Arthur Baker


Back in 1982 dance music made a radical change, the cutting-edge electronic records that began to emerge that year would herald a shift from the previous era of club music, which took in Soul, Funk, Disco and Jazz-Funk, leading on to the new horizons of Hip Hop, House and Techno.

If there was one name that epitomised this new direction it was Arthur Baker, who not only produced/co-wrote one of the seminal tracks of the 20th century, the future-shock ‘Planet Rock’, by Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force, but also launched an essential label, Streetwise, which would enjoy a run of hits during the coming years, both in the clubs and on the charts.

Having built his reputation via a pair tracks by Northend, named after the North End of Boston, his home city, he’d move to New York where he’d become one of dance music’s great gamechangers – Streetwise, along with Tommy Boy, who issued ‘Planet Rock’, becoming the quintessential Electro-Funk labels, with Arthur, and the unique sound he alchemised, rightly hailed as a studio mage.

As somebody who played these groundbreaking records as they came into the UK on import, witnessing the reaction of a young predominantly black audience, who instantly gravitated towards this then futuristic direction, there was a sense of being part of a pivotal moment for black music, where the rulebook had been thrown in the air and Electro hybrids we couldn’t have imagined at the beginning of ’82,  became dominant by the end of the year at the cusp of the scene here.

So it’s with great pleasure that, 40 years on, I got to talk to Arthur about how his trailblazing spirit and technological innovation altered the dance music landscape, whilst, on a personal level, helped shape my whole trajectory as a DJ back then.

GREG WILSON: What was the music that you were into in your pre-production days, and at what point did you identify the role of producer and envisage taking this direction?

ARTHUR BAKER: The music that I was into as a kid was a really wide range of music. You know, everything from like Rock and Roll, be it, you know, The Allman Brothers, The Stones, Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, that kind of stuff, and Stax, Motown, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, stuff like that, The Temps. Soul music early on and then Philly International. So I mean, basically, I was into a lot of different things – The Jackson Five, Miles Davis.

I had a really wide ranging palette to take from because I grew up in Boston and we had a great radio station, WBCN, which was an underground radio – it wasn’t a college radio, it was actually a commercial underground, which there really weren’t many of, and there was also a great black station called WILD.  So between the two of them, I was able to really listen to everything and around that time, you know, I started noticing record producers be it, like, you know, all the Motown, whether it was Norman Whitfield, or Bowie’s producers or Tom Dowd, or people like that. So basically, I identified that sort of early on, I’d say, probably when I was like 15. I mean, the first gigs I went to were in ’69, so I was 14, I saw the Rolling Stones, and the first gig I went to was Led Zeppelin. So I was like, getting to see all these things when I was still  in high school, junior high school even, and it was like, you know, obviously, it was one of the greatest times of music from ’69 to the early ’70s, or, you know, between Rock ‘n ‘Roll and Soul, and then Disco came along in early ’70s, and, you know, basically Disco was obviously a producer’s medium, so, it just sort of came from there.

GW: And when did you start DJing?

AB: Well, I started DJing, when I went to college, which was ’73. I had already gotten into Disco and knew about the whole scene of Boston, and then, when I went to college, I got a couple of turntables and a GLI mixer, one of the early GLI mixers, and I had that and I was DJing. I was DJing at my college, I went to Hampshire College, which was in Amherst, Massachusets. So I started DJing at the college, I’d do these parties, and I was playing like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, Jackson Five, and James Brown, and then at that point, it started becoming like Manu Dibango, like all the early Disco records. I also got into the New England Record Pool in Boston, so I started getting free records. I started getting into the industry and I’d go down to New York on the weekend and maybe stay on a Monday or Friday, and go to the record companies – that was probably like ’74/’75. The first club gig I had was at a club and in Amherst called Rashid’s, which was an early Disco that was opened in ’73. So it was like an Arabian sort of Disco and they had hookah pipes and stuff. It was actually pretty cool.

GW: You described yourself as one of the worst DJs in the city. What was it that didn’t suit your nature, when it came to playing records? And also, what were the records you were playing, you said you’re playing like Philly and Manu Dibango, stuff that was being played in the early days in New York?

AB: Well, I just technically wasn’t a good DJ, I couldn’t mix well.I mean, I’d play the right records, you know, I played good records, but I couldn’t really mix well and I didn’t have any patience either. So it was sort of, you know, I’d lose my patience if people didn’t like the track that I was playing. It, sort of, annoyed me and I just had no patience for DJing and I wasn’t good at it.

GW: How long did you DJ for before you stopped?

AB: I DJ’d there (Amherst) and then I moved back to Boston and I DJ’d through the ’70s, and then, when I moved to New York, I didn’t DJ anymore. But I mean, you know, DJing, I’d get free records and I got to meet the people at the record labels. I had always wanted to be a producer, so it was just a means to an end, to get in with the record labels and to get involved in the industry.

GW: OK, so you already had in mind at that point that what you wanted to do?

AB: Oh yeah, I started making records in ’77, so I was sort of a failed DJ without a gig, but I was making records.

GW: You told me that you were buying British black music publications like Blues & Soul and Black Music. How did you come across these?

AB: Living in Boston, there was a place in Harvard Square, sort of a newsstand and it had all international publications. Somehow I went there and I found Blues & Soul and Black Music. So I started going into Harvard Square and buying – there would be nowhere else you could find them, so I would get all my music magazines in Harvard Square.

GW: There was no equivalent in the States to something like Blues & Soul. There was no specific black music magazine there, was there?

AB: Well, Ebony? No, they really weren’t. Not focused on music. I mean, there were Jazz publications and stuff, but no, not Soul, Funk or Disco, no.

GW: That’s quite mad really. Also, I remember seeing a photo of a cassette and it was one of Terry Lennaine’s Keep On Truckin’ shows from Radio Merseyside. What blew me away with that was it was a show I regularly sat in on and at one point I was primed to actually take it over. I lived 15 minutes away from the station and I’d be in there every Monday, sat in there, so seeing that picture fascinated me. How did you get to have that cassette in your possession? Where did that come from?

AB: I’m trying to think if my dad got it when he was in England. I don’t know. I’ve really (laughs) because he was there and he would have told me he bumped into…. who was the cassette from again?

GW: It was Terry Lennaine.

AB: Yeah, and what year was that?

GW: I think it must have been around about that time period. ’77/78ish.

AB: Yeah. So I think, somehow, my dad may have been in England and met Terry and said, my son’s a DJ, something bizarre.  I don’t think I got it from him directly at that time. I don’t even remember – a long time ago.

GW: It’s just a bizarre thing to see. So, Boston was obviously regarded as one of the most important cities outside of New York in the early Disco era and you wrote for Nightfall magazine, which reported on the scene. Could you tell me about the leading DJs in the city at that time, people like John Luongo, Jim Stuard, and Cosmo Wyatt.

