Terry Hunter has treated Southport Weekender’s Powerhouse to some outrageously good sessions in the past, it’s little wonder we keep inviting him back.
First and foremost a DJ, Terry Hunter was born and raised in the birthplace of house music, Chicago. Cutting his teeth at an early age at hundreds of parties around the city, Terry gained an invaluable education that has stood him in good stead as the now internationally recognised DJ talent he is today.
Bursting on to the production scene in 1990 with the landmark classic “Madness”, Terry has gone on to produce many a soulful house gem as UBQ Project (When I Fell In Love), Terry Hunter (Harvest For the World) or as remixer for the likes of Georgie Porgie, Michael Jackson, Mary J Blige, Masters At Work, Ten City and India. He has recorded extensively for Music Plant and his own Vinyl Soul imprint as well as featuring on MAW Records, Vibe Music, Eightball and too many major labels to mention. An appreciator of many styles of music including soul, hip hop and disco, it is nevertheless his prominent standing as a soulful house DJ that has driven his profile here in the U.K.
Marc Rowlands caught up with Terry Hunter in the early 00’s, during one of his rare quiet moments in the Music Plant offices. Open and honest, down to earth and good humoured, Marc went on to describe him as one of the most agreeable interviewees he’d ever encountered and as such, he couldn’t help but quiz him extensively on the subject of his formative years.
When did you start spinning?
I started playing records in about 1982. My father was a DJ and my family owned a tavern, so there was always music equipment and records around. I didn’t really get serious at it until 1985.
What music did your dad play?
He was into disco. A lot of Marvin Gaye, Barry White, Philly International, Teddy Pendergrass, O’Jays lots of mid to late seventies stuff.
So he’s probably your biggest influence then.
Oh yeah. As far as me getting started it was my father and a few other DJs like Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy, who made me think ‘That’s what I want to do’.
What was it that made you want to ‘get serious’ with your DJing?
I’ll never forget, I went to a party that they held once a year close to the lake at Bellmont Rocks. Frankie Knuckles and all the top DJs in Chicago would do it. My cousin, who was also called Terry exposed me to all of that. He took me there, then leant me his i.d. so that we could go to the afterparty which was at Frankie’s club The Powerplant. Once I’d got there I was like a kid in a candy store. I didn’t go and get a drink, I didn’t move, I just stood there, 15 years old watching Frankie Knuckles spin. I was mesmerized.
What was he playing at the time?
A lot of classics, a lot of early Chicago house like Chip E, Steve Hurley’s unreleased version of ‘I Can’t Turn Around’, lots of exclusives, he was going from reel to reel, from reel to record. He played an edit of Billy Paul ‘Only The Strong Survive’ and right there, the message of that song, that edit, that’s probably the single defining moment for me. I’d never seen anyone with that much control over a crowd, he would take you through a whole night. When Frankie was spinning, you could tell what he was going through. If he felt good, if he felt sad, if he felt crazy, you’d know about it. Right after that party I went home and told my mom I wanted to be a DJ.
What did she say?
She looked at me and said ‘O.K.’ My grandfather and grandmother raised me and they instilled in me from an early age that if I wanted to do something, I should just do it. I had wanted to be a football or basketball player before that and they supported me whatever.
Were you too young to catch Ron Hardy at the Music Box?
No way, I always went to the Music Box. That was the first real club I ever played at, in 1987.
What was the difference between the Powerplant and the Music Box?
As I remember you had Wednesdays and Fridays at The Powerplant and then on Thursdays and Saturdays everyone would go to The Music Box. At The Powerplant it was a bit mellower and it was much more of a gay scene. The Music Box was more like everybody under one roof, and I mean everybody. Thugs, gangbangers, gay people, straight people, it was a wide mixture of people who used to go and see Ron Hardy. You would see some of the hardest thugs in the city at The Music Box, but all of them were coming to hear the music. Ron was more energised when he played, he would break the music down until it was just playing through the tweeters, or knock off all the tweeters, he was known for that earthquake sound, it was incredible. Frankie and Ron would play a lot of the same stuff, Ron was a bit more of a classic head. He would play The Originals ‘Down To Love Town’, The O’Jays ‘I Love Music’, unreleased stuff like Chip E ‘It’s House’, I have so many fond memories of that. Ron had his own edit of ‘It’s House’ and he would play it so it was playing out backwards and it sounded like the singer was saying “Watch It!”. Man, when you heard “Watch It” in that club the reaction was incredible, if you’d not been before you would have thought you were going to get trampled. People would be going crazy. All you would hear all night would be “All Right Ronnie!”, that was the thing, and it was so long lasting in Chicago. That was the way the crowd would let you know you were doing good. I remember playing parties when I was just starting to make a name and when you got the party going real good everybody would just scream “All Right Ronnie!” even though it wasn’t him, but just to let you know you was doing good.
How did you get your break?
