January 31, 1976: New York disco scene special

This week James Hamilton devotes the whole of his page to the American disco scene. He was there last week, representing Britain at Billboard Magazine’s First International Disco Forum.

(This column also includes his first mention of beat-mixing.)

‘Disco Forum’ – dateline USA

Last week, (January 20-28), there gathered at the Roosevelt Hotel in the heart of Manhattan a forum of disco DJs, club owners, equipment manufacturers and record producers who had journeyed from all corners of the United States and Canada and from as far as Italy, Hong Kong, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Japan and Nigeria.

They all came together to exchange ideas and exhibit their wares at Billboard magazine’s First International Disco Forum, Disco ’76.

As the only disco DJ to attend from Britain, I hope that I represented your interests well. Rather than talk about the Forum now though, I’d like to tell you everything I learnt about the fascinating New York disco scene.

So much US disco music these days is dominated by a metronomic beat carried by loudly schlurping cymbals and hissing hi-hats that there has to be a reason — and there is.

The Americans have finally gone back to dancing, and typically have become hung up on doing formalized dance steps, just like in the old days of the classic dance crazes. The current craze is still the Hustle, and knowledge of the Hustle explains everything.

Latin or Spanish in origin, the Hustle is excitingly like a slowed-down version of the Jitterbug! In fact, champion dancer Barbara Tucker even refers to it as the Swing-Hustle, for to dance it in the New York style you do not let go of your partner’s hands at all. Because it needs a steadily constant beat, all the records designed with dancers in mind have a constantly ticking rhythm.

More than that — the New York style of DJing has become possibly the most demanding and skilful of all, because the DJs have to keep the rhythm going even when changing from record to record if they don’t want to lose their dancers in mid-step.

This has led to the use of turntables with variable speeds (more next week about other equipment). As DJ Alex Kabbaz uses them, he will start by playing a record at its normal speed, then gradually speed it up until it’s the same speed as the next record he’s going to play, which he then synchronizes, over the one that’s already playing, with no discernible joins!

The rest of this page — just for this week — is given over totally to the type of sounds that are currently being played by DJs like Alex in New York’s discos. Some are known, others less so. 

New Spins

Unfortunately, only a few of the really typical New York style disco records are available in this country.  Luckily, the Wing & A Prayer Fife & Drum Corps’s ‘Baby Face‘ (Atlantic) is the epitome of the sound (and has itself been an immense influence), as is the O’Jays’ ‘I Love Music‘ (Philadelphia Int’l.).  Another of the real NY biggies is Penny McLean’s ‘Lady Bump‘ (EMI), while Biddu’s ‘Jump For Joy‘ (Epic) and his production of Jimmy James & The Vagabonds’ ‘I Am Somebody‘ (Pye) – both incidentally British B-sides – are huge over there.  Also Ralph Carter’s ‘Extra Extra’ (Mercury) is another of the few UK-issued NY hits.  The following are the only other current hustlers that are available here:

BOBBY WOMACK: ‘I Feel A Groove Comin’ On’ / ‘Daylight’ (from LP ‘Safety Zone’, UA UAG 29907) (Billboard chart debut 12/27/75)
With a fast bass groove goin’ on and a galloping tempo, this long track is well established as the prime disco cut from Bobby’s new album, while the truly lovely ‘Daylight’ is a lazy throbber that’s got radio play all sewn up.

HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES: ‘Tell The World How I Feel About ‘Cha Baby’ (from LP ‘Wake Up Everybody’, Philadelphia Int’l. PIR 69193) (Billboard chart debut 12/6/75)
This fast sizzling album track is getting played by the soul radio stations like a smash single, and rightly too.  Long with a flowing melody and a great throaty vocal by Teddy Pendergrass, it features continually hissing hi-hat as do all the big hit hustlers. Teddy by the way has spilt from Harold, whose Blue Notes feature Sharon Paige while Teddy’s version of the group has him backed up by three guys and three gals, also called the Blue Notes (for the time being).

