His mixing career spans more than two decades and like most veteran DJs his is a story he's lived to tell. Tales of the early days of gay clubbing are full of sex drugs, rock & roll (er, dance music) but the devastation of that life style is still the bigger story. So much talent lost in its prime due to AIDS and drug addiction has robbed us of a great part of the history and influence of the pioneer's voices to teach the next generation why they must protect their clubbing heritage. In his first full-length interview Collins comes clean about being a survivor of the times, the drugs and AIDS - taking us inside the dark side of the business and the light and empowering side of survival. Dig in kids, this is another good one…
Let's start like I start everything… at the beginning. You were born and raised in the Bronx, so let's go home first. What was it like growing up there in your early days?
Andre Collins: I grew up in the projects - they were up and coming I guess you could say. (Laughs) This happened to be one of the nicer ones, actually. I was living in the Gun Hill projects then which was predominately Jewish and there were like, five black families when we moved in. There were [also] Italians and other immigrants. It was a real eclectic type of place but as years went by, it changed. Growing up though, one of my best friends was Jewish and it was fun. It was a good neighborhood, good kids.
What years are we talking about?
AC: I was born in '58 so it was the sixties when everything was happening.
By the seventies you were in your teens and getting your feet wet just as club culture was evolving, what were those first experiences like?
AC: I actually went out with my sisters first. They were Jehovah's Witnesses, mind you and they took me to the Le Martinique. It was called the Ice Palace later on, but it wasn't the Ice Palace then. They were friends with the Dowd twins, who promoted parties there and [since] I used to love to dance from a young age, they used to take me out and say, "Go little brother! Go dance!" They would show me off like a little showpiece. They were the first ones to introduce me to the club scene, but of course, I soon found my own way and met someone who brought me to The Gallery on 23rd Street and 7th Avenue. I guess I was coming into gay-hood and on that road, you run into new faces.
Was the music different in the straight clubs as opposed to the gay ones?
AC: The music back then wasn't that different… I heard "Get Into Something" at those clubs and Nicky [Siano] was playing "Get Into Something" by the Isley Brothers as well. They both played the same stuff when it came down to dancing. To me, it was R&B music with an up-tempo flavor to it - that's all dance music really is.
But when I went to hear Nicky, the musical spectrum was so much broader - more eclectic. He played things like the original "Black Betty" by Ram Jam and things like that. You would hear standard stuff then you would hear this array of different music like Janis Joplin or a Jimi Hendrix tune, which was a whole other experience.
Was hip-hop included as well?
AC: Nicky didn't mess around with that stuff but at the Le Martinique, yeah, you heard [it]. It was kind of like the beginning of rap, it wasn't like it is now.
If you were partying with your religious, straight sisters, what was it like to feel different and how did you express it?
AC: I think I was always gay, I just didn't know. I knew I was attracted to boys at a young age but I was taught at home that that was a sin and it was something that you just didn't do. Even though I do do it, I can't say I do it. I had to act like everybody else and could not identify with it until I turned fifteen.
I was a Jehovah Witness going door-to-door with the Watchtower and Awake, and I started to feel so hypocritical. How could I walk around and suggest certain ways to live and I'm not living that way. It got to be really, really difficult so I did things that would sabotage me in the Church. I knew when certain brothers in the division that had official titles would be around and one day, someone who was like an overseer came to our particular congregation to do field service. So on that particular day, I wore four-and-a-half-inch buffalo sandals from Delton's and I had on like, chino pants and a Hawaiian midriff top that cut right to my bellybutton. I went out with a briefcase in my hand in a club outfit. He felt it was inappropriate, so I said 'Are you my mother? Do you buy me my clothes? Until then, you don't have a right to tell me what to wear!' He gagged and sent me home.
Didn't anyone see you walk out of the house like that?
