Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Vintage Articles:
“Get Dancing” - AJ: West Coast’s Gold-Plated DJ -
by Christopher Stone // The Advocate -
August 13, 1975

 

Concluding this series of articles from The Advocate’s August 1975 Discos! issue, is an interview with A.J. Miller AKA A.J. the D.J., by Christopher Stone.

Other than a spot on the Legends of Vinyl DJ Hall of Fame, there isn’t much trace of A.J. Miller these days, or whatever became of him. When this was printed, Miller appears to have been quite a heavy hitter in the LA disco scene at the time, later presiding over at least a couple of disco record pools (for which he was quoted in Billboard a couple times). Miller also appears to have been a close associate of producer/songwriter Bob Crewe, whom I’ve covered here a couple of times in the past. Miller is thanked/credited on two of Crewe’s albums from the time - his “Street Talk” LP as The Bob Crewe Generation (see Disco Delivery #66) and the first Disco-O-Tex & His Sex-O-Lettes album, whose hit song “Get Dancin’” was apparently inspired by a AJ having a moment on the mic at an earlier gig, when Crewe was tagging along.

Miller was also mentioned in the last transcribed post from this issue as the DJ at Our Side, which had formerly been The Paradise Ballroom and before that, Dude City. Apparently both venues were owned by notorious LA underworld figure Eddie Nash. No word on what was the case with it’s brief turn as “Our Side,” but apparently it was only known as such for a brief period, changing its name after its competition across the street, named The Other Side (and also briefly mentioned in the last post as Hollywood’s “chicken de-light disco”) mysteriously burned down. Apparently the venue reverted back to The Paradise Ballroom for a period, eventually becoming Probe in 1978. Probe would last for a good 21 years before closing in 1999.

Miller also figures in yet another interview I transcribed earlier, from the April 7, 1976 issue of The Advocate where Donald von Wiedenman interviewed Bob Crewe. Miller appears as one of Crewe’s interlocutors while in the studio finishing his “Street Talk” album. His comments about Bob Crewe in this interview seem to foreshadow that Advocate cover story, some 8 months after.

I have to say, I enjoy Miller’s comments here, talking not only about good gigs and career highlights but also being fired from his first gig and how one can seem to feel a good or a bad night coming on. This interview also traces some evolving elements of disco at the time - from DJ’s on the mic falling out of favour, to just how influential discos and disco DJ’s were in breaking records that would have otherwise fallen through the cracks, like Barry White & The Love Unlimited Orchestra’s “Love’s Theme." It’s the one specific song mentioned more than any other in this issue alone, which I should add, earned Miller one of the gold records he's pictured with in the article.

Can’t help but wonder whatever happened to A.J. Miller, whether or not he continued DJing into his old age like he suggested he would. Either way, this is an interesting interview showing just how influential disco DJs, in particular gay disco DJs and audiences were becoming at this point.


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“Get Dancing” AJ: West Coast’s Gold-Plated DJ
By Christopher Stone


Get Dancing!” Howled disco jockey Tony Miller night after night. His bid to boogey was a familiar one to patrons of The Barbary Coast, San Diego’s first gay disco bar.

What Tony, a.k.a. AJ the DJ, didn’t know then was that his command to “get dancing” would be the inspiration for the international disco anthem and a record that would catapult Disco Tex & The Sex-O-Lettes to stardom. Tony remembers the fateful Friday two years ago:

Bob Crewe, who has written or produced about 56 gold records, was in town to visit my roommate and me. That Friday night he came to The Barbary Coast where I was working. It was cooking. I was doing my thing on the mike. I was screaming, ‘Get dancing!’ and what-have-you.

Bob had been to discotheques in New York, but he said it was at our club that it first struck him how important discos were going to become. Bob frightens me because he knows today what you and I are going to be into tomorrow.”

Tony and Bob spent the weekend clowning around, listening to old tapes, and even staging a mock musical with the jock’s idea of discotheque stage performance. Tony’s concept was eventually developed into the Disco Tex & His Sex-O-Lettes album.

Bob called one night, months later, and said. ‘I’m sending you something’.

That something was an advance copy of “Get Dancin’,” which Tony premiered at San Diego’s women’s club, Diablo.

Those girls didn’t know it, but that night when I broke ‘Get Dancin,’’ they were the first people in the world to hear it. I have never been so excited about a record in my life. I called Bob Crewe when I got home - about four in the morning. I woke him out of a sound sleep and started screaming about the record.

Because he was the first to break the record in discos and because he fought to get it radio airplay, Tony was awarded a gold record by Chelsea, distributor of “Get Dancin’.” This marked the jock’s second esteemed platter. 20th Century Records gave him gold for being the first to introduce “Love’s Theme” in discos. (To his knowledge, Tony is the only disco d.j. on the West Coast to have a gold record.)

Convincing 20th Century to release ‘Love’s Theme’ as a single was a real struggle. Barry White went around and around. He didn’t want to release the song. He released four other cuts instead, and they went right down the tubes. It took six months to convince him that this was the hit off the album.

By that time it was in every discotheque in the world. ‘Love’s Theme’ has sold over 2 1/2 million copies and it’s still selling.

Lest you think Tony’s disco road has been paved with gold: “I was fired from my first job as a disco jock the fourth weekend. I was scared to death. I knew how it had to sound. I knew what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t stop shaking long enough to get the records on.

Tony was scared because he had created a monster. With the introduction of a discotheque, which was the d.j.’s idea, the sluggish club caught on in a big way and our boy was in charge, if not in control. Later, he stopped shaking, was re-hired, but continued to collide with the boss.

He wanted a lot of talk. He wanted the club to be like a radio station. We know now that talk doesn’t work. I knew it then. People don’t want to hear jokes and they don’t want to hear the time and temperature. If that’s what they wanted, they’d stay in their car and play the radio.

Inside a disco the music takes you on a trip. It gets you involved and excited. If some clown gets up and tries to tell jokes or promote the bar, it breaks the momentum. It interrupts your trip.

Since November of last year, Tony has been spinning platters his way at Our Side, formerly The Paradise Ballroom, in Hollywood. Whatever it takes to make the crowd “get dancing,” he has it.

There’s no one formula for success. It changes from club to club and group to group. Every time I devised what I thought was the formula, it worked for awhile - then it didn’t work, There’s no formula, but there is a feeling. A group reacts off each other. I take my cue from the group. You have to. You can’t bring your personal problems to the club. If you’re having a bad night - get ready. Your people are not going to stay, because they can sense it. It’s how you play the records. If your heart’s not really in it, they can sense it.

Record companies have been using discotheques for showcasing new products that wouldn’t normally receive attention within commercial radio’s restricted formats. Now Tony observes that playlists of successful discos are becoming tighter.

You can’t overdose people with new things, even in a discotheque. I have to decide what’s really hot and then filter in the rest of it later.

On the other side of the disc, the jock doesn’t believe there’s any such thing as old records: “Any record that is played like it’s brand new, can sound new.

