Few people in our world can be unilaterally identified by one name. Few people are known simply by a moniker… especially when that moniker has such a lofty status: The Maestro. That rare person in “dance music” (more on that later) is Timmy, aka The Maestro – I’m of course referring to Timmy Regisford.
Highly regarded worldwide, seasoned with a diverse music foundation, private yet giving, and the unrivaled “dancers’ DJ”, I was honored to spend some time with Timmy to provide you all with a rare interview and share some insights with a musical legend.
Timmy let’s establish the obvious linkage that everyone identifies you with… Seriously, The Shelter has become bigger than a club and more than a sound style, it is an ethereal feeling for those that know it! Please help our readers get The Shelter.
One word for sure: CHALLENGING! It’s tough to do anything for 20+ years without challenging yourself to take it to another place, to make it more interesting and to continuously change up your vibe. You have to deliver to the people that follow you and many of them have been coming for all of that time. You know, the PEOPLE that come to the party – they open me up to new things, new ways of thinking. So many times people, not just DJs, have brought records to the party for me to play. I always say to myself, “Give it a shot”! You know what? It’s mind-boggling how many times it’s worked out… expanded the music for me and for the crowd!
So, has the vibe changed at Shelter over the years?
The vibe hasn’t but the people have. There’s part of the crowd that just wants the classics, another portion that just wants “the new stuff”, and then some want both. Look – I love the classics, it’s what you and I grew up on, DEL. Those classics gave us the foundation we have today… because we heard SONGS, it was music and not just beats.
Unfortunately today, kids can’t take most of what they hear into adulthood as a foundation. But I’ve made adjustments while keeping to my roots. You have to understand how to balance the technology available while also playing MUSIC. When you do that, you make provisions to make the night work.
Timmy, let’s stay on that subject. I always admit in my music reviews that I’m a “softy” for vocals because they are, for me, the hook that people can latch onto. What is your opinion about the general structure of dance music today?
We’re lacking in good MUSIC today. South America, though… they’re where we were in the late ’80s/early ’90s. In a couple of years – watch out. They don’t have the song structure yet but they are getting there with some great vocalists.
People listen for words. People sing vocals and remember them, that’s what makes good music last.
I mentioned in my introduction: “dance music” vs. “House Music”. We both share the sentiment that House Music is a term that was coined to describe an evolved style of “dance music”. What’s your opinion regarding the House Music that our readers love?
Hey, wherever you go and whatever the music is, it’s about PEOPLE DANCING! Well, I actually thought it started out of New York (laughing). Really DEL… we’ve had this conversation before and although Chip E, Marshall Jefferson, Farley, Frankie [Knuckles] all used the term, all of this music comes from the roots of R&B, Soul, Disco, Jazz… I’ve heard about fights between people trying to take credit for House Music… just crazy. Think about the UK. There was a time when about every two months, they were labeling a new form of House Music: Speed Garage, Trip House, Acid House… No matter what they called it… it was still DANCE MUSIC! Afro, Rock, Jazz, Brazilian… it all has danceable elements and it takes knowledge of all of it to play it but, in the end… it’s all dance music! I remember when I first started in my house with Boyd Jarvis, I guess we were listening to and making “House Music” too!
So besides your start with Boyd, you’ve worked on so many remixes yourself, or with established stars like Quentin Harris, and most recently with protégés like Adam Rios (I love your work together.) Is there a standard approach you use in determining the projects you work on or is it more of a “feel”? What are you trying to accomplish with your original and remix work?
Everything has probably already been done (remixed/edited) anyway so I just look for great musicians and great songs: Earth, Wind, & Fire, Quincy [Jones], Stevie [Wonder], Babyface… So I take an R&B or other song, time sync it, add a great drum track underneath, and let the song shine for today’s audience. Unfortunately, you can’t play an eight to nine minute song anymore. If you do, you’ll see people tweeting and texting on the floor, maybe even taking a picture of you or their friends and posting it while they dance (We’re laughing but, it’s true.) You need to be – and I try to be – creative, versus having the crowd lose interest. It all goes back to when I worked at WBLS; Frankie Crocker made me learn BB King, Miles Davis and Count Basie… so I know music!
Like most DJs, I love the shared energy you get in playing for (serving) the dance floor. Given our recent communications while you were in Japan, Rome, etc., you really got to experience that energy across vast geographies, cultures, and people. Is there truly a difference in that exchange between DJ and dancer based on where you play?
Every place is different. Certain places are isolated – New York is a country by itself! EVERY DJ that came out of New York over the years and branched out to Europe changed their style. In Italy, Tony Humphries is a god! Hearing him play recently, it was definitely Tony’s sound and it was GREAT but it was hard… His growth required him to change and he has. Now, he stands by himself!
I’ve created this for me in Japan. When I play there, they are coming to a PARTY, not an “event”. People pay good money and they deserve to hear a performance. They know my music. They are well educated on all styles of music and know my whole catalog, which is amazing!
You know, there are no secrets any more. There is no “underground music”. With technology, anyone can touch anyone and can have access to all the music in the world. There are people that have remixed my remixes by ripping them from You Tube!
… then does it hurt without the “underground music”?
It means things are more competitive. Before, I could play my stuff or other people’s limited pressings and have something special for my crowd for a while. Now, the second it’s online, every DJ in every market has access. It’s nice for some that may never have gotten it, but it means you have to be different.
Other than experienced DJs like you, is “storytelling” as a DJ’s approach and a dancer’s expectation a dead art, especially given the proliferation of short sets? (I know you LOVE that term, Timmy.)
I don’t even know what a “set” is. I’ve grown up playing for the night but that’s another issue.
First, few DJs can do it for a couple of reasons. Today, most of the time, DJs are lined up in a queue five or six deep waiting to “kill it” for an hour or two at most. You can’t begin to “tell a story” in that amount of time. If you can play for three to four hours or more… then you have a chance. You still might not be able to unless you let the emotion hit YOU first! After that, you can translate that emotion through to the sound and to the people. Most of today’s DJs just spin records.
Can the art of story telling come back? Any advice for the DJs working on their craft related to this area?
Only if there are songs and not just 4-on-the-floor beats and instrumentals. For the DJs coming up: focus on mixing from a song-oriented basis, learn the music and know it cold – FIRST. People don’t “feel” from just a drum beat.
You’ve had so many roles in this industry. From dancing in the clubs, to music director at WBLS, to becoming one of THE DJs since the ’80s; A&R director/VP for a several of THE record companies: Atlantic, MCA, and Motown where you signed acts like Colonel Abrams, Eric B & Rakim, Loose Ends, Johnny Gill, and Blaze, and producing more remixes and original songs than we can list here… (One of your earliest songs by Tony Cook & The Party People, “On the Floor [Rock-It]” is one that I STILL play.) … How much of your vast experience was part of a master plan and how much happened because of other factors like timing or relationships?
I didn’t know how to write the “script” when I was a teenager! When I was 16, John Best took me to the Garage and Larry [Levan] was just AMAZING. It was different for me… it was 100% gay/no girls. I saw one of my teachers in there!
Then Frankie [Crