Serge Gamesbourg on the sounds behind ‘Boston Goes Disco’
 

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It’s hard to overstate the significance of Boston Goes Disco, local DJ/producer Serge Gamesbourg’s new compilation of ultra-rare 1977 to 1985 disco, funk, and boogie cuts from the Boston area. Outside of the few usual rock suspects (looking at you, Aerosmith), Boston music history can be a comparative black hole in terms of loving documentation. So the digging prowess Gamesbourg displays in unearthing and compiling these 13 tracks (plus adding liner notes and band photos) is both impressive, and crucial to archiving Boston history.

And they’re a seriously funky bunch of tunes.

The tracks included on Boston Goes Disco range from bboy breakbeat workouts like the Christopher Michael Band’s “You Make Me Happy” to Larry Wedgeworth & Clique’s upbeat 1981 Celtics fight song “No More Games.” Some records are already sought after in the innermost crate-digging circles — original copies of Cojo’s “Play It By Ear” and Dreamflight’s “Feel The Music” routinely fetch $200 or $300 on Discogs — and some, like Gypsy’s “Keep It Comin On,” are so rare that it’s near impossible to find any documentation about them online.

After giving Boston Goes Disco an incredibly enjoyable listen, and in advance of his appearance at London’s BBE Store on Saturday (August 4), Vanyaland sat down with Gamesbourg to grill him on how exactly he found these buried treasures and got them all in one place. Score the comp here on vinyl and CD or digitally.

Camino 84: Tell us about the initial spark for Boston Goes Disco — at what point did it go from a couple of local records in your personal collection to a full compilation/project?

Serge Gamesbourg: So the real initial spark was maybe around 2003 or 2004, when I discovered the Christopher Michael Band 45. I was like, “Oh man, it’s a local record,” and I knew of a couple other local records… I thought it might be cool if somebody ever did a local compilation. But there was no direction or anything. At that point the idea was just for local records, regardless of genre.

And then around 2009 I discovered the Second Wind 45. I got it from a homie over at Cheapo [Records, in Cambridge] and I went “Wow… another disco record from the Boston area!” I was kind of blown away by it, and I knew I wanted to do something. At first I thought maybe I wanted to sample it, to make a track with it — my mind was all over the place. But that was around the point when I thought “there should be a discotheque compilation of all Boston stuff.”

I already had quite a few local modern soul, disco, boogie kind of records. So I knew something had to happen, and I was already strategizing, but still no solid plan yet. The project itself specifically came to fruition about four years ago, after I got a direct in with BBE from doing a different compilation. And if anybody is the right label for comps it’s BBE, because they’re kind of known for that.

Was that the Kon & The Gang record?

Yeah, that was the Kon & The Gang album, yeah. I had my own track on that, I played bass on a couple of tracks, and played bass on the Bosq record too. So some people who had no idea who I was knew my name then.

Peter, the owner of BBE, and I started talking about concepts and I pitched him on Boston Goes Disco. The name had already popped right into my head. I had the image in my mind of the Boston Goes Def compilation, which was a mid-’80s rap compilation, and it just all came together. That was it, that was the name. And now here it is! [laughs]

You mentioned that once the idea for the compilation was in motion, you were still on the hunt digging for more Boston disco records to round it out. Where do you find records like that?

Honestly, a few of these records I didn’t even get locally. A lot of them are really tough to get. And I’m not that dude who’s like “oh, if it’s rare, then it’s great.” Some of my favorite records are dollar bin records. The quality of the music is the most important thing, and there are some records on this comp that aren’t particularly rare or expensive. Although maybe they’ll become expensive after this releases… [laughs] You never know!

But that said, I found a majority of these records locally. I got a couple of records from the artists directly. I got the Cojo record from the original label, it was out of Wilmington and I used to live just over in Tewksbury, so I literally just went to the address [printed on the label] and the guy still lived there.

That’s wild. That’s so cool.

