It’s one the most recognizable basslines in all of dance music, a rubbery two-bar strut of a low end that’s both anchor and hook. Along with its insistent rhythm guitar and soaring vocals, obliquely referencing love and lust in the hallowed halls of nightlife, that bassline has made D.C. LaRue’s “Cathedrals” one of the most enduring songs from the disco era.
Produced in collaboration with classically-trained guitarist Aram Schefrin and a team of top studio musicians that included Michael Zager of “Let’s All Chant” fame (the only surviving member of the session apart from LaRue himself), it’s among the tunes to receive the remix treatment on the recent two-part Z Records compilation D.C. LaRue: Resurrection–The Remixes. Though he’s certainly been remixed in the past, these are the first batch of tunes constructed from the original, long-missing multitrack tapes, reacquired by LaRue just a few years ago.
Could you possibly be the artist #DCLaRue would did the song #Indiscreet? That sh*t is AMAZING!
That song used to pack the dance floor. The #bassline and lyric is the bomb.
Best ~ @nilerodgers https://t.co/vWeGw0yMcV— Nile Rodgers (@nilerodgers) March 10, 2018
The release, culled from LaRue’s Pyramid and Casablanca discographies, also features reworked takes of “Let Them Dance,” “Do You Want the Real Thing,” breakbeat classic “Indiscreet” and “Overture”; Idjut Boys, Ron Basejam, JKriv, Dr. Packer, Folamour and Z Records honcho Dave Lee, better known as Joey Negro, are the men on the mix.
It’s the culmination of a slow-building rebirth of interest in all things LaRue, due in no small part to the addictive “Cathedrals” bassline. Years after its release, it’s become a mainstay of house music – among countless other producers, Lee himself sampled it in his 1992 club hit “Everybody.”
“If you had told me 40 years ago that this music, and that song, would still be around, that we’d be sitting here talking about it, I would have said that you were out of your mind,” LaRue said on a recent sunny afternoon at an old-school New York diner, a stroll away from his longtime apartment in the West Village. “Especially because there were all those years when a lot of people who thought this kind of music was garbage,” he adds.
Dave Lee, for one, never thought that “this kind of music” was garbage – disco has long been one of his career’s defining sounds for years, and his remix of “Cathedrals” serves as Resurrection’s centerpiece. “Yeah, they all wanted that song, but I kept for myself,” he says with a laugh over the phone from his London home. “It’s funny that I ended up remixing it all these years after ‘Everybody.’ That bassline, particularly with the guitar as a counterpoint. is just one of those things that gets instantly people to dance. It’s very hooky and memorable – the slightly poppier end of disco, but not so poppy that it’s not palatable. It actually reminds me of the kind of bassline that KC and the Sunshine Band might have used.”
“Cathedrals,” originally released in 1976, kicked off an enviable four-year run of hits, a list that includes “Do You Want the Real Thing” and “Hot Jungle Nights and Voodoo Rhythms,” in addition to the Resurrection cuts – but it wasn’t LaRue’s first go-round in the music biz. As a teenager in the ’60s, he released a handful of singles under the Matthew Reid moniker under the tutelage of Bob Crewe, best known for co-writing and producing many of the Four Seasons’ big hits. “I wanted to be like Bobby Rydell,” he admits.
If you had told me 40 years ago that this music, and that song, would still be around, I would have said that you were out of your mind.
Later, he went on to work separately with another couple of industry legends, Frank Slay and Don Kirshner. None of those records made kind of mark that LaRue was hoping for. But fueled by nights dancing to DJs like Howard Merritt at Flamingo, David Mancuso at the Loft, Nicky Siano at the Gallery and Tom Savarese at 12 West, the dream refused to die – and “Cathedrals,” LaRue’s first big hit, that made that dream a reality.
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How did the idea for “Cathedrals” come about?
It was three or four in the morning at the Loft, and I was standing on the sidelines with Steve D’Acquisto [the DJ and all-around disco insider who later went on to work with Arthur Russell]. David Mancuso didn’t mix songs together, and at one point, in the silence between the records, people were freaking out in anticipation of the next track – and when David put on the next record the crowd exploded. Steve goes, “Ahh, discos are the cathedrals of now!” I thought, “Ooh, that’s a good concept for a song.”