I honestly love what I’m doing. When I’m 65, I’ll probably still want to be a d.j. Whether or not the crowd would relate to someone that old playing ‘Lady Marmalade’ is something else.

The most substantial thing that gay people have contributed in the last five years is the discotheque. We’ve got people turned on to music they never heard before. I think it’s the most beautiful kind of sharing thing that we can do. We have shared something that has sort of been our secret.”
____________________________________________


PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
vintage articles: cheap thrills, entertainment and escapism - by christopher stone // the advocate - august 13, 1975 (wednesday may 5, 2021)
vintage articles: wanna dance? get wrecked to the ass! - by vito russo // the advocate - august 13, 1975 (wednesday april 28, 2021)
vintage articles: exclusive supremes interview - by christopher stone // the advocate - august 13, 1975 (sunday march 21, 2021)
vintage articles: ‘the first step in getting ahead is getting started.’ an interview with bob crewe. - by donald von wiedenman // the advocate - april 7, 1976 (tuesday march 17, 2015)
disco delivery #66: the bob crewe generation - street talk (1976, elektra) (sunday march 15, 2015)

LINKS:
discomusic.com - clubs & discotheques: probe (836 n. highland, los angeles, ca) (web archive)
discomusic.com - clubs & discotheques: paradise ballroom (los angeles, ca) (web archive)
discomusic.com - clubs & discotheques: dude city (836 n. highland, los angeles, ca) (web archive)
discomusic.com - clubs & discotheques: the barbary coast (pacific highway, san diego, ca) (web archive)
queer maps: probe
wikipedia: disco tex & the sex-o-lettes - get dancin’
all music guide: disco tex & his sex-o-lettes lp (review)
discogs: disco tex & his sex-o-lettes - the disco tex & the sex-o-lettes review lp
discogs: the love unlimited orchestra - rhapsody in white lp
all music guide: the love unlimited orchestra - love’s theme (review)


CATEGORIES: VINTAGE ARTICLES, INTERVIEWS

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Vintage Articles:
Disco Scenes (Hollywood, San Francisco, New York) - by Christopher Stone, Bob Kiggins & Vito Russo // The Advocate - August 13, 1975

 

Continuing with more instalments from the Discos! issue of The Advocate. For this issue, their regular city entertainment columns became a quick trip through parts of the gay disco scenes in Hollywood, San Francisco and New York.

Before I go on to the transcribed article, some things to mention:

Studio One is mentioned not just here but in the previous Vito Russo column as one of the best disco venues on the west coast (and it does sound like an impressive complex). Still early in its operation when this was printed, and other than a mention about its stringent ID requirements, there are few hints in these pages of the controversy that would surround Studio One and its racist door policies. I’m certain subsequent issues of The Advocate cover the ensuing community backlash, which included multiple demonstrations outside the venue - for now, the Studio One article from the ONE Archives gives a good outline. I’m certain it was far from the only venue where exclusivity, something that was not only common among many disco venues, but also one might argue, necessary when it came to protecting queer spaces, also gave cover for some rather bold racism and classism - of which Studio One has become a prime example. As much as I love delving into the archives of gay publications, one thing that does stand out, whether it is The Advocate, or Christopher Street, or most other gay publications from the time, is that the point of view does tend to be overwhelmingly white and male. Although there seems to be greater attention around representation these days (due largely to sustained activist pressure, let's be honest), it remains an uphill struggle against the stubborn assumption, where ‘gay’ is often by default, white, affluent and male. It’s easy to get caught up in the selective fog of nostalgia, I’ve certainly been guilty of it myself, yet even more important to consider the limitations of the archive.

Some other interesting tidbits here for the nostalgic traveller - Christopher Stone mentions the young mobile disco entrepreneur, Jane Brinton towards the end of his Hollywood column. Brinton would go on to a much higher profile career in the music business in the 1980s and 90s, starting a management company called This Beats Workin’, managing DJ/producers Shep Pettibone and Junior Vasquez through the peak of their careers. Today, she is the co-founder and executive director of The Waterbearers, a charity working to expand clean water access in the global south.

While many of the venues mentioned are long gone and some have left a bigger imprint than others, it’s notable that at least a couple of the San Francisco venues mentioned in Bob Kiggins’ column have had astonishingly long lives. The Endup, founded in 1973, is the only one which remains open today. Opened in 1966, The Stud was around for 54 years, described as San Francisco’s oldest and most diverse queer bar. Having been the focus of a campaign to remain open amid a crushing rent increase in a rapidly gentrifying San Francisco in 2016, the Stud became ”the first co-op nightclub” in America. Despite this, in 2020 the double whammy of COVID and gentrification did it in (at least for now). Yet, The Stud still exists in a kind of digital exile, so a physical return in the post-pandemic future is not yet out of the question.

The City discotheque, while not as long-lasting, is also a notable venue. Patrick Cowley had worked there as a lighting technician before rising to prominence as a producer and all-around synth wizard.

As a counterpoint to his lament in his earlier piece in this issue, Vito Russo, in his New York column seems to have found a disco scene to his liking, and it was on Fire Island.

A note about venue links: Whenever a specific disco venue is mentioned, I like to link to its discomusic.com discotheque profile. While discomusic.com still exists in a more skeletal version, the closure of discomusic.com as an active community was a real loss for many of us disco fans. While some of the site’s features, like the forum and the disco record database have been largely supplanted by the growth of Facebook and Discogs, respectively; it remained an incredible repository of information and and its forum a much more open and less intrusive (given how Facebook monetizes all of our data) space to interact. That being said, I’m certain it was all very time consuming and expensive to maintain, however one part of the site which hasn’t been duplicated anywhere else was its archive of user-submitted DJ and venue profiles. Often bolstered by user comments and photographs, these entries were often incredible repositories of disco history. While many of the submitted listings have been preserved by the Internet Archive, some have not. Even some of the ones that have are not quite fully intact. Still, for context, I try to link to these archived profiles whenever possible.

I should also say how much I love all the disco-themed ads in this issue, especially the ones attached to these columns (and there are other full-page ads in between these also). I’ll have to parcel these out into a separate post sometime.

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Disco Scenes - Hollywood
by Christopher Stone

Do you wanna dance? As gay discos go-go, the two really big shows in Hollywood town are still Studio One and Cabaret.

My favourite is Studio One (652 N. LaPeer, West Hollywood). Their advertising, which touts the club as “the place to come and the disco to be at in Southern California,” does not exaggerate.

Good to excellent entertainment is always featured at The Backlot, the complex’s dining-showroom. While the cuisine poses no threat to Le Restaurant or Scandia, it’s as good as you’ll find in any gay eatery in Hollywood.

Studio One also features four bars, a jewelry concession and a game room, complete with watering hole, television and pinball.

The discotheque itself is without equal in California. The largest dance floor around, embellished with lights and lasers, makes for a totally satisfying disco experience. There is always room to dance and breathe, even when there is a big crowd, which is every night after 11.