PAPA JOHN CREACH: ‘Joyce’ (from LP ‘I’m The Fiddle Man’, Buddah BDLP 4039) (Billboard chart debut 11/1/75)
Although the NY discos are using a single of this ultra-fast instrumental, it is available here in album track form. Fiddling Papa John doesn’t get much of a look-in amongst the busily wukka-wukking music of his Midnight Sun Group, who are excitingly energetic.

THE DISCO SOUND OF ANDRE GAGNON: ‘Wow’ (Decca FR 13619) (Billboard chart debut 1/17/76)
Full marks to Decca for rushing this Canadian import that’s currently getting hotter by the minute in NY.  A fast instrumental with impressively dramatic piano noises, it’s truly typical.

JUGGY JONES: ‘Inside America’ (Contempo CS 2080) (mentioned in Billboard column 11/29/75, Billboard chart debut 12/6/75)
Most eagerly awaited release of the week, this much-imported bubbling bouncer is long past its peak in NY. A two-part instrumental featuring incredible rhythm that both funks and hustles. It could be a British smash and is certainly the most UK-oriented of the lot.

Import Picks
The New York Sound starts here

THE SALSOUL ORCHESTRA: ‘Salsoul Rainbow’ / ‘Salsoul Hustle’ / ‘Tangerine’ / ‘Chicago Bus Stop’ (from LP ‘Salsoul Orchestra’, Salsoul SZS 5501) (LP mentioned in Billboard column 10/18/75, Billboard chart debut 11/8/75)
If at times Disco ’76 seemed a bit like the Salsoul Convention it was deservedly so, as no other music or label so aptly sums up the New York disco sound.  The Hustle is a Latin (Spanish) influenced dance, as is this music, which was produced in Philadelphia by Vincent Montana with most of MFSB playing.  Due out here soon on Epic.

THE FATBACK BAND: ‘Spanish Hustle’ / ‘Do The Bus Stop’ (from LP ‘Raising Hell’, Event EV 6905) (mentioned in Billboard column 12/20/75, Billboard chart debut 12/27/75)
You all know the hit, but the ‘Spanish Hustle’ is a different and pure NY sound with hi-hat ever present.  Basically fast instrumental with just a few chants and gruff “ole”s amongst the pronouncedly Latin percussion.

EDDIE DRENNON & BBS UNLIMITED: ‘Let’s Do The Latin Hustle’ (from LP ‘Collage’, Friends & Co. FS 108) (Billboard chart debut 9/20/75)
Already a popular import here, ‘The Latin Hustle’ is joined by other similar rhythmic items on this hot new album, which was one of the big attractions at Disco ’76.

THE MIGHTY CLOUDS OF JOY: ‘Mighty High’ (from LP ‘Kickin’’, ABC ABCD 899) (mentioned in Billboard column 11/22/75, Billboard chart debut 12/6/75)
Being played like a number one single on the soul stations, this is the Mighty Clouds’ best yet since going secular.  Smashing cymbals and a beautifully bouncy beat push the smooth though frantically hollered jogger along.

BRASS CONSTRUCTION: ‘Movin’’ / ‘Changin’’ / ‘Dance’ (from LP ‘Brass Construction’, UA UA-LA 545G) (LP mentioned in Billboard column 1/17/76, Billboard chart debut 1/24/76)
Decidedly the hottest new album – and indeed act – of the last week, these hunks of funk are from the same stable as B.T. Express.  Polyrhythmic as hell, with just a few chants amongst the brass, they get a groove going that literally don’t quit.

DENNIS COFFEY: ‘If You Can’t Dance To This You Got No Business Havin’ Feet’ / ‘Honky Tonk’ / ‘Fame’ / ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ (from LP ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’, Westbound W-212) (LP mentioned in Billboard column 12/13/75, Billboard chart debut 3/27/76)
Super-session guitarist Coffey (who scored with ‘Scorpio’ four years back) comes up with some nice guitar tones on a bouncing funky album that is full of good instrumentals to please both hustlers and funksters.  Check his version of Bowie’s ‘Fame’.