AC: That was the day I told my mother I can't do this anymore. I wore this outfit so he would say something to me. I did this on purpose. My mother saw me before I left, but I was rebellious. I was angry and I guess she didn't know what to do with me at this point. That was it for me - there was no more. I had a sense of what I was getting into because I was always told, "Don't associate with those people…don't be like them." I was like, 'well, what's wrong with them?' They're just gay and what's so wrong? All the signals and signs about homosexuality were so negative around me, but I just decided…I don't think it was a choice, but a transitional move. It just so happened that I was in a type of situation where it was never supported by my family or my parents. I had an aunt that was gay but she was a gossip queen, so that didn't help any. If I had confided in her she would go running to my mother. People didn't support me. Not just because of my sexuality but also because of who I was as a person and the things that I found interesting - the artistic parts of me.
I went through all that and then I met this guy who was a Jehovah's Witness, too. He took me to the Gallery for the first time around '75. I was scared - petrified actually, that first night but there was something about "Love is the Message" and "Love Hangover" that intrigued me and made me want to come back. The next time I went to the Gallery, it had moved because I didn't go again for a while. It was in the new place on Mercer and Houston. I dropped some acid and I was off to the races..
What was it like inside, how was the crowd?
AC: There were all these gay people, happy about being gay. You had to have a membership card - not just anybody could get in… and it was a place where you could be who you were. I couldn't be who I was in the projects, or be comfortable with who I was in my living conditions. Then you go to this place where you are free to be around all these artistic people who were doing drugs… acid and cocaine. I mean everything was there for you but then there was this family thing going on. We may not know each other but we'll say hello because we see each other every week. Then some people did become friends and you did develop healthy relationships down the road.
Did you get friendly with Nicky during this time?
AC: Oh no. At that time, to me, Nicky seemed too standoffish and then he was too stoned all the time - engage in a conversation, give me a break. He used to get a little more stoned than me, although we all were pretty fucked up. That's what the party thing was about.
Was it getting stoned to forget, to create, or something else?
AC: I think acid enhanced your evening. Whatever was going on, it was going on even more! Every night was different. Even if it was a bad night, there wasn't another night that was just as bad as that night. They were bad in different ways and it was great in different ways, no evening was ever the same. What got me into the music was Nicky. I listened to him and watched what he was doing… listened to what he was doing lyrically. 45's were happening back then and it was real interesting, but this was also the onset of the first twelve-inch with extended mixes and all that stuff was starting to happen.
Is this when you realized you wanted to become a DJ and be a part of the scene? What was your family saying?
AC: I didn't realize that twenty years later I would still be doing this at that time. I saw Nicky and knew that I wanted to. I think it was the second or third time that I went and I listened and watched, that I said this was something I wanted to do. I didn't think about doing it as a career move or anything like that but I knew the expression and the artistic value of what I was hearing and experiencing internally, was something that touched my soul. If I was going to do it, I was going to do it really well. I was determined.
I always had a day job and since I went to school for business, when I came out I worked at the Federal Reserve Bank. After that, I went to American Express where I stayed for several years. My DJing was not supported and my mother would always ask me things like, "Why don't you get a real job like your father?" He worked for Consumer Reports and at the Post Office, too. Those were very good jobs and well paid as well, it's just that they were very boring jobs. They knew [DJing] was something I was going to do and I was also taking dance classes with Chuck Davis. I was so involved in theatrical things and things that had to do with expressing myself, that they knew. I started buying records and collecting and prior to having a job, I would take my allowance and pick up a tune here and there. They didn't tell me not to do it, but they didn't say we're going to help you on your way. I started doing anything and everything… birthday parties, weddings, the mobile DJ thing - anything to get some exposure. That's how I started getting gigs beginning in about '76 or '77.
When did you hook up with Charles Jackson and Mike Stone?
AC: I worked with Charles Jackson first. I did something for a guy named called Carl Lewis. Not the Carl Lewis [Gold medal-winning U.S. track star] but he used to do parties about once a month at the Marc Ballroom and that was my first chance to do a big room. I did well with him and we connected and then somehow I met Charles. He did a house party in Taino Towers in Harlem. From that point I started playing for him. I'm not sure when I first worked with Mike Stone because everything gets kind of hectic and crazy but I think I've worked with him for about the last ten or fifteen years.
