In discussion with Steve Fabus on “Let’s Start The Dance” by Hamilton Bohannon (1978).
How did you discover „Let’s Start The Dance“? Was it in a record store, or in a club?
I discovered “Let’s Start the Dance” in my slot at my record pool, BADDA (Bay Area Disco DJ Association) in San Francisco in 1978. It was the album „Summertime Groove“, where „Let’s Start the Dance“ is the first track on side A. When I first heard it I was blown away by it and couldn’t wait to play it at the club that night. When I played it the crowd went crazy and it was the peak record of the night, not surprisingly.
When the record came out, you had already started your career as a DJ in San Francisco. What makes this record so special for you? And was „Let’s Start The Dance“ a defining record for the sound you played back then?
I was playing loft parties and underground clubs and at two of the major clubs in San Francisco, the I-Beam and Trocadero Transfer. I know one of the reasons I was brought into the scene was because I incorporated a lot of the R&B, Groove, Funk and soulful sounds from Chicago and New York and mixed it with the NRG and Electronic sounds already being made in San Francisco, and coming in from Europe. „Let’s Start the Dance“ was and still is a defining record for me because it is such a fusion of so many of these sounds but most importantly — it’s a jam. Its many elements, Jazz, Blues, Rock, Funk, Electronic, Boogie, take you on a trip in a whole movement building up to a crescendo of orgasmic release. It relates to other fusion sounds like the Isley Brothers’ „Live It Up“, Crown Heights Affair’s „Dancin“ and many of James Brown’s tracks.
Hamilton Bohannon was a drummer originally, and he started releasing records that were very focussed on rhythm and very distinctive from the early 70s on. What was his role in the history books of Disco music?
I first heard Bohannon in Chicago in 1975 at Dugan’s Bistro, a major downtown gay club. The track I heard was „Bohannon’s Beat“ which is on one of the early albums on the Dakar label. It stood out to me because it didn’t follow any of the commercial rules of the day. It presented itself as a unique sound — experimental and minimal, a mantra to hook into. It inspired and encouraged DJs to take Disco underground. It was like a loop, a tool to use to improvise, phase or use as a bridge. Mantra is a major theme for Bohannon and he carries it forward with „Let’s Start the Dance“, which is just the opposite of minimal. He turns it up with the full on jam that puts dancers in an intense trance that they have no choice but to ride to its conclusion. It is very rich with a number of instruments played including guitar and keyboard with Carolyn Crawford’s couldn’t-get-any-better-voice. What this record represents to every generation is that this is the real deal musically.
Are there other Bohannon records you rate nearly as much?
My other all time favorite is „The Groove Machine“ – as intense as “Let’s Start the Dance” but trippier with its phased out psychedelic break and its total fusion hard funk rock electronic groove. When I hear this it makes sense that Bohannon early on drummed with Jimi Hendrix. Both “Groove Machine” and “Let’s Start the Dance” feature guitar riffs prominently.
1977 saw the peak of the classic Disco era. Was „Let’s Start The Dance“ an early sign that Disco could live well past the end of that boom? That the sound could move on and still matter?
“Let’s Start the Dance” is timeless because as I had mentioned before it’s a whole movement and jam where you’re hearing real instruments. It always ignites a dancefloor and from the first note you want to pay attention. The lyrics come fast with “Everybody get up and dance – Ain’t ya tired of sitting down?” This could be cheesy but it’s not, and you know it’s not and surrender completely to it right away. There is no way you couldn’t let yourself be seduced by it and every generation experiences this seduction. It still matters because it’s a prime example of the authenticity of Disco of that time period and that’s what lives on.
Bohannon revisited the song in 1981, renaming it „Let’s Start II Dance Again“. Do you think that version up to par with the original? Why do you think he felt the need to do that?
I think Bohannon wanted to reintroduce the record to a newer crowd and make it easier to mix with a longer intro and buildup and a more even sound. Many DJs were happy about that, but I feel some of the intensity of the jam was wiped away.
You moved from San Francisco to New York City in 1983. Were there notable differences between the nightlife of both cities?