AB: There were the three of those and there was Danae Jacovidis who played at this club called Chaps – he was probably one of the best DJs in Boston. He was on par with Jimmy Stuard and also Joey Carvello, who ended up moving to New York and working for me at Criminal, and then he actually worked for RFC Records, too. He was really good DJ and he was a great promotions man. So he went to work for RFC early on in the Disco thing, and Cosmo, they were the top DJs and I would try, once I started making records, I’d  try to use them on the projects. Like, Cosmo did the mix of “Ease Your Mind”. John and Danae…. I think Danae was on, either ‘Kind of Life’ (North End) or ‘Losing You’ (The Hearts of Stone). He was on one of those and, you know, I tried to help and obviously John was a mentor and he ran the whole thing in Boston. Then when he moved to New York, he became successful super quickly. So, he was the person who I looked to and then saw that he succeeded. I figured I could succeed too when I saw that he had. But he was a great DJ – Luongo would play two 45’s and extend the record. That was a thing back then. It was pre 12″. So when we’d go to record labels, we try to get two copies of each record and the promo guys at the record labels in Boston were like, “Oh, why do you need two?”, you know, we tried to explain it to him. And oftentimes, I would go with Cosmo because he actually played at some big clubs in Kenmore Square – Yesterday’s and Katie’s and a few others. So he actually had more credibility, but I had a car, so I would drive and we’d do record runs on Friday, and we’d go to all the record labels, and if they didn’t give us two, we’d sneak back and grabbed second copies and stuff.

GW: Obviously there was that John Luongo retrospective a few years ago (‘Can You Feel The Force? – The John Luongo Disco Mixes’, on Groove Line Records), which was great. Your first recording credit, as far as I’m aware, was working alongside John Luongo in 1977 on ‘Losing You’ by The Hearts of Stone.

AB: Yeah,  that was my record. I brought him in to do to help me with the mix.

GW: And that was on a label called Disco One. A guy called Pat DeSario, was it?

AB: Yeah, he was. How it happened was I was working in a record shop, Discount Records on Washington Street in Boston, and I would import records from Canada and I got some records on Disco One and there was a telephone number, so I called up and I said, “Listen, I’m making a record.” and I sent it to him and Pat signed it. I think I got $500 for it. It had been recorded at Intermediate Studio, which was owned by this guy, Dan Cole and how I made the record, I convinced Dan to give me free studio time. I was taking an engineering course and when I was there I started talking to him about Disco, and I said,  “Listen, give me some time” and he got an arranger for me. Then I produced the record, and then I brought John and I think Carvello…. I don’t have the record in front of me, but I had a couple other people on as consultants and I got it out – it actually was released as an import, it never was commercially released in the US. But because John and Danai and Cosmo had been on the mix, I think we got it listed a few times in Billboard on the DJ chart. So it actually made it into Billboard, on the Disco File page, so that was sort of cool and that was the first record I did.

GW: I don’t know if you did anything in between, but a seminal figure in Disco culture, Tom Moulton, provided you with your first taste of the cutthroat industry that you were in, when he acquired the tapes to a Disco album you’d been working on in Boston?

AB: Yeah. Well, you know, I sold it to him. I put in all my Bar Mitzvah money into making a Disco album and, basically, I had also my family…. I had a bunch of people loan me $1,000. So my grandmother, I mean, I just got 15 grand, and I decided I was going to do a Philly Disco album, which I did. I wrote a lot of the songs with Tony Carbone, who actually I was also working with on North End, “Kind of Life” so I’m not really sure which came out first. I think, maybe, ‘TJM’ (the Tom Moulton album) came out first and then North End came out, but around the same time  and I met Tom’s Brother, Jerry – they were both from Boston. I met him and then I’ve run out of money and Tom wanted to buy it by the album. They wanted to buy the album and they said that they were going to re-record everything. He said, “We love the songs, we’re going to re-record everything, but we want the tape so we can listen to what was on there”. So basically, I gave him the tapes and then Tom did what he does great. He mixed the album and he took one lead vocal off and he put on Ronnie Tyson singing the falsetto stuff. Other than that, he added a few strings. but I mean, it’s my production – it’s not even close to not being a production. He did the mix. I did the production. So even to this extent, even to this day, the guy cannot be cool about that – it’s shocking to me, you know, shocking, he’s 80 years old now and he still can’t just sort the fucking thing out. You know, it’s amazing.

GW: Because  you never got credit for it, did you?

AB: Well, I did, I wrote it. I wrote the songs and I also have been arranging credit, you know, but…

GW: How did you feel at the time?

AB: Well, basically, I wrote the songs and I did have some publishing, but I had no points on it. I had the publishing and I got the arranging credit, but you know, it would have made a major difference if it had come out and it said, produced by Arthur Baker and Tom Moulton. It would have helped me get my career going quicker. But you know, whatever, it’s more the fact that he knows what I gave him and he knows what he did, and still to this day he hasn’t just said, “you know what, I shouldn’t have done that, you know, I should have just said”, even five years later, 10 years later. It’s just sort of shocking to me that that he still is in fucking denial about that.

GW: It must have impacted on you your approach to the business side of things.

AB: Yeah, listen, I understand, my business practices weren’t great either, you know, but I always gave the credit. To me, credit is more important than anything, whether you’re gonna get royalty statements when you should or whatever, but the credit is what you end up creating your career on, getting the credit for things you’ve done. I mean, I do have a little publishing on it and writing, and it is what it is, but it’s more the fact that he just never went, “Yeah, you know what, I did get that”, and he could blame his brother on the deal. I don’t even care but the fact is, he knows what I gave him, and he knows what he did. It just would have been an easy thing for him to do. I just saw somewhere that they’re gonna remix the whole album and, I forget where I read it but I read it somewhere, and you got these young guys remixing it. I should, at that point, maybe get the credit. Again, I respect Tom creatively, a genius but you know, other than that, I’m not too happy. I’m really not happy with how it was dealt with and I’m not saying that I was perfect in my business practices either, but as far as like credits, the bottom line is if you’ve done work, you should get the credit for it and I never withheld credit from people.

GW: What you did then…..what you were saying is you bounced back with the track, ‘Kind Of Life (Kind Of)’ by North End?

AB: Yeah.

GW: And that had a John Luongo mixing credit on it as well?

AB: Yeah.

GW: And it was picked up by Mel Cheren’s West End label in ’79, prior to your move to New York in ’81, when you did the second Northend single (this time just the one word artist name) ‘Happy Days’, that was released on Emergency, so how come West End didn’t take “Happy Days”?

AB: I don’t remember why. They had a lot of records coming out and Emergency seemed to be a better fit for us for some reason.  I’m not even clear why to be honest with you. I’m not clear why.

GW: And how did the first North End single do?

AB: Well, it got us a lot of attention. It helped save the label, you know. I mean, it was one of those records where Mel would say, “Oh, if that hadn’t come out”. I mean they sold enough to keep the label going and then other records came out. I don’t remember which came out first, “Heartbeat” or that, but I heard in interviews Mel has done giving ‘Kind of Life’ real props on helping keep the label cos it sold enough and he paid us nothing. (laughs) So, you know, it helped the label. It was funny because he always wanted Larry… Larry Levan used to play it a lot at the club and he always wanted Larry to do a remix. Larry worked for Mel and Mel would always say “talk to Larry, talk to Larry, see if he’ll do the remix”. I go, “He works for you. Why am I asking him? Why am I asking him? “, you know?

You know what, that hooked me up, I was able to go to the Garage. Then I became a producer. Whereas with TJM, ‘I Don’t Need No Music’ and ‘Put Yourself in my Place’ both got played a lot at the Garage and everywhere and yet, because I wasn’t listed as a producer, it really didn’t help me. But once we did “Kind of Life” and then “Happy Days”, I became sort of a producer.

GW: ‘Kind of Life (Kind Of Love)’ was a top 20 Billboard Disco hit.

