House Hunting #42 - The Rude Boy Farley Keith

"He’s left a lasting legacy that we’ll still be listening to in years to come"...

House Hunting #42 - The Rude Boy Farley Keith

"He’s left a lasting legacy that we’ll still be listening to in years to come"...

So when I went on a crate crusade stateside jettin’ out to NYC a coupIe of months back I picked up a load of rare records for Love Vinyl’s Zaf. To repay the favour he sorted me out with some store credit and over the last month when in the area I’ve checked out the Hoxton wax haunt for a house hunting sessions… I was due another jaunt there but first Terry Farley invited me and the Mrs to his birthday gathering last Saturday with the Boy’s Own brigade so we ventured south of the river to check out Maltby Street Market for some pastrami paradise at the mouth-watering Monty’s (their ‘Rueben Special’ better than any pastrami I had in New York even Katz’s but you didn’t hear that from me…) then went to The Woolpack (nice pub for Bermondsey) where it was like Faith LIVE talking football and HOUSE! As well as Terry’s birthday it was cause for double celebration as it was Love Vinyl’s 1st anniversary (major props!) so this presented the perfect opportunity to rinse that remaining credit and jetted there late afternoon for some prime-time perusing…

We arrived at around 5pm with the birthday celebrations in full swing and heads overspillin’ into the streets so got into the flow with a G&T and wasted no time in raiding the racks… Since I had last been in the shop there was a fresh batch of house wax including a copy of ‘Baby Wants To Ride’ and ‘Your Love’ by Frankie Knuckles on Trax (the one where Jamie Principle ain’t credited) – an original black-label pressing in mint condition you don’t see that every day… Anyway you know that one serious £££’s and I was here to rinse my credit and try not to splash the cash! I had already used some a few weeks back as I picked up a Nu Groove 12” by Lenny Dee and Victor Simonelli under their Critical Rhythm guise (NG 069 ‘I’m In Love With You’ with the choice joint being ‘An Illusion’) and I clocked another Nu Groove on this occasion when rifling through the racks. This one was the lucid oasis of ‘Journey Into A Dream’ by Ralph “DTR” Soler (the “DTR” an acronym for Downtown Records where he worked) and House Hunting fave Nelson “Paradise” Roman who adds that ethereal touch that is synonymous with his paradisiacal productions. So being the Nu Groove completist I copped that and as I had a lil’ credit left I was flickin’ through further when outta nowhere I pulled out a sealed copy of ‘Tell Jack’ by Denise Motto and Chicago enigma Duane Thamm. This 12” the original pressing in red sleeve complete with original promo sticker so with this OCD overload I was in my element – this one burstin’ with jack juice and a fave of serious selector Mike Servito as per his House Hunting contribution proper Servito sleeper! Have a listen to my Love Vinyl house hunting haul here…

However, amongst all those choice cops there was one 12” where I had to delve a lil’ deeper and was my most rewarding find. A few weeks back I ascended the stairway to house hunting heaven in the hallowed turf of the Love Vinyl loft and as ever went through all the racks and units to see what house hidden in the depths I could unearth… Surprisingly on this occasion I didn’t scope anything out so I turned my attention to the other side of the loft to the cascading crates that I had previously left untouched. With the Mrs away I didn’t have to clock watch so thought “f**k it” now is the time to take on this daunting dig so rolled my sleeves up and got a deep dose of dusty fingers… These crates were stacked skyscraper high with records overflowing everywhere so I got on my hands and knees diggin’ deep and flickin’ furiously! I put aside a pile of records from this mission that I thought Zaf could whack in the shop racks but on the personal front nothing grabbin’ me… Still, I made sure I checked every crate and just as I was gettin’ drained by a case of diggin’ déjà vu I pulled out a Trax sleeve with a record I ain’t got thank f**k and rejoice! A bit battered standard but I ain’t gonna complain after that wax workout…

So what Trax 12” had I pulled out? Well this one is an original black-label copy of ‘Give Your Self To Me’ by The Rude Boy Farley Keith aka the self-proclaimed ‘King Of House’ Farley “Jackmaster” Funk under one of his armada of aliases. Upon listening to the EP (whether the instrumental ‘Give Your Self To Me’ or the vocal version ‘Give Your House To Me’) it sounds familiar and reminiscent of another house production of the era. Yeah that’s right I’m talking about Master C & J’s ‘When You Hold Me’ which also came out on Trax the same year in ’86 – whether it’s another tale from the Windy City wild mid-west I don’t know but both Chi-town classics in their own right regardless of which record was released first and their resemblances. Anyway with Farley’s release this one co-produced with fellow Chicago House hero Sweet D and like Master C & J’s interpretation it’s a haunting production with the stark synths and ominous bass bringin’ a sense of foreboding and taking you to a dark, deeper place… On the flip the vocal version brings in lucid lyricists Ricky Dillard and the late Kevin “Jack N. House” Irving (Rest In Paradise – House Hunting tribute here) whose yearning larynxes interject effortlessly with the brooding, sinister rhythm. Check out both versions here along with the Master C & J record and I’ll let you be the judge in which came first…