Yeah he was this dude named Larry Fenney, and he had a label called Destiny. Most of the stuff on it was punk rock and all sorts of weird stuff, and then there was just the Cojo record, which is this amazing modern soul joint. The dude was real weird at first, he told me to come back, I came back, and he finally let me in his house, and he found one copy of Cojo. He charged me 10 bucks for it.

Later I found the main guy behind Cojo, Joe Sumrell, the songwriter/producer, and I got to kick it with him and it was real cool. I’m actually working out of his gym now. I think the illest local discovery that I made, that was mind-blowing to me, was the Carrie Mims and Herb Lee River Junction 45 “I’m Gonna Get You (Meeow)”. I mean, what a title that is.

Yeah both Carrie Mims cuts have wild titles.

That was like, literally a dream come true. So weird. I think it was cosmic, the way I discovered that record. It was dead in the middle of January two winters ago, and I was at the new Looney Tunes spot over in Allston. And the expectations digging locally are so low nowadays, compared to 10 to 15 years ago or the ’90s… forget it.

So to find something out in the field that’s rare like that, it’s just so few and far between. It’s unreal. I had to look at it three times, like “What?”. It said 1979 [on the label]. I had my portable [turntable] with me and I put it on and just went “Oh my god, yes.”

It was a cherry on top [for the compilation]. I wasn’t counting on having something like that. I already had some heat ready to go, but when I found that it was a killer. There are so few local record stores where you could find stuff like that these days.

Well that’s a big reason I love the Hypnotics record. Pressed by Cheapo Records, when they were down the street from their current location, and their current location was, at the time, a Skippy White’s [record store] location! And the label includes a “special thanx to Skippy White”!

Skippy had his hand in a lot of things back in the day. He’s a prominent figure in the Boston music community for sure. That Hypnotics record was actually one of the recent discoveries for me. That’s one of the beautiful things about music, there’s always a learning curve, always something new, always something you don’t know. I don’t know how I missed it, but my buddy put me up on it and I said “This is exactly what I need.”

I couldn’t find anybody from that band for a long time, even Allen Day [original owner] from Cheapo Records couldn’t remember their names.

So how did you find them?

Larry Wu [Wedgeworth] and I are real good friends. So he told me who the lead singer was, this guy Frank Swindell, but I had no leads. Then in the writing credits it says B. Howard and nobody knew who this B. Howard guy was.

And then months later I was talking to somebody and a guy says “B. Howard, oh yeah that’s Bobby Howard!” Larry went “Bobby Howard? He used to be in The Ambitions with me! I didn’t know he wrote songs!” And eventually I found Bobby and went to a gig of his at some italian restaurant. It’s a whole story in the liner notes.

A lot of the compilation is made up of your own edits and re-works. For the unfamiliar, can you tell us a little bit about that process and the rationale behind it?

Sure. So I’ve always been a producer. Back in the day I used to do a lot of hip-hop stuff, [and] basically I have two parts of my brain, I hear a record and I’m thinking in DJ terms, and in producer terms. So I almost always want to do something with the records I find. Unless it’s something I can’t enhance, then I’ll leave it alone.

Two of the records I left alone because there was literally nothing I could do with them, they were perfect as is. The Cojo record was just perfection. I don’t want to do pointless edits.

But for most of these records, they were dope, but they could almost be doper if I did something with them. So that’s where the producer side of my brain kicks in, figuring out how I can be creative with stuff, make them a little more contemporary and club-friendly and so on. Things that were structured in a certain way decades ago don’t always make sense to listeners in 2018, so there were parts I removed or extended, or moved around. If something needed a DJ intro, or had a breakdown I could emphasize, I did.