Where else did you party in those early days when you weren't playing?
AC: In the early days, it was the Gallery all the way and then occasionally it was the Loft.
Why the Loft only sometimes?
AC: Well, David didn't mix and was into sound quality which was cute - Nicky was into sound quality, too but it wasn't as intense as David's thing. I like the continuous feel of the music. Even though when you went to the Loft, each record that David played was better, it was just played. I was like, that's not so interesting. It just didn't captivate me and I didn't see much creativity behind that. But when I would go to hear Nicky, it was all the madness going on. [He was] telling me stuff [through the music] and the beats were building up to a peak. Living through the peak and then coming down - I liked that type of journey. But I liked the people that went to the Loft as well as I liked the people that went to the Gallery… it was still that family thing happening. Very free. And that was David's home that he opened up to us, so that was real special.
Then Better Days came along with Tee Scott. Better Days had it's own little time but a lot of people don't talk about it. I always wanted to play there but I was so shy. I did meet Tee, though. I went to listen to him and I thought he was amazing because he had that funky thing going on. He was real… FUNK. He did things that were real creative like play " Love Hangover" by The Fifth Dimension. A lot of people don't even know they made a version of that, and he was one of the few who would not only play it… but he had his own special version of it. I liked his ability to cut records or to paint the picture as I call it. I learned from him as well.
Then there was a time when Andre was different… when things got dark…
AC: Yeah, Andre disappeared…
AC:I had gotten a job at Better Days after they had closed for year, then reopened. I worked there for about a year and half. Next, it was the Hotel Diplomat and then I moved further down the block to a club called Sweat where I played upstairs. Then I finally got to Midtown 43 which became my home for a good while, about five years in the eighties. Then the darkness came around '89. From '89 till about '93, on-and-off but it was a steady decline. I lost my day job, then Better Days and it was also a period of lots of drugs. I thought I could handle crack and crack told me "No you can't!" Then there was HIV and AIDS. By that time, I was aware that I had contracted the virus. I knew from '86, but I didn't do anything about it until 1990 when I was diagnosed with lymphoma t-cell cancer and I went through chemotherapy and radiation. To me, I thought that gave me a legitimate reason to go smoke more crack. Everybody was dying and I was going to die too. One by one, all the people I looked up to were dying.
Talk about what it was like to go through this wild and crazy time…what were the good and bad of it?
AC: I think the good part of it was that I lived when I did. I was glad to be born in '58 so I could experience what I did. I had no idea that I was living in an era where gay people were going to fight for their rights. Where black and Hispanic gays would have places to go to that were phenomenally big. We never seemed to have something that was nice [for ourselves] while the whites always seemed to be able to hold their own and have something really nice. For whatever reason, whether it was society or whether it was just the way things were, I don't know, but to have the [Paradise] Garage as our home and to know that we were in a safe place - we were just so happy to be part of it all. But we still dealt with society on a whole because you have to remember, Garage was only a weekend thing it wasn't a Monday through Friday thing. Monday to Friday you still had to go to work. You still had to be called fagot; you still had to be harassed; you still felt like you're less than - even if you didn't know that at the time. I knew that I was battling with who I was and what I wanted to do, but as far as intimacy and relationships with another man, and thinking that it could be successful… that was not real to me. I just didn't think that was possible because of everything that everyone told me about who I was. I couldn't find out that it was okay because nobody was saying so. If you went to the clubs, no one would get into these deep-rooted conversations about sexuality. They came in there to have fun and party. I didn't want to talk about it at this point. I just wanted to escape and that was my escape after going through a whole week.