But what I really like best about the place is the friendly, “family” atmosphere created by owner-manager Scott Forbes, his partners and staff. They are genuinely nice, sociable and fun people. Possibly because of the genial tone set by the staff, the clientele seems to be friendlier than at the other clubs.

Studio One has reigned as Hollywood’s premier disco for well over a year, and I have no doubts about its retaining that top position long after the others have locked their doors. (By the way, be sure to always bring proper identification to Studio One, or any disco. Oscar nominee Valerie Perrine was turned away at the door the other night for lack of an ID.)

Cabaret (333 La Cienega, West Hollywood) opened last spring and was an immediate hit. Like Studio One, Cabaret boasts multiple bars and rooms. They also have Howard Metz, Los Angeles’ most celebrated disco jock, spinning their records.

But the dance floor is postage stamp size compared to the other club. It’s great if you want your tootsies tortured or if you get off on stepping all over others. If you have claustrophobia, forget it, dear.

Cabaret attracts a hard-edged, raunchy crowd, and the camaraderie is so apparent at Studio One is completely lacking there. To be fair, manager Jeff Croon and his assistant Tim Manning have been very accommodating to me, but some of their staff members are totally devoid of charm and common courtesy.

Perhaps it’s the rough, decadent feeling at Cabaret that is so attractive to its regular patrons.

For the most part, Cabaret hasn’t been able to compete with the “name” entertainment at Studio One. An exception was Charles Pierce who graced the showroom for three weeks. If management is wise, they will get Pierce’s autograph on a long-term contract, pronto!

Our Side (836 N. Highland, Hollywood), formerly the Paradise Ballroom and before that Dude City, is a pleasant place to dance, dance, dance to disco jock Tony Miller’s hot platters. The nitery’s recent facelift seems to be attracting good nightly crowds.

And right across the street is The Other Side, Hollywood’s chicken de-light disco. ‘Nough said.

Once “the” disco in town, After Dark (8471 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood), re-opened last spring following last summer’s mysterious fire. But the disco hasn’t recaptured anything approximating its former glory. More and more straight people attend the club; the magic is gone.

If you’re a say-at-home and would rather have the disco come to you, by all means call Jane Brinton’s Aristocrat Mobile Discotheques (213-851-7831). Brinton and her staff will bring over $20,000 worth of disco hardware, music, lights, bubbles and what-have-you to your home, office, school organization, wherever.

Last month, Jane and her mobile units were in the middle of Franklin Canyon playing for Karen Black’s wedding. Movie generators were used as her power source. That’s mobile.

There are other mobile discos in town, but none that equal the elaborate, sophisticated equipment Aristocrat has to offer.

Jane’s price tag for hauling her hardware runs up to $300 per evening, but the fee varies with the length and location of the gig. The cost includes over 2,000 albums and a jock to play them.

In addition to her mobile service, Brinton can custom design and build a disco of your very own for between $6,000-60,000.

“It all depends on what you want,” says Jane. ■

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Disco Scenes - San Francisco
by Bob Kiggins

Whatever your musical taste, San Francisco has a dance bar to feed it - for a few evenings’ worth at least. The present difficulty with “going out” is that with so few really hot dance scenes to choose from, boredom can set in quickly. And a disco full of bored people is not long a disco.

Cabaret/After Dark, our lone dance-show-restaurant-bar, has gone through some changes of late. Opened over two years ago as the first of its kind in the city, Cabaret introduced quality name entertainment to an increasingly ambisexual clientele. Riding the crest of a not-yet-defined sociological wave, the major focus here, as anywhere else mentioned was not dance or stage shows but sex.

And not just gay male genital sex, either. Increasing numbers of women, gay and straight, swinging couples, curious tourists and just plain folks out for a good time turned the gay bar/dance hall combo in to a jumble of sensuality.

The disco that best accommodates that phenomenon will win out over a management lacking the foresight, creativity and financial resources necessary to bring it off. While San Francisco is well-endowed with all three, the recent shuttering of Cabaret shows how tenuous the relation can be.

There may be hope. Supposedly closed for “extensive remodelling,” the fact that Cabaret will be revived (under new ownership) as The City, 936 Montgomery St., which promises to be an entertainment cruise complex the liked of which this “Baghdad-by-the-Bay” hasn’t seen since the Cliff House and Sutro Baths went up in flames. At press time, it’s all systems go for a mind bending concoction that could prove the ultimate paean to the art of disco craftsmanship and imagination. When The City is unveiled over Labor Day Weekend, San Francisco will take its place in the great race to out-disco the next city - or the next block, since rumours persist that we will witness the birth of a sister showplace Cabaret Two.

For the time being, however, don’t come to San Francisco expecting any super-discos. Disco fever is, of course, rampant here, but with the unexpected shut-down of the Cabaret, it has shifted to the less overwhelming neighborhood dance bars. Herewith, then, a listing of fun places to cure even the itchiest of feet.

The Endup, at 401 6th St. (corner of Harrison), sports a decor straight out of the teen stereo department of Montgomery Ward (flashing colored lights behind translucent wall panels, a plastic raised dance floor, black lights, even a go-go boy in a cage), but it’s as “today” in disco terms as Gloria Gaynor. The music is loud, “get-down,” driving and expertly paces; the dancers eager, extroverted, and energetic; the crowd amiable, good-looking, and in the 25 and up range. A spacious bar and attentive bartenders (there are, unfortunately, no floor waiters) add to the Endup’s overall appeal. Expect to sweat and be crowded on weekends, when you’ll pay $1 admission (it’s good for a drink). Cruisy, too.

Not too far away, at 1535 Folsom St., is the Stud, a perennial favourite hang-out of the long-haired, flannel-shirted, “earthy” set. A congenial atmosphere and (for the most part) less than frenetic vibes makes the Stud one of the more comfortable places around. Dancing is free-for-all in a pocket-sized area, the music (taped) varied (i.e., Stones to Spinners), and it’s rarely too crowded. Organic decor. Live music Thursday nights.

And while you’re in the area, you can do it up neo-country style at the Rainbow Cattle Company, Valencia at Duboce. After the dinner rush, this bar/restaurant opens the back room to the shit-kickin’ dance dreams of a friendly crowd, determinedly un-glittered and decidedly laid-back. Country & Western, down-home boogie, and a newly refined audio system raise the roof and spirits of the Cattle Co. clientele - the least disco maniacal in the city.

For friskier dance floor acrobatics, check out the Mind Shaft, 2140 Market St. Wend your way through the pool table area near the door (where you’ll pay $1 for a drink ticket) to the elevated dance area (it’s even latticed - the ideal patio boxing ring), set amidst a colourful, attractive Deco-ish environment. It gets steamy on weekends (traveling waiters are very accommodating), but you’ll be so immersed in the heady soul music and elbow-to-elbow craziness nothing will matter.