AB: Yeah, yeah, and ‘Happy Days’ was too.

GW: ‘Happy Days’ was top ten. So it was then bigger again.

AB: Yeah, so with those two, after that I became a producer.  I was considered a producer and that’s what led to working with Tommy Boy because Tom (Silverman) knew me. I was probably one of the only young producers he used and we were friends. So that’s how we started. I started working with Tom.

GW: What was his connection to the North End project?

AB: No, nothing. It just that’s how he knew I was a producer because of those records.

I’d go to these Billboard Disco conventions and stuff in New York and we met and then, you know, finally I talked about being a record producer. Finally I had two records out that did well, and then when he started Tommy Boy I was one of the few producers he knew, I assume, because he knew a lot of DJs, but most DJs weren’t actually producing at that point. The records were being made by producers and then DJs would come in and remix, whereas I was a DJ who became a producer.

GW: Talking about ‘Happy Days’ – from my own perspective, that was the first of your productions that I was playing myself. I was on an ‘upfront’ scene, so I was playing specialist, mainly imported music to a largely black crowd in Manchester and a mixed crowd in Wigan. ‘Tee’s Happy’, the instrumental side, was the one that took off and I remember that made a big impression on me at the time because I realized it was a DJ, and that the fact his name was in the title – it was almost like, that gave the DJs a stature, you know?

AB: That was definitely my idea.

GW: Obviously, we were aware of Tom Moulton, John Luongo, a few other remixers, you know, Walter Gibbons and people, but to have it in the title of the record. It was a massive underground favourite and obviously an important milestone for you. You talked about Tom Silverman, and perhaps more crucial for you was that you were brought into Tommy Boy as a fledgling label and you worked on ‘Jazzy Sensation’ by Afrika Bambaataa & The Jazzy 5 also the Kryptic Krew, cover of Gwen McCrae’s ‘Funky Sensation’. That did pretty well as well, that track.

AB: Well, that probably sold more than ‘Happy Days’. The thing is, there’s a real connection because on ‘Happy Days’, I use some young musicians who I met through Tee Scott from Queens, which was Andre Booth and T Funk and Charlie Street. They played on “Happy Days”. They did overdubs. Tee had them play guitar. Charlie played some guitar on it and he played the solo and Andre Booth played additional keys on it. So basically, then when I moved to New York, they were the guys who I used as musicians, and through them, Andre’s best friend was this guy who’s sort of a DJ but really quiet. He’d come to the studios with him and he was actually sat in on the ‘Jazzy Sensation’ session – and that was Marley Marl. So Marley Marl was at the session for ‘Jazzy Sensation’, which I didn’t even know. I heard him talk about it on QuestLove’s podcast, and he was like, “Yeah, the first session I was ever at was Arthur Baker’s session for “Jazzy Sensation”. He used to just come with Andre and just hang out. Then the first record he did, which was Dimples D, ‘Sucker DJ’s (I Will Survive)’, I signed that. So I put out his first record on Partytime (Streetwise subsidiary label).

GW: Also, on ‘Jazzy Sensation’, Shep Pettibone has got a mix credit. How did he become involved in it?

AB: Well, we did the record first without him and then he had done a re-edit on ‘Funky Sensation’ where he had added some percussion in the beginning, which I really liked. So I contacted him and said, “Oh, do you want to come in and do the actual remix on ‘Jazzy Sensation’, which he did. He brought his friend, this guy Steve who came in and played some percussion on top of it. And so we did another release of the record with his mix on it.


GW: There were two versions like, Kryptic Krew Featuring Tina B and Bambaataa & The Jazzy 5. What was the difference between these two? What was going on there?

AB: Well, there were two versions. One side, my ex-wife Tina did the vocal on, but the two different versions of the Jazzy 5, one had percussion that Shep had put on. I don’t even remember if it was really a full mix, or if we just edited the intro on. I’m not really even sure, I haven’t compared them and I don’t know, but there were two different versions for sure.

GW: So that’s moving now into late ’81, early ’82, I think ‘Jazzy Sensation’ would have been out.

One of the game changing tracks of the early ’80s was D-Train’s “You’re the One For Me”. In more recent times, when François Kevorkian and I shared a panel, he told me that his gateway drug with regards to Dub, which really shocked me was T.W. Funk Masters’, “Love Money”. I expected him to say King Tubby!

AB: Yeah, because Larry used to play that all the time, you know.

GW: Yeah, I mean Mancuso played it as well. I know the history of it now. I interviewed the guy behind this record.

AB: Tony Williams, right?

GW: He was a radio presenter on Radio London. What was funny about it was Wax Poetics in a piece in 2004 – it was a top 10 and they had it down as Tony Williams from Boston, the Jazz drummer.

AB: It wasn’t that. Yeah, I knew that. I knew it wasn’t him.

GW: And so on the back of that I tracked down Tony Williams, really thankful I did because he had no idea that this record had made this impact.

AB: Really?

GW: He’d been to New York about five or six years later, and I think Studio 54 was still going. He’d been in there and heard it and he was like, “Oh!”, and the DJ was saying, “Yeah, this is our groove”. He just didn’t have a clue that it was such a significant record. Sadly, he died a few years ago. So François said his approach to the mix for “You’re the One for Me”, was directly inspired by “Love Money”, which he’d literally just heard before that and so, what I was going to ask you was, did that track make a strong impression on you as well?

AB: Yeah, I had it. I had the record for sure – Larry used to kill it. So you know, I mean, it was that and also, “Don’t Make Me Wait”, which Larry did. Which was a game changer, production-wise.

GW: For us here as well.

AB: I’m sure Larry got the vibe for that from the Funk Masters track for sure.

GW: Which is amazing because that Dub sensibility was coming into these dance mixes that were coming out of New York and this was a lot of the stuff that I was feeding off myself in the clubs, you know..

AB: But did you play it? Did you play Funk Masters?

GW: Absolutely, we played it. Originally it was a Jazz-Funk track. It was a British track that was played on the Jazz-Funk scene.

AB: I know, that’s why I’m saying. So you played it and then you heard all this stuff coming from New York, you didn’t actually make the connection?

GW: Oh no, not at all.

AB: No, because you didn’t hear it at Paradise Garage. I mean, it was like, he played that in Paradise Garage and that was a huge record. And in the Loft, too. So I mean, basically, but see, that’s the thing… you would never have thought that Imagination was probably a top five record at Paradise Garage and not just one track, probably five tracks. So someone who would be thought of as just like this pop group, you know, in the UK. Larry, obviously mixed a lot of those records, but those records were huge at the Garage, so it’s sort of, you know, you don’t give it credit because it’s coming from over there and then it was so influential. Because so many of the records that I loved at that time, right when I was starting to make records. I-Level… loved I-Level a lot. I really loved I Level and also, God, what else was it that that we would have? I mean, even to the point of Yazoo, man, you know, Yazoo? Anything Vince Clarke did was very influential for me.

GW: Powerline was a big tune.

AB: Yeah, Powerline. Yeah, yeah, that was all on that one Champagne EP.

