break and they didn’t give a fuck what I was.  And some of those DJs would even take a magic marker and black out the label so when dancers came up to the turntables to see what they were playing they wouldn’t be able to see what the record was or that it was performed by a white boy!!

 

I might add that through the years that black hip-hop macho community has never stopped appreciating me or playing the break. And they have always treated me like I’m royalty.  Sometimes I go to hang out at the local New York City summer park jams and they those DJs get like [D.C. starts to mimic prostrating, genuflecting]. They don’t give a fuck that I’m white or gay or whatever.  THEY ARE AND HAVE ALWAYS BEEN THE BEST!!   At this juncture the only thing I take exception to is that the black authors who are writing the books about hip hop don’t seem to be doing their research very well.  They always leave me out completely.  They don’t mind putting in James Brown or the other black break tracks as influences to hip hop but it seems that a gay white boy…well, they don’t want to acknowledge me or my contribution.  I think it’s very unfortunate.

 

 

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