Without Cabaret, the glitter set seems to have found sanctuary in Buzzby’s, 1436 Polk St., a flashy, sassy, cheerfully stylish disco in the heart of one of San Francisco’s flashier gay ghettos. The Buzzby clan is primarily well-dressed and well-heeled, but all images soon dissolve under the spell of the crafty d.j., who invariably gets everyone on the floor in chaotic, spirited dancing. Again $1 at the door, and efficient floor waiters/waitresses. (Note: Buzzby’s has of late been enforcing their capacity limit; arrive 11PM-ish to avoid a wait in line.)

You might also find any of the following to your liking: Bo-Jan-gles, 709 Larkin (very Soul-Train, crowded and mixed); the Nickelodeon, 141 Mason St. (Where boys will be girls, decor very Hollywood); Olympus, Columbus at Lombard ($2 weekends, palatial, bouncy, largely straight); or the ’N Touch, Polk near Pine St. (Pushy crowd, mostly cruising).

[Ed. Note: Donald McLean is on vacation. His column will resume upon his return.]

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Disco Scenes - New York
by Vito Russo

Everyone seems to be discussing the big disco boom in New York these days. The Village Voice has just done a cover story on the subject, indicating that discos are at least as popular as that paper’s two recent cover stories which concerned gay people. In New York, you can’t find a disco without gay people, and vice versa, so I guess it’s all the same story.

The first bit of news for those of you who haven’t heard is that The Flamingo has closed for the summer and the former Flamingo crowd adjourned to Cherry Grove’s Ice Palace on Fire Island. More about that Ice Palace in a minute. In the city, it’s 12 West, the new in-place for the disco freaks, beautiful people and hangers-on from Bayside, Queens and Brooklyn, looking for David Bowie in the crowd. 12 West is located on West St. Between 12th & Jane and is just a stone’s throw from the latest gay outdoor sex scene, where you can get your rocks off while someone picks your pocket. (This is especially easy if you also have your clothes off. Stay away from it.)

There’s real action at 12 West, where you can dance until 6AM without stopping and without coming down once. Its quadrophonic sound system is sensational, and free juices and fruit are available all evening. Also, a generous supply of ice water for those who dehydrate quickly. It is a membership club, as are all major discos in New York. You may either join for something like $40 a year (they never stay around that long), or you can come as the guest of a member for about $5. This is your best bet. If you don’t know anyone who is a member, wait outside. Someone will take you in eventually, It’s done all the time.

Le Jardin is a more commercial, more above-ground version of 12 West that has been around for a few years now. It started out as a lavish gay bar on the order of Studio One in L.A. and is now a heavy glitter trip. Whenever a place gets “discovered” and becomes popular with all the groupie teenagers from New Jersey, the original crowd moves on to greener (more “in”) pastures. This is what has happened to Le Jardin. Everyone has gone over to 12 West. Le Jardin is worth seeing, however and boasts the entire basement and the entire rooftop of the Diplomat Hotel on W. 43rd St. The basement level is, as the name implies, a garden for dancing. The dance floor is enormous and surrounded with lots of fake greenery and green and white lounges and couches at which you may be served large drinks from small glasses. The rooftop is really something to see. It overlooks most of Manhattan consists of several rooms in blue and white and silver. There is a stark-white baby grand piano and a silver and white bar which is surrounded by silver ferns. There is also an outdoor terrace which is furnished with waterbeds, from which you can watch any number of color television sets. It’s a nice place to visit and will give you a sense of freaky New York nightlife, especially if you’ve never been here before. It costs $7 to get in, and they have a membership policy also.

For a special weekend, and it must be a special weekend due to its location, visit the Ice Palace on Fire Island. Daytripping (spending a day and leaving on the last boat) is discouraged, so make arrangements to stay awhile. You won’t regret it, because there’s a lot more to see on Fire Island than just the disco, and your trip won’t be wasted. The Ice Palace has been around for a long time. It’s probably the longest running disco on the East Coast. Even when it was just a dance bar, it was a place where people discovered records and made them hits before they ever got air play. On Fire Island, there’s always one song which seems to typify that certain summer, if you will. Last year it was “I’ll Always Love My Mama,” with “Love’s Theme” as a close second.

This year the Ice Palace has been the subject of a $60,000 redecoration, and sports mirrored walls and even shows with top stars before the late-night dancing begins. Della Reese, Morgana King and Carmen MacRae are among the latest in early evening entertainment, followed by dancing until 4AM, all one block away from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Fire Island is another world, and the rules are all flexible. If you stay at the Beach Hotel, be prepared to listen to disco music all night, as your room will more likely than not be directly opposite the dance floor, separated only by a swimming pool. The dress is very casual, sometimes nothing at all, due to the fact that this completely gay community is isolated after the last boat leaves; no one may arrive or leave until morning except by speedboat or helicopter. The Ice Palace gets its share of straight people, but it is more of an integrated society than a “look at them dance” routine, and at about three in the morning, people are literally dancing on the walls. (They have these little walls which separate the rooms and people dance on them, ok?)

I assume that anyone who is interested in disco dancing in the first place accepts the rules that apply. These are not, usually, cruise bars. They are places where people go with a group of friends to dance the night away. On Fire Island, this rule bends a little because everyone is there for a good time; the lack of restrictions, law and order, and stress bring about a sort of early-Rome feeling which continues until the sun is well up over the gorgeous horizon. There is seldom, if ever, any trouble. There are two policemen on Fire Island and they dance very well. Their job consists of mostly tossing unruly straight teenagers off the dock when they manage to find their way out to the Grove. Also, drugs are ignored within reasonable limits.

Discos in New York are enjoying a period of fashion. This may last a year or a day. One never knows here. Everyone is looking for a way to dance their troubles away. Places like the Limelight and Hollywood, old-fashioned, plain gay dance bars are still packed to the rafters every night, so the discos aren’t taking any business away from them. ■

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PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
vintage articles: cheap thrills, entertainment and escapism - by christopher stone // the advocate - august 13, 1975 (wednesday may 5, 2021)
vintage articles: wanna dance? get wrecked to the ass! - by vito russo // the advocate - august 13, 1975 (wednesday april 28, 2021)
vintage articles: exclusive supremes interview - by christopher stone // the advocate - august 13, 1975 (sunday march 21, 2021)

LINKS:
the waterbearers: jane brinton
one archives: studio one
los angeles conservancy: the factory (studio one)
wehoville - jim crow visits west hollywood: studio one and gay liberation (by don kilhefner) (august 5, 2016)
los angeles times - opinion: should we preserve ugly but important buildings - like the former studio one in west hollywood? (by ann friedman) (july 27, 2016)
los angeles blade: west hollywood divided over fate of the factory (by christopher kane) (july 3, 2018)
los angeles times - scott forbes, 57, ran dance palace (obituary) (by jon thurber) (february 7, 2002)
the endup san francisco
the stud san francisco
discomusic.com - clubs & discotheques: the city (san francisco) (web archive)
discomusic.com - clubs & discotheques: the endup (6th and harrison, san francisco) (web archive)
discomusic.com - clubs & discotheques: the stud (folsom street, san francisco) (web archive)
gaytravel.com - fire destroys gay landmark on fire island (march 27, 2015)
rooftops of nyc: rock ’n roll on the rooftop (le jardin, diplomat hotel, w. 43rd street near sixth avenue) (december 1, 2011)
new york times: an aging midtown hotel that will not go gently (by david w. dunlap) (november 7, 1993)
google newspapers: the village voice - inside the disco boom (by richard szathmary & lucian k. truscott iv) (july 21, 1975)


CATEGORIES: VINTAGE ARTICLES

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Vintage Articles:
Cheap Thrills, Entertainment and Escapism -
by Christopher Stone // The Advocate -
August 13, 1975

Continuing with some more from the August 1975 Discos! issue of The Advocate. Admittedly, I’m posting this a little out of sequence. This was Christopher Stone’s introduction to their Disco coverage, just a couple of pages before their exclusive interview with The Supremes.