GW: Exactly. Well, that was it with ‘Love Money’. Originally it came on label Tania, which was his own label and two versions ‘Money (No Love)’ and ‘Love Money’ – ‘Money (No Love)’ was probably the first British Rap record. When I go back and look on it, the weird thing with it Arthur, why that record was so special, was he was a Reggae guy. He did a Reggae show for Radio London. But in those days, the idea of him playing his own record on the radio just wasn’t on. So rather than make a Reggae track, he made a dance track. He was inspired by ‘Rappers Delight’  coming out (he also based it around ‘Money In My Pocket’ by Dennis Brown), but he did it with all Reggae musicians. So it was Reggae musicians trying to make a dance track and that’s why it sounded the way that it did. 1980 was the original ‘Love Money’, then there was a different edit on the ’81 Champagne version that went bigger again.

At the end of ’81 but starting into ’82, there were a few tracks that started to emerge, that made a big impression on me and what I was playing. ‘Time’ by Stone, which was obviously on West End, ‘On a Journey’ by Electrik Funk – I always played the instrumentals, I very rarely played the vocals of these – the instrumentals was where it was happening. And then the one you just mentioned, which was the big one, a crucial moment, ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’ by the Peech Boys with those fierce claps. I mean, we’d never heard the likes. That was such a different track when it came out. Talking about ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’, by the Peech Boys and the impact of that track. For me, that was you know, the start of what we call Electro-Funk. The term, Electro-Funk, was later used by Bambaataa, but I know Tim Lawrence was looking into it as well, he could only find one passing mention of that term that predated I think ’83, but we were using it in ’82. The original term was Electric Funk on the back of that ‘On A Journey’ by Electrik Funk. So we’d say, “these Electric Funk records” originally. Then a track came out by Shock called ‘Electrophonic Funk’ and that’s where we started to use the term Electro Funk. We hadn’t heard it from anywhere. I know that it was being used later in the States.

AB: Yeah, I don’t know, maybe it came from over there.

GW: Yeah, we tried to do some research on it, but I couldn’t find anything that predated it’s usage from that perspective. But it was this new music that was coming out and this new sound, and you’d hinted at it with stuff like ‘Happy Days’, then ‘You’re the One for Me’ with that choppy synth and everything was definitely different. Electrik Funk, ‘Time’ and then ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’. Then another one came that was absolutely huge for us, which was ‘Thanks To You’ by Sinnamon.

AB: Yeah, that was great.

GW: And again, they were using the kind of claps, the Peech Boys type claps, and eventually with ‘Walking on Sunshine’ that seemed to go into that whole vibe with the claps and everything as well. But before that, we were talking about now, obviously, you’re recording around about this time the track that’s going to split the atom basically, in ‘Planet Rock’. I’ve seen you mention hearing ‘Numbers’ by Kraftwerk played at a place called the Music Factory in Brooklyn, and the positive response of the black crowd to that, and that inspired you to use those beats for ‘Planet Rock’.

AB: Yeah.

GW: So was that unusual to hear a track like that in a black environment?

AB: Well, no, what happened was I was working in Long Island City, actually, at Cardinal One Stop (record distributor) and we’d go out for lunch in the park and I’d hear people playing ‘Trans-Europe Express’. But obviously, I had been familiar with Kraftwerk since ‘Autobahn’ in the early ’70s, but then Tom and Bam had the idea to do a rap with ‘Trans Europe Express’ and I was like, “Yeah, okay, that makes sense”. I hear it in the park all the time. But what I brought in that made the difference was using the beat from ‘Numbers’, that was my idea. They had a demo that had “Do You Like It” from B.T. Express with “Trans Europe Express”, but we didn’t end up using it. Obviously, when I went in the studio I rethought it and used the beat from ‘Numbers’.

GW: ‘Trans Europe Express’ was a much slower track as well.

AB: Yeah, that’s what they wanted and that’s what the group expected. Then when I did the track, the group were really like, “oh, man”, they thought it could be their last record. They didn’t believe in it at all, they really didn’t – the group didn’t believe in it. I mean, Bam loved it, obviously, Bam had to be into it because if he hadn’t been into it he would have said something. So he loved it. But the group, they didn’t get it, because all the rap records at that time were slow.

GW: For sure. I mean, it’s weird, because I put something online on the 17th, which is regarded as the release date of ‘Planet Rock’, but you pointed out that perhaps that wasn’t the release date, because it was a Saturday. Was it a Monday release in America? Did records come out on a Monday?

AB: They didn’t come out on a Saturday. I mean, we were trying to figure out how that date came about. But I mean, Monica (Lynch) doesn’t think a record would have been released on a Saturday – obviously, Saturday was a big day for people to go buy records, because everyone would go after the club on Friday and go buy records, but to actually have it be the first day it was actually released. We’re pretty doubtful. It usually would be probably Tuesday, I think was the release date. I think God, no one knows. No one will ever know. It’s got to be one of those mysteries, you know – we don’t know.

GW: But as we’re talking, it’s pretty much 40 years since that track came out.

AB: That’s right. Yeah, 40 years.

GW: You know, I’ve read that you knew that you had a revolutionary track on your hands.

AB: Yeah. I knew we had a revolutionary track and I thought we had made musical history, but I thought we had got it even before the rappers are on it because we took it home and I had John Robie play some like clavinet type parts, and it was an instrumental with the clav parts with an acoustic piano. So it was more actually, at that point, it was almost more like it was ‘Play At Your Own Risk’ than it was ‘Planet Rock’, because we did all that music in one night.

I didn’t know what I was going to use for ‘Planet Rock’, right? So we would just put two different string lines on, because one was ‘Trans-Europe’ and then I had Robie do another one in case Kraftwerk was going to give us shit about it. So we had another string line which he wrote – he wrote the ‘Play At Your Own Risk’ one. We did piano, we did clavinets because I didn’t know what I’d use, then when I mixed ‘Planet Rock’ I kept the clavinets out, the piano out – I made it sparse. And then, you know, six months later, we went back in and we made ‘Play At Your Own Risk’ out of it.

GW: So obviously, both those tracks are on the same tape, you know, on the multitrack and everything?

AB: Well, not only that. They were in the same take. (laughs) No, they were the same take. So basically, there were eight tracks of drums, then there was all this music, and when I did ‘Play At Your Own Risk’, I brought up some tracks, and when I use ‘Planet Rock’, I brought up other faders. So they’re all on the same, same take. It isn’t like ‘Planet Rock’ was here and then after that we did ‘Play At Your Own Risk’. it was all in one take!

GW: Amazing, two out of one for you there. François Kevorkian got a co-production/mix credit on ‘Play At Your Own Risk’. What was his role?

AB: Not really much actually (laughs) Well, you know, back then, you bring in DJs and, I mean, I loved his mixes, but ‘Play At Your Own Risk’? I have an acetate of his version that I don’t even think we ended up putting that one out. He came in and he was super anal and I was more Punk Rock at the time. He was very particular, it was very much like a science. He was more of a scientist, you know? And I wasn’t, and I mean, we mixed that at Sigma and we spent a lot more time on it. I had him come in because he had some additional production he was going to do, which we didn’t end up having him do, but yeah, I mean, we gave him the credit. I was actually surprised. I hadn’t looked at the record for a long time and I noticed that he had credit on it. I was sort of like, I forgot that he even had credit, but you know, as I said earlier, credit’s the easiest thing to do. If someone had a little bit to do with it, you give him the credit, you know.

GW: Talking about credit – John Robie was your main collaborator during this period. How did you come together?

