Random thoughts from a random mind…

DJ

Origins of a DJ – Part 5 (Final Chapter?)

At the time I was working with inner-city youth in Pontiac, MI.  I began to figure out ways to reach these youth, and one way was through music.  My favorite genre has always been hip-hop/rap, and I thought maybe this would be one way I could connect with some of the kids.  I began working with some of the projects (yes, projects, as in housing projects) that were part of a United Way funded collaboration.  I met with some of the community leaders, and asked them what they had wanted for the youth.  The leaders wanted programs that would appeal to the youth, but would bring a positive outlook.  I offered a number of programs, but my favorite was one where my DJ background would come into play.  In this program the kids would learn about music history, and move up to the music of today, seeing how computers are used to create music.  I would show them the beginning steps of how to “spin,” and how to record and edit on a computer.  Thanks to Keith “Bubby” Webb, even had the opportunity to take them to a studio in Pontiac to show them the process of recording an artist.  In this, I made some very good friends in the music industry coming out of the Pontiac area.  This was my sign to get back into DJ’ing.

I got the opportunity to do some shows with a couple of the artists in Pontiac.  I did some work as the house DJ for a couple of studios.  One of the guys I worked with, Uncle-P, gave me the chance of a lifetime.  I got to do a show on the stage of St. Andrews Hall in Detroit.  If you know anything about the Detroit music scene, you know what St. Andrews Hall is.  If you’re a fan of Eminem, you should know, or at least recall the mention of St. Andrews Hall.  It was surreal.  I was on spinning on the very same stage that had seen the likes of Bob Dylan, the Chili Peppers, Iggy Pop, Nirvana, and even Eminem.  In fact, Eminem did one of his first shows here (well, his show was in the Shelter, which is in the basement, but it was the same building).  St. Andrews Hall is mentioned in many of Eminem’s songs, as well as the Shelter being mentioned in his movie, 8-mile.  If you haven’t noticed, I was pretty stoked about this opportunity.

After doing various shows at other venues in the area, my last stop was this little bar in Lake Orion.  It was like so many other places I had DJ’d at before, but again, I had some opportunities arise that I never could have dreamed of.

We would have “rap-artists” do shows there almost every week.  I say “rap-artists” because these were guys just trying to get their foot in the door.  Some of them were good, some not so good, but we gave them a stage to perform on.  Then one day I got the word that a bigger act would be coming in to perform.  Some of you may have heard of him, and some may not (I have dated myself with this one).  This was a local guy, from Flint, MI, who had had a couple of big hits in the ’90’s: “Ain’t No Future in Yo Frontin” and “Gotta Get Mine” featuring the one and only 2Pac.  I’m referring to Eric Breed, aka MC Breed.  I had the opportunity to do many shows with MC Breed.  In fact, this was my first taste of sipping Hpnotiq and Hennessy in the VIP area.

The summer of 2003, I had moved with my son to Indiana.  I would still come back though, about once a month, to do a show, usually with MC Breed.  The largest show came on September 12th, 2003 when I did a show with MC Breed and none other than Proof of D12.  To me, this was probably the biggest thing I’ve ever done as a DJ.  The last show I did in the Detroit area was a New Year’s Eve party with MC Breed on December 31st, 2004.

While living in Indiana, I again put DJ’ing off, and would only spin in my house on occasion.  Shortly after moving there though, I did begin working as a radio DJ for 103.9 the Bear, a rock station in South Bend, IN.  As I said in my first chapter, my father has been in radio all my life, and this was something I had always dreamed of doing.  There is just something about being that voice coming from radio, it is a pretty cool feeling.  I also go the chance to be a PA announcer for the Elkhart Express, a semi-pro basketball team.  Again, something that I’ve always dreamed of doing.  This, I have to say, was one of the coolest experiences ever.  I did begin spinning in Indiana eventually, but nothing major ever came of it.

People always asked me why I didn’t DJ as a “full-time” gig, and my answer was always the same: because of my son.  My priority was always to put him first, and my interests second.  Even though this interest brought extra income, it just wasn’t a lifestyle that worked while being a single dad.  I do have to thank those that helped support me while DJ’ing though.  Without all of your help, I never could have made it work, thank you!

