The 80s: 3 Turntables and a Microphone 🎤
My first DJ residency began in the 80s at Heartbreak NYC, and it was the beginning of my accidental career as a DJ. Put the kettle on ☕️ … I’ve got a little story.
I was really young when I had my first record deal in Europe, but It fell apart and died as soon as it began, due to personal/executive changes at the wrong time at the record label. Life. But at least the record labels in Europe didn't have a problem with a woman slinging a Fender Stratocaster guitar, fronting an all guy band, & singing Rock. However, I was told it was a big problem here in the states, the labels didn’t want to know. I was fed up with hearing the same story over and over, It was a boys club, and they never were going to let me in. I was thinking perhaps I'd move to London, start fresh, see what happens. At least the vibe over there was more open minded toward women. I was waitressing at the time, trying to keep a band together, and not loose my vision as an artist. It was the toughest time in my life.
Anyway, I would fly as a courier, a cool little setup back then where you only bring your carry on luggage and transport the check in bags for various companies, hoping that what you were transporting wouldn't land you in jail. Joke. But seriously, it was through a legit situation and my friend Ronnie hooked me up. I flew for free. London for free! Done deal. Ronnie told me that there was another guy who was in the music business who also flew back and forth a few times a month doing the courier thing, and perhaps we should talk. Never know. She had no idea what he did, but she gave me his number in London.
I got to London, and through various hook-ups, met with many top executives in London. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough recorded material with me to win people over, and as my band was in NY, no way to show them what I could do on-stage live. So, I didn't wind up landing a new record deal. But oddly, every meeting I went on, I got tons of very positive encouraging advice, as well as an abundance of new vinyl, and a few test pressings of records that would soon become massive hits. I didn’t know it at the time, but those little presents would serve me well in just a few months down the road. But in the moment, all I knew was rejection. My mission wasn’t turning out as planned, and I tried not to get discouraged.
The last number I dialed (yes dialed.... there were still rotary phones back then) was this courier guy (who's name I forget). He was working with a band in London, who not long after talking to him, blew up with a huge hit record. ‘Come On Eileen’. Anyway, he tells me straight off “I need to have someone DJ two weeks a month at this private club called Joanna's in NY, and cover my shift when I'm in London”. Joanna's was an upscale private club in the Flatiron district, off 5th Avenue, and you needed a membership to go there. The membership wasn't cheap either. The kind of place where you made a hundred dollar tip to play a song. I thought to myself, well, he wants to pay me to play records….hell yeah! I had no idea about DJ life, I spent all my days hanging in clubs with live music, never gave much thought to DJs or what they did. I went back to NYC with my box of records, showed up at Joanna’s with no idea what to do…and winged it. I also had all these ‘fresh cuts’ thanks to all the record companies, so I appeared cooler than I was… I had the goods. I made more tips than salary in the few months I worked there. But the music vibe there was very Euro, and at that time, all I wanted to do was play 60’s Rock, Funk, & Soul. James Brown in particular, he was my higher power when it came to dancing, but James Brown didn’t fly at Joanna’s, so I knew my lifespan there would be short. I had a plan.
My neighbor down the road was a beautiful woman named Sharon Lee, and she looked like Marilyn Monroe. Sharon was the head DJ at this club called Heartbreak. The music there was awesome. From 50s rockabilly to Motown/Soul and 80s new cuts and the beginnings of cross-over Hip Hop. Heartbreak was a 50s diner that truckers ate at before starting their shifts at 6am. But at night it was transformed into this magical spot, in particular on Sundays and Mondays. After my shifts at Joanna’s, and pretty much every night, I went to Heartbreak and trained with Sharon, and learned the tricks of the trade. She taught me how to manipulate a room playing anything from the Blue Danube Waltz to the Stray Cats. I already was a bit of a musicologist, but through her… I learned how to make my knowledge work for me. Sharon was a genius, and taught me to be fearless, and how to mess with a packed dance floor to get the reactions I wanted. She had more tricks up her sleeve than any magician. I learned from her, and pulled out all the stops every night. Tom Finn was the other DJ there, who was a teen rockstar prior to his DJ life, playing bass for hit band The Left Banke (‘Walk Away Renee’). Tom skooled me on all the 50s music that I wasn’t familiar with. The deep cuts. As it turned out, I had a knack for shaking things up real good.