I think what happened was there a sexual revolution that came along; you know like the hippies had theirs and the gay kids had their thing when we started to have our own places to go and there was a sense of freedom. You felt like you were being a rebel. Not just saying that you are gay or that you were assumed to be gay, but that you were promiscuous. Promiscuity went hand in hand with a lifestyle that consisted of drugs, alcohol and sex. We wanted to be rebellious. So I will do whatever it takes to go against the grain of society and whatever you thought of me, think twice. Take what you think of me, and double it - that's just where I'm coming from. Then we were getting things like syphilis and gonorrhea and I remember getting some of that stuff and thinking it was funny. Getting a shot, it was like 'Hey, It's nothing that can kill me. I can get it taken care of.' Then AIDS came along.
What was it like when something did come along that could kill you?
AC: That was scary. It wasn't enough to stop me in my tracks but it was real scary and it made me want to do more because I didn't want to accept it. I watched a friend of mine who performed for the Dance Theatre of Harlem go through dementia where he couldn't even remember who I was. I was like, 'Oh shit, what the fuck is this?' I was just here to see him the day before and today he doesn't even remember who I am. We were calling it "that thing" back then among our gay friends. It got scary and then it got crazy. That's how I dealt with it - got really, really crazy. And the crazier I got, the more I lived as I called it, on the edge. I would just be one foot away from falling off the cliff. I wouldn't take the additional step but that's how I lived, very close to the end of a cliff and I lived like that for a long time.
When did you wake up and change things?
AC: Well, the change has just recently occurred to be honest with you but I think it's been in the process for several years. Eight years ago, I decided that the way I was living had to change. I didn't now exactly what I had to change but I knew one thing had to go - I had to stop smoking crack. That I knew. I didn't know what else I had to do because I was no longer able to function in society… I could no longer keep a job; I could no longer socialize; I didn't have my hair anymore. I looked like a bum. I was bum with an apartment. I was a crack-head. So in '93, I got clean. Now that I think about it, that was the first move in making a change.
In the last couple of years [I've faced major] health issues and have become resistant to the medicine - I have taken it for so long. My immune system is kind of whacked out basically and it doesn't fight things off as easily as it used to. Because of that, it's made me reevaluate my whole way of living. The promiscuity had truly died down already but there were still sparks of it kind of like, ingrained in me. We're talking about learned behavior that's been over twenty years… that doesn't go away just because you stop smoking crack, honey, that's not real - you got to do some work. I've been in therapy and I make meetings and I've been working on my issues. In the past two years, I've learned the value of life and that I need to pursue the dreams and things I want to now. Not saying that I am gone tomorrow, but it's real important that you live a better way. I used to live for the moment and that was really like a form of non-existence. Now I'm living for the quality of my life. I fight for the quality of a good life. That's my battle.
Why do you think you were spared when so many others weren't?
AC: I don't know. I have a strong will and I don't know how many people really have that. I know when I tell people some of my story and what I've been through health-wise coming out of the lifestyle that I was living to get where I am today they ask, "How do you do it? Where do you get the strength from?" I say, 'What other option do I have?' I'm not happy at this moment because of what I am going through medically but someone asked me the other day "Is it as bad as it was when you were getting high?" As much as I go through - and I don't care how many hospital visits, there is nothing as devastating as how I lived when I was smoking crack. When he said that to me, I was having a real bad hair day and that one line brought me together. Because NO! There's nothing that I am going through now that is anywhere near the devastation that crack brought into my life. I just face it and I don't like it most of the time, but I do it.
You've always been really quiet about your struggle and there are certainly many in this scene who have gone through this, why have you kept "officially" quiet about your health status for so long?
