Music played a major role in my family. My mother’s mother, Virginia, would have gospel music playing every Sunday morning on a scratchy AM transistor radio. Throughout the week my sister Jean and cousin Brenda had organ lessons. My mom Jackie and her best friend Thelma would host lavish parties every weekend at each other’s houses with fried chicken, smothered pork chops and rice, biscuits, and chilled hand shaken cocktails. However, the music was always the center of attention.
It was music that inspired the frying of the chicken in the middle of the afternoon in preparation for the evening. Music played while my mom was getting dressed for the party. And then the music played all night long until the very wee hours of the morning.
Back in the 70’s children were not allowed to linger around grown-ups, especially while they were getting their groove on. But how was an 11-year-old kid supposed to sleep while a bunch of adults were downstairs drinking and dancing to Al Green and Barry White? How was I supposed to keep my head on the pillow while the extended mix of “Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Herald Melvin & The Blue Notes was vibrating through the ceiling, its heavy bass line causing the floor in my bedroom to hum?
From listening to the AM Top-40 in the car, to the kitchen, the bedroom, the family room, even the bathroom, music was a huge part of the Young Family development and enrichment. Then there were my older siblings Loray, Troy, and Jean and all their friends. Sister Loray being the oldest, she shared many of the same musical tastes as our mom; I remember her going to a James Brown concert in 1976. My brother Troy was a strict Soul and Jazz type of guy: nothing but the likes of Frankie Beverly & Maze, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and Bobby Womack. I learned about Kenny G before he became famous from my brother. Then there was my sister Jean. She was totally in touch with her musical generation: The Jackson 5, Ashford & Simpson, Switch, and Cheryl Lynn.
Yet however much the family is the base of my musical influence, everyone knows that our greatest influences come from the streets. I was struck by the musical gods and goddess when, as a 6th grader at West Side Middle School, I took a long yellow school bus for the fist time.
I was totally intimidated riding on a bus with people I had never met before, even though they were all my neighbors. I took my seat and just looked forward for the duration of the ride. Every now and then, I would peek back and check out Manny. He was the guy holding the boom box.
Manny was one of the cool upper-classmen sitting in the back of the bus. It was 7:15AM and the music was pumping from his boom box. This was a type of music that I never heard before. It was fast, driven, spiritual, lush, and groovy, with raw and honest vocals. The bass line was thick and kickin’. It was Disco, and I was hooked.
From the moment when I saw that small group of upper-classmen at the back of the bus I wanted to be part of them. I could not wait until the end of the school day to jump back on the bus to listen to the music that would come screaming from the back. I was born again. When I arrived home I would run to the radio, trying to find those very songs. But they weren’t on the radio: Disco was too new, too deep, and extremely underground at the time.
I learned how to connect my DJ studio myself. I had no idea what I was doing. I just took the equipment out of the box and started connecting the cables. I started to figure out any problems I was experiencing by asking questions, going to audio stores, and reading the manuals, along with a little common sense.
My first interaction with a record and turntable was a Close N’ Play. It was a self-contained turntable that was in this little wooden boxed with a green vinyl finish on it and it had a little speaker enclosed in the box. The record player played 331/3, 45, and 78 RPM. I would play children’s sing-along 45’s that came with coloring books or cereal boxes.
I remember once I had this all-in-one turntable that I got it for my birthday. It was lime-green with a cool green-tinted plastic dust cover, and I loved it. It sat it on the top of my chest of draws. I hadn’t even started my record collection yet so I was constantly playing my mother’s and siblings’ records, of which I am sure they did not approve.
In my household we had a stereo in each room. My mom loved music and played it all the time, especially on the weekend. She was on top of all the latest sounds during the 70’s. She had this bumping stereo console that was about 8 feet long, with a turntable, AM/FM stereo, and 8 track tape, and it would pump when she opened it up.
I asked her once why she never played my little lime-green stereo and she said it did not have enough bass for her. “I need to feel it,” she would say. One day I woke up and I decided that I was over the little lime green stereo and I wanted a better one. But when I asked my mother for a new one, she said the one I had was just fine. So I went up to my room, picked up the lime green turntable and tossed it down the stairs.
Then I picked it up and placed it on the floor in my bedroom. I went to my mother and told her that my stereo had fallen off the top of the chest of drawers onto the floor, “It’s broken. Now can I get another one?” To my utter dismay, she said no.
One of the great things about hosting a weekly radio show on 89.5 KPOO San Francisco is sharing the music that I have been collecting for the past 35 years. The music that I share represents the soundtrack of my life. With each and every song that I program, especially if it a 12’ single or a Vinyl LP, I am able to recount a memory that is associated with the purchase of that piece of music or where I first played it or the people connected to it.
While growing up in Connecticut the greatest impact that I was influenced by was the connection my mother and I had to music and New York City Radio such as WBLS and WRKS. Because of that influence I was driven by the sounds of the city. My friends and I would each have $100. One of use would drive our car to New York City while the rest of use pitched in for gas and tolls. The feelings that we all expressed as we where heading to the big apple 75 miles from our home and 90 minutes south were beyond excitement and anticipation. Once we arrived in the West Village we parked the car and ran to Vinyl Mania Records only to be welcomed by a room of hardcore music enthusiasts. The joy, the joy, the joy.
Records were flying off the racks onto the central listening stations the was managed by one of the rotating employees. At Vinyl Mania Records you would find world class DJ’s producers, and artist listening for new music , yet everyone was there under one roof sharing the same passion. Back in the 1980’s the average 12’ domestic single was valued from $3 to $5. My friends and I both would almost spin are entire $100 or 15 to 20 records however, we would save just enough to buy a slice of Pizza at Joe’s Pizzeria on Carmine and Bleecker Street. At the completion of our meal, we would finally head north back to the Constitution State. We would do all that we could to avoid all tolls and additional expenses to get back home because we only had coins left on our pockets and a feeling of purpose and excitement.
We played out this ritual for years until I moved to San Francisco. When I visit the east coast and my friends and I try to recreate the pathway to our youth and music only to find that changed has replaced a way of life that was so real to us.
If you were to tune in to my radio show the Fingersnaps Music Salon , Wednesdays 12midnight to 3:00am you will hear many of those Classic Disco, House, and NuJazz records.
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