Godfather of house music Marshall Jefferson heads south to a date at The Old Barn, Milton
I don't feel bad, I'll tell you that much. It's all right.'
Dance music legend Marshall Jefferson is telling WOW247 what it’s like to regularly be dubbed The Godfather of House Music.
‘It’s always good to get some kind of recognition for what you do. Even if a lot of people don’t know why, y’know?’ he chuckles down the phone from his home in Manchester.
His 1986 track Move Your Body, subtitled The House Music Anthem, came to define the genre in its early days in his native Chicago.
A key aspect of that track’s success, and what made it stand out, was the then innovative use of a piano line over the beat – not that Marshall realised it would have such an impact.
‘I just wanted something to drive the song a bit further because at that time house music was just bass lines and drums and I thought ‘‘I’ve got to have a bit more to drive the song’’. Luckily I found that piano.’
Originally a fan of rock music, it wasn’t until Marshall went to the Music Box Club in his home town that he realised the power of this new form of dance music.
Having bought his own equipment, he quickly started producing his own tracks and began passing them to Ron Hardy at the Music Box who would drive the crowd wild with them.
And clubbing then was a very different beast to what it is now.
‘Well there were no drinks there – there was no alcoholic beverages there, so all they could do was dance. That was the only thing you could do.
‘There was no chairs, no tables, just a big dark room and music – the loudest sound system you ever heard.
‘If you didn’t go there to dance you didn’t have much else to do. You couldn’t even talk because no-one could hear you over the music.
‘Now it’s “clubbing” - those were just rooms, big, dark rooms. You couldn’t see for the first half-hour until your eyes adjusted to the darkness and you could actually see anybody.’
However, when Marshall took Move Your Body to Larry Sherman, who owned the local record label Trax, he didn’t like it.
But it took a visit from some British journalists, of all things, to change Sherman’s mind – although the actual release was not how Marshall envisioned it.
‘It was a mistake for me to get my name on Move Your Body, that was supposed to be in the name of my group, On The House and Larry Sherman put Marshall Jefferson on there.
‘And I was quite happy with my nickname Virgo, everybody was calling me Virgo and it was the first nickname I had and it was cool.
‘In one swoop he decided - Move Your Body was supposed to come out on my label Other Side Records. Larry Sherman didn’t even want to put it out, but a bunch of reporters from the UK came over, and he took them around the clubs.
‘Move Your Body was playing on cassette in every club he took them to and they wanted to know more about it. He presses it up the next day under Marshall Jefferson.
‘If he hadn’t done that, I’d still be known as Virgo today,’ he pauses in reflection, ‘I’d probably be a lot less popular, though.’
Parts of the UK were keen early adopters of house music – in 1987 Jefferson toured here with fellow Chicago scene originator Frankie Knuckles.
As he recalls: ‘My first time out there, it was only like in a few spots – (Hacienda club DJ and later M People founder) Mike Pickering in Manchester, Jazzy M was tearing up (pirate radio station) LWR and that was about it as far as I knew.’
But for those who were into it ‘the UK take on it was like Chicago on steroids, they were a lot more into it.’
And he remembers some bemused responses on that first tour: ‘I saw a lot of wide eyes out in the crowd, like, what the hell is this, you know?
‘Some places got it. Nottingham got it. A lot of people don’t talk about that, but we performed at Rock City and that was like our most energetic set, they were losing their heads out there – they were even more energetic than Manchester.
‘But all of the other places were curious and didn’t really know how to act and what to expect.
‘That changed very quickly though because the very next time out there it was (he suddenly bellows): “Aciiiiiiiid! Aciiiiiiiiiiiiiid!” And they were going nuts.’
As house music mutated into acid house and deep house, Marshall stayed at the forefront with his various different productions and work with Ten City, Robert Owens, Keith Thompson and DJ Pierre’s collective Phuture, which released Acid Trax.
Jefferson has refused to keep pumping out derivative house tracks though – even though that would have probably brought him greater financial rewards.
‘I didn’t want to do the same thing all the time. That was boring – I wanted my songs to sound different from each other.
‘And everybody else was pretty much sticking to the formula, even in house music, but I wanted to change things so I made the songs have different vibes, so like Sleezy D could never be mistaken for Ten City, Open Our Eyes or Curtis MacClain singing Move Your Body.’
He went on to work with singers such as Kim Mazelle and Ce Ce Rogers before retiring from music for a few years in the early ’90s.
He moved to London and began a five-year residency with the early electronic music festivals Tribal Gathering and Big Love.
His debut artist album, 1997’s Day Of The Onion, received critical acclaim across the board, as did his numerous mix compilations.
He’s remained busy ever since, but the current state of dance music causes him concern.
‘It’s very formatted. You’ve got a lot less freedom now then you had back in the day. When I was DJing you had like 20-25 new records coming out a week, last year (online dance music specialists) Beatport told me they were releasing 65,000 tracks a week – that’s just Beatport, so I can imagine what Traxsource, Juno and iTunes put out as well. You’re talking like 100,000 records a week. That’s insane. Too much gets lost, too much good stuff gets lost.
‘It was very competitive back when there were only 25 records a week coming out. I can’t imagine starting out today, like, what the hell am I going to do to get my music out there?’
But that hasn’t stopped him not only putting out his own music, but also others’. His new label, Freakin909, has recently released the Chicago Nights EP by Portsmouth’s own dance duo Soul Divide.
Marshall explains the label’s ethos: ‘I’m just trying to give quality a chance. How successful it’ll be I don’t know, but as I said, it’s just so crowded out there.
‘I know a lot of it’s going to get lost, but I’m still going to put it out.
‘It’s just about quality.
‘Some DJs have this ridiculous idea that after a week or two it’s too old to play, so that’s another obstacle you’ve got. There’s so much music out there a lot of it becomes disposable.’
n Love Amplified Presents Marshall Jefferson at The Old Barn in Milton on Saturday, August 20.
Also on the bill in Room 1 are Soul Divide, Civilisation Of The Rough and Liz Cornick
In Room 2 it’s Alex Fowlie, Fred Symonds, Wheats, Brandon Lilly, RaRa and Harley Vince. Doors open 4pm to 3am. Tickets £15.