My musical foundations were deeply rooted in Wayne & Barry Geftman’s The Second Story nightclub in Philly. A couple of months after it opened, as my brother Jimmy worked the lights, I was in the booth – watching, grooving, taking notes on specific songs or songs that “blended” well together. I did this on a few scraps of paper that I crammed into my sock!
The original DJ for The Second Story was known in New York as a real talent and had begun to do some incredible remixing (not that I really understood much about that then – frankly not many did). He was a short (around 5’5″), young (23) and a pretty quiet guy who was extending “the break” of songs in ways that were driving all us of crazy.
Ohhhh and the way he worked the percussion! I remember thinking, “Those are the parts of the songs I love too – all of drums!” The mustachioed DJ worked three of the “first series” Technics 1200 turntables in a frenetic yet controlled pace.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″] “I thought I was the best DJ in the world until I heard Walter Gibbons play.” –Jellybean Benitez [/quote]
A few months later he was back to NYC… and his work in Philly barely remembered in the disco annals. Readers of this column have undoubtedly danced to his genius. Unfortunately, too many people do not know nor have given enough credit to Walter Gibbons.
If I have to inform you that this was the first commercially released 12″ and if you don’t know and love this song (in which Mr. Gibbons reworked the OG to the bone)… there may be no hope for you. By the way: Walter only made $185 to do the OG.
This is a column where there is not a ton known about the featured artist. I’m going to really let the music he touched tell (sorry: sing) his story. What is known: he grew up raised by his mom with no pop in sight; hung around with the black girls in his Brooklyn schools; was gay and moved in with his boyfriend in late ’72 at eighteen. He loved playing at house parties (that means “parties in homes” – we’re not in the mid-’80s yet). But he had also began playing in some smaller clubs and sold records at the Melody Song Shops, aka Melody Records.
17 Essential Walter Gibbons Mixes
Late in ’74, Gibbons’ instinctual and eclectic skills as a “selector” not only made dancers move but also made other DJs take notice. His colleagues also were awe-struck by Walter’s skills, including matching the beat effortlessly. A lot of those skills finally met a good stage for Walter to showcase them in ’74-’75 at an afterhours club called Galaxy 21 in Manhattan. That’s where Francois K. used to play drums along with him although it was noted that Walter didn’t like it. In the many great articles written about Walter by Bill Brewster, Frank Broughton, Tim Lawrence, and Peter Shapiro, luminaries like Danny Krivit, Jellybean Benitez, Tom Moulton, Tony Smith, John Luongo, David Todd, Kenny Carpenter and Francois too all have gushed about Gibbons’ approach to DJing and remixing. In fact, in an interview in the magazine Collusion, Jellybean stated, “I thought I was the best DJ in the world until I heard Walter Gibbons play.”
A lesser known Holloway vamp got “pimped out” on the “Disco Madness” album, which you MUST FIND!
Today because of the immediate availability of music digitally, short “sets,” and general risk-avoidance, it’s rare that DJs really BREAK a record… That is, take a just released or a really unknown song and make it popular or in effect launch it. This was another of Walter’s fortes. Much of what he played was not in the commercial disco mainstream but rather the soulful, funky, percussive and even hip-hoppy-break-beaty underbelly of dance music that he “Mixed with LOVE” (his moniker on many 12″s). He also was one of the first DJs to make his own acetate remixes to be able to share unique versions of hits or future hits.
To continue our “story-sound-scape” of Walter, here was what he was playing around the time I first met him:
- Don’t Leave Me This Way/Any Way You Like It/Don’t Know Why I Love You – Thelma Houston
- Everybody Have a Good Time – Archie Bell & the Drells
- Freedom to Express Yourself – Denise LaSalle
- It Ain’t Reggae (But It’s Funky) – Instant Funk
- It Don’t Have to be Funky – Salsoul Orchestra
- Let Yourself Go/You’re My Driving Wheel – Supremes
- No, No, No, My Friend – Devoshun
- Overture/Indiscreet/Don’t Keep it in the Shadows – D.C. La Rue
- That’s the Trouble – Grace Jones
- Tried, Tested and Found True – Ashford & Simpson
These weren’t all the “hits” of that month or even that year but, if you YouTube these and listen, you’ll get an hour plus of great music and understand Gibbons’ sensibilities and the dance floor vibe he created. The only missing component is experiencing Walter’s effortless and innovative approach to the ART of DJing.
I Got My Mind Made Up (Instant Funk) I know the label says “Larry” (Levan) remixed this… but did he?!? Walter Gibbons knows the real story!
So you may be wondering, why is he not “legendary”? Why haven’t I heard much or anything about him? Well, Walter became a born-again Christian and his faith led him to some things (the church, gospel records, and even stacking a Bible next to the turntables on occasion) and away from others (songs with negative, sex-related, or drug-themed lyrics). He also was said to have become very bold in conveying his beliefs to others that (as we can imagine given the culture of that period) alienated record label execs, club owners and his DJ colleagues.
Sadly, Walter Gibbons would succumb to the disease that robbed the music industry of so many greats, AIDS, in 1994 at just 38. In his final years, Walter played a few great events in New York and in Japan to some personal joy and definitely to the delight of the dancers while staying focused on his passions – God and music. Despite all he accomplished, his viewing and the press surrounding his life was a virtual miss.
The early months of 1977 allowed me a peek into the foundation of a DJ and remixer that would produce epic, unique and historic music. However, the nearly forty years since have not appropriately honored that legacy as would have been expected given his body of work.
Go Bang (Dinosaur L) Not until the Strut label released the “Jungle Music” compilation was this sparser, robotic (in sections), infectious, and controlled chaos version ever available.
Well, that’s the music industry – and the world. Celebrity and notoriety are not synonymous with talent and impact. The DJ who was arguably the first to really do the studio work, expertly remix an extensive discography of classics, and whose innovative approach and skills set the bar for his contemporaries and our House Music pioneers to come remains figuratively anonymous. So what we must do to honor this icon is to enjoy, celebrate, give faith to what we believe in, and continue to dance to the incredible songs that were Mixed with LOVE by WALTER GIBBONS!