Certainly there were differences between NYC and San Francisco, just like there would be differences between NYC – arguably the club capital of the world at the time – and anywhere. Also being that I’m from Chicago and first came into the scene there in the early 70s hearing DJs like Ron Hardy gave me a perspective to appreciate and respect scenes outside of NYC. San Francisco of course for many was “the promised land” – the counter-cultural Mecca welcoming all who wanted to party and change the world – especially in the gay community in the 70s. All this served to create a uniquely alternative nightlife to NYC. Much like Amsterdam was the smaller bohemian counterpart to larger European cities, San Francisco was to New York. The Disco scene traveled East to West and took a little longer to hit San Francisco, but when it did — it hit big. Both are coastal cities of bridges and tunnels with a similar infrastructure for nightclubs in warehouse districts. The South of Market district, SOMA, was where most of the clubs found a home, as did the Trocadero Transfer. Indeed, the Trocadero was fashioned after New York’s 12 West in look and feel and very importantly with the same Graebar sound system. This ushered in the era of a Manhattan style party till dawn experience in San Francisco. Other clubs would follow and San Francisco would become the West Coast’s major showcase for DJs and the underground Disco culture. Also being that both cities were were at the forefront of the gay movement politically and culturally created a special bond between the two. It developed its own notable DJs, producers and stars including the beloved Sylvester and Patrick Cowley. Even though many people would say San Francisco was New York’s little sister shouldn’t take away the fact that it was just as significant in its own unique way.
How did you experience the 80s from the booth? Would you say that there were more developments in club music than in the decade before, leading up to House?
In San Francisco starting in 1980 I started playing the morning party at the Endup. This was the start of the legendary party people would call “Church” and truly established San Francisco as a 24 hour town. Because I played a diversity of styles, from groove to energy to sleaze and morning music, I was brought in to play from 6 am to 2 pm every Sunday. My signature sound was definitely Paradise Garage groove mixed with San Francisco NRG. It was time for records like Gwen Guthrie’s “Padlock”, D-Train’s “You’re The One For Me” and Junior’s “Mama Used To Say” along with Gino Soccio, Patrick Cowley and Sylvester. It was always about mixing the sounds together for me and a number of other DJs – like Tim Rivers and Vincent Carleo – who wanted to serve up the East Coast with the West Coast. It also turned out that way for me later in 1983 when I moved to New York to play at the River Club, the former 12 West, and Tracks. Of course by this time Disco and dance music culture had already survived the lame attempt to destroy it by those who felt threatened by it. Whether it was called Disco or not mattered little. The music survived and thrived and New York, Chicago and Europe kept showing the way forward. What’s amazing about the 80’s is how seamless the transition from the Disco era to House was. When you already had First Choice, Loleatta Holloway, Geraldine Hunt, Sylvester and Chaka Khan the doors naturally opened for Jocelyn Brown, Taana Gardner, Carolyn Harding, Colonel Abrams, Blaze, Marshall Jefferson and A Guy Called Gerald. And then add that to all the House coming out of Chicago, the scene kept growing. On the other side of it you had New Wave, New Romantic, Italo, Hi-NRG and the rich morning music of the type you would hear at the Saint in NYC from Lime and the Pet Shop Boys to China Crisis, Hemyl, and Rose Laurens. I would go through all of it at Tracks every Sunday night. And I would say there were more developments and different directions established in the 80’s than in any other decade of dance music. Arguably the most diversified decade musically.
Your DJ career has a remarkable longevity too, as you never stopped playing from the 70s until now. Could you imagine that you would be able to keep on doing this for such a long time, with no end in sight?
Back then I didn’t really imagine I would be doing this for all this time. I was only enjoying the moment and realizing how lucky I was to be in the right place at the right time and being able to go up and play. I didn’t really think about it too much. I was just driven to do it hoping I could continue doing it for as long as I wanted to do it. For as long as possible. And it’s the same for me now. I’m still in the moment where I’m driven by it and realizing how fortunate I am to have this happening for me. It’s been a great run and yes, there’s no end in sight!