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Grandmaster Flash

When did you start buying records? I started buying records when I started getting my head knocked off by my father. Because he was getting pissed off that I would take his records while he was at work. And my sisters would beef about me taking their records. If I had a girlfriend and she found out what I was doing she’d cut me off. I thought, screw this, I’m gonna buy my own records. At this time I was going to a school that catered to electronics: Samuel Gompers Vocational and Technical High School. Now in school we were taught what mono was and what stereo was. I think the first record that I bought was this Barry White record: ‘I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More’. And what was interesting about it was I really got to hear – like we learned on the blackboard – what stereo was, and to hear how the cellos were in the left speaker, and the drums up in the middle, and the guitars was on the right. I was like: this is some shit. That’s what propelled me to get deeper into electronics. And start getting in my sister’s room and tearing up her radio and finding out how it worked and why. And going into the backyards and looking for electronics stuff, and looking for burned out cars, and looking for capacitors and resistors. Where were you growing up? South Bronx. 163rd and Fox, on Fox street. What made you want to be a DJ? I was gonna be a breakdancer, right. But when I tried to learn it I did some moves and landed on my back and hurt it a whole lot. I tried the breakdancing thing; I was kinda wack at that. But when I see Mr Clive Cambell, Kool Herc, sit up on his podium, heavily guarded, and all these people around enjoying themselves, from five years old to age 50, in one park, for a certain amount of hours, I said, ‘I want to do that, I wanna be that, I wanna do that.’ So with my electronic knowledge, and my ability to take what was considered junk and sort of jury-rig it together, I started to put together some sort of makeshift sound system. And it was a piece of shit, but it was mines. At the time Herc had this pair of Shure Vocal Master columns, and these two black bass bottoms. He was always up high on a platform so you couldn’t see what he was playing. His music, some of it my sisters had in their collection, some of it I never heard before. But it had such a great feel to it. Was he the first DJ you saw doing block parties? He was the first, and what intrigued me about Herc was, he was playing the music that I loved, and he was playing duplicate copies of a record, he was repeating these sections, but I noticed the crowd: if they were into a record they would have to wait until he mixed it, because it was never on time. And I didn’t understand what he was doing, at the point, because I could see the audience in unison, then in disarray, then in unison, then in disarray. I said, ‘I like what he’s playing but he’s not playing it right.’ So it was more his music than his technique? I didn’t find the way he played exciting. It was what he was playing. The music of the time was disco: like Trammps, Donna Summer, the Gibbs brothers. Herc didn’t play that kind of music, he played the songs that weren’t considered hits. The obscure records. I found that quite exciting. What was he playing? What was I hearing? Like ‘Shack Up’ by Banbarra. He’d play [James Brown] ‘Funky Drummer’, or ‘The Mexican’ [by Babe Ruth], a certain section, but you could see the crowd: unison, disarray, unison, disarray, unison, disarray. So the thought was to not have disarray, to have as little disarray as possible. But I didn’t know how I was gonna do it. And there was another DJ who had a big influence on you... Yeah, Pete DJ Jones. And he was a disco DJ? He was a disco DJ. What I liked about his style is that he kept the music continuous. He didn’t take out a certain section of the record or continuously go back and forth, but I just

178 The Record Players

Grandmaster Flash

liked the way he just kept everything going. A lot of DJs at that time would just let the record play, let it end, and then bring in the next song, with no regards of beats per minute. So he was very much programming things and building up the tempo? Yeah. And you became friends When I got a chance to see his sound system, I was quite nervous. But he was very nice. Herc wouldn’t let me get close to him. But Pete DJ Jones and I became real good friends. Were there other DJs who impressed you? I had one chance one time to see a DJ by name of Flowers, Grandmaster Flowers. There was a DJ by the name of Ron Plummer. But my inspiration was Kool Herc and Pete DJ Jones. And your masterstroke was to combine their two styles How I created my style is watching Pete blend one record into another, versus Herc, who played, I call it the hit and miss factor. Timing wasn’t a factor with him, but the type of music he was playing I was quite interested in.

A lot of DJs at that time would just let the record play, let it end, and then bring in the next song, with no regards of beats per minute.

And Herc was already playing sections where he’d repeat breaks over and over? He was taking a part of it, but his timing was not a factor. He would play a record that was maybe 90 beats a minute, and then he would play another one that was 110. He would play records and it would never be on time. With the two different styles that Herc and Pete had, I sat there thinking about it, I said to myself there’s got to be a way to keep it on time, to take just a part of the record and keep it on time. That’s where that theory started. My thing was basically, to take a combination of both and create a style out of it. I had to go into my room and figure out how can I make the music that I love the most seamless? So I would listen to records and I would notice something: wow the breaks on these records are really short. Like, either they were short or they were at the end of the song. Or it was a problem where the best part is really great, but it would go into a wack passage after. I could never allow myself to go into a wack passage or go off. So I had to create something that would allow me to pre-hear the track prior. That’s when I came up with something, I called it the peekaboo system.

This is something you got from Pete Jones. Because I knew he had headphones, I guessed that he was hearing the track before, and that’s why he had no disarray. So what I had to do was build a peekaboo system. Peekaboo system consisted of a cueing system as we know it today, where I was able to pre-hear. With my electronic knowledge I was able to tap into the cartridges of both sides, run it through an amplifier, put a single-pole-double-throw switch up the middle and just split the two signals. In the centre position it would be off. Click it to the right and you’d hear the right turntable, two clicks to the left, this is where you’d hear the other one. I had to Krazy Glue it to the top. You built your own cueing system from scratch? Basically, yeah. Once you had cueing, you locked yourself away. How long? Two years. From when? Maybe early ’74.

The Record Players 179


Grandmaster flash interview