I got to do some pretty amazing things as a DJ.  If anyone had ever asked me 13 years ago if I thought I’d get to work with even one of the amazing artists that I’ve had the pleasure of working with, I would have said “no way.”  I was blessed, and was given opportunities that I never could have dreamed possible.  In a way, I owe it all to my buddy, DJ Marcus McBride, for helping me get started with something that is so important to me.

Will I ever DJ again? I’m sure I will, I just have no idea when or to what capacity.  I just can’t let go of something that I enjoy so very much.


Origins of a DJ – Part 4

I’m Really Doing It!!!

So here it goes; DJ Buck-5 has begun his journey into the life of a DJ…Well, more like a DJ in training still, but I’m really doing it!

My first official gig went really well at the Mill Avenue Sports Club.  In fact, they offered me a regular spot: Wed and Sat nights.  It was pretty funny, Wednesday nights were South Park night! I would DJ for a little while, and then we’d stop to watch the new episode of South Park – Keep in mind, this was back in ’97 when the series first started, so there was a market for a night dedicated to the show.  Once the show was over, I would spin the rest of the night.  Then came Saturday nights.  This was fun.  Usually there was a band scheduled or two, or three, and then me.  This was something that I got very used to in my “career.”  The places I would spin would usually also be a venue for local or touring bands that would play, then I would wrap up the party into the wee-hours of the morning.  I digress, Saturday’s at Mill Avenue Sports Club became very interesting.  Tempe was, like any other college town, a thriving base for upcoming musicians – you may have heard of  some of them: Satellite (Stephen Ashbrook), Dead Hot Workshop, The Gin Blossoms (Robin Wilson), and The Refreshments (Roger Clyne – one of my favorites of all time).  Maybe you have heard of all of them, or at least one or two.  I know you’ve heard of the Gin Blossoms, and can guarantee you’d know a Refreshments song if you heard it.  Anyway, These were only a few of the many bands that have come out of Tempe.  These are ones that have at least made a name for themselves…not that others haven’t, but they are partial to me.  These are bands that we used to go and see on a pretty regular basis while going to ASU.  We used to go and see Satellite every Thursday night at Long Wong’s in Tempe on Mill Avenue, and as for Robin Wilson, lead man for the Gin Blossoms, and Dead Hot Workshop, well…I got to work with them quite a bit.  I’m sure by now, none of them would know me, but I used to do shows with Dead Hot on a pretty regular basis.  And then Robin and his then band, Pharaohs 2000 began playing there on a regular basis as well, with me rounding out the night.  I got to do some Hip-Hop nights, some pretty big weekend parties, all sorts of cool things.  I was getting very good with the beat mixing too.  I would even invite my mentor Marcus along for help with some of the events if he was available.  I felt like this truly was my first step to making something of this DJ’ing thing….and then we moved.

You see, my ex-wife was pregnant with my son, Brendan, and she wanted to be closer to her family as the baby was coming.  So we picked up and moved to Western Michigan, a home-coming of sorts, but I never really wanted to go back.  I mean, I’m one of those, “everything happens for a reason” kind of people, so without this move, I wouldn’t have done all the things I have….but I really didn’t want to move back to Michigan.

As for DJ’ing, this meant I would be hanging it up, at least for now.  I had eventually set up my tables in our apartment, but I had no crowds to play for.  I did do a few small things for friends here and there, but it wasn’t the same (no offense).  I felt lost at times.  My release had been released.

Eventually, we found ourselves moving to Detroit (well, north of Detroit), but I saw this as my chance, my opportunity to once again get my wheels turning – pun intended.


Origins of a DJ – Part 3

I NEED A DJ NAME!

So, here I am…I’ve now learned the basics (still plenty to absorb). I’ve helped do a few gigs now, and I’ve cringed at all the “train wrecks” I’ve orchestrated.  It is now time for me to move on…Really??? I just started, I’m not ready for that, not yet…too bad! I’ve now been given my first gig, and it’s only a week away.  As I said in the last post, my fraternity was having a large party at a local bar, Mill Avenue Sports Club.  I have my equipment, and I’ve been practicing every day…but wait!!! What is my name? My DJ name, what is it? I have my first gig in only a few days, and I have no name!  I spewed this afterthought to my co-workers, and an idea emerged.