Within a year, I took over the legendary Monday Nights at Heartbreak, promoted by Frankie Scinlaro as well as a few other nights during the week. It was there that a scout from NIKE showed up and hired me on the spot to DJ their closing party at the Olympics in LA. My first 'corporate' gig, w/The Neville Brothers, on a beach w/ over 5000 guests. Not bad! Every night at Heartbreak was packed wall to wall, thousands of people walked through that door in search of a fun night. The place was so packed that most people never saw the DJ booth, and many assumed I was a guy. Once I was on a plane flying home from LA and overhead two women talking about how fantastic a DJ I was, however they had no idea what I looked like. I remained a fly in the way listening and it was hilarious. But it was all about the music, not me. I didn't promote myself as DJs do these days, few of the major DJs working the big clubs did. I went to work ... and I rocked the house. That's all I cared about. When I came home, I worked on writing my own music for my own projects. I really kept it separate. Just from that job alone, I can turn on the TV at any time now, click through the channels and in no time see someone who hung at Heartbreak that I knew. Pretty crazy. From that job alone, I'm still a working DJ, it's still my 9-5 job, 9pm-5am that is! People go on and on about Studio 54, but let me tell you, that little diner downtown had quite the life. One of the main reasons celebrities, politicians and athletes loved hanging there, was that no cameras were allowed. People could just let it all hang out sans fear of seeing it on Page 6 the next day. A freedom that doesn’t exist anymore. All the gossip rags would try to bribe all of us for info and no one ever gave in. Some things in life were more important than money back then, and privacy was cherished.
On any given Monday night, my DJ booth would be filled with interesting characters. There was no VIP room, there was a kitchen in the back, or the DJ booth. That was as VIP as it got. Cher, Bruce Willis, Micky Rourke, Rob Lowe & all the Brat Pack, were regulars. The NY Giants came every week after practice to get their funk on, and I was friends with many of the Mets and the Rangers as well. If a major band was in town, they hung there. The guys from KISS, and a lot of artists who lived in NY made Heartbreak their home back then. I remember nights with Roger Taylor from Queen telling me wonderful stories, while I kept the dance floor going. Steve Jordan once brought my hero Keith Richards in and Keith asked to meet ME after hearing me spin, and then he spent a few hours spinning with me. That meeting led to his wife Patti Hansen hiring me to DJ his surprise birthday party years later. Sick! I remember hanging with Patrick Swayze, who confided in me about a dancing movie he was about to make, and how he was excited about a song he wrote that might wind up in that movie. Dirty Dancing! Oh the stories… I could go on and on (and still never betray anyone’s secrets). It was surreal what my life was like during my residency at Heartbreak. It was the most fun job, and opportunities and gigs till present themselves to me because of my time well spent there. My first private corporate gig was for Nike at the closing party at the Olympics in LA., and they scouted me at Heartbreak. It was that gig that later gave me the idea (and confidence), of starting my own private event business. I never did make it to MTV at it’s peak as a rockstar, but I did as a DJ at Heartbreak, and I was more than fine with that. But, even though I could go on and on about the celebrities & fun stories that were born at this special club, the coolest part about my residency at Heartbreak was that I developed friendships that are still going strong. People that I love and will forever love. It’s a beautiful thing. It also was the beginning of my career as a DJ, a career that I never planned on having. A career that has kept a roof over my head, and food on the table for decades. A wonderful accidental career.
Life can be funny sometimes, you make one phone call and everything changes. If the opportunity ever arises, just say yes to something off the wall, and watch magic happen. The end.
Welcome to my virtual loft party, make yourself at home. I'll put on the kettle, pour a few, and order a pizza. I've many tales to tell, some fun stories, and lots of helpful hints to share to help ignite your imagination when planning a party, grand event or wedding. Stay tuned!