I opened for Ron on a Thursday night. I was so nervous I couldn’t even hold the needle on the record, I’d never been near a system as powerful as that before, I mean, I was in THE Music Box and Ron Hardy was stood right there. It was a private party and a lot of people saw me there. At that time the high school party scene was really big, a lot of basement parties were happening all over town and I started doing all the ones on the South side of Chicago. These parties got so popular that all the main promoters from the Chicago clubs would be coming to these house parties to promote their own nights. One day day a really well known promoter Marvin Terry came to one of the parties I was doing and told me he wanted me to open up at his club. From opening up there regularly, my slot got later ’til I started doing the main spot in the club and it went on from there.
You’re more known on the international circuit for playing soulful house these days. Are you ever tempted to delve back into your past and dig out some of the Philly, disco and early house to play?
It’s a lot of fun playing classics, ’cause it kinda takes you back to that original time period. The problem is I kinda got away from playing them. In Chicago the original house crowd, which was a black scene, really never moved on from disco. They were kind of stuck in that era and they don’t ever want to let it go. At that point where I was coming up and trying to play new music to the disco scene, they kind of turned away from me. I’d been known for playing classics, disco and party sets, so that’s what people expected of me, but once I was in the clubs I knew I had to play new music. The same sort of thing happened to Frankie Knuckles around the time he moved from Chicago to New York. Some people did open their minds to the new sounds, but Chicago is known for being a big, big classics town. I think that’s what contributed to the city loosing it’s scene. People refused to move along as the music was moving.
Perhaps they didn’t think the new music was as good.
That’s exactly what it was. They thought the songs weren’t as good, the instrumentation was lacking, but I beg to differ. There was a lot of great soulful dance coming out at that time.
How do you think your style has changed over the years?
I really don’t think it’s changed that much, I still play soulful dance only more of a reflection of where things are at right now. I perhaps play a little more energetic now, as a lot of the records seem to have gotten a little faster. Sometimes it’s moving a little too fast for that style of music. Once you get past 130 bpm you’re getting a little too mechanical, it’s hard for me to get into it. If there’s a good record that comes out at that tempo, I always end up pitching it down.
How did you make the transition from being a DJ to becoming a producer?
Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles were responsible for starting this trend where you’d do your own edits of disco records or classics. Some of those old records, the best part was only a couple of minutes long so you would extend those parts, loop them up, edit them and then have your own exclusive edits to play at the parties. I always liked to think of myself as leading, being one step ahead of what everyone else was doing, so it used to frustrate me playing other people’s edits, I’d be thinking “I would have done that differently”. So I got a tape deck and started doing the edits the way I heard them and the response was great. That led me to making my first record. A friend bought a drum machine and a keyboard and I started making music in his basement and testing them out at the parties. I hooked up with a Chicago DJ called Armando Gallop (a.k.a. Armando of ‘151’ and ‘The Future’ fame) who had a record label called Warehouse Records and he wanted to put out this track that I had done that was at that time being played all over the city on reel to reels. “Madness” came out in 1990 and that was my very first vinyl release.
Of all the tracks you’ve worked on, which are your own personal favourites?
UBQ Project’s “When I Fell In Love” and “We Can Make It”, I did a remix for Georgie Porgie which was the first release on Vibe called “Strawberry”. My first ever major label remix was for Mr Lee on a track called “Do It To Me”. The original record had a rap on it which I didn’t like, so we had a girl come in and sing, doing this kind of scat vocal over the top for my remix. I have never heard a vocalist like that in my life, ever. To just come in and do it just like that, in one take, she knew exactly what she had to do. Her name was Karen. After that remix we decided we really wanted to make records with her, but we couldn’t find this amazing vocalist anywhere. That is until she reappeared a year later going by the name of Dajae.
Where are you enjoying playing at the moment?
I love Europe and particularly England. I had a really good time last time I came over and played at Audio Deluxe in Edinburgh with Craig Smith. I was amazed, the folks there were really clued up about their music.
What are you currently working on?
We’ve got a new Georgie Porgie single coming out on Vinyl Soul called “I Love, I Love”. I’ve got a single coming out Terry Hunter feat. Charlotte called “I Will Follow You” that features Barbara Tucker and Dawn Tallman. I just did a record that’s forthcoming on Ken Lou records and I’m also doing a lot of hip hop production at the moment. Also I’m currently setting up a new label with Georgie called T’s Box. It’s going to be an outlet for music that I’m personally really feeling, anything that would make it into my box. Music Plant covers so many different styles, with mixes to suit everyone but T’s Box is going to be a lot more personal.
Are there any particular vocalists you’re looking forward to working with?
Loads. One of my all time favourites is Martha Wash and that’s one of the things we’re trying to set up. ‘Just Us’ is one of my favourite songs ever, I could listen to it a hundred times a day and still not tire of it. My old moniker UBQ is derived from the word Ubiquity, after the name of the Roy Ayers outfit. He’s definitely one of my inspirations, so I definitely want to reach out to him. I’d like to do some solo stuff with both Louie Vega and Kenny Dope, also Kerri Chandler, plus a lot of people out here you wouldn’t have heard of yet who aren’t getting the exposure they deserve.