AB: I met him through Tom Silverman, because basically Robie had done a track called ‘Vena Cava’ that Bambaataa really liked. You know, it was a real odd record on Disconet, and so Tom said, “Well, you know, Bam wants to use this keyboard player”, and I was like, “okay, cool”, because I probably wouldn’t have used Andre Booth because he was the guy I met and played on ‘Jazzy Sensation’. But that was the other difference, ‘Jazzy Sensation’ was a live band and ‘Planet Rock’ was all synths and programs. So Robie came in on ‘Planet Rock’, he played the strings and then played the bass bit and I didn’t know this, but I’ve heard an interview with him, he said he wasn’t even there when we did the drums. So I think I did the drums first and then he came in and played the keyboards on top, I would guess. And then he was a guy for hire, but then, obviously as we started collaborating, he became a co-producer.

GW: So when it’s basically hit the clubs, it was the instrumental that was being played in New York?

AB: Yeah, in the beginning. Yeah, sure, because clubs weren’t really playing rap records, you know. I mean, black clubs were but that being said, Larry use to play….. the first time I ever heard ‘Rapper’s Delight’ was at Paradise Garage, and he played it like three times in a night. He just kept playing it until people got into it. So that’s a moment I’ll never forget, hearing the record for the first time when it came on and the intro of it, I thought it was ‘Here Comes That Sound’, by Love Deluxe, which was an English record, it had a bit of that in the intro and I thought it was that, and then when I heard ‘Good Times’ I was like, “What the fuck is this”? And then you know the rap comes in – I was totally sold. But the crowd obviously wasn’t, you know, and Larry played it a couple of times before, then people finally got into it. He played the rap on that one. That’s why “Planet Rock” had such a long lifespan, because in the beginning, people were playing the instrumental and then finally they played the rap. Then they played “Play At Your Own Risk” instrumental and then they played the vocal. So it was like four versions of one thing and it kept the thing going for quite a long time.

GW: I’m also interested in the editing aspect of this. Was it Jellybean?

AB: No. He did the 45 at it. He did the edit to cut it down.


AB: He didn’t do the 12 inch edit. We needed to get a cut down and he had a tape machine, so I went to his house. He had a quarter inch tape machine at home. So he did the edit. I remember, we sat on the floor in his apartment. I think Tony Smith was there also.

GW: So how long was the track on the multi?

AB: Oh, man, I should check. God, I don’t know.

GW: You extended it in the edits, didn’t you?

AB: Yeah, we did. There’s one edit and then we put in the bonus beats. Yeah, you know what? I should know that and I will find out because I’m doing a masterclass on it in IMS. So I should figure out how long it is, you know?

GW: Yeah, because that was one of the things that, at the time, I couldn’t quite work out. I was like, why aren’t these tracks…not just ‘Planet Rock’, I mean, a lot of the stuff that came out around about this time, why aren’t they precise? Why aren’t they always in time? As a DJ, I’d feel them drifting out and I’d know it was a drum machine. And then later, from my own editing, I came to realize, ‘Ah, right, if people are extensively editing this, it’s not a precision thing’. There’s always going to be a slight difference in each edit, so if you’re taking a four bar section and repeating that…

AB: Some of the drum machines and stuff was still, you know, sliding around. They weren’t precise, you know. The DMX wasn’t precise. If you were linking it with other stuff, it would by the end, it would be maybe out a little bit, you know. The technology still wasn’t 100%. That’s what I’m saying.

GW: Where did the Latin Rascals come into play? Because you had a lot of dealings with them, didn’t you?

AB: Well, I heard them on the radio, they were on KTU one night and they had done this megamix of a bunch of my stuff. So I called up Carlos Jesus, who was the program director, and I got their number. And I called them up and said, “Oh, do you want to come and work and actually do the edits on records as opposed to….? They were using like pause buttons at first. So yeah, so I hired them. So they did a lot of stuff for me. I think they started on probably around ‘Beat Street’. You know.

GW: OK, so you’re talking ’84 for that?

AB: Yeah, they didn’t touch any of the early stuff.

GW: If we could perhaps address the elephant in the room at this point. Obviously, allegations of his sexual abuse of minors has sullied Africa Bambaataa’s legacy, and this impacts on the legacy of ‘Planet Rock’. It must be tough to know that a number of people have, to use a current phrase, ‘cancelled’ what is your masterpiece, through absolutely no fault of your own.

AB: Yeah, I actually think that’s ridiculous. I mean, it’s one person out of five or six who were involved in the record. Obviously I understand it, that shit happens and I mean, as far as it sullying ‘Planet Rock’, I get why it does in a way, but obviously I feel like ‘Planet Rock’ is as much my record as it is his, maybe even more so.

GW: One of the standout Pop records of my youth was ‘Rock and Roll Part 2’ by Gary Glitter. That was his breakthrough single and it was the flip side that was the one that the radio started playing and it was an amazing sound, incredible sound, courtesy of producer/co-writer Mike Leander. That side took off, the more instrumental version with minimal contribution from Glitter, but you know, you never hear it now – it’s been totally erased in the UK. You still hear it in America though – it’s still a big track at sports events and stuff, where it’s something of a get the crowd up anthem

AB: Oh, yeah, it’s huge still.

GW: Weirdly ‘Rock and Roll Part 2’ is now coming through the back door to a whole new generation because it’s been included in the film ‘Joker’.

Do you want to share any thoughts how this has affected you both in an artistic and personal way?

AB: Well, you know, I mean, listen, I really never saw anything, and that’s not to say that it didn’t happen, but I never saw anything. All I can say is, you know, it’s possible, but I never saw anything, so I can’t really speak on it, but the bottom line is for it to affect the legacy of the record, it’s sort of screwed up. But I know a lot of people go, “we won’t play Michael Jackson records anymore”, but then again, a lot of people do.

GW: Yeah. I mean, you’ve got this anniversary now and you would have thought that people would be banging your door down to find out about ‘Planet Rock’ and everything. So you haven’t…

AB: Yeah, I mean, listen, I’m doing something with it. I’m doing NFTs, and I’ve got a whole… we’re going to do a year of stuff around ‘Planet Rock’. So I don’t care. I mean, obviously some people are going to say, like, what you’re talking about, and others won’t even be aware of it. So it’s sort of, as I said, it’s too bad for the group, because the group had nothing to do with that if it happened, and they could use the attention and the money, you know. The song was more than him, but obviously, his name is connected to it. So it’s difficult.

GW: In effect, the version that we played, he had minimal input in it. I mean, he did the ‘rock rock to the Planet Rock’ the vocoded bit, didn’t he?

AB: Well, no, no, he didn’t do that.  All he did was “party people”. That’s the only thing he’s got on the record.

GW: So he’s not even on that instrumental version at all.

AB: Nope. His name’s on it. But you know, I’m just saying, I see my song publishing royalties and I see the royalties from Tom and from Tommy Boy, and they’ve stayed pretty consistent. I don’t think I’ve got the syncs, but look, last year Twerkulater used ‘Planet Rock’, and that was a really big record, you know? So I think people who sampled and use it, will sample and use it. I don’t think they’re not going to do that. Now maybe someone for a commercial, they might not use it, right, but then use Twerkulator, they will use Twerkulater, you know?

GW: Yeah. You can’t hold these things down. It’s like with the Gary Glitter track that I mentioned. It’s coming through the back door with a blockbuster movie now. And you can’t separate these things. It’s like, even with Bambaataa, you can’t all of a sudden say that he was any less important, in terms of Hip Hop – he’s crucial to the whole thing. So you just have to swallow the fact that, as an individual you know, obviously it was abhorrent what he’s accused of doing, but at the same time as that he was somebody who was absolutely central to the evolution of Hip Hop, you know? And so it is what it is.

