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, with permission by Christopher and Mr LaRue himself.

In the picture: Danny Krivit and D.C LaRue – who recently spinned his first dj set!

Christopher Thomas: You initially designed record covers, right?

D.C. LaRue: I did, that’s how I met a lot of the people [in the Record Industry]…I came to NY to pursue a recording career, but luckily enough, I had an art background…so I got a various jobs for record companies designing sheet music covers, song folios, album covers…I met Janis Ian when I designed her Aftertones Album Cover, I met the producer for Cathedrals, Aram Schefrin when I designed his cover for Ten Wheel Drive…So all these people I met…It’s interesting, I got art jobs in the record industry by virtue of the fact that I was around these people all the time, I would then sneak demos to the A&R guy. It was a back door.

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

Oh absolutely, I was discovered and recorded my first record when I was in High School. In 1961, in Connecticut, Cheshire High. I wanted to be another Fabian…It wasn’t in the cards, but yeah.

You were briefly discovered in high school –

Well it wasn’t so briefly because, through the years I had a lot of singles, I had three different names, I did a movie…but it was a different time, it was a pop time, and it was singles and 45s. And you never did an album until you had a big hit…you know it was that kind of record market. Oh I had about 7 or 8 singles.

I had given up completely by 19…I really had, I had signed with Donnie Kirshner, I had done some creative work for Donnie Kirshner…I got to see his A&R guy, Wally Gold, who produced Kansas and the Archies and Barbara Streisand, and I said, “Oh Wally, I write songs, you know!” It was a different time in music too so I went up to his office and I sat down and played a couple tunes, he said “Oh my God!, It’s another Elton John!” so he signed me right away. And I had two records, two releases with Kirshner records. We signed a distribution deal with Columbia, but Wally told me we weren’t doing that pop stuff anymore, they were doing rock stuff.

And really over the 12 years I was recording those singles, the session with him was the best single session I ever did, and I knew it, it was flawless, it was everything I wanted it to be.

Is this early work on Spotify or any streaming service?

No…Well, I just posted the first record I ever recorded with the four seasons doing the background on my soundcloud, called Jane []. To listen to more of DC’s earlier work, please check out his Soundcloud Disco Show, Disco Juice:

What was the music of your high school years?

It was 59,60,61…It was Frankie Avalon…

Rock n’ Roll, right?

Well, White Boy Rock n’ Roll…I made my own set of greatest hits for the 50s and 60s…that was when top 40 really was top 40. You had Jane Powell, Chuck Berry, Fabian, Danny & the Juniors, the Cleftones…It really was what top 40 was about.

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

I wonder how they do it. I have people asking me to give them advice on how to break through, and I really don’t have a clue. I know that if I were 18 now and wanted to record, I’d figure it out. But there are only three companies that control the industry. Harder than ever. My entire career prior to Cathedrals, even during Cathedrals, the way you’d get a record deal was you’d go into the A&R guy, and sit down at the piano and play the songs…

Really? They’d just hear you out?

They’d hear you out. Or I’d submit a demonstration record. You can’t even get in today. I had an appointment at Polygram, and I have to make the appointment and they have to leave my name at the desk and the guy has to physically come down 18 floors to verify who I am and take me up in the elevator personally, It’s ridiculous. Before you’d go to Broadway, and go from record company to record company. If they had the time, they’d listen, live, or have the secretary say, ‘Oh, leave some nibbles and I’ll have someone listen to it.’…and they’d pick up the phone and say hello, and then they would actually give you an answer when they didn’t like it, they’d say “Oh, we’ll pass.” Today they don’t do any of that, they don’t pick up the phone, you can’t get through to them, it’s all texting, it’s all if you’re lucky enough to have their number…it’s all emails, but they never answer.

But I understand that too because they must get a hundred thousand emails from all over the world, every day. Like I said, I haven’t got a clue. I can’t give anybody advice, it’s a whole new record industry. And since people aren’t making money from selling recordings…even a Rhianna, a first burst of money…but there’s no CD sales anymore…it’s all online, the company has to be excited enough to spend 3 million dollars on mounting a show for you. They have to believe in you that much. They really sell your soul.

As an artist, I always say that I look at a Justin Bieber or a Miley Cyrus and I don’t know how they stay sane. Because Justin Bieber is responsible for an industry…he’s KMART, he’s a mini-empire, and he’s responsible for now…hundreds and hundreds of people and their income and their lives and they’re sending their kids to college because of Justin Bieber. They’re paying for their home in Calabasas, they’re going on vacation, they’re buying a new Mercedes for their wife…because of Justin Bieber.