AC: Well, you know our industry is not so thoughtful to certain things and I wanted to travel - I still do. I just hope it doesn't hinder my traveling by coming out with it but that was basically the main reason. I didn't want to be ostracized again, by my peers this time. Certain people already knew because I had told them or when you say that a gay man - black or white is sick occasionally, people don't think cancer, or if it is cancer, it's AIDS-related cancer. It's automatic that more than likely I would have the virus. I am at a point now that I don't care what people think anymore. People need to know that you can fight and standup to a lot of stuff. Just because you see someone doing something, don't assume that their life is hunky-dory and everything is peaches and cream - just because they have a residency in a fucking club. Until you get to know them, you don't know what struggles they are going through, what issues they are facing at certain times of their life. Not everybody has it on easy street and just because I have a residency, doesn't make my life complete. It's been hard, difficult and it's been lonely. I haven't been in a relationship for almost ten years. But with God's grace, friends and my family, I've been able to survive this. I've been able to do what I love to do.
I know you are very close with your sisters now and one of them even manages you, what changed for you and your family since you've already mentioned they didn't always support you?
AC:My mother and father both are deceased. I had three older sisters and I am the baby. My oldest sister still lives in the Bronx, my middle sister lives in North Carolina and my youngest sister lives in Queens. Everything changed once I got sober. My whole relationship with them has done a 360. They have been real supportive of what I've been through. They visit and help me when they can and they are just there when they can't help me. They feel helpless sometimes, but they are there. It's been really wonderful and amazing to have that happen. I was the dark-child, the black sheep of the family and for them to be excited when I get to travel or win an award or something special happens is great. When I did my first CD and it was in the stores they had me sign them and told their friends because I really have come from hell and back.
After you got clean in '93 and decided to reclaim your position, talk about the good things that started to happen including getting the residency (The Warehouse), the Rampage mixed-CD and the tour to Japan?
[Andre & David DePino]
AC: I was on the phone with Mike Stone and he wanted to do the party uptown - it was called The Quarry at that time, but he couldn't do it unless he had Charles [Jackson] and he and Charles didn't really speak back then. He needed him because Mike knew how difficult it would be for his crowd to come up to the Bronx. His kids were really downtown eclectic and more straight than gay. Charles' following was male and very gay - very black and Hispanic. So Mike felt that with the size of the club, he was going to need a hard-hitting promoter like Charles and I got the two queens on the phone. We had a three-way conversation and I said you speak to him whether you want to or not and you all work this out because we have to do this. And it happened. In the beginning, it was me, Fred Pierce and Kenny Carpenter and occasionally, David DePino.
The who's who of old-school gay DJs…
AC: Yeah right! But I hung in there… there were some really rough nights - $25 nights, $50 nights and some other folks weren't having that. Kenny was traveling a lot and so it wasn't a big deal to him cause it was really a guest spot anyway. Then it was me, Fred and David. Then Fred branched off to work with James Saunders…
And they've created a really powerful promotion team with their Friday and Saturday eventss…
AC: Yeah, they do a lot of stuff the two of them and that weeded Fred out of the [Warehouse mix]. Then David was still there, and there was a little uncomfortable thing going on but… I won! (laughs) And it wasn't easy either, David and I are still friends but we don't speak that often and it was a really uncomfortable time back then. I felt like I was in battle for a job and I don't like that feeling but that's the kind of feeling that brings out the best in me music-wise. 'What? This bitch gonna come for me? So lets see…' I ended up getting the residency. Then I got the connection with Rampage Music from knowing Joe B and one day I got a phone call saying we want to do a 5-Boroughs of Dance CD set and they said they couldn't think of anyone else but me to represent the Bronx. After that I got gigs in Paris and Japan.
When you got the mixed CD, was that a big deal and special?
AC: Yeah, it was really big but then the record label made it really small. I thought that it would be the key to unlocking many closed doors that I had been running up against for so many years. Trying to get overseas, trying to get guest spots at certain clubs.
But you did get a few of them…
AC: I did get to play at some of them, and I did get to travel. I'm not saying that it didn't so something but I think a lot more could have happened if the label had been backing us and had pushed us. I was really honored and excited and it was a like a dream come true, you know? I made the CD here in the house one afternoon. I have a DAT recorder and told a friend to go in the other room and just tell me how it sounded as they heard it. I really thought it would be a huge career move, but since there was no financial backing, it just ended up as a good thing and a good experience that I really wish could have done more.