You see, for a while now, some of my co-workers/friends have been referring to me by a slightly degrading, yet funny and truthful, nickname – Buck-5.  What would be the meaning of this you may be asking? or maybe you have already figured it out and are laughing hysterically.  Well, it referred to my weight.  Yes, at the time, I weighed in at a solid 105 (one-hundred five pounds)…some dogs (many actually) outweighed me.

So I now have a DJ name….DJ Buck-5! It was a cool name, I thought.  It had a story behind it, it had meaning (or was it demeaning?), it was somewhat catchy; no matter the questions it had raised, it would be my namesake for the next 13 years…at least.


Origins of a DJ – Part 2

DJ Cheesy Dad

ADD MUSIC AND MIX

My love of music grew more and more as I was introduced to more genres.  In fact, even today, it still grows.  My appreciation of truly talented artists is really what I base my “favorites” on (more on this varied list later).  I knew long ago that I wanted to do something with music.  In high school, I began my trials of making mixes (in a very elementary sense) of music for parties.  I would be the one going from CD to CD, playing various songs to make the people enjoy their evening.  I wasn’t ever one for drinking or really partying.  Music was my drug, it was what made me happy (or at least one of the things).  Dancing also became one of my favorite past-times.  I found myself very good at being able to follow a beat.  My friends and I would go “clubbing” every weekend all through high school.  Our main hang was a teen dance club in Big Rapids known as Gatorz.  Prior to Gatorz was the Skate Estate lol…oh the memories.  Gatorz eventually was closed due to “racial tension” – can’t we all just get along?  Gatorz was my first real interaction with a club DJ.  Occasionally I found myself hanging out in the booth in awe of the equipment and the crazy things you could do with music and similar beats.  My friends and I would constantly joke about buying a club one day where I would get to be the DJ.  One day…part of that dream did come true, and it lasted over a decade.

While in college at Arizona State, I was working for FDS (Federated Department Stores – Macy’s, Bloomingdales, etc.) in their call center. During my time there, I met my mentor, Marcus McBride aka DJ Metro (well, back in the day…now he’s known as DJ Marcus McBride, and has his own remix company, Full Tilt Remix – So jealous!).  Marcus shared my enthusiasm, no, hunger for music.  We would have many conversations about music styles and artists, both current and past.  He enlightened me on the magic of techno and electronica music.  This was a genre that I hadn’t had much exposure to as of yet.  I explained earlier that my mother showed me many types of music, but my old stand-by was hip-hop/rap, more specifically – old school hip-hop (nothing like “diggin’ in the crates”).  I don’t really know what it was, but I was always (then and now) drawn to it.  Marcus and I would go on and on during our shifts at work about these topics of musical creativity.  At this time, Marcus had already been a DJ for a few years while living in Cincinnati.  He was beginning to toy with the idea of getting back into the game now in Phoenix.  I was so intrigued by this.  This was something I had always dreamed of.  We got to a point to where he was willing to help teach me the art of mixing.

The first lesson was more on BPM’s (Beats Per Minute).  I already knew the concept, but I needed to learn more.  BPM’s are very crucial when DJ’ing.  You truly need to understand and begin to simply hear the BPM’s of a song, and how it will connect with the BPM’s of the next song.  Just as a marker, most rap songs are 80-90 BPM’s, hip-hop 90-100, Techno 120-140.  Now, that isn’t always the case of course, but that is a pretty close summation of where your songs will lie.  Understand this is the first step to learning how songs can be mixed together.  You wouldn’t (although you can in some circumstances) mix a 92 BPM song with a 123 BPM song.  Back then, a good rule of thumb was to stay within 5 BPM’s of each other; using that rule to build up or down to your next set.  We were just working with turntables and a CD deck that didn’t have the bells and whistles of those out today; we didn’t even have any type of beat counter!  Therefore, we had to stick to this rule pretty closely.  Now, keep in mind that this was back in the mid-90’s, so no Serato or MP3 mixing programs yet (which in my personal opinion are so not the real form of mixing – the MP3 programs that is…Serato at least still uses tables).  The tools Marcus had to begin my journey were a pair of Technics SL-BD2200 belt-drive tables (1200’s were on order) and a GLI DC-5000 dual-CD deck.