I don’t know how they stand the pressure; I don’t know how they do it.

I remember when I had the celebrity and the fame…it was nerve wracking. You had people around you…it was a whole different era. You had people touching you, and feeling you and touching your hair and telling you what to do and what not to do and augh, it was awful.

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

Well that’s interesting. I wasn’t so famous in the 70s. I wanted to correct you on that…about my music. First of all, what I experienced…see I never made records to be famous or to perform. I made records because I loved making records. I loved making records. The first time I made that demo [Jane] I loved singing and making records and hearing my voice…and even to this day, I remember, I wasn’t so much Jane….but it was the experience of making the record that was magic to me.

The production part of it?

Yes…I’d write the song, on piano in the basement or the guitar, I played the guitar too, you’d bring it to Bob Crew, he’d love the song, and then you’d hear the final result…I’d take those records and play them for hours…I couldn’t believe it, and I was happy. I loved performing, not that I didn’t like it, but I didn’t have that burning desire…I recently did a show with Melba Moore…she was wonderful, terrific. We did some New Years Eve stuff together, and she’s talking about performing and how she loves performing all the time…I said, do you love it that much and she’s like “I live for it. And when I’m not performing I’m unhappy.” I’ve never felt that way. I’m happy at home with my cat. Watching good movies. I really am, I have wonderful friends, I’m happy going to Paris.

[Performing] was more uncomfortable…This one disco in queens, I went there, the place was jammed, and it was a line to get in, it was a big hit, it had gotten onto disco radio here in New York City and it was really a successful record, and they announced me as the performance of the night and I went there with the people from the record company…I couldn’t get through the crowd, people were grabbing, touching, grabbing, touching –

Sounds terrible –

It was awful. A lot of people like that!

To be tended to, to be guided –

That’s right. I remember one fan, he’d gotten in touch with me, and he was a big guy in a motorcycle, a big disco fan, and he came, and he was so excited, and he got backstage, he started touching me…I was so uncomfortable with that kind of attention, I like being touched by people I want touching me.

I didn’t like being touched…I remember I was in London, and I was a big disco show, and I remember screaming and yelling and girls with photographs and I went down to the edge of the stage, signing autographs, and they pulled me into the audience, and the bodyguard had to come grab m…and I was scared, and then they whisked me into my Mercedes limousine….and the girls were backstage and they got on top of the hood, bouncing and bouncing and bouncing…and I was inside and I was saying ‘This is like Elvis Presley time!” and I don’t like it.

I felt threatened.

You were never seduced by the fame?

I was never seduced by the fame, even today, [When I stream my music online] I don’t look, I don’t look at any of the figures [of how many people listen].

I had a listener 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 someone is listening there too…if they’ve got disco lovers.

If I really thought about the fact that 250,000 people listening…I don’t know…I don’t how I’d process that. Especially if I’m alone in a studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I’m there all alone. And to think I’m reaching all those people around the world…it’s great and whatever, but I don’t let it get to me.

Part of the fame thing, I would love it, but there are a lot of people who…I remember Carly Simon discussing it, she hated it too, she hated performing, she had terrible stage fright, she hated that touchy-feely thing too…she just wanted to make music.

Most time the fame is more important, the fame is what drives the musician.

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

Disco Records were totally conceived and created in a different way. The trouble was that at that time I couldn’t help but write songs. They were just a part of who I am…and I used to walk around with a little cassette recorder, and I’d record something and tuck it away.

I was at Disco 12 West and I was there and Donna Summer came on…and that was a long record. I mean, the Doors had 18 minutes records, Cream had 18 minute records, Hendrix had 18 minutes records, it wasn’t the long cut….and they played Giorgio, and they dropped out the strings and brought back the strings…the way he layered it and unlayered it…it was…God, I had never heard records made like this. So it was stuck in my head…and I looked to do a concept album, and then several weeks later, and this is an old story, but it’s true, I was with my friend Steve DeChristo who had taken me to one of the early Disco Spots, in 1975…and I was there, and I was very high, he didn’t blend records, he’d butt them – butt to butt, and sometimes, when he was searching for a record, there would be a momentary pause in the music, and it’s 3 o’clock in the morning, and the dance floor…you could feel the floor move, and you feel the walls sweat, and the music stopped…and when you’re high like that, 3 seconds can feel like 3 hours…I don’t know how long it was, but the crowd was wild, screaming, and so he went to another track….and then there was dancing again, after that pause, after having all that energy, stopping, screaming, then having the music slamming back again…DeChristo goes] ‘Discos…are the Cathedrals of now, Disco is a religious experience!!!’ Honest. And as high as I was, I thought, I’m going to remember that. That would make an Album, and I came up with the songs, and I peddled the songs.

