Four thousand, five hundred and twenty eight miles from Chicago – in Milan, Italy, the town he grew up in and which he still lives in today – Roberto Corinaldesi found himself at a loss for words.
It was 1993, and Corinaldesi – a radio and club DJ in his early 30s – had been dabbling in dance music production for the last few years. With a tiger team of friends and collaborators, Corinaldesi had lashed together a dance track based upon a mysterious vocal track, the precise origins of which people are still not clear on today.
After knocking about, it looked like this might turn out to be a hit record. Maybe a really big one. His label had agreed to pay (but not pay too much) for an international crew of remixers.
The first name attached to the project was Kerri Chandler, who Corinaldesi had recently met through his radio show in Milan. More remixes by Italian DJs and producers would follow. The Scottish duo SLAM had also been contacted, but their management wanted more than the label was willing to budget.
The final remix – which is the one you know by heart today – was assigned to an upstart from Chicago.
“The first time I heard the Cajmere version,” Corinaldesi remembers, “I was speechless.”
Gone was the verse, the chorus – really everything except the title (“Love Train”), a command (“Get it/Get it on”) and a couple of other words that could scarcely be understood.
The tempo of the record also changed unexpectedly. The music seemed to break through the plastic, rip out of the record groove, as if its power couldn’t be restrained in a simple song structure. Over the years, incautious DJs have trainwrecked more often to “Love Train” than perhaps any other track in history.
Some artists might have been resentful of a remixer taking such liberties. Corinaldesi was not one of them. Already a mainstay in the Italian radio industry and a veteran of the club scene, he trusted his ears – and immediately ran out to have an acetate made of what he was hearing.
“I wanted to play it in clubs before it was released,” he says – and remember, he’s referring to a remix of his own song.
“I couldn’t believe he did a track like that. It was smashing!”
If you had to pick one song to play for someone who had never heard of House Music before, you could do a lot worse than “Love Train”
When you’re writing a story like this, a story about the history of a single song, you have no idea where it might lead. Some of the greatest songs in history meant relatively little to the people that made them. A friend of mine is conflicted when fans tell him that a 1988 song of his is their favorite; it was slapped together, he admits, “in about 15 minutes”. Untold numbers of couples have exchanged vows to a love song that somebody wrote to pay off the lease on his car.
Thankfully, there is a story behind “Love Train”, which can be revealed here, maybe, for the first time, some twenty years after it was made.
Cajmere’s remix of “Love Train” was originally released by an Italian label called D:Vision, then re-issued on Cajual Records (Catalog #CAJ210-1). It was an immediate sensation – “a mix show favorite and a Derrick Carter mix favorite”, as Cajmere puts it. It’s now considered a landmark release for Cajual, and for Chicago’s House scene.
There’s never been a song better made for the bad acoustics and ear-splitting volume of a Chicago loft. In fact, you can break this shit down like alchemy, and you’ll find it has all the basic elements of a classic Chicago House track of the era – the diva vocal, the hook, the drums that sound like a hundred fists pounding drywall.
If you had to pick one song to play for someone who had never heard of House Music before, you could do a lot worse than “Love Train”.
The track has long been considered one of the quintessential Chicago House Music records of the era… and yet except for Cajmere’s remix, nobody involved with the production had much to do with Chicago at all.
“Love Train” was credited to “Hard Corey & Wray”. Few people in Chicago or the United States – then or now – knew who that was. Was “Hard Corey” an alias? a cheeky disguise for Paul Johnson? a prank by Spencer Kincy? There was also a mysterious Kerri Chandler remix passed around as an import. Where did this come from?
Practically every bit of “common knowledge” passed down about the song is wrong. “Hard Corey” is a real person. “Wray” is not Viveen Wray, the former vocalist for the British group N-Trance, as many believe (it’s still listed as such on discogs.com). “Wray” was actually a man, and had nothing to do with the vocal at all. The vocalist to this day is still completely unknown.
But not the producer. The man who made “Love Train” was Roberto Corinaldesi, who agreed to tell me the story behind one of the strangest, most improbable House Music classics.
Spencer Kincy (aka Gemini)
The Making of a Man
IF HE COULD SEE MUSIC, it would have been love at first sight for Roberto Corinaldesi.
It’s difficult to explain to a young person what radio once meant, and why many people up a certain age have such a strong attachment to it. Radio was the gateway to sounds you couldn’t afford, couldn’t find or weren’t smart enough to look for on your own. Every five minutes, there was a chance of discovering the next big thing. Hence the nostalgic attachment one finds even today in North America for an era when radio could be more than a mechanical jukebox, programmed by someone thousands of miles away. It could be a teacher, a babysitter – and not to get too corny, but given the strong attachment some have for radio DJs, it’s true – even a friend.