AB: Yep, it is. It is what it is.

GW: Anyway, things move really quickly for you in ’82. You set up your own label, Streetwise. How did that start?

AB: Well I bumped into a friend from college and he had some investors he was working with, who wanted to get into the music biz. And it was the right time for me to do it. Tom offered me a share of Tommy Boy, which I didn’t take, which, in retrospect, I should have, but I didn’t. I started my own label and we had some quick success, but then we were, sort of, killed by our own success, because we didn’t really know what we were doing.

GW: So it’s a sort of you grew too quickly type thing?

AB: Yeah, we had people who were business people, but they weren’t music people and they just figured if you do this much this year, next year you’re gonna do that much more. And, you know, if you just put out a lot more records, you’ll have much more success. They started thinking that they had good creative taste and all that. Yeah, so I mean, basically, the success of New Edition, sort of, killed the label because we extended ourselves and gave people lots of credit and a lot of people burnt us and it just sort of went crash and burn pretty quickly.

GW: Going back to the start of the label, the first release was Touchdown’s ‘Ease your Mind’, was it?

AB: Yeah, I think it was that and then Pee Wee Ford ‘Be My Girl’ and then ‘Walking on Sunshine’.

GW: So ‘Ease your Mind’ again, a bit like ‘Love Money’, had already been released the previous year, it had been a big Jazz-Funk hit in the UK

AB: Again, I heard it at Paradise Garage and I licensed it and did those did the two remixes.

GW: When I listened to it now, it’s almost like nowadays, with people doing reworks of tracks where it’s very true to the original, but it’s beefed up. You’d beefed the whole thing up and yeah, it sounded great – took it to another level.

AB: Yeah, but the track that actually was in a way historically more influential was ‘Ritmo Suave’, the b-side.

GW: Yeah, yeah. The  Spanish language one (with lyrics by Joe Bataan). So did that go big with the Puerto Rican community?

AB: Yeah, but I mean, if you look at the credits, did you see what the group’s name is on there?

GW: No, no, what was that?

AB: Newyorican.

GW: Ah, OK.

AB: Not that Nuyorican wasn’t something that was out there because it was the terminology for Puerto Ricans from New York. But I did Newyorican because I worked with Joe Bataan on that. And he was like, “Yo!, let’s do Newyorican”. So I put that out and then that record was so influential to Louie Vega Nuyorican Soul. He told me it was really influential – he ended up doing a cover of ‘Ease Your Mind’ (in 2014), but that was more like ‘Rico Suave’.

GW: Isn’t that bizarre? Wow! A record that was made in England ends up having that influence.

AB: Yeah.

GW: Streetwise released a record with a similar stature to ‘Planet Rock’, because it was the biggest track on the scene that year bar none – Rockers Revenge Featuring Donnie Calvin, ‘Walking on Sunshine ‘82’, a real titan of a tune. Also it was the first 12”, if I remember, that had the acappella on there and DJ’s started to use that. I know that Peech Boys had an acappella on their 7”, but, oddly, they didn’t put it on the 12”. With ‘Walking On Sunshine’ your source, again, is a British-based artist, Eddy Grant. So, is that something you picked up from hearing his version and thought we’ll go for that?

AB: Yeah, of course. I used to go to Paradise Garage to do my research, you know (laughs). Larry used to play it a lot. He played obviously D-Train and he played a lot of other tracks and I did something that you would, ten years later, call a ‘mash-up’ basically, you know. It was a mash-up using bits of all these records that were happening – so it was more like a Paradise Garage mix.

GW: It would be a major pop hit in the UK as well. It’d be a top five record. It obviously topped the Disco chart in the US, but it never hit the mainstream audience in the same way as it did in the UK.

AB: Yeah, because it had no heritage. I mean, Eddy Grant, he was a hit maker in the UK through his other stuff.

GW: Were you surprised by the level of success it attained in the UK?

AB: Well, yeah, I guess I was, I mean, it wasn’t like anything I planned, I didn’t do it thinking, “Oh, I’ll sell it to London Records and get a silver record out of it” and all that. No, I just did it because my sights were limited to making records that would do well in Paradise Garage or The Funhouse. We were just making records that we could bring to the clubs, and our friends who were the DJs would play them, you know.

GW: That’s why it works so well, because you were doing that.

AB: That’s why it works, but also I realized that England had a whole different sensibility. I had always been into English dance music or black music, whatever you want to call it. So I had been into that since you know, Jimmy James & The Vagabonds – I knew all that stuff. Yeah, I knew what was coming out of England because I got Blues & Soul and Black Music, so I knew the scene. I tried to sign Second Image, ‘Star’. I was talking to all those guys, even before I had hit records I was aware of it. So then, once it started happening, I was sort of like, yeah, it always made sense. Because I knew Top Of The Pops, everyone would watch Top of the Pops. The whole family and, you know, if you had a record on…  when I first went to England, the cab drivers, who were probably 60 years old, and when I’d say, “oh, yeah, I worked with New Order”, they knew who New Order were because they had seen them on Top Of The Pops. There was nothing like that in America, you know.

GW: That was it. It was such a democratic show that you’d have a family and the dad would be, “Urgh, don’t like this” and the kids would hate what their dads liked.

AB: Yeah, so it was something very different than here, because that was like a national radio station, and national TV. It’s like having a show where everyone in America would watch the show to see what was number one – that just never happened. The closest one was when MTV became successful because it became sort of the national radio station, if you could call it a radio station, but music station you know?

GW: Also with all the English stuff that you’re saying you were inspired by, back in England, a lot of the time, that was looked upon as inferior or second rate.

AB: That’s what I said. That’s what I said to you about Imagination. Man, Imagination, literally, you know, ‘Just An Illusion’, ‘Music And Lights’, ‘Burning Up’, for Larry, those were huge records in the Paradise Garage – I mean, you can’t even imagine. As I said, he played I-Level, he played Eddy Grant, killed Eddy Grant. Then all the 12” records that would come out, like you saying ‘Money (No Love)’. All those were getting so much play because to us, we didn’t know or care if it was a pop record in England. He was playing The Clash, too – Larry, and Jellybean, too, I have to say, and Mark Kamins. There were a lot of guys who were just playing everything, you know, but then Larry was on the biggest stage for it.

GW: That’s the scene in the UK. We were very snobby in a way – for example, with Imagination the first single they released, ‘Body Talk’, was a big track on the Jazz-Funk scene, but because it crossed over and became a hit, ‘Just an Illusion’ was never played by the Jazz-Funk specialists, because even though it’s a great track, it was a commercial track. So you’d never hear artists on the Jazz-Funk scene like Shalamar or Michael Jackson, or Imagination, because these were big crossover artists, and so they’d been left behind at that point. Some great records were missed out on for that reason, but that was the nature of the scene. It was very snobbish about what music it was going to play. One of my big regrets, because I bucked the trend in lots of ways and I took massive criticism for playing ‘Planet Rock’ and, obviously, some of the other Electro tracks – things like the “The Voice Of Q” and Klein and MBO’s ‘Dirty Talk’. I took all sorts of abuse from the Soul music purists and the people writing and everything, but one track that I really regretted not playing was François dub mix of Yazoo’s ‘Situation’. It’s a great record and I never played it because it was white British Pop act.