Interesting to note in this little time-capsule, the contextualization of Disco not as a novel juggernaut, but as a revival, or continuation of an earlier trend, one picked up by the gay underground as far back as 1971. Something “wild, free and outrageous,” originating in “[d]efunct factories, markets and restaurants” highlighting again, clear parallels to the origins of rave culture, for example.

Also notable in this time period - disco being cast, not as something restrictive or limiting (as some later press in the decade would) but as a force opening up musical opportunities. Success in disco is cast here as an antidote to “tight and restrictive” radio playlists, creating new stars and breathing new life into older acts.

More to come very soon.

____________________________________________



Cheap Thrills, Entertainment and Escapism
by Christopher Stone


“Shame, shame, shame-shame on you, it you can’t dance too.”

From Hollywood’s Studio One to Le Jardin in Gotham, everybody’s doing it: the hustle, the bump, the time warp and the continental (not to be confused with the Fred & Ginger version).

For the entertainment industry, 1975 is the Year of the Discotheque. No doubt about it, the masses have turned on to what’s been getting us off for the last four years.

In the country discos were almost completely gay. During the last year, hetero clubs have been opening faster than Gloria Gaynor can say “goodbye.” Independent surveys indicate that at least 70% of the discos are still gay. Many straight people confess that they have more fun at the gay clubs.

The current disco revival began in 1971, spearheaded by the gay underground. Defunct factories, markets and restaurants were transformed into dance meccas where gay people boogyed their way to happiness. The atmosphere was wild, free and outrageous. Attire ranged from black tie to tie-dye. Discothequers lost themselves in a frantic world of non-stop music and madness. Nobody cared who did what to whom just as long as you didn’t stand still.

About two years ago discos surfaced, and now there are an estimated 500 in New York, 100 in Southern California and an additional 700 sprinkled between the coasts. The numbers seem to change daily.

The discotheque, which literally means disc library, originated in France during the ‘50s. The fad swept across Europe, becoming especially popular in London, and eventually reached our shores in the early ‘60s.

Back then, the clubs were primarily straight. The American Graffiti generation twisted, rugged, monkeyed, jerked and swam the night away to the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, Chubby Checker, Little Richard - even Bobby Rydell. Ann-Margret look-alikes set the pace from cages, which were sometimes suspended from the ceiling.

But with the advent of acid rock, the disco turntables stopped turning. Now they are spinning as never before.

The recession seems to be primarily responsible for the resurgence. At a time when money is as tight as one’s pants, discos offer cheap thrills, entertainment and escapism. (On the West Coast, admittance is usually free during the week, with cover charges ranging from $1-$3 on weekends; Eastern discos charge more.)

Discos make dollars and sense for club owners who can no longer afford the hefty fees commanded by the better “live” groups and attractions. And while rock groups were sometimes temperamental and undependable, hit records never have a bad night. Disco owners offer their patrons superstars at their recording studio best, seven nights a week.

Moreover, record companies are ecstatic over the disco boon. Platter pushers previously had to rely solely on radio airplay to make a hit record. Most radio playlists are tight and restrictive, so many discs were pressed and then never heard. Discos have changed all that.

Rock the Boat,” “I’ve Got the Music In Me,” “Never Can Say Goodbye,” “Love’s Theme,” “Get Dancin’,” “The Hustle” and “Shame, Shame, Shame ” are just a few of the smashes that owe their success to disco airplay.

Stars such as Gloria Gaynor, Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes, Carol Douglas and Van McCoy were born in discos. Others such as Labelle, the Supremes and Shirley & Co. were re-born there. Now record companies have disco reps who monitor the clubs, listen to the jocks and supply them with new products. (Up until this year, most disco jocks had to supply their own records.) Major labels even supply the clubs with “special mixes” of certain songs, designed for optimum reproduction when played over a disco’s elaborate sound system.

Where all of this will end, no one seems to know.

No one wants it to end.

It looks like discos may just be here to stay. ■
____________________________________________


PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
vintage articles: wanna dance? get wrecked to the ass! - by vito russo // the advocate - august 13, 1975 (wednesday april 28, 2021)
vintage articles: exclusive supremes interview - by christopher stone // the advocate - august 13, 1975 (sunday march 21, 2021)
in defense of disco by richard dyer (tuesday march 13, 2008)

LINKS:
wikipedia: nightclub - post wwii: emergence of the disc jockey and the discothèque
wikipedia: twelve-inch single
library of dance: the bump
christopher stone - author

CATEGORIES: VINTAGE ARTICLES

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Vintage Articles:
Wanna Dance? Get Wrecked To The Ass! -
by Vito Russo // The Advocate -
August 13, 1975


Continuing with another installment from the Discos! issue of The Advocate with this article from the late writer and activist Vito Russo. Best known perhaps for his landmark work, The Celluloid Closet documenting gay representation in cinema and for being a founding member of both GLAAD and ACT UP, Russo left an indelible mark on the world and particularly in LGBT activism before his passing of AIDS-related complications in 1990. Russo would contribute to the “Disco Scenes” section later in this issue (which will be up soon), but his article here is an interesting window and counterpoint to the inescapable rise of disco—music, culture, and spaces—particularly in the gay community/communities.

Though he says this isn’t a judgement of the music or the experience, it does read as something of a lament. As Russo suggests, the growth of large, impersonal discos seemed to be replacing the more intimate, casual social atmosphere of the neighbourhood bar, where one could still dance, yet, as Russo maintains, have a better chance of actually striking up a conversation or even a friendship. Even I, as a disco enthusiast, all these years later, can relate to much of what he’s saying. Heightened sound and elaborate lighting systems are not necessarily conducive to an atmosphere of elevated sociality. Though there’s something to losing yourself in the massive sensory experience of a large crowd in a large space; reflecting back, pre-pandemic when going out was a relatively regular occurrence, even I tended to prefer smaller, casual venues for dancing (and playing records). Smaller dance-bars also tend to fit within the culture here in Toronto, even today (though I wonder if Russo ever went to The Loft?).