Around that same time, I had also become obsessed by Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby.” The way it broke down, to the bass and the strings and the girl, totally fascinated me. I was like, “Hmm, goodness, I’d like to make something like that.”
When you were making “Cathedrals,” did you have a sense of what a big, enduring song it would prove to be?
Well, nobody can ever really tell. It’s funny–Aram Schefrin was such a fussy guy, almost to his disadvantage. I had to drag him down off of his classically-trained, standard-of-excellence thing. But I remember coming out of the studio that night, walking down 54th St., when Aram said, “That’s the best fucking record I ever made in my life. I don’t think I’ll ever make a record quite as good.” So Aram, at least, had some idea.
Who came up with that bassline?
That was Fontz [bassist Steve “Fontz” Gelfand, who later played with Darryl Hall & John Oates among other notables]. He was basically a rock & roll guy. I can remember Aram saying to Fontz, “We need a disco bassline.” And Fontz said, “What the fuck is a disco bassline?” Aram told him to fool around and see what he could come up with, so he just fooled around for 15 minutes and came up with it.
And it became one of the biggest basslines of all time, at least in the dance-music realm.
As it turned out, yeah. And the song was a hit in the clubs, underground clubs, right away.
How did that happen so quickly? I’ve read that Steve handed a acetate to Nicky at the Gallery, who immediately gave it a spin – was that how it started?
Nicky was the probably first one to play the acetate, but I’m actually the one who gave it to him at the Gallery. I was on the floor, and I reached to hand him the record, and Nicky says “Oh, Steve told me about this!” And then I left. Nicky says he played it right away – and if he did, he’s the first one to play it.
Then I went to Bobby DJ [a.k.a. Bobby Guttadaro] at Infinity, then I walked down to 12 West and gave one to Tom Saverese. Steve gave another one to David Mancuso. And that was it – we just had four of them! And after they were playing it, it got big really quickly. Huge!
After having had misses earlier in your career, were you mentally prepared to have a hit?
I wasn’t prepared at all. I didn’t really have much direction at the time and the people around me, like Morris Levy, weren’t prepared, either. [Industry insider Levy was head of Roulette Records, the parent company of Pyramid.] Morris said, “I never had this happen to me! I don’t know what the fuck to do with you!” I mean, I was a white boy with a huge disco record, and my performance options were pretty limited. Also, I had done an interview with [LGBT magazine] The Advocate and they put me on the cover. I didn’t mention my sexuality in the article, but my face on a gay magazine ended up on every desk in the music industry.
After selling millions of records, they wouldn’t give me the time of day. People would cross the street to avoid saying hello to me.
That was still a problem at the time?
It made it very difficult for me! It wasn’t a good time to come out quite yet. I couldn’t be booked, so I was useless.
Were you getting much radio play?
Nope, not at all. It was too sexual.
By today’s standards, the lyrics actually seem a bit chaste.
But back then, it was too much for radio. They did play it in England & Europe, but not at all in the U.S.
Still, just from it being a club hit, it was enough to give you a jump-start on a pretty good four-year run.
Absolutely, but after those later records I put out on Casablanca, there wasn’t really a reason to keep on with it. By some point in the early ’80s, I started feeling abused by the industry. After selling millions of records, they wouldn’t give me the time of day. People would cross the street to avoid saying hello to me.
Was that because disco, as a mainstream commercial phenomenon, had run its course?
Yes, it had faded away, and people were afraid that I would ask them for a deal. [laughs] It was hopeless, so I went back to what I had been doing, graphic design, and I picked up photography. But I was frustrated. I would listen to my records over the years, and go, “Fucking pearls before swine! Those assholes! I bared my soul in these lyrics!”
You had some lean years after your burst of success, didn’t you?