AB: You know what,  One other quick story I’ll tell you. When Tracy Bennett (of London Records in the UK) found ‘Walking On Sunshine’ when he was in New York and he brought it back. He said he brought it to the marketing people and he played it for them and they all hated it, because they thought, you know, it’s a black record with Electro beats, it will never work. It’s not true to black music or whatever. They hated it and obviously he didn’t care because he loved it and it was an instant hit, but he said he had such backlash from the people at the label – the people who were meant to work it, you know?

GW: Yeah, another weird one. This is a crazy one. ‘The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels of Steel’, a seismic record, was never played within the black clubs here, and the reason it was never played was because he was using Queen ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ and Blondie ‘Rapture’.  That wouldn’t go down well on the scene at the time. I revived it in 1983, when you had stuff like West Street Mob and all the cut up tracks, and The B Boys, ‘Two, Three, Break’. I started playing it at that point, but when it was originally released in ’81 you were more likely to hear it in a student venue or something like that. You brought in Jellybean Benitez to co-mix ‘Walking on Sunshine”’and he later worked with you on Freeez and New Order. Mixing, and sometimes producing in collaboration with others was a feature of your work during this era. Be it Jellybean, Françoise, Shep Pettibone, Cosmo Wyatt. Did you prefer to bounce off someone else in the studio?

AB: To be honest, not really. But it was also (laughs), well, you know what, if you got them in, and I’d make sure that there’d be things in the mix that they’d like, so they’d play it, you know?

GW: Right.

AB: Jellybean’s Funhouse, after a while, was sort of my home-base club, because it was a huge club and he loved what I was doing – we got on really well. He wasn’t really producing yet, so he was really anxious to go in and do this stuff to get in (the studio), and obviously, within like two years, he was one of the biggest remixers. So it was great for him and it was great for me. I think to me, the most game changing mix I did of all those records was ‘Planet Rock’, which I mixed myself. So I mean, I could easily have mixed all those records myself, but, I put it this way, I had more than 50% of the influence on those mixes obviously. I’d open it up and let people get involved for sure. Like with Jellybean, the main thing he did on any of the mixes was on ‘IOU’ (by Freeez) when we had the emulator, and he said to Robie, “Oh, can we sample A E I O U? Can we sample that? And can you play a solo”? So that was his idea, and I was like, “Oh, great idea. Let’s do it”. So, I was open to accepting other people’s ideas. Obviously, it was a collaboration, but the buck stopped with me for sure, and the thing was, Jellybean was getting a fucking course from me in how to do this, which he admits. I mean, these were the first times he was in the studio, and he was working on great records, you know.

GW: Again, another British record. That was such a departure as well, because they’d had “Southern Freeez”, which was like a huge, huge Jazz-Funk tune. A beautiful, smooth groove, completely different. Then you get like something like ‘IOU’ which was like full on technology in your face.

AB: Yeah, but that was the last track on that album. We had done the whole album, and there’s that track “Freeezin'”. There were some really cool, nice Jazz-Funk tracks on the album, but by the end of the album, I was like, “fuck, we’ve done this album, and there’s not a hit on the record”. And basically, I said, “we got to do an Electro track”, and that’s how that happened. Because that was the last track we cut. If we hadn’t cut that track, that album would have been (laughs) in the bin, you know, it just didn’t have it.

GW: That was another monster as well.

AB: That was bigger than any of the others. That was actually number two in England on the pop chart. The only thing that kept us out is that fucking Paul Young, “Wherever I Lay My Hat”. And, you know, Paul and I were friends – I was like, “Dude, you kept me from a fucking number one”.

GW: Well, I mean, you got your number one with “Candy Girl” (New Edition).

AB: know. But yeah, but you know, I didn’t write it.

GW: Just staying on “Candy Girl”. That was a departure, that you’re working with a boy band?

AB: Well, it wasn’t a departure because it was Maurice (Starr) and Michael (Jonzun), who had actually done backgrounds and it worked on “Happy Days” also They were friends of mine from Boston. So you could think of it as a departure, but it was more like a rap record, you know, that’s how we looked at it. As I said, I had loved the Jackson Five when I was in high school or even college. So when Maurice was staying in my house in Brooklyn, he came back one day after being out all day and I’ll never forget, he came back and said, “Man, I’m trying to get a deal for this thing and blah, blah, blah. And no one liked it bla bla bla”, and I said, “Well, let me hear it. I have a label”, because I just started Streetwise. He played it for me and I was like, “Dude, I want to sign this”. And we signed it pretty quickly.

GW: So Maurice was from Boston as well?

AB: Yeah. Well, he’s from Florida, but he was living in Boston. Yeah.

GW: Also, Michael Jonzun was from Boston?

AB: Yeah. Yeah, they’re brothers,

GW: When you think of it, with the whole Electro sound. Obviously, you were central to it, but you’ve got Michael Jonzun doing his stuff as well. You know, you see it as a New York thing, but there’s this real injection from Boston that’s going on.

AB: Yeah, also Prince Charles (Prince Charles & The City Beat Band) too is another friend of mine, you know.

GW: OK, because weirdly, I recently uploaded a clip from Slick’s “Beat the Bush”.  A big, big tune for me that turned up two years later on a Prince Charles album, it’s the same tune.

AB: Yeah, well, he had made the record.

GW: So, New Order. I know obviously with the Haçienda/ Factory lineage that they were coming out to New York. They were doing gigs, not just New Order, but A Certain Ratio and Quando Quango, Mike Pickering’s band. I worked at the Haçienda in ’83, I was  the first dance music resident, but it wasn’t right – the sound system was always poor at the Haçienda. The positioning of the DJ booth was a joke – it was down some stairs and we could see people’s legs through a little slit. When they opened it, they just got it wrong, but they always talked about New York to me. They particularly talked about Danceteria and there was a point where I was going to do an exchange with Mark Kamins. He was going to come over to Manchester and I was supposed to go to New York, but it never happened. We spoke about this later, not long before he died. We were going to do that over a weekend. Do a gig in New York and a gig in Manchester. I was hearing a lot of this stuff from people like Mike Pickering and Rob Gretton, about New York and what was going on there. I worked at the Haçienda the night where they first showed the video to ‘Confusion’, and that made a big impression on me because by that point I’d started editing. We knew hardly anything about what was going on in New York, but I knew people were editing and I was influenced by things like that Big Apple Production Vol 1 – a bootleg mixer 12”. I was influenced by that and the ‘Kiss FM Mastermixes’ on Prelude. I could hear what was going on in the edit there.

AB: Some of those Big Apple ones were the Latin Rascals actually.

GW: Ah, yeah, yeah. But I think it was Mikey D’Merola who maybe did that one, I’m not sure, but I know Latin Rascals did a lot of that kind of stuff too.