There’s also a certain parallel here to contemporary debates around dating apps and the impact they have on queer communities in urban centres. The argument, particularly for queer men, that apps like Grindr, Scruff etc.. which for all their convenience, are replacing and endangering the hard-fought physical spaces of the bars, clubs and bathhouses has a certain resonance, especially if you are living in a city large enough to have its own “gay village.” Though as Russo intimates here with discos, this is not a trend confined solely to queer people or spaces. The impact feels, however, more immediate and disproportionate. Hard-won and already fewer in number, these are spaces which are not just businesses but bedrocks of community-building. Though this debate will undoubtedly continue; as with any wave of change, there are gains and losses and Russo here captures a moment when discos were signalling a notable shift in gay social life.

Vito Russo left a much bigger legacy than I could ever do justice to, here. Books and documentaries aside, the Making Gay History Podcast has an excellent condensed summary of his life and work, well worth a listen.

____________________________________________




Wanna Dance? Get Wrecked to the Ass!
by Vito Russo


So you want to know about discos in New York, eh? Heh, heh, heh. Stay home. I mean it. Years ago, New York used to have what we called dance bars. You could go to one of these places and in front there was usually a bar where people stood around and drank and talked; in the back, or in another room, there was either a juke-box or taped music for dancing. Once in a while, there was even real dancing, like when two people touched each other with some sort of conviction about it. No more.

With one or two quite notable exceptions, the city of a thousand bars and dance palaces has been reduced to a myriad of cruise bars, western bars, leather bars, Joe College bars - you name it, we got it. But we ain’t got rhythm. You see, there was this movie called On The Avenue with Alice Faye and the Ritz Brothers and they sang a song called “We Ain’t Got Rhythm” and … oh what the hell.

Anyway, it’s not easy to go out for an evening’s dancing in New York anymore. With the closing of The Roundtable on 52nd Street, New York lost its last bastion of get-to-know-your-partner. What we have left is discos. Discos. The very word suggests a move away from the emphasis on the people and a move towards the music for its own sake.

When you go dancing in New York now, you either go to the Limelight, where you can be treated to a mixture of straight teenagers from the Bronx looking for fags to beat up, or you can wait until midnight and find a friend who belongs to one of the new wave dance palaces in New York - the afterhours disco.

You do not go straight. You get wrecked to the ass. This way, everything looks good even if it isn’t, and you can dance for seven hours without having to look at your friends. That’s what the colored lights are for. That is also what the quadrophonic sound system is for, keeping you in a state of blessed oblivion until little Sammy Sun comes up and it’s safe to go home and sleep until noon when you can cruise on Christopher Street until it’s time for the discos to open again. You may do this on weekends. During the week you go to your office or place of business and you’re somebody else. That’s why we need the discos; to have a place to be yourself. If that doesn’t make any sense.

Now, I was in Los Angeles for two weeks, and although they can really and truly have it, and I mean all of it (the mellowness, the sunshine, Taco Bells and the police) it does have something New York doesn’t. It has places like Cabaret, After Dark and Studio One where you can watch a nice show; a magnificent dance floor the size of a gymnasium in which they have installed a scale model of Saturn (the planet) which expels fog over the dance floor; a jewelry shop; five bars; assorted nooks and crannies. Now, we don’t have that over here. No matter, though, because with all those facilities, people don’t look at each other once. They get there at midnight, dance until 2AM and go sit in Drake’s, The Louisiana Purchase, Arthur J’s or Theodore’s Cafe. Then they go home. For all the communication that goes on, they might as well be in an after-hours disco in New York.

The very concept of disco has somehow destroyed our ability to be people with each other. I’m not judging the music or the experience, It’s an experience, to be sure. Too much of one, though. It becomes, after a time, the only experience, and the loudness of the music destroys any possibility of verbal contact. In Studio One, they are now doing a dance which I thought I couldn’t learn until I realized that the reason I have having trouble was that it’s a routine. Do any of you know what a routine is? It used to be a nice little dance that people all did together with pre-planned steps and everyone would laugh and giggle and link arms and stuff. It was a lot of fun partially because it gave us a sense of community and mostly because six or seven people could do it as a group at a party. They have now turned it into the ultimate conformist exercise. At Studio One no less than 500 people were doing it in unison last week and every face was a total blank. Don’t think, don’t laugh, don’t react, don’t touch, don’t smile. Just keep counting and try to make the entire dance floor move as one person. Hey gang … we are not one person. We are many and we are all different. Or is it just safer that way?

My mind rebels against this dance for a reason. It was fun when we danced like that in our neighborhood dance bar. If a stranger was at the bar we’d yell, “Hey, c’mere, we’ll teach you this dance” and after a while he’d be our friend. Or if he didn’t want to, we’d talk anyway. It was nice, I think - more human, also.

The large discos which have replaced our neighbourhood bars have made factories (Studio One used to be one) out of our meeting places. The new product is oblivion. It makes one wonder what people are dancing their asses off to escape from. This is not a gay trip. It’s a people trip. Everyone is doing it. At least in New York you can invite people to your house for a few relaxing hours, but in L.A., everyone lives so far away from each other, they almost have to meet in these places. When they get there it’s too noisy to talk. No wonder everyone is friends with everyone else in L.A. - they never got a chance to know each other, and who can hate a total stranger?

Please understand: I am not doing an anti-Los Angeles trip. I explore the same situation in New York, but I think here it’s escapable. You can still go down to Greenwich Village and spend a night at Peter Rabbit where someone will come up to you and say, “Excuse me, would you like to dance?” and you can look into his eyes for awhile. Sure, I like to go to a disco occasionally. But I’d rather dance ■
____________________________________________


PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
vintage articles: exclusive supremes interview - by christopher stone // the advocate - august 13, 1975 (sunday march 21, 2021)
in defense of disco by richard dyer (tuesday march 13, 2008)

LINKS:
wikipedia - vito russo
making gay history - the podcast: episode 10 - vito russo
goodreads - the celluloid closet: homosexuality in the movies by vito russo
the act up historical archive: why we fight by vito russo
uw press - celluloid activist: the life and times of vito russo by michael schiavi
vito: a new documentary by jeffrey schwarz

forgotten new york: 10th street (april 19, 2020)
forgotten new york: holland hotel (january 25, 2019)
one archives: studio one
discomusic.com - clubs & discotheques: roundtable (151 e. 50th street between lexington and 3rd avenue, new york) (web archive)
discomusic.com - clubs & discotheques: limelight (91 7th avenue s., greenwich village, new york) (web archive)
discomusic.com - clubs & discotheques: cabaret (beverly boulevard, west hollywood) (web archive)
discomusic.com - clubs & discotheques: after dark (beverly boulevard & la cienega, los angeles) (web archive)


CATEGORIES: VINTAGE ARTICLES, IN MEMORIAM

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Vintage Articles:
Exclusive Supremes Interview -
by Christopher Stone // The Advocate -
August 13, 1975



It has been over a month since the sudden passing of original Supreme Mary Wilson at age of 76, just weeks before her 77th birthday. Unfortunately we’re at that time when many of the musicians I’ve either written about or have been part of the music on this blog are passing away, that’s besides the pandemic we are in right now, when so many are dealing with death and loss.

