Underground Classic: Soho "Hot Music" / Wynton Marsalis "Skain's Domain"
Welcome the first "Underground Classic" column. This is basically a place to nerd out on classic music in all the ways that record nerds do. So since the column's name is cribbed from the name of Pal Joey's debut 12inch (Soho was one of his many aliases), let's use that as jump-off point for today's nerdery.
In 1986, a 25-year-old trumpeter Wynton Marsalis released his Grammy Award-winning Jazz album J Mood. That same year, Pal Joey (Joseph Longo) began working at NYC's Vinylmania record store which was ground zero for dance music in the late 80s-early 90s, and where Longo became THE guy to consult with about what's hot.
One 3sec loop from Marsalis' song "Skain's Domain" unites these two.
NYC in the early 80s is easily my favorite time in music history because styles and sounds were thrown into the melting pot (Disco, Punk, Funk, Reggae) birthing the new genres Hip-Hop and Electro in the process. Longo was most certainly a product of that environment, with his decades-long discography of varied stylistic output as proof. But even with as much influence as he had, Longo still has trouble considering himself an artist. He says "I still don't call myself an artist. An artist to me is someone that's in the forefront and getting out on stage. It took 10 or 12 years for me to actually say I am a record producer."
Best known for Dance music production, his origin story begins with an internship at the legendary Power Play Studios in Queens. The same studio where Hip-Hop acts Run DMC, LL Cool J, and EPMD recorded. (Fun Fact: Longo produced the later-era Boogie Down Productions classic "Love's Gonna Getcha"). This experience in Hip-Hop, combined with his knowledge of drum machines and samplers, became the centerpiece of his Dance music ventures which were often released under one of his many aliases. A tactic he employed so as not to be pigeon-holed into any specific sound, leaving room for experimentation.
Even on Underground Classic where he's playing the role of both Soho AND Earth People on the b-side (for the other mega classic / nudisco-before-nudisco-was- a-thing, "Dance"), you'd have no idea this music was coming from the same person. "Hot Music" isn't even House per se. It's a whole other sound and, to this day, I've yet to hear another song like it (Broken Beat might be the closest related genre). Using "Skain's Domain" as the basis, the remainder of the production is essentially a gigantic, stuttering drumbreak. It seems so simple, but like many of his sample choices it all boils down to maximizing those 3seconds of magic. For "Hot Music" these moments come immediately after a crescendoing Marsalis trumpet solo. I've looked for so many of my own samples it's easy to imagine the moment of clarity hitting Longo's ear at that particular spot in the song. That spot where you rewind immediately to make sure what you just heard was what you just heard. The rest of the World melts away while you manage all the ideas brewing in that moment of inspiration.
And sometimes you make a banger in the process.
Marsalis was just getting started in '86 and he has since grown to be one of the most respected Trumpet players in modern Jazz. And after "Hot Music" Longo went on to become a defining voice in Dance music, an unsung hero but genre-changing nonetheless. He continues to release music under his own imprint and is always searching for his next sound. He explains "I do things first 'cause I love to do it, and hopefully people like it, but just like anything else there's some songs they like and some songs they like less, some they don't like at all. I love them all. Some of them grew up to be doctors and lawyers and some of them pump gas but they're all my babies."