I got the concept of BPM’s down pretty well, because if you understand music and can count, you can get this part quickly.  Although, you do need to keep learning BPM’s of all your songs…that takes time.  Next came learning how to manipulate a song to match the one that is playing.  Oh, this is the fun part! This is when you get to use your fingers to speed up, slow down, or bend the songs.  This is the true art…to me anyway.  Well this and being good at song selection, but this was something I always had a knack for.

For the most part, we stuck with getting me started by mixing on the tables.  The GLI CD deck was very touchy, and we wanted to get that soft touch needed for vinyl.  In my opinion, I think I picked it up pretty fast.  I do believe I even heard Marcus say that I was a “natural” at some point.  After only a few sessions, I was mixing…matching beats…it was heaven.  I truly can’t explain what this does for me, but it truly makes me feel good.  If you’ve ever seen me DJ, you would understand.  Don’t bother talking to me, I’m truly in a zone when I mix.  I was by no means good yet, but the concept was absorbed.  Now on to the first gig!

Marcus and I went around Tempe, selling our talents….well his, I was just his roadie for the most part.  One of the places we went to was Bash on Ash.  It was a newer club on the backside of the infamous sports bar, McDuffy’s (Which I’ve heard is no longer in Tempe? – very sad).  We (Marcus) got the gig.  It was a pretty sweet place, just not too many people knew about it yet.  If you’re in the business, you know and understand how hard it can be to get a new club going.  I got to mix a bit here and there, when Marcus would go off for a drink or what not.  It’s way different mixing in front of people instead of in your own apartment.  I very quickly learned I still had a lot of work to go, but I would NOT give up…Hell, I couldn’t give up – I was on the verge of getting MY first gig!

Practice, I would, every night.  I quickly went to Guitar Center to get my own set-up:  a pair of Numark TT-1700’s and a Numark CDN-24 (hey, they weren’t anything fancy, but they got the job done).  As I saw it, if I could learn on these “no frills” instruments, I could use anything.  I’m not sure how long we had been working at Bash, but it wasn’t very long.  I had just recently pledged with AKPsi at ASU.  Word got out that I was a DJ, so…I was recruited for an upcoming social event as the DJ.  OMG, I was a DJ!  Here it was, my opportunity to really do this.  Working with Marcus at Bash was real, but this was going to be a huge party at a small venue, and it was going to be just me….Tell you the truth, I was scared out of my mind!


Origins of a DJ – Part 1

PURE ENJOYMENT OF MUSIC

My father has been in radio, well, broadcasting for all of my life.  Some of my fondest memories are visiting my dad in the station, and getting to go on the air with the DJ’s.  I’ve seen that industry change so much in my 30+ years…It’s been very interesting.  I remember when my dad was GM at a station in Kingman, AZ, and they had just gotten a new, “state-of-the-art” computer that barely fit in a 10×10 room that was able to provide music and commercials for an ENTIRE weekend! lol….some of you may not understand the joke with that, but it will make sense soon.  I remember sitting in the studio as the DJ “put the needle on the record”…yes, literally, put the tone-arm down on the latest 12” release; when commercials were run on CARTS (cartridges – very similar to an 8-track…if you remember what that is) – That’s enough of the history lesson for now…I’ll continue with why music is so important to me – but we will get back to the advancement of the radio station in another installment of this topic.

My mother was also very musical in my life.  She sang in a few choirs while I was a kid, in fact, myself and some other kids sang along with one of her groups.  We sang “Rainbow Connection,” yes, the one that Kermit the Frog sings in the Muppet Movie.  I think I was like 4.  My mom has always been a huge fan of all types of music.  She would listen to everything from AC/DC to Buddy Holly.  In high school, she would even comment on really enjoying the beats of many of my 90’s rap CD’s (yes, even the hardcore stuff lol).  My dad has very diverse taste in music as well, but I must say that I really feel I got my like of ALL different kinds of music (except most country music – which I owe my dislike of to my grandparents) from my mother.