All the edits are time-stretched to lock into one tempo. Nowadays if you’re doing edits, I want them locked in to one tempo. It just doesn’t make sense otherwise. I know there are purists out there that will get all up in arms about this, but if it’s done properly, you can’t tell the difference. With live music that’s all over the place tempo-wise, it’s important to lock that in because not everyone knows how to mix live music [as a DJ]. You gotta have finesse to do that, it’s not easy. For a young guy or somebody that’s used to mixing house music, but likes disco, likes edits, now they can actually use these tracks and mix them in.

Do you have, just musically speaking, a personal favorite on the compilation?

I really like the Second Wind record. And I’m really happy with the way my rework came out on it too.

The Carrie Mims “I’m Gonna Get You (Meeow)” edit, I’m really happy with that one. That’s a personal favorite of mine. And that’s the one I’m most proud of putting out. I put that in the liner notes. I literally unearthed a gem, in my eyes.

The Chris Rhodes Band “Wait Until Dark” [on the CD version only] is really dope, I really wanted it on here. And that record almost didn’t happen, because Chris Rhodes was really tough to convince in the beginning. The 45 is being reissued and he didn’t want to license us the track [in fear of hurting those sales], and then some French dude or something bootlegged his record and was selling it online for download… and Chris is on it. He was on it and aware, he had to sue these people, there were a lot of headaches for him. It put a bad taste in his mouth.

So he was very apprehensive. I had to come back to that, cause he initially told us “no.” But he did say “Maybe check back later” and I later thought “hey let me try this again.” He had a couple remaining copies of the original 45 and I bought two or three copies from him, gave him good money for it. So I got on a good foot with him, and he saw my passion and my dedication to this project, and he was impressed by it, honestly. He was like “Man, you’re real persistent with this thing,” and he said he’d let us use it for the CD version. But he was very adamant about him controlling it digitally, and no vinyl. And I mentioned the reissue of the 45 in the liner notes, and point people to his website where you can buy the digital copy from him directly.

That’s great that you put that in the liner notes. And were able to get it licensed in the end.

The main point of licensing, aside from putting some money in these people’s pockets, and giving some excitement to them for something that went completely unnoticed three or four decades ago, is to collect the stories, and the band pictures, and all that stuff too. And you’re only gonna get that if you talk to the artists directly.

What do you hope will happen as a result of all this new attention on these Boston records? BBE has a pretty in-the-know audience, and you’re talking about reissues going on for some of these…

Yeah totally. Well for the Dreamflight record, we actually licensed both tracks, so maybe BBE will even do that one. I know Mike Matarazzo from the Christopher Michael Band said some folks already reached out to them about a reissue of that.

Yeah that’s a… that’s a sought-after record.

That’s already a money record. And I blew that record up! When I discovered that, it was a totally unknown record.

And with Boston music… I don’t know how many people are tuned in. It’s good to shed some light on this city, especially music from that era. Nobody’s ever done it. Boston never really had a musical identity, it was never looked at in the way that down south was looked at, that New York was looked at, Chicago, Detroit, Miami. You know what I mean? Detroit had Motown. Chicago had tons of labels. Miami had TK Disco, LA had SOLAR. There were so many points of reference. Here in Boston, there wasn’t one big thing.

So much of it just hasn’t been documented before. The Gypsy record… I don’t think you can find it anywhere online. And for all the Boston boogie/electro-type stuff that people do talk about, because of folks like Michael Jonzun and Maurice Starr and Arthur Baker… nobody has talked about the slightly earlier disco/funk stuff. What’s on this comp, nobody has put a shine on it before, and that’s why this is significant and cool.

Yeah. Yeah definitely, and I appreciate you saying that. That’s the other thing, I’m a fan of compilations that have a real vibe and a concept, and I definitely tried to tie this in musically so that everything makes sense. I wanted it to tell a story, both about the records as well as sonically for it to be cohesive. But yeah man, this music is there to be discovered and to be played by people. I think it’s a good thing.

Featured image via BBE, where ‘Boston Goes Disco’ is available for purchase. Follow Ryan Lucht on Twitter @caminodisco.

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