Photo: ‘Tal-Paul: Paul Johnson (left) and DJ Lil’Tal (right) are the Doobie Brothas, from the artwork for the Doobie Bruthas EP on Dance Mania.
This summer marked the release of The Doobie Bruthas project (DM-301), a new EP from the resurgent Dance Mania Records featuring two old friends & remarkable producers from the label’s golden era.
The Doobie Bruthas are DJ Paul Johnson and the man of the hour, DJ Lil’ Tal. Our guy Lil’ Tal has deep roots in the Chicago House Scene. A DJ from a preternaturally young age and member of the legendary Chicago Traxmen, his pedigree includes Dance Mania releases Flava In Ya Ear, Trax 4da Women, Southside Madness (copies of which sell for some $90+ on discogs), Mind Games and the mysterious Volume 3 in the Basement Trax series (aka The Unreleased Trax).
Earlier this year, Lil’ Tal also dropped the highly regarded Juke Tracks on vinyl from Rodney Bakerr’s seminal rockin’ House. A 5 Magazine Interview is overdue, to say the least. And here it is.
How did you get into DJing? Around what time was this?
I got into music at an early age. I learned the basic DJing technique at the age of 9. It took about four hours for me to learn the basics of mixing two records together. I had to learn how to count the beats, learn the format of songs, what the breaks are in a song and how long the normal lengths are. But it was around 1981-82 when I started trying to figure it out. So I can say around ’83 is the year I learned the skillz of the craft!
Was Flava in Ya Ear your first record? How did you hook up with Dance Mania?
Yes, it was my very first release on vinyl. I was making tracks for probably around four or five years prior to that. I hooked up with Dance Mania through my good friend and mentor of music Paul Johnson. I used to go to his house to make tracks and learn equipment ’cause his ass always had some type of new equipment every few months or so.
But I had asked him how I could get this released… He said, simple, take it to Ray Barney and tell him I sent you to him with a project to release. Then he said, better yet I’m just gonna call him and tell him I got a new artist for you. And that was it!
That and Trax 4da Women are both credited to you & the Chicago Traxmen. Who worked on those tracks? or were 5 guys in the studio putting those together?
This is how it goes. The Chicago Traxmen is a group of DJs and producers. The members are Paul Johnson, Robert Armani, Eric Martin, Drew Sky and Michael Airhart, all of which are original members. Then the group picked up two more members, which was me and Gant-Man. We were more like the “first round draft pick” of the final members to join!
So for my first EP, Paul said that putting the Chicago Traxmen name on the record was to let everyone know that this was a bangin’ ass record from a fresh member of the camp. The Traxmen name was already known, so it was to solidify that the music was from a well-known brand… and don’t hesitate to buy it!!
Paul helped me with production, giving me tips on how to construct some of the arrangements to my songs because I was just learning some of the new equipment while putting my EP together. Gant is the voice on “Trax 4 Da Women”. I got the original concept from a DJ friend of me and Gant’s named Tydell (AKA DJ Ty) who was one of the DJs we used to kick it with at the project parties back in the day. All my tracks are produced by me – all of them!
It’s not often we all record together ’cause we like to be surprised with each other’s work. But we do have sessions here and there together.
One more “old” record – this is one of my favorites not just from you but from the Dance Mania catalog: Basement Trax Vol. 3. How did that wind up as a split between you and Gant? How did that record get made? It was called “Unreleased Trax” when it dropped I think.
Me and Gant had tracks just lying around and we were gonna do an EP together sooner or later. I noticed that Paul had skipped a volume in the Basement Trax series. So I said, Gant, we should ask Paul if we can make this the record that got “lost”. He said cool, so we called it Basement Trax: The Lost Record Vol 3 – The Unreleased Trax.
On discogs.com, there’s a gap for you between the mid-1990s and the last few years. Did you retire from the industry for a minute or are there a bunch of records that aren’t listed up there?
I took a break here and there, but never stopped DJing or producing. I had projects that labels brought but the labels either held the project for years or never released it. I got paid for my work, but was just upset it was held or never released it as it kept my name hidden from the fans, as if I wasn’t doing any work.
But I did release projects for Chrissy Murderbot’s label and Rockin’ House Records. During this time I did well over 20 mixtape projects too.
You’re working on some new shit with Paul Johnson, right? What’s up with The Doobie Bruthas?
Oh my fucking goodness, this project is about to be dope as hell! The world is about to hear a whole different side of me that they never experienced before. This project is so dope I don’t really want to give too much info on it!!
Me and Paul have teamed up to form “The Doobie Bruthas Project”. Our first release is on Dance Mania Records, due out this summer. We are also wrapping up the second project now, soon to be released. We don’t know if these projects are gonna be exclusively for Dance Mania Records only yet, but it’s dope as fuck.
We are also getting ready to do a Chicago Traxmen reunion album with the whole team. We got big plans for this House culture so be on the look out!
So what kind of gear are you working with now? Ghetto House has always been stripped down – what does Lil’Tal need to make a new track?
For my Ghetto House/Booty House style of tracks I like to work on vintage equipment. Like Roland R-70, Boss 660, Casio RZ-1, Roland MS-1, 909, 808 – just to name a few pieces. When we started this genre, we didn’t have thousands of dollars to buy equipment. We bought our shit used from the pawn shop. But we pushed ourselves to get more than what the machines really allowed us to do. It kept us limited, but we made the best out of it, so that’s what I like to use to get that ghetto feel.
But when I create my House tunes I use a couple of different things. I use the MPC 2000 and 3000, FL Studio, Sony Acid, Sound Forge, and Paul is giving me lessons in Reaper with Guru (It’s a pretty dope ass program) and Reason.
Pretty much basic shits. I don’t need all that fancy high-end shit because I know how to create whatever sound I’m trying to get.
Where do you think this music can take you? Or better yet: where do you want it to take you?
I believe that there is no limit to the music, so long as I keep true to myself and the sound it can take me anywhere as long as I believe in what I do.
Where do I want it to take me?
Well back on the road for starters!! [laughs] But just to beautiful places so that the people can witness the love that I put in my music, live throughout the world…
You’re doing a mix with this interview that will be published on 5chicago.com. Anything you want to tell us about that?
Yes! Never sleep on me because a lot of people think that because all my releases used to be Ghetto/Juke House, that’s all I do. But surprise – now you can witness the side that most people never witness. I love House Music, so I’m giving you my all in this mix and I hope that everyone enjoys it!!
Thank you Terry, Cz, and the entire staff at 5 Magazine!