THE NAME ALAN KING is synonymous with the early history of Chicago House music. He was there at the beginning, and if this thing ever ends you can be sure that he’ll be there to play the afterhours, too.
A member of the legendary DJ crew “The Chosen Few,” Alan has been spreading the gospel of House music from its inception. With fellow Chosen Few DJs Wayne Williams, Jesse Saunders, and Andre and Tony Hatchett, Alan inspired countless future producers, performers and DJs as well as gave many Househeads their first introduction to this beautiful form of music.
After a nearly 15 year “retirement,” Alan returned to the decks in 2000 and again became one of the most sought-after DJs in town. His selection of music pushes crowds over the edge, and his skills at the turntables earn him respect from fellow DJs. Alongside Andre Hatchett and Wayne Williams, Alan brought the house down at a series of special Chosen Few engagements at The Dating Game, The Family Den and Dragon Fly in late December as a belated Christmas present to Chicago Househeads.
These days, you can find Alan all over the scene, from clubs throughout the city to his residency on the “Masters in the Mix” radio show on WCRX 88.1FM on Friday nights. Alan also plays regular gigs with the “Nu Bang Clan,” the DJ collective he leads on a mission to break new underground dance music to the people of Chicago. He’s also, of course, a fixture at the Chosen Few House Music Reunion (formerly known as the Old Skool Reunion) every Fourth of July weekend.
Alan agreed to answer a few questions for us about the past, the present, and the passion for House music that brought him back after a long hiatus away from the scene.
When did you start DJing?
The first party I played as a DJ was in the Spring of 1977.
How did you get your start?
My first party was actually my own 8th grade graduation party in the Spring of 1977, which turned out to be a pretty big party on the south side. I believe I had one turntable (belt drive) and a tape deck – no mixer! I guess it was the beginning of my skills as a programmer.
At that party, I really got hooked on the high of people reacting to the music I was playing. From there, I started to DJ more house parties (house basements, that is), which then led to club work and eventually the formation of the Chosen Few DJ crew.
What is the story on the “Chosen Few”?
In the late ’70s leading into the ’80s, while I was gaining a reputation as a DJ, the other popular DJs on the south side were Wayne Williams (now VP of A&R for Jive Records in New York), Jesse Saunders and Tony Hatchett (older brother of Andre Hatchett). Eventually, we all came together as one crew and basically started playing most of the hot parties on the south side at various nightspots, including the Loft, the Tree of Life, First Impressions, Sauer’s and South Commons. Wayne dubbed the crew the “Chosen Few” and the rest, I guess, is some degree of history.
In 1980, the Chosen Few were resident DJs at the Loft (located at 1416 South Michigan Avenue), which was a very important venue in the birth and development of what would become known as “House Music.” At the Loft, we were basically replicating, as best we could, what Frankie Knuckles was then doing for a slightly older, largely gay crowd at the Warehouse, for a crowd that consisted of mostly straight teenagers who had never experienced anything like it.
Parties at the Loft lasted from 10:00 p.m. or so until 8:00-9:00 a.m. the next morning, and were very intense. A lot of future House music legends received their “baptism” attending the Loft, including Steve “Silk” Hurley and Chip E. The Loft was also where Andre Hatchett made his DJ debut at a party promoted by Craig Loftis’ promotion group, Vertigo.
I guess the thing that makes me most proud about the Chosen Few is that we’ve all remained friends and DJ partners for nearly 30 years. Last summer we held our 15th Annual Chosen Few House Music Reunion Picnic, which was attended by several thousand people from around the world and is becoming one of the world’s premier House music events.
What was the scene like back in the ’70s and early ’80s?
It was electric. Between what Frankie was doing at the Warehouse and what we were doing at the Loft and other venues, it was just so fresh and new. There was great music coming out literally every week, and to play and experience it with enthusiastic crowds in warm venues like the Loft and Warehouse, it was really special.
Who were your influences?
As is probably obvious by now, Frankie Knuckles was a major influence for me, and he remains so to this day. I could spend the entire article talking about FK, but I’ll just note that first Wayne and then I spent every weekend at the Warehouse soaking in the vibe and what Frankie was doing musically, then we’d spend the whole week trying to chase down the records Frankie was playing.
Frankie was always very gracious and accommodating to us in terms of sharing music, etc. I can also say that Wayne Williams, who is an under-appreciated DJ and a true entertainer, has also been a major influence for me.
Were you involved in other aspects of the music industry?
I left for college in 1981, and the next thing I knew many of my friends (Jesse, Hurley, Farley, Chip, etc.) started putting out records. I missed that whole wave, and have really never had the time to do anything musically other than DJ.
Any interests outside of music?
Played basketball in high school and college, but the lower back is going…
Why did you take a break from the industry? What did you do during your hiatus?
Really, to pursue my education (college and law school) and then law practice. Through it all, I tried to stay close to the music.
What made you decide to come back?
It was a combination of things, but bottom line, House Music and DJing was that first true love that I just couldn’t deny. The warm reception I’ve received from the younger DJs and the crowds I’ve had the privilege to play for since returning has been wonderful.
What are the differences that you notice in the industry between now and then?
There are obvious changes such as the global nature of the scene, the impact of the internet and the “challenge” of hip hop. Most importantly, however, I still see and feel the same passion for this music. This is why House Music will never die.
Any advice to others in the industry?
My advice to others in this or any other industry is to never give up on your passion. It’s what fuels us and makes us alive.
Any last comments?
Only to thank 5 Magazine, which is helping to fuel a true House music resurgence in Chicago.