So who are you gunning for now? King Street?
AC: Yes, I don't see why not. Everybody else can mix the vibe, why can't I?
Since you've been at the Warehouse, they suddenly started getting a lot of press and notoriety as a place where this new gay movement was happening, but you are often overlooked in that story. What is that about??
AC: Homo thugs.
That was positive at one point and now it seems to have taken on a really negative connotation, is that true?
AC: I think back then, it was one person making a statement from what they saw. It wasn't so much that people were embracing a title, it was one queen who wrote an article - I won't say who, and she used that as her description of the people who came to the club and it kind of stuck.
But the idea of masculine gays was not new right?
AC: Someone said to me the other day "Oh that was what a butch queen used to be called," but you can't say that because that wouldn't playoff very well. It is kind of a new thing and you kind of have to see it in action. It's okay to be gay but just don't look it or act it. That's the best way I can describe the term homo thug. Listen to [the music] that everyone else does, dress like everyone else does, don't be an individual, don't stand out - it's not necessary. Just be like everyone else and you'll be okay.
So that's effectively driving gays back into the closet after the movement and now it's not cool again to be openly gay…
AC: It's not cool, no. Now if you are going to be gay, it's only good to be gay as long as you're down - as long as you can come across as a guy who may have a girlfriend or if you're guy who does have a girlfriend. Maybe you're a guy who has children and every once in a while, fucks around with a guy. But you can never call these guys gay cause they would kick your ass. Now, the term homo thug evokes a whole way of living. I speak out to remind this generation that the threat of the virus is still there and it can happen to them. Being irresponsible sexually increases the risk of spreading the virus and no one is exempt. Especially if their partners are in the dark about their behavior and they are having unsafe sex. But it's not just about sex… it's also about the music and about the fashion.
So let's stop at the music for a second… you helped to build the reputation of the Warehouse on the house/dance music you played there. Now with this switch in the crowd, house is no longer welcome and they've moved you from the main floor… talk about all that drama.
AC: What's happened is that there is a new generation and this new generation is really into what is happening at the moment - right now. They aren't looking to go beyond that scope of thinking. Along with this as you say, they have gone back into the closet and this music is their music. What they were brought up on, what they know. Anything outside of that, they don't know and most of them don't want to know. That is enough. This is not just happening in New York and it's not just in the gay community either. I'm finding out it's happening in all the urban cities. But it's happening big time here because we are the ones who break things and make things happen. Little by little, these house parties and places where we play our style of music, the rooms are getting smaller and smaller.
It's like everything you talked about the scene gaining, we are witnessing it all slip away. .
AC: That's right and that's what is really scary. My whole thing is you have to have a forum to teach and if you don't have the forum and you don't have the space available to teach, then how will somebody know if they're not given the exposure.
That's what happened to me now, I won't play on the main floor for the whole summer and I don't know if I'll ever get back on the main floor or not. I'm trying to find a way to work with that. What they've done - this is really horrible, is forced everyone to stay in my room until about 1 o'clock, then they let them go upstairs. So I have from about 11:30 to 1 o'clock to spoon-feed these children the music. Now mind you, they don't come to hear me at all most of them. And they are not going to dance because they feel intimated that they have to stay in this room where they don't want to hear the music. So what can I do to make it happen without playing their music? I play the house versions of R&B songs - the good ones, cause there are good ones and bad ones and I'll spread those out throughout the early part so even if they don't care for the house beat, they already lyrically know the song and it's not so overwhelming. I can see some people get it and some don't and that's okay because at least they've had a little bit of exposure. If you listen to the radio and you hear certain mix shows, it's that techno, high-energy stuff that they consider dance music. And that's not my dance music, that's not what I play. They come down and go up but all the boys are upstairs so they have a tendency to be upstairs more than not. I do get some people coming down and it turns into a party, it's just not what it used to be. We used to have people coming to our club straight from the airport - from Japan and London. I've had Terry Farley come to the club and say "This is the next best thing since the Paradise Garage" and that was just a couple of years ago! They're not saying that now. If he walked in there now… we're having Little Kim this weekend [for Black gay pride] - he would gag! (Laughs)
Well she is a drag queen after all, we can work with her somewhere. But we know this is all about hip- hop/R&B as opposed to embracing and supporting the continuation of house/dance music and that's what is so scary. It was because of you're excellent playing that those foreigners were getting a chance to hear you and that led to some travel. Let's go there…
AC: All right well, the first one was a guy named Stan who had his own production company in Paris. He had been coming to the club once in a while and one day he just called me out of the clear blue and said I want to sign you up with my production company. I signed a contract one afternoon with him and I got a gig at a party called "Lick". I [played with] James Nylon and a woman named Sex Toy who was big over there in Paris… that was my first overseas gig. I went to Paris again last year to do a fashion magazine party.