Prior to 1975, there was just one broadcaster in Italy. It was then that “the situation changed and a lot of big, independent, regional radio stations were born,” Roberto Corinaldesi remembers. In his hometown, Radio Milano International (later named “101 Network”) was one of these new stations breaking the state monopoly. Corinaldesi’s memories of first hearing Radio Milano are strikingly similar to those of Chicagoans’ memories of WBMX or “Disco DAI”.
“I remember two songs, in particular, that blew my mind,” Corinaldesi says. “Gino Vannelli’s ‘People Gotta Move’ and Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got To Give It Up’.
“I heard those songs in succession. Can you imagine what I felt after years of cheesy Italian songs that aped UK bands? I felt my blood boiling. A love at first listen was born. Vannelli and Gaye are to blame. My passion for music was born and from that moment on, I tried to be involved in it.”
After knocking about for six years at a series of “very little” independent stations, Corinaldesi was hired by Radio Milano. He worked at the station from 1983 until 1995, experiencing a very real renaissance in broadcasting.
“I held all the possible positions, head of music, too, but the most important one was in 1990 when I had the opportunity to host a dance show called 101 Dance Trax. It was a show with new releases, white labels, interviews with Italian club DJs but also with UK or US artists. There were interviews with the most important House labels in the world and mix shows by Italian, UK & US DJs.”
Twenty years later, Corinaldesi looks back on the year 1993 as a time of “playing records in the best Italian clubs, people calling on me to remix songs… I knew fantastic people (and by ‘people’ I mean ‘girls’). Lots of fun.”
Corinaldesi had also been producing music for a few years; the first record he produced appeared in 1988. His 1991 track “Everybody May Be Wrong” (released under the name “Citizen Kane”) was a hit in France, Spain and the Netherlands.
“In 1992, my first record with the alias ‘Hard Corey’ was released on 10 labels all around the world. It was on more than 20 compilations.
“But in some ways,” he says, “[‘Love Train’] was the first one, because of its importance. “
The Making of a Record
THE STORY OF “Love Train” begins with Mr. Tex. Mr. Tex was the production alias of Lele Tessarolo, a DJ and producer as well as part owner of Magazzini Generali, which Corinaldesi remembers as “one of the best clubs in Milan”.
Mr. Tex is given co-credit as having mixed the original D:Vision release of “Love Train”, but the story is a little bit different than that.
Like some angel or messenger of Greek myth, it was Mr. Tex who found the song’s powerhouse vocal – and “found” should be understood almost literally. The discovery of the vocal came when Mr. Tex handed Corinaldesi a DAT with a mysterious voice on it.
“On that digital tape,” Corinaldesi says, “there was the acappella of a song written by his wife. He recorded it in the UK with a session singer and he didn’t remember her name. He’d paid for it and all was okay.”
To this day, it’s believed that the “Wray” of “Hard Corey & Wray” refers to Viveen Wray, known for her vocal performance on N-Trance’s album Electronic Pleasures released two years later. But common knowledge is wrong.
Wray was not a she. Wray was a he.
“Wray” was the nickname of Massimo Braccialarghe, a friend who assumed the classic producer role and agreed to spend some money on putting “Love Train” out.
“Wray was one of the producers,” Corinaldesi says, before adding, “and a man. That’s for sure.”
The identity of the vocalist on a track which has been imitated hundreds of times (and covertly sampled twice as often) is still unknown twenty years later. Nobody associated with “Love Train” has any idea who she is.
His Hellenic mission completed, Mr. Tex’s involvement in the production soon tapered off. “In my opinion, he wasn’t so interested in a real project,” Corinaldesi says. “He didn’t work so much in the studio sessions (just some advice on the main mix) and he didn’t care about the American mixes. Once the record was out, he seemed uninterested in what was happening with the song and we didn’t work together again.”
The first unusual thing you notice when you listen to the original mix of “Love Train” is the strange, very gentle synthesizer that leads it off. It’s a startling contrast to the explosive energy of the rest of the track. It was a sample from a record (Roberto no longer remembers which one). “I love that sound because it was soft but it could be hard too, if used in a different sequence or with a strong bass line. We thought it could work and we used it. Funny, because the studio was well equipped and Michele [Violante] has always been a fantastic engineer, and could probably have played that sound on his keyboards. But I always loved to sample sounds directly from vinyl because of how they sounded.”
After they finished the main mix, Dario Raimondi, label manager for D:Vision felt he had something good on his hands. He asked Corinaldesi & Co. to write up a list of artists to approach for remixes.
“My first choice was for SLAM,” Corinaldesi says, “a Scottish duo formed by Orde Meikle and Stuart McMillan. I loved how they worked on music.” But their fee was too high, and so Corinaldesi added the name of Kerri Chandler to the list. “I interviewed him a few weeks before and I loved his style.”