Mary’s passing prompted me to go into my archives where I found some old issues of The Advocate that I had scanned several years ago. Still the American LGBT publication of record, their August 1975 Discos! issue is where I found this particular article - an exclusive interview with The Supremes by frequent Advocate entertainment contributor and editor Christopher Stone, who is still active today as an author in gay fiction and non-fiction.

I’ve covered The Supremes here on the blog several times in the past, so it’s no surprise that I have a soft spot for the last two Supremes lineups. While those groupings had less pop success than previous incarnations, they had some of their greatest showings in the discos, which certainly further solidified their loyal gay following, a fact that’s well-highlighted in this particular article. Their current single at the time “He’s My Man” was perfectly primed for disco action and marked something of a comeback for the group after a near 2 year gap between releases.


The interview generously touches on the strong gay following they have, namely the fondness drag performers had for them. While here Mary laments that they had yet to go to a gay venue to see any of the drag tributes to them, interestingly a few years ago, a defunct local publication here in Toronto where I live had a regular Then & Now column written by DJ and writer Denise Benson, documenting memories of bygone local clubs and discos. Her columns have since been compiled into a book, but I recall one particular column on a club called David’s which featured a memory of this particular lineup of Supremes making a surprise appearance there to judge a drag competition, probably not long after this interview had been conducted.

By this time the group consisted of Mary Wilson as the sole remaining original member, plus the return of Cindy Birdsong and the new addition of Scherrie Payne as their primary lead vocalist. Though Payne doesn’t have a great deal of quotes in this interview, Mary and Cindy’s comments here more than hint at their internal struggles with Motown and the uphill battle before them trying to re-establish The Supremes as a musical presence.

Though The Supremes would only last a couple more years as an active entity, Mary’s battle for recognition was really only just beginning. It would be the better part of a decade before her first book, Dreamgirl - My Life As A Supreme would come out and help turn the tide against the official line at the time which seemed to marginalize The Supremes as little more than Diana Ross’ launching pad, with Wilson and the late Florence Ballard as mere musical footnotes.

Together with the social discussions that have been rippling through society lately, the #metoo movement among them, has me thinking about what it means to be a woman, a black woman, in an industry that has often denied one's agency on both grounds. While I am neither, so many of the artists that I love are. That being said, even I have to admit that I have at times been guilty of that casual sexism that often exists in musical coverage, where often so much emphasis and credibility is placed on the (usually male) producer as the creative driver that the agency and artistry of the woman (usually the vocalist) goes underrepresented and unacknowledged even on work that bears their name.

Certainly when we talk about agency, Mary’s legacy is a testament to it. While much has been written about Diana Ross’ legendary ambition and tenacity, she certainly wasn’t the only Supreme with grit and determination. As someone who sustained a long performing career herself, Mary Wilson had to fight an uphill battle for agency nearly every step of the way. After spending years on the wrong side of Motown politics, battling the label throughout much of the 1970s and 80s (well documented in her second book and subsequent updates), she had emerged in the last decades of her life not only a seasoned performer, but an astute operator in the politics of the music industry and a tireless ambassador for the Motown legacy. To the point where her efforts helped change laws in Washington, she also ended up cultivating a working relationship with Motown's parent company, Universal Music, having been a part of practically every Supremes release and re-issue in the past 20 some years. It was perhaps a much more generative relationship than the one she had with the old Motown label when this article was written.

To paraphrase what the lady herself said in a 2017 interview; unlike some of her contemporaries, she had a chance to fight back and show the world what she was made of.

Rest in Peace and Power Ms. Mary Wilson.

____________________________________________




Exclusive Supremes Interview
By Christopher Stone

He’s My Man” is rapidly becoming a disco monster.

D.J.’s report The Supremes as one of their most requested albums.

THE SUPREMES ARE BACK! proclaims Motown’s billboard on the Sunset Strip.

After a two-year hiatus from recording, the most popular female group in the history of the record industry is back - and the ADVOCATE’s got ‘em!


Motown’s Supremes Biography: “…those [stars] who qualify as institutions by virtue of their extraordinary achievements are few and far between. Narrow that down to female ensembles and Motown’s fabulous Supremes are virtually without peer.”

Mary Wilson: We didn’t even have a contract with Motown for about a year and a half. They had no enthusiasm for us. We had to go in there fighting. For a minute we had to forget we were entertainers and go on a campaign, which was really degrading.

The public never let us down. Our fans have been loyal up to now. But Motown did let us down at the times we needed them most - after Diana left and after Jean left.


Motown’s Supremes Biography: “They were the first exponents of the now world-renowned Motown Sound to reap the rewards of popularity on a massive scale… “It is estimated that the Supremes have sold in excess of 50 million records, which is a conservative estimate…”


Cindy Birdsong: It has been said in print many times, even before I joined the group: The Supremes made Motown and Motown made the Supremes. To see them retreat that way was very discouraging.

Motown’s Supremes Biography: “Unlike most other groups, the Supremes have been able to undergo personnel changes without being adversely affected…”

Scherrie Payne: I may have joined the group at a time when things were looking down but I’ve always been crazy about the Supremes, because I grew up along with them as they were growing.

Many of us did.

Diana, Mary & Flo - Diana, Mary & Cindy - Mary, Cindy & Jean - Mary, Jean & Lynda - Mary, Cindy & Scherrie.

Where Did Our Love Go?,” “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Back In My Arms Again”: the trio’s five number-one-hits-in-a-row during the mid-’60s is a feat yet to be matched.

They introduced an elegant, sparkling, sophisticated look to pop music and, with poise, polish and gobs of glamour, opened the nightclub circuit to rock & soul artists. Their fame was international. They were impersonated everywhere-in the rock musical Hair; in the local drag ensemble in Pueblo, Colorado.


When, in 1970, Diana Ross opted for solo stardom, the public asked, “Is this the end of the Supremes?”


Mary, Cindy and new lead thrush Jean Terrell answered the skeptics with chartbusters such as “Up The Ladder to the Roof,” “Everybody’s Got the Right to Love,” “Stoned Love,” “Nathan Jones,” “Floy Joy,” “River Deep-Mountain High,” “Automatically Sunshine,” and “Bad Weather,” which is still a discotheque favourite.

Then, in ’72, Cindy traded sequinned dresses for a bridal gown and subsequently, maternity smocks. Her replacement, Lynda Laurence, had barely learned her oohs and aahs when she left to become a Mrs. Then Jean Terrell hung up her wigs and went home for reasons still unknown to Supreme Mary.