[Kenzo, Shitako & Ryo]
Then I played at the Shelter for Timmy [Regisford] and someone who has now become my friend, Shitako, heard me that particular night and she loved how I played. Her boyfriend is a promoter by the name of Ryo [Watanabe] and she said she was going to make sure somehow, some way I would get to play in Japan. And she did! That just happened earlier this year.
What was it like to play there for the first time?
AC: It was amazing. Although the first night that I played at Yellow, I was nervous. Even though people tell you what the crowd in a certain club will like, you don't know if they are going to like you. I came on behind Ryo b/c he's a DJ as well, but the response after the first couple of records was amazing. From there, the evening went very well and progressed to where they didn't want me to leave in the morning. At Precious Hall… that was just unbelievable! Yellow was the beginning of my dream but the second party… that was the fulfillment of my dream. The people there had really great energy, and the room reminded me of the original Shelter. Once again they didn't want me to leave and I played there from 1am until ten in the morning - they were crying and screaming my name. Around 9am, I would stop and start but they were like, no it can't be over. They also really love classics. It was really a dream come true and I can't wait to go back. And it was all due to the Warehouse.
How do you stay optimistic and what do you recommend to people in a similar situation to stay focused and positive?
AC: It's really rough sometimes and it becomes really challenging. I never give up hope and I constantly believe that I'm here for a reason and that God didn't spare me for me to turn around and mope all day. I have a job to do and I feel like my job is self-proclaiming or self-prophesying through my music and if I only touch one person that's wonderful. Just one. I've been real fortunate though to have been places where the response from people has been really overwhelming. I think what I would tell somebody is to believe even when you don't. That can be real trying at times but sometimes that's what I have to do, I have to believe what I don't really believe. I have to act as if even when I don't want to act as if. Somewhere along the line, you practice it enough… it starts to feel real. You know?
Are you still reporting for Billboard? And weren't you one before, back in the day?
AC: Yes. I was a Billboard reporter when I was at Midtown 43 and due to my behavior (laughs devilishly) - I unfortunately got chopped. A couple of years ago, I was talking to Jeffrey [Allen] at For The Record pool, and I mentioned that I was interested in becoming a reporter again. I got in contact with Ricardo and filled out an application and then I met him personally. It's always good to meet the folks who make things happen. I sent in the application and about a year later he gave me a call.
And what does it mean to be a Billboard reporter?
AC: It means that I'm one of the few DJs across the United States of America who helps them compile the dance chart that's reflected in the dance music column of Billboard magazine. That means that even though I don't see but an eighth of the records that I play reflected on the charts, at least I'm beginning to see that much. Once again, change doesn't come over night. There are not enough of us playing this style or this sound [who are reporters]. .
Which is defined as what? How would you define your style?