His second suggestion was Cajmere, who Corinaldesi knew from “Let Me Be”.
“They asked to listen to the song and they decided to work on it. Kerri came to Italy, while Curtis couldn’t be here for weeks so he worked in his studio.”
After tracking down Roberto Corinaldesi, I ran some of his memories past Cajmere. One of the first things the latter mentioned was the song’s infamous BPM shift.
“The thing about mixing into ‘Love Train’,” Cajmere told me, “is you have to know exactly where to start. I remember being at Gramaphone one day and someone asked me about the BPM change. He wanted to know if I did it on purpose.
“Ralphi Rosario overheard the conversation and said, ‘Yeah, he did it on purpose. Do you know why? He did it on purpose because he’s FIERCE!'”
The Legend of Hard Corey
Cajmere doesn’t recall all the specifics of remixing and later licensing “Love Train” for Cajual, the release that most of us know – just those remix sessions, huddled over his MPC 60 in Chicago.
“Love Train” appeared in the midst of an unprecedented run of hit records for Cajual: “Brighter Days”, “U Got Me Up”, “Feel Free” from Jump “Chico” Slamm, Tangled Thoughts Vol 1 from Spencer Kincy and “Is It All Over My Face?” Every release over a two year period was pure gold, and nearly everyone working with Cajual joined the embryonic class of Chicago’s “star DJs” traveling the world. Relief Records followed; Prescription Records and Guidance were both spun out of the Cajual offices and became dominant Chicago labels in the years to come.
This is probably why rumors about the origins of the mysterious “Hard Corey” began. Everyone knew who the artists on Cajual were, for the most part. But here was this record everybody knew (and nearly everyone owned – used copies in good condition are still very common), and had even become something of a rallying point to prove that Chicago House had survived the departure of many of its founding fathers and was being revitalized by a new generation. And no one knew who made it.
Had the rumors of “Hard Corey’s” true identity ever reached Corinaldesi?
“Can I say that this question made me smile?” he says. “I am amazed by the fact that someone could ask who ‘Hard Corey’ was.”
Not that he was anonymous. “Love Train” opened many doors for Corinaldesi. “Dance labels started to ask me to remix or produce tracks for them. If I can say, the best came after ‘Love Train'”.
Productions would follow under various guises, including Dangerous Society, Two Little Indians, U.S.E. and more. He worked on remixes of 20 Fingers’ infamous “Short Dick Man”, Praxis’ “Turn Me Out” featuring Kathy Brown, Gayland’s “Get By” and “No Pay Day”. He also collaborated with Paolo Martini on “Heaven” (remixed by Romanthony) & “We Got a Love” on Stress Records.
After the mid-’90s, the records began to taper off. “The fact is that I couldn’t find a good team to work with,” Corinaldesi explains. “It wasn’t easy to find good people to make some good work. Maybe I too wasn’t such ‘good people’ to work with.”
Corinaldesi’s last productions were with Troy Parrish, a DJ from New York living in Milan. “That was when the time came to take my headphones off. But not my passion and my love for House Music.”
Similarly, Corinaldesi also stepped behind the scenes in the radio industry. He had taken the same formula he used on his show 101 Dance Trax to Italia Network, with a show called Magazine. It was “a sort of benchmark for other radio stations and DJs. Sorry – not to brag, but that is what people said about it.” In November 1997 he moved to Station One, with a show called Tribe. He works now in the local branch of RDS (Radio Dimensione Suono), “one of the most important Italian radio networks”, but now in the advertising branch.
“I took off my headphones in 2001. And I never ever put them on again.”
I WAS CURIOUS TO KNOW if Roberto Corinaldesi, once known as “Hard Corey”, really understood what “Love Train” meant to us. Aside from its importance to Cajual, to Chicago and to the scene at large, it’s difficult to overstate how good “Love Train” is – just as a song on its own merits.
Corinaldesi says that “Love Train” is his favorite track among his own productions. His songs are stored in his iPod, and he says he often listens to them because “I love what they mean to me: a fantastic moment of my life.” I wanted to make sure he knew that they are also symbolic of fantastic moments in our lives, too.
“Let me tell you,” Corinaldesi says, “I’m not Todd Terry, Little Louie Vega or David Lee aka Joey Negro. I’m not anywhere near them. I know that. But I always loved House Music. I still love it. I have almost 8,000 vinyl records, from Darryl Pandy and Marshall Jefferson to Daft Punk, with all the music in the middle. I always tried to make my work with passion and love, no matter what would happen.
“That’s why your interview and the memories it brings to me makes me happy. It’s proof that I (maybe) have done a nice job.”
Many thanks to Andrea & Roberto Corinaldesi. -TM