The lyrics of Cathedrals were shocking for the time, and when Cathedrals came out we couldn’t get it on radio stations, in Europe yeah, but it was too x-rated….and there wasn’t anything they could beep out …. and conceptually it was too blatantly raw, sexual or whatever….and I would never let them … I wouldn’t change, I was honest about it, and if I wrote about anything, I’d write from here [points to chest].

I was messaging Janis Ian on Facebook, and I said “understanding you and how you wouldn’t prostitute your art and how you would refuse to be anything but honest…changed the way I wrote lyrics.” She said “oh I knew that”, [laughs]. “As soon as I heard the change in your lyrics” she said “I knew” because her lyrics were never about anything fluffy. They’re about interracial romances, which was shocking for the time. I was never able to get on the radio because I refused to write the lyrics I didn’t want to write.

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

Never, which is interesting.

Face of love is my favorite song by you, by the way.

Oh Good…you know the title is attributed to John Lennon…it’s a lyric…at one point he says “Face of Love” in his song “Instant Karma.” But Face of Love is about having sex in pornoshops…”all the trappings you run around in” – drag queens. All the x-rated bookstores. It’s all about sex. See, aren’t you disappointed now that I’ve told you what it’s about?

So I played the song for Aaron, I played a few more tunes for Aaron, and I played Deep Dark Delicious Night – which is about getting screwed in the back of a car. “Into the Wicked, Deep Dark Delicious Night.” Everyone thought it was about anal…no, no It’s about any kind of [sex]…[like] getting screwed in the back of a car!

That’s why I’d never get played on the radio. I never had this broad acceptance like you think I did in the back of your mind…my audience was a niche audience…I have more people now, with the internet, [that are fans] and the kids now are so sophisticated and wordy or whatever, that they understand pretty much what I’m saying, and they get it and dig it.

And people always say “your songs are too gay” and I say “no they’re not too gay.” They’re sexual, but they can be applied to heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals…listen to the lyric, I don’t say anything specifically gay, I say sexual stuff, and real-deal stuff.

I never got the impression that you were making specifically gay songs.

Well I’m glad, because…it started off that way because in NYC, when we distributed it, the big important discos that broke records were gay discos. And the first five discos that got it were …99 Prince, Infinity and …. and 12 west. And over night, they were standing online here on commerce street every Sunday morning, waiting to buy records. And because it came from that gay disco space, only for a couple weeks because then it spread everywhere, but it kept that tag, that identity. And people who didn’t like disco or like me…would say “oh that fucking gay disco…” But it wasn’t. Listen to any of my lyrics it’s not gender or sexuality specific.

What’s the inspiration for the Tea Dance?

I had come up with the Tea Dance around the same time I came up with Cathedrals…it was a salute to dance music throughout the ages, starting out with tap dance

It feels quite narrative –

Yes! starting out with the tap dance…and I put it out like it was a Broadway revue…which it never ways, people think it was, but it was never a production.

Is that you on the album art?

Yeah, my brother in law did the album art.

It was a salute to the slow dances, bad news, sambas, belly dancing…a lot of hits came off it too. We did a re-edit, and it was a part of one of the first two or three hip hop records.

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 have this record, and my face was on the label, and there was only 2000 records, and limited edition, only to DJs, and you’d think those macho black DJs, hip hop DJs – well, this was before hip hop, at that point they were just playing street parties in the Bronx and upper Manhattan…but they heard that, and they didn’t give a fuck what I was…and some of them would take black magic marker and black out the label, so people came up to see what they were playing and go “oh shit, what’s that break?” they wouldn’t be able to see it was a white boy.

Through the years that black hip-hop macho community never stopped appreciating me…they treat me like I’m royalty, and I go up to some of these park jams and they get start [D.C. mimics prostrating, genuflecting]…and they don’t give a fuck that I’m white or gay or whatever, and I think they’re so healthy in that respect….the only thing I take exception to is that the kids who are writing the books about hip hop, that are doing the research today, leave me out. They don’t mind putting in James Brown, this or that, but a gay white boy…and they don’t acknowledge me, but it’s my only complaint.


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