THE ATLANTA DISCO BAND: ‘Bad Luck’ / ‘Do What You Feel’ / ‘It’s Love’ / ‘Buckhead’ (from LP ‘Bad Luck’, Ariola America ST-50004) (LP mentioned in Billboard column 12/27/75, Billboard chart debut 1/3/76)
Britain’s DJs have been onto ‘Bad Luck’ as an imported single (Ariola America P-7611) for months, but in the States it’s only recently broken through.  Propelled at socking pace by ace drummer Earl Young and sweetened by strings, it’s an archetypal fast hustler, joined now on LP by other choice instrumental cuts.

THE SOFTONES: ‘That Old Black Magic’ (Avco AV 4663) (Billboard chart debut 12/20/75)
Some measure of the current standing of this Silver Convention-styled remade standard is that when things got serious for the few remaining competitors in Disco 76’s hustle heats, this is what they wanted to dance to.

CAMEO: ‘Find My Way’ (Chocolate City CC 001) (mentioned in Billboard column 11/15/75, Billboard chart debut 12/6/75)
Schlurping cymbals (but of course!) and a bouncy beat make this soulful falsetto group thumper a real goodie, which should be big in Britain.

ANDREA TRUE CONNECTION: ‘More, More, More’ (Buddah BDA 515) (mentioned in Billboard column 1/3/76, Billboard chart debut 1/17/76)
A huge NY hit, this Tom Moulton-mixed girlie group hustler locks perfectly over the beat on Donna Summer’s similar cooing – hence its popularity with disco DJs.

ARCHIE BELL & THE DRELLS: ‘Let’s Groove’ (from LP ‘Dance Your Troubles Away’, TSOP PZ 33844) (LP mentioned in Billboard column 12/6/75, Billboard chart debut 12/13/75)
Another that’s being played by radio like a hit single (their current hit, ‘The Soul City Walk’ – TSOP ZS8 4774 – is even more of a hustler and is included on the LP).  Starting with “hi everybody”, Archie does a modern day ‘Tighten Up’ to burbling bass rhythms that push along at a terrific rate.

HOUSTON PERSON: ‘Disco Sax’ (from LP ‘Get Out’a My Way!’, Westbound W-213) (mentioned in Billboard column 10/18/75, Billboard chart debut 10/25/75)
Although none of the other good tracks have the disco power of this bouncing thudder that’s so big here, they do confirm that Houston could be a sax player In the Jr. Walker mold.  Good listening, while the hit track is a must.

MICHAEL ZAGER’S MOON BAND: ‘Do It With Feeling’ (Bang B-720) (mentioned in Billboard column 11/22/75, Billboard chart debut 11/29/75)
Ex-10 Wheel Drive, Zager (who doesn’t know Evans from Adam!) gets a fast thump beat bounding along in front of some chanting, and should win many friends in Britain for doing so.

BOBBY MOORE: ‘Try To Hold On’ (Scepter SCE 12417) (mentioned in Billboard column 12/20/75, Billboard chart debut 12/27/75)
The Anything Man is back, talking to an excitable young lady on the phone, begging her to try to hold on until he can get to her in person!  All to a Tom Moulton-mixed bouncy beat that’s bound to get Britain all excited too.

FRANKIE AVALON: ‘Venus’ (De-Lite DEP 1578) (Billboard chart debut 1/17/76)
Likely to be the biggest hit of them all, as radio will love it, here’s Frankie back doing a 1976 disco remake of his 1959 oldie.  And it works beautifully!

CY COLEMAN: ‘Chloe’ (RCA PB 10440) (mentioned in Billboard column 11/15/75, Billboard chart debut 11/22/75)
And still they come . . . this time the lovely oldie (still linked in my mind to Spike Jones’s send-up) gets a sparse but fast instrumental – with voices treatment.