I did and always have enjoyed ALL kinds of music.  Everything from 50’s “happy” tunes, to the 60’s “creativity” era, to the 70’s psychedelic ensemble, and yes, I was a product of the 80’s and MTV so you know that I was a fan of this fun/odd time for music.  I love hard rock, soft rock, the occasional ballad, and even some Mozart when the occasion presents itself.  But…when it is all said and done, the one that caught my attention the most was rap/hip-hop.  Maybe it was just the time.  I was influenced heavily by the hip-hop scene:  The gangs, the guns, the drugs…..COME ON! I was a scrawny white kid in farmville-USA, Michigan.  I just like the music.  Did I wear baggy jeans…yes, I did.  Course I weighed barely 100 lbs, so my 80’s parachute pants would have been baggy.

I don’t really know what it was about this genre…that hard bass drum, those beats and the poetry that entangled your brain with the perils of the streets intrigued me for years.  I was caught up in what others thought was just crude, vulgar and violent, but I studied this music with an open eye, understand that it was no different that so many other genres.  Think about it: Country for example is about the troubles of life, the cards you are dealt and how bad it can be; the Blues was a form of poetry about how hard life can be and how it gets you down, but you strive to make it through; hmmmm and then there’s rap.  In the 80’s rap was more about the beats and various rhyming schemes that were just fun.  In the 90’s, rap went through its spawning of a separate genre, Gangsta Rap, which was more of a story in poetry, telling of the hard times and the dangerous surroundings a young black man grew up in (interesting?).  Yes, there were always the “artists” that created songs of sex and what not, but again, a lot of them were only emulating what they have been used to their entire lives.

This is just a simple example of how music creates us, both as individuals and even cultures.  Each genre of music brings with it so much more than just some notes on a sheet of paper.  Name a single genre of music that didn’t include a wardrobe change, a particular hair-style, or a certain type of alcohol?  Music was this, it was and still is culture – every single genre is its own culture…YES, even the anarchist and apathetic ways of punk rock, and grunge conformed to create their own style and commercialized culture.

I really think this is just one part of music that consumes me.  To me, music isn’t just sounds, it is so full of emotions.  Music is everything we want to forget, and everything we want to have.  The memories that I have when a certain song plays is a testament to music’s power on the human soul.  Tell me you don’t occasionally have a memory of an exact moment in your life when a certain song plays?  For example: Every time I hear “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama, I see Ralph Macchio riding his bike to school in Karate Kid.  Crazy and silly I know, but that is just one association that music has instilled in my brain.

To me, and this is cliché, but music is our soundtrack.  Just like in a movie: when you’re angry, a hard-rock song may be your weapon of choice; when you’re in love, maybe a nice ballad; when you’re ready to party and go dancing, those pop songs that you hate may become your dance track.  No matter the emotion you are feeling, “there’s a beat for that.” (Yes, I just shamelessly plugged commercialism)

Without the power of music, there would not be a video montage of your favorite team winning the championship.  The action scene in your favorite movie just wouldn’t quite have the same effect if playing in the background was “Tip toe through the tulips” by Tiny Tim.  Tell me that women, and some men, would still cry during that scene in Ghost if the Righteous Brothers were replaced by Weird Al.  When it comes right down to it, some people just truly underestimate the power of music.


Origins of a DJ – Intro

INTRO

So, I’ve been sitting here for the past few weeks, trying to figure out what to write about next.  The topic of music keeps coming up in my mind, but to me, that is a massively overwhelming subject.  See, music has been a major part of my life – or at least, I’d like to think it has.

What I started was a blog that was just going to talk about my love for music, and my transitions through just being a listener, to being a “DJ,” to being a DJ, and even being a radio personality.

As I began to write, I realized there was no way that this will work as just one blog.  So in order to keep your attention (hopefully), I have broken it down to more manageable posts. I’m really not sure how many there will be, but I hope that you take the time to read them all.  You may just enjoy them, or may  not…either way, I hope you are entertained, and maybe even learn a little more about little old me.