AC: It's a combination of dance, house, deep house, gospel house, classics - to me it's just good music. And good music, to me can go from "Black Betty" by Ram Jam all the way to a Stephanie Mills record. I like the jazzy stuff and I like a lot of different things but there are certain things I just won't play. I will not play anything that's 132 beats a minute unless it was "Night of the Jaguar" and you can pitch it down. I don't play anything that has no soul to it. I play things that touch you. Even a techno record can have a soulful flavor to it. I think "Groove LA Chord" has a really funky fat bass line behind it and that's why the record became so successful. But it is very rare that those pieces come out and grab your soul and touch you. That's how I would describe my music, I play a little bit of everything I just don't go too far out there.
Next up you're in the studio trying to make another of your underground house dreams come true…
AC: I've done a few remixes, I just haven't done the one that is going to make everybody's eyes bulge out. (Laughs) I haven't done that yet but with the technology, I have enough stuff here at home to create my own type of tracks. I don't have all that special stuff, the sequencers and all that but I've been working with Donna Edwards and she is wonderful at editing. She'll edit something and then give it to me and say "Here, do something with this." And once she finishes editing something, she says "Look honey, I've had enough. I don't even want to hear this song right now. See what you can do with it."
That's how we've been doing a couple of projects. She's done a few on her own and I recently started doing a few things on my own but it's been real interesting to see that process and to work with someone that closely.
And the two of you also spin together at the Warehouse…
AC: Yeah, we play together. She's a really great, wonderful individual with a really good spirit. And she's a really good DJ and can edit her behind off, honey. The only person I know that edits this smooth is Danny Krivit. I don't know of anybody else who brings it like this. And she is very old school and she doesn't have any of that high-tech stuff either… her finger and a sampler button. It's really been wonderful getting to know her and she has been very supportive in all of what I've been going through. I don't have too many friends in this industry. I know a lot of them but they are not really my friends. I call Donna my friend.
So who'd you say inspired you officially to become a DJ and who do you like to go out and hear?
AC: Nicky Siano is the main inspiration and then of course there was Larry [Levan] and then Tee Scott. But Nicky was the first one to open my eyes to mixing… what it was and how to tell a story with the songs and music. Who do I like now? I like Joe Claussell, Danny Krivit, Louie Vega...
AC: I like Joe because he is so spiritually connected to his music. Not just if it's a record that he produced or had something to do with, it's just him and the records that he picks - they are so a part of him.
I sort of see myself like that so I get real inspired by listening to him even though he can play a little loud sometimes. He has a way of bringing you into his world. Let's go to Louie now. First of all, I love his production work and the songs that he picks to do. I can see why he plays a lot of it because a lot of his stuff is really good. I like the creative ability that he has. Danny Krivit is so from my time. Danny and I are around the same age and we went to the same places but we didn't know each other. He was around that whole scene when I was around that whole scene. I think we have the same kind of bond when it comes to classics. Danny will pull out a classic that I wouldn't even think to pull out at a club and he does that on any given occasion and you go "Ooh! That was fun." I like that about his playing. Donna I like, but we know that. She's like my little partner. She goes from new to old and she does her thing and is very unbothered. I also like Kim [Lightfoot] because he is kind of like that, too… the laid back soulful house thing. It's cool. Not too bothered but here it is, very like that. That's about it.
In parting are there any other things you would like to say that people don't know about you and may be surprised at?
AC: I believe a lot of people think that I am in a relationship or that I have a lover… that I am very assertive when it comes to that, but I'm not I'm very shy. When it comes to my business, I'm aggressive but when it comes to intimacy and knowing people on that level, I'm very shy and find it difficult to open up to people. I'm okay with people that I know, but when it's somebody new it can be very challenging. I feel I have so many issues and someone has to accept me as I am. I'm just learning that that's okay… this is me, this is all that I've got, take me for what I'm worth and if you can't then that's fine. I think people automatically have this assumption that if you're a DJ, you have somebody or that you can just snap your fingers and someone is right there to be with you. Honey, that's the wrong story. (Laughs)
Thanks for spending time with us!