All my years have been lean years! [laughs] There have always been things I’ve wanted to do, but didn’t have the money to do them. And I had a cocaine habit, so whenever I got money, I bought cocaine. It wasn’t at the point where it was a huge problem, though I would have lived better if it wasn’t for that. But those days are long gone.
Had you pretty much given up on music at that point? I think the only record I have with your voice on it from later years is Adam Goldstone’s “Edge of Night” [from the 2001 Nuphonic album Lower East Side Stories].
I didn’t even want to do that. Adam had to talk me into it. And Nuphonic immediately went under after that – which is too bad because that was a great record. I also did [2009’s] “Good Morning My Love” with the Harlem Boys Choir, but that didn’t sell. In 2010, I did one with Ian Levine [“Crash & Burn”]. And I also did a track with Jimmy Michaels [2014’s “More Things Change”]. But I was pretty much done with recording.
As the years went on, were you aware of how often your music, particularly “Cathedrals,” was being used as sampling material?
Yeah, and I was also aware that I wasn’t getting paid!
Was that because you had problems with publishing rights?
Publishing rights were never a problem. There was never a question regarding that. The problem was simply people just didn’t pay for them. That’s gotten better, though.
You did have problems with getting the original multitracks though, right?
Nobody could find them. Nobody knew where the multitracks and masters were. But a little over two years ago, I wished a Facebook acquaintance a happy birthday. I didn’t know him – we were just Facebook friends. I looked up on the corner and saw something like “Universal Music Archives,” so I also said, “Oh, and by the way, I’ve been looking for my original analog multitracks for 35 years, and nobody can find them. Could you check?” And he found them right away! After years of knocking my head against the wall trying to track them down, it was that easy.
How did getting those multitracks lead to this remix project?
My friends have always advised me to never get my hopes up. But once I had those tapes, I took all the money I had and had them transported, baked and converted [to digital]. Then I got in touch with Jellybean Benitez, who’s always been a dear friend. I asked him if he’d been interested in doing something with “Cathedrals” and all these other songs? He wasn’t prepared to do what I was asking – he doesn’t have a label any more – but he advised me to find somebody who has a label, who can get in touch with really hot DJs, and who knows how to market these things.
And that ended up being Dave Lee.
Well, I had some contact with him years ago, when he put out “Everybody.” He had gotten in touch with me at the time – he was the only person to ever ask permission to use a “Cathedral” sample. And he paid me!
That was a pretty big song.
It was, but the one that was even bigger was [Bobby Blanco & Miki Moto’s 2004 track] “3 AM.” That was huge! Anyway, my experience with Dave Lee had been very positive – and I knew he liked my music, and I knew he had a record operation, and I knew he was successful, and I knew he was a guy who has remained relevant to this minute. And he pays, so you can’t do better than that. I sent him an e-mail: “Here are the tracks I have. Would you like to do a remix project?” And he agreed immediately. I went to bed thinking, at last.
How do you like the results?
Well, the funny thing was that I didn’t ask for approval on these new versions. I didn’t hear any of them until they were released. I mean, I haven’t seriously making records for 35 years, and it’s a different world – what do I know?
Joey put so much care into this whole project. It took like a year. I said to Joey, “I want you to put this out before I pass away!” And he goes, “It’ll be out when it’s ready.” And as it turns out, I love all the remixes – it’s a whole new standard of excellence, in my humble opinion, and they thrill me. These kids, the ones who Joey picked for this, are terrific.
And I’m so glad this has happened. When I was converting the tapes, which cost me several thousand dollars, people were almost trying to talk me out of it, going, “D.C., you’re older now, do you really want to spend all the money you have saved on this pie in the sky project?” But these songs are my legacy. I had to do it.
You know, until this was all happening, I’ve never really even thought about things like legacy, about the importance of my music. I thought my music was good, but now I realize that its more than that. None of my songs are “shake your booty” or “boogie oogie oogie” or whatever – even “Let Them Dance” was interesting enough, since it’s really all about drug dealers and hustlers and everything. They’re a little bit deeper, which is why they never were on the radio. But if I had had a radio song like “I Feel Love”…can you imagine? [laughs]
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