RHYTHM HERITAGE: ‘Theme From S.W.A.T.’ (ABC 12135) (Billboard chart debut 10/25/75)
Sounding much like ‘Shaft’, the telly theme is currently a big hit.

THE CHARLES RANDOLPH GREAN SOUNDE: ‘Star Trek’ (Ranwood R 1044) (Billboard chart debut 11/29/75)
The best disco treatment yet of the telly theme, this gives the haunting melody a typically hustling setting which should make it big here.

James’s Top Ten

This week my Top Ten is compiled by Alex Kabbaz, editor of Discothekin’ and the DJ responsible for the great music heard at Disco ’76 (of which this chart is an accurate record). Discothekin’, a monthly disco trade magazine of immense interest to anyone wanting info about the US scene and upcoming disco hits, is available by air mail at one dollar fifty cents per issue from 24 W 87th St – Suite One, New York, NY 10024, USA.

1 Mighty Clouds Of Joy – Mighty High – ABC (LP cut)
2 Salsoul Orchestra – Salsoul Rainbow – Salsoul (LP cut)
3 Cameo – Find My Way – Chocolate City
4 Wall Of Steel – Super Queen – Smile
5 Cameo – Sun – (pre-release)
6 Jimmy James & The Vagabonds – I Am Somebody – Pye (UK import)
7 Louis Ramirez – Salsa – Cotique
8 Archie Bell & The Drells – Let’s Groove – TSOP (LP cut)
9 Andre Gagnon – Wow – Decca (UK import)
10 Brass Construction – Movin’ etc. – UA (LP cut)

Star Tip

“J W.” of the J.W. Roadshow (Haverhill, Suffolk) wants to know the cure for a problem that’s especially common with imported American singles. He  finds that continual cueing of the most popular singles often makes the  start of the record very crackly, as the stylus cuts a hiss into the grooves.

Well, J. W., my own answer to this problem – which is likely to upset hi-fi freaks! – is to cue up any new single that might be pressed in low grade vinyl, and then to wind the turntable backwards about a quarter revolution, at which point I press down on the pick-up head while moving the turntable
slightly from side to side. This leaves an audible snick in the lead-in groove, so that when cueing up in future I just need to catch the record on the slip-mat immediately after hearing the snick and I know then that the stylus is poised at the start of the music.

UK Disco Top 20 – January 31, 1976

01 01 Fatback Band – Do The Bus Stop – Polydor
02 05 Miracles – Love Machine – Tamla Motown
03 02 Sailor – Glass Of Champagne – Epic
04 04 Paul Davidson – Midnight Rider – Tropical
05 12 Barry White – Let The Music Play – 20th Century
06 19 A Wing & A Prayer Fife & Drum Corps – Baby Face – Atlantic
07 03 Chubby Checker – Let’s Twist Again – London
08 08 Donna Summer – Love To Love You Baby – GTO
09 NE Sound 9418 – In The Mood – UK
10 06 David Bowie – Golden Years – RCA
11 11 Gloria Gaynor – How High The Moon – MGM
12 17 David Ruffin – Walk Away From Love – Tamla Motown
13 07 Hot Chocolate – You Sexy Thing – Rak
14 RE Small Faces – Itchycoo Park – NEMS
15 13 Impressions – First Impressions – Curtom
16 NE War – Low Rider – Island
17 NE Osibisa – Sunshine Day – Bronze
18 NE Ralph Carter – Extra, Extra (Read All About It) – Mercury
19 RE ABBA – Mamma Mia – Epic
20 16 Roxy Music – Both Ends Burning – Island
NE = new entry; RE = re-entry

No “DJ Hot Line” this week – all the space was taken up by the reviews above and coverage of Disco ’76.  

Next Week: More on Disco ’76!

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