Though one of house’s forefathers Farley’s meteoritic rise as a figurehead of the burgeoning house scene wasn’t without controversy. Born Farley Williams and hailing from Chicago’s Southside, he initially started out playing soul and funk records with just one deck and a mic but was inspired to pursue a path in DJing after havin’ a mind trip in hearing Kenny Jason mix on the WDAI FM station – his ‘Disco DAI’ mix show with Peter Lewicki was the first show of its kind in Chicago to play blended music which became known as ‘hot mixes’. So with any dollars Farley could hustle he rinsed on the hottest disco records and practised hard – his obsession paying dividends when under his new guise of Farley Keith he secured a residency at The Playground and guested at Frankie Knuckles’ club sanctuary The Warehouse. In ’81 he joined Chicago’s most influential (and biggest) radio station WBMX after a successful audition with his mixtape submission. Station boss Lee Michaels also brought in Kenny “Jammin” Jason (formerly of the aforementioned WDAI), Mickey “Mixin” Oliver, Ralphi “Rockin” Rosario and Scott “Smokin” Silz to form a quintet of Chicago’s choice selectors under the umbrella of the ‘Hot Mix 5’. They were given a primetime slot on the ‘Saturday Live Ain’t No Jive’ mix show and their superior selections of disco along with the emerging new wave and Italo-disco records proved an instant hit (like ‘You Must Feel The Drive’ by Doctor’s Cat) – to the degree that they were given the Friday night too with ‘The Friday Night Jam’ show and gained a listenership of half a million not bad goin’… Check out Farley’s mid-eighties Hot Mix 5 playlists via house historian Jacob Arnold’s Gridface.

Though the foundations of house were built by forefathers Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy who had mythical status amongst their loyal following, the Hot Mix 5 transcended this as they broadcast to hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans so with more influential muscle gained more commercial appeal – ultimately propelling them into being stars overnight. Many will contest where the term ‘house’ originates but Farley lays claim that he announced in ’83 on his show that the music he played will be called ‘house’ – even before Jesse Saunders had recorded his seminal TR-808 rhythm ‘On & On’ which is considered the first house record ever released. The record sold by the thousands and having witnessed the lo-fi approach in laying down a track Farley like many others felt they could do that and improve on. Farley was already utilising a TR-808 when playing his sets at The Playground to ‘boost the beat’ on records like ‘Dirty Talk’ by Klein & MBO and ‘Let The Music Play’ by Shannon – this became known as ‘Farley’s Foot’. Farley collaborated with Jesse Saunders on the Prince-styling of ‘Real Love’ and launched his House Records label which released Chip E’s house holy grail ‘Jack Trax’ featuring the jack anthem ‘Time To Jack’. He also released his own productions including the ‘Funkin With The Drums’ EP which was like a set of DJ tools (‘Jackin The Bass’ my choice joint) plus the primitive house groove ‘Aw Shucks (Let’s Go Let’s Go)’ which featured his roommate and best friend at the time Steve “Silk” Hurley playing the bassline – sampling Sharon Redd’s Prelude anthem ‘Beat Street’. See if you can spot the similarities here…

All Farley’s records would prove to be instant hits as the Hot Mix 5 show would be the perfect platform to launch and expose them to a wider audience. However, typifying the era another contentious issue came to light when Farley stole the ‘Jackmaster’ name that his mate Steve Hurley was intending on using – you all heard this story, right? Allegedly the story goes that Steve told Farley that he was gonna call himself Steve “Jackmaster” Silk and when driving to the WBMX station to deliver a mix he heard Farley on the airwaves announce himself as Farley “Jackmaster” Funk! Naturally they weren’t the best of mates after that but that’s why Steve released records as ‘J.M. Silk’. Anyway, under his new reincarnation Farley produced some of his best work whether it’s the ‘Funkin With The Drums Again’ EP on Trax with the killer cut being ‘Farley Knows House’. A couple of years later he released his ‘No Vocals Necessary’ LP on his House Records imprint with side A drenched in acid (as well as rinsing half the Rhythm Beat catalogue the RA generation may have heard DJ Sprinkles sample LP cut ‘Acid Life’ on his ‘Bassline.89’ EP) and on the flip the more melodic productions like ‘Should I Need You’ and ‘My World’ – love this LP a house hunting fave… He also released records on Chicago institutions such as Trax Records’ arch-rival DJ International ran by house mogul Rocky Jones which he became more affiliated with plus Ray Barney’s Dance Mania with the jackin’ classic ‘House Nation’  under his The House Master Boyz And The Rude Boy Of House pseudonym complete with Sweet D on keys.  Another personal fave is the obscure allure of ‘I Believe’ as A Black Man, A Black Man And Another Black Man (yeah I know another alias) which is proper sleazy dose of deep minimalism – check ‘em all out below…