After 18 months, domesticity paled on Cindy and she returned. Scherrie, Freda’s younger sister, was drafted to round out the trio. But they had no songs to release, no material to record, and no contract with Motown.

Mary: Because of the many changes in the group, Motown was unsure. They didn’t want to put any money behind us, All of a sudden the good writers were taken away from us, and we got no more material. We were just shoved aside.

Cindy: Even though you have been in the business for 15 years, like we have, it’s always a thrill to hear a new record played on the radio. When you hear nothing at all except your old records, knowing there isn’t a new one to be played, it’s a horrible feeling.

It seemed endless, these last two years without a recording. So now it’s such a pleasure to hear our new album being played.


Scherrie: I understand we’re supposed to go into the studio the end of this month to start on some new things for the next album.

As spokesperson for the group, Mary did most of the fighting and negotiating that resulted in a contract, a new album and a fresh club act.

Mary: I made them contribute. Now Motown is doing a lot, It’s not as much as they did in the past. It’s not as much as we’d like them to do. But they are doing what they think is a lot. I think there is still a lot of skepticism there. We want more. The only way we’ll get more is if we become popular again. Then we’ll get everything we want.

Their new album, The Supremes, will hopefully regain popularity for the women as recording artists. One of the LP’s selections,”He’s My Man,” is already a disco success.

It was the danceability of the group’s early records that helped skyrocket them to success. During the ‘60s most every other song played on juke boxes in gay bars was by the Supremes. And almost every show bar featured three guys in sequinned gowns and coiffed wigs pantomiming Supremes hits and duplicating their gestures.

Mary: We have always been very, very popular with the gay community in all areas. I don’t know why they love us or identify with us. I’m just happy about it.

Cindy: They send us pictures and some of them actually favor us. There are a few that really favour Diana. You know - the same eyes.

Mary: Why we have never gotten around to a gay bar to see one of these groups, I don’t know.

Cindy: They sometimes come backstage wearing jeweled gowns. From a distance you might actually think they were the Supremes. You know the wigs we used to wear? Their wigs would be almost identical. Their gowns would be something similar to something we had worn in the past.

Little was heard from the Supremes last year, but an ex-group member was making news. Florence Ballard, who was heard on over 20 of the trio’s hit records, was discovered living on welfare with her mother in a ghetto neighborhood.

Motown’s Supremes Biography: “In ’67 Cindy Birdsong stepped in to replace Florence Ballard, who had grown weary of the hectic pace of show business, preferring marriage and family.”

Rumors have persisted that Flo did not prefer to leave, but was forced into retirement.

Cindy frankly discussed the woman she had replaced: Florence was my favorite before I joined the group, because she was so outgoing and she welcomed strangers openly. I never thought I would be taking her place. When I met the Supremes, I was a member of Patti Labelle & the Bluebelles. Girl groups didn’t get along too well. Ignoring that, I became friends with the Supremes. I like their group - their style. Of course, I always loved our group. I thought we were better than them.

I knew the Supremes were having a lot of problems. The way Florence left was … rather … bluntly. It seemed that they just scooped her out of there so fast. She was on stage one night and I was on stage the next. She didn’t have any idea that she wasn’t going to be on that stage the night I replaced her.

I guess a lot of people point the finger at me. I came in there so fast. I was on stage within a day and a half after I joined the group. Of course, I was so wrapped up in what was happening to me that I didn’t really consider Florence. But I felt funny about it because I found out a little of what was really going on just before I went on stage.


And how do they feel about that other ex-Supreme - the one they performed several paces behind when they were re-dubbed Diana Ross & The Supremes?

Cindy: All those rumours about fights are completely untrue. I think our relationship with her is better then when she was singing with us - when we were singing with her.

Mary: We’re probably better friends now than we’ve ever been. That’s not saying that we see each other every day. But I think we’ve both grown up a lot. I see her… maybe once every time I’m home.

Cindy: Our paths cross so infrequently because she is busy with a movie career.

Mary: I thought she did a fantastic job in Lady Sings The Blues.

Cindy: She should have gotten the Oscar, I thought.

The Supremes are not preoccupied with the past. They’d much rather talk about the 50 million records they hope to sell rather than the 50 million-plus already sold. They have emerged from a crucial, grueling two years confident, rested and real.

Cindy: Everything has gotten very casual and relaxed. You see how we come dressed for an interview (she tugs on her T-shirt). When I first joined the group we would have walked in here decked out like we were going to church on Sunday - almost with gloves and hats on. Our lashes would not be missing.

Mary: With the responsibility of getting things back in order, we have not had as much of the fun or excitement as before.

Cindy: Scherrie asked, “Where are all the guys you told me I was going to meet?”

Mary: And all the glamorous parties …

Cindy: Scherrie’s the only single one now.

Mary: Don’t worry, Scherrie. It’ll all come in time.

Hit records, television, Vegas. “It’ll all come in time” seems to sum up the feelings of these optimistic voices.

Mary: For the mass public, we have not been around. For us, we’ve never stopped. Sometimes I get very upset when people say “Well, the Supremes are dead.” DEAD HOW? We work just as much as we’ve ever worked. In fact, we’re trying to cut down some of our work because we each have families and other things we want to do.

We’ve been popular among our fans. It’s the mass public, the people all over the world that you have to reach through television and records, that we have not been popular with. But that’s because we have not been involved in those mediums for two years. We’ve got to saturate those two markets again.

They say the other groups, the Three Degrees, Labelle, are beating us. I think they still have a long way to go before they can catch up with us.

As far as I’m concerned, the Supremes have never died, honey … I want everyone to know that
____________________________________________


PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
disco delivery #51: the supremes - high energy (1976, motown) (saturday january 26, 2008)
the supremes - mary, scherrie & susaye (reprise) (thursday march 8, 2007)
disco delivery #1: the supremes - mary, scherrie & susaye (1976, motown) (tuesday january 10, 2006)

LINKS:
the guardian - mary wilson: the supremes' tenacious star who refused to accept defeat (by alexis petridis) (tuesday february 9, 2021)
new york times - mary wilson, co-founder of the supremes, dies at 76 (by derrick bryson taylor) (february 9, 2021)
rolling stone - lamont dozier remembers mary wilson: ‘she was the glue that kept the supremes together’ (by elias leight) (february 9, 2021)
rolling stone: mary wilson's tireless music business advocacy (by ethan millman) (february 12, 2021)
soulmusic.com - motown spotlight february 2021 - mary wilson (by sharon davis)
eur web - mary wilson: reflections of a supreme journey! (by scherrie payne) (february 14, 2021)
the irish post - tribute to a musical legend: remembering mary wilson of the supremes (by michael j. mcdonagh) (march 3, 2021)

wikipedia: the supremes (1975 album)
discogs: the supremes - s/t lp
the funk & soul revue - rare cut: the supremes - he's my man (by george haffenden) (october 28, 2017)
christopher stone - author


CATEGORIES: VINTAGE ARTICLES, INTERVIEWS, IN MEMORIAM

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