Kevin Starke is the owner of KStarke Records, the pre-eminent record store in Chicago both for House and other genres of music, for The Armando Project. Kevin was interviewed at KStarke on January 7, 2008. Errors in transcription are the fault of the interviewer.
KEVIN STARKE: When it comes to Armando, there’s one story that I always tell a lot of guys about. I would go on Saturday nights when Armando played at the Warehouse. I would go down there to watch him play and talk to him, just find out information on records. He’d always show me records when I didn’t know what it was. He was a nice enough guy – some DJs won’t show you anything…
Like the stories about covering up the labels?
KEVIN: Yeah. But Armando would show me what the song was, or tell me where I could get it and stuff like that. I was really young so I wanted to learn all of this stuff. Saturday nights at the Warehouse – this is the “second generation” Warehouse, the one on Randolph – it was primarily a black club. There weren’t too many white guys. Latino night was primarily on Friday night, Saturday was black, Sunday was the gay night.
But I remember this – he looked at me one night, and said, “Watch this. This is the record I’m going to play and mess these guys up.” And he showed me the record: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana! I’m thinking, oh, they’re never going to dance to this! They’re going to get pissed! He was playing all Deep House – well, they call it “disco” now, but it was what they called “deep house” then.
So he threw that on. These people lost their minds. People went fucking nuts. People were dancing all crazy and stuff. That’s when I kind of looked at it, like – Okay, never judge a book by its cover. Never say you can only play this kind of music at this kind of a club. Never say this type of people only like this type of music. You never know. As a DJ, once you’ve got the crowd – they’re yours. It was weird for me to see that, you know? To play a rock song like that.
The thing is, after you related it to me the first time, I mentioned it to Paul Johnson. He not only could see Armando doing that, but he was there.
KEVIN: Yep, I was there. Everyone went nuts to “Teen Spirit.” I thought they’d walk off the floor and get pissed but they went ballistic when he played it.
What was it about Armando that really drew you to his music?
KEVIN: To him in particular? To start with, I’ve always been a fan of acid music. There are a lot of guys that put out Acid House now and even before that – DJ Pierre and those guys. I’ve heard a lot of imitators, and I don’t think they’re bad, but I’ve never heard anyone put out an acid bassline like Armando. There are a lot of guys that try to imitate his style, but I’ve never heard anyone put out a track with a 303 and make those kind of sounds that he made. I think “Land of Confusion” is one of the best acid tracks ever made. I’d have to put it as one of my all-time favorites.
I noticed that House Music started changing in the ’90s and people tried to put out edits that sounded like his. You know – his comps would come out and I’d buy them. He’d always put those beat tracks and acid tracks on there for guys like me. I was always a trackhead-type guy and really got into that stuff, so I liked that he stayed with that stuff and didn’t change like some guys did. With some guys, whenever the times change – that’s what they’re doing.
Since you probably have more knowledge about the vintage vinyl landscape than anyone else in the country, if not the world, how much does a copy of, say, “Land of Confusion” run these days?
KEVIN: Out of my store, I’d probably sell a mint copy for fifty bucks. I remember putting one on eBay and I got $200 for it. I see them on eBay for anywhere from $50 to $75. It goes for some decent money, put it that way. It’s not an easy one to find anymore.
Well a lot of his stuff is gone – the labels don’t exist, and it’s not even clear who or what entity owns the rights to a lot of material from labels that have gone out of business from back then.
KEVIN: Westbrook Records is gone, yeah. Even the bootleg tapes. I was playing some of it a minute ago and had some of this on… Guys come in and they’re fans of Armando and what some of them know are tracks like some of these down in the bins… [reaches under the counter] This is one from the ’90s, a bootleg from Trax Records. And this one – I have to show you a prized possession I have. This one is a ten inch test pressing, a white label of a different version of “Land of Confusion” before it ever came out. I’ll play it for you. It’s totally different that the mixes that everyone knows.
[someone in the store]: Is that an Armando remix? Which one?
KEVIN: This is a remix of Armando’s “Land of Confusion”. There really aren’t any records by Armando that I don’t have, I don’t think. I’ve sold a lot of pieces from my own personal collection over the years but his stuff, I won’t – I refuse to get rid of that stuff. I keep all of his. But this has got to be one of the better ones. Friends of Armando’s will come in here and I’ll show them this one: “This is a ten inch version of ‘Land of Confusion’ that never got released.” “What do you mean a ten inch?” I’ll play it for them and they’re blown away. You notice the difference right away if you know it really well. I showed this to Gene Hunt and he’d never seen it before.
Do you remember where you picked it up from?
KEVIN: No, I don’t remember. I had a couple of them, actually. I don’t remember who gave it me. I think I gave the other copy to someone a long time ago before the eBay thing came along…
I shouldn’t just talk about the acid tracks stuff – I know that’s not all he did – but he really had that thick, crazy sound. You had DJ Pierre and Phuture guys, and then Armando. That’s just my opinion. Whenever I’m in the store and I put on some Armando stuff, the guys that are in the store are either like (a) they know and they’re like “Yeah!” or (b) the look over and say, “What is that? That for sale?” Nope, that’s from my personal collection. “You gonna get some?” I hope! They’re hard to find. If I would have known then, I would have bought boxes of them.
But Armando was really approachable, a really friendly guy. You could ask him anything and he’d talk to you. “Here, check this record out. You can pick it up here or here.” That was one of the reasons I went to the Warehouse. I wish he was still here and still making music. Through the years that sound just hasn’t been recreated. There’s a lot of guys who tried. If I had to pick a guy that was really close now – have you ever heard of James Cotton or any of those guys?
KEVIN: For a close sound to an Armando sound? I’d say that guy’s pretty good. I’ve heard some stuff he’s done, and he’s pretty close. And what’s unfortunate about it is you get all of these old cats that are starting to get back in the game again trying to catch up or find something new. What they don’t realize is that, in my opinion, people really want a lot of that old stuff, that old sound again. The new guys like James Cotton – they’re bringing that old sound back because they know that’s what hot and people are hungry for that sound again. I see some guys mixing at the clubs and it looks like they don’t know how to do it, how to work that old stuff. I’m not saying you have to live in the past, not at all. Steve who works here [DJ Stephen P.] – I’ll give him records once in awhile, like – here, take this, go play it at The Note and watch, someone will go nuts. He’ll play it and come back the next day and be like “Oh man, this guy was going crazy!”
Some people are afraid to experiment with these young kids. Just like Armando – you’ve got to be willing to take a step away from whatever the playlist is. Don’t follow the playlist every time. That was a ballsy move to put on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” like that. If you’re a DJ like Armando and you’ve got their attention and they’re all looking at you, they don’t care what you play – they’ll like it just because you’re playing it. I don’t think some of these bigger name guys realize that. Maybe some of them get so big that they’re out to promote a certain record or play certain songs. Like when Frankie Knuckles goes to Zentra – there are some new people there but 90% of the people there want to hear the Frankie that they knew. They want to hear what they remember, what they love, you know? It’s just – remember what made you big in the first place.
It’s unfortunate that the good ones like that have to go. You get a lot of documentaries coming out now and he’s another guy that doesn’t get credit like he should. There’s a lot of guys like him that didn’t get the respect for what the did.