Farley’s defining moment came with the release of ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’ which was the first house record to reach the UK Top Ten and gain him international recognition. However, the track isn’t without some of that Chi-town controversy… The song actually began life as a Steve “Silk” Hurley production called ‘I Can’t Turn Around’ with his prototype version on cassette a hit with all the Chicago DJs. As Steve hadn’t planned on releasing the record, Farley saw the potential and he approached Jesse Saunders in reinterpreting the production as a more musical composition. So Jesse brought in fellow house forefather Vince Lawrence of Mitchbal fame to co-write the lyrics plus Jesse’s Gang alumni Duane Buford (who composed a piano solo with his dexterity on keys) and lead vocalist Jurhonda Patton who contributed with backing vocals. As Jesse was the lead vocalist of Jesse’s Gang he thought it would be a conflict of interest to sing on the track so after a late callout for a male vocalist the only one they could land was the flamboyant man-mountain of a diva Darryl Pandy with who they reluctantly took on – he had previously tried to hit on all of them! Though he had a grandiose five-octave range, after a few cuts Farley and Jesse were settled on when Darryl sang in a more disciplined, masculine manner on the track and with his vox now added the initial primitive production had evolved into a song that had commercial appeal. Rocky Jones sorted out a manufacturing and distribution through Quantum distribution and the track was released on Farley’s House Records stable in ‘86 with Farley including both his and Jesse’s name on the release to add more gravitas – I actually copped a mint copy of this original pressing for five dollars when on my NYC crate crusade.

However, as the track was a cover of Isaac Hayes’ ‘I Can’t Turn Around’ that was released fifteen years earlier, with potential copyright issues Farley relinquished the rights to Jesse’s Jes Say Music publishing company. As it was only the bassline that was similar as the track was an entirely different composition, Jesse was confident there’ll be no issues so pushed ahead in promoting via Farley’s Hot Mix 5 show. It was an instant hit in the city and Rocky Jones soon cut Farley and Jesse royalty cheques worth thousands – however what Farley didn’t tell Jesse was that him and Rocky conspired to license the record to London Records in the UK which contributed in the song being the largest selling house record of all time. To further add salt to the wounds they didn’t even credit Jesse – again highlighting the rivalry and in-fighting that plagued the Chicago House era. Anyway here’s all the version including Steve “Silk” Hurley’s original prototype plus the video in its full glory and a live performance on Top Of The Pops – so house it hurts…

Not shy about his past transgressions, Farley has admitted he ripped off heads both musically and financially to stay ahead as number one. Though he ain’t proud of this it was typical of the era and as he was young naturally wanted to make the most outta the Chicago House wave. He eventually became disillusioned with house so turned to hip-hop and became a born-again Christian. He had a renaissance in the mid-90s onwards on the global DJ circuit – funnily enough when I was 18 (so we’re talkin’ 12 years ago) he played at the club I worked at in Leicester as my boss Meni and him went way back. When Meni said he was bringin’ Farley to town I was like “You what?! THE Farley “Jackmaster” Funk?!’ When he first said that I thought he was on about some s**t tribute act or a Farley fallacy but no he really did jet into town was bizarre but was great to hear some Chicago House as opposed to our usual NY playlist (if I heard Jon Cutler’s ‘It’s Yours’ one more time…). Meni booked him whenever he was in the UK – also got Tonya to interview him a few years later for a mag I was freelancing at ha! HOUSE wife duties will have to see if I can dig that out from somewhere…

More than ever there’s an interest in the birth and early beginnings of house so of course all Farley’s old tracks are being exposed to a new generation. My main man Miles dropped ‘Farley Knows House’ at Thunder recently and it sounded ridiculous so his tracks still have the power to arrest the dancefloor. To celebrate 30 years of house Chicago’s City Council Transportation Committee honoured Farley last year by renaming 14 South Michigan Avenue as ‘Farley Jackmaster Funk Boulevard’ so ain’t no bigger tribute that that! He’s left a lasting legacy that we’ll still be listening to in years to come… I’ll leave you with his hip-house hybrid ‘Free James Brown’ with the video that’s pure H.O.U.S.E. – all hail to the King of House…

AIDEN d’ARAUJO

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