Watch New Order Confusion video on YouTube

I was working that night in the Haçienda when they showed the video for the first time of Confusion, they had a premiere night for it. That was a massive eye opener for me, because I saw you taking a tape into the Funhouse on the reel to reel and that like shocked me because I was using reel to reel for editing my radio shows, but never had thought in the context that people were taking tracks into clubs and trying them out in this way, which is obvious now. And you having that facility, that you could walk into a venue like that. I think, from what I know about the Funhouse, as well, they were kind of, quite close to what I was doing musically – I think the type of stuff that they were playing in there was similar, you know. Whereas with Paradise Garage, there was definitely a big crossover, but there was stuff that was different again, that wouldn’t be played on our scene. But anyway, the New Order track was, again, from my point of view, you are causing me trouble, you are making a track with an ‘Indie’ artist. I played ‘Confusion’ – I played the instrumental version (‘Confused Beats’ to be precise), and also included in a radio mix, where, as in the clubs, I mashed it up with the acappella vocal from ‘Walking On Sunshine’ (later re-created by Dave Rofe for the 1997 ‘Viva Haçienda’ compilation) .

AB Yeah. I’ve heard that.

GW: So when that happened, seeing that video and seeing what you were doing, that was quite near to when I stopped DJing, a few months later, to make my own, obviously much less successful attempt at remixing/production. So, New Order, how did you come to be involved with them? Where did you meet them?

AB: Well, I met them through Michael Shamberg, who was a friend of mine, and who ran Factory in New York. He was working with them, so he thought they should meet me and work with me. And yeah. I mean, it was strictly through him. Yeah, through Michael.

GW: And that also threw up ‘Thieves Like Us’ later down the line. You did that in the session?

AB: Yeah. Yeah.

GW: That was probably the bigger track, bigger than ‘Confusion’. It was funny at the time actually in The Haçienda. There was an occurrence where at the end of the night, I was talking to Rob Gretton and Peter Hook and, at the time, I was now aware of what was going on – it was DJs mixing stuff in New York. I wanted to get a bit of the action myself in the UK. Like yourself, I used to go to the record companies all the time – I’d go to London, get all my records and stuff and I knew everyone there and I was saying, “Can I do a remix on it” and they were like, “Well, English DJs don’t remix, it’s American DJs”. And it’s like, I was banging my head against the wall trying to get in and I remember this one night I said to Hooky, I said, “Can I remix ‘Blue Monday’” and he went “Fuck off”. He was like, really offended by it almost. I was like, “Whoa”. I was only a 23 year old and it stayed with me for years, I thought, “Oh god, you know”, but years later when I saw his book, he actually brought it up and said that this had happened and said that he was wrong. He’d got it wrong and he referred to this mash-up that I done with ‘Walking on Sunshine’ with ‘Confusion’.

AB: Well, he did.

GW: Yeah, it was in the book (‘The Haçienda – How Not To Run A Club’), and I, for years, I just, like carried it with me thinking, “Oh, that embarrassing moment where I asked Hooky if I could remix ‘Blue Monday’”, I don’t know what I would have done with it, I think I just wanted to remix anything at the time – that’s what led me into production, that I couldn’t get remix work. In the end, I started (in collaboration with musicians) making my own music, but I was much more edits based, rather than a musician or somebody who’s technological. So with New Order, again… this British connection keeps coming up time and time again.

AB: Well you know, I had hits so, once I had one hit in England, I had a bunch all at once, and then I still hadn’t gone over, which kept a bit of a mystery too I guess.

GW: When did you first go over to the UK?

AB: Not till ’87

GW: OK, so late. Wow!.


So just to round things off now, by ‘Breakers Revenge’ (a track released under Arthur’s name, as part of the ‘Beat Street’ soundtrack in 1984), I’d stopped DJing. I also felt things had moved into a different phase. From a British perspective, what happened in my venues was that, like Legend in Manchester was a predominantly black crowd, and in the summer of ’83, breakdancing struck with a vengeance – it went massive. So all of a sudden, if there was anything remotely Electro played, there was a ruck of guys challenging each other on the dance floor (laughs). First, it was okay, it was great, everybody loves the visual spectacle, but after a while, you know, the girls’ dancing space was being invaded and you could see then that this is where the start of the UK Hip Hop movement starts to come from, and I could see the writing on the wall and that there was change. I wanted also to get into remixing and stuff like that, so I stopped DJing at the end of ’83. ‘Breakers Revenge’ came out later, but I was managing a breakdance crew for a during late ’83 into ’84 called Broken Glass, and so I was still aware of the music and everything, but I did feel that things have moved to a different phase. From your own perspective, at that time you were then starting to work with more established artists, getting commissions for major artists, and you had been brought into that, as you mentioned before, with the New Edition single as well. That it turned out to be a double-edged sword for you, it was a massive hit, but it overstretched the label to such an extent that, was it never the same after that?

AB: Was never the same, meaning?

GW: Well, I mean, Streetwise continued for a period of time after that, but ‘82/’83 remain its most vital years. How would you date that early 80’s era? At what point did you feel it changed and became something different? Or did it continue right through for you?

AB: Well, after ‘Beat Street’, for me, things changed a bit. You know, I started, like you said, I remixed Springsteen and Cyndi Lauper around ‘Beat Street’, around that same time. So like, ’84, I got a lot more major label recognition and a lot more drug use at that time, and then by the end of ’86 I stopped doing drugs – so that was a bit of a change at that point. Then I started going to London and doing records in London ’87 – Nenah Cherry and a few other things. I don’t know, my prime time was the ’80’s up until like, ’86 – then ’85 I did ‘Sun City’ (Artists United Against Apartheid) and then I made couple of artists’ records that had very little success but, you know, I did the record with Al Green. So I mean, things started changing. Then by early 90s, I moved to London. So then things were very different and I did other things than just make music. But yeah, obviously looking back my prime time was the ’80’s up to ’86 I’d say.

GW: There was a retrospective album of your work that was out about in the 90s I think?

AB: I did it with Oakenfold. Yeah.

GW: That’s right. But there’s never been anything that’s covered the whole gamut of what you did?

AB: You know, we’re doing that now. I’m doing that now.

GW: Oh, brilliant. So you’re gonna get the Northend stuff on there?

AB: Yeah, I mean, it’s going to be part of the Dance Masters thing that I just did with Shep (Pettibone). The second one is going to be my own.

GW: That sounds great.

AB: Yeah, that’ll come out next year.

GW: OK, well, we’ll look forward to that one.

Thanks so much for your time here, and congratulations, once again, on the Streetwise and ‘Planet Rock’ anniversaries.

INTERVIEW 20.04.22


Rockers Revenge Feat Donnie Calvin ‘Walking On Sunshine’ (Streetwise 1982)

Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force ‘Planet Rock’ – Inst (Tommy Boy 1982)

Northend ‘Tee’s Happy’ (Emergency 1981)

Planet Patrol ‘Rock At Your Own Risk’ (Tommy Boy 1982)

Touchdown ‘Ease Your Mind’ – US Remix/ ‘Ritmo Suave’ (Streetwise 1982)

Freeez ‘I Dub You’ (Streetwise 1983)

Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force ‘Looking For The Perfect Beat’ – Inst (Tommy Boy 1983)

New Order ‘Confused Beats’ (Factory/ Streetwise 1983)

Nairobi & The Awesome Foursome ‘Funky Soul Makossa’ – Inst (Streetwise 1982)

Kryptic Krew Feat Tina B, Afrika Bambataa & The Jazzy 5 ‘Jazzy Sensation’ (Tommy Boy 1981)

Michelle Wallace ‘Tee’s Right’ (Emergency 1982)

Planet Patrol ‘Cheap Thrills’ – Inst (Tommy Boy 1983)

Arthur Baker ‘Breaker’s Revenge’ (Atlantic 1984)

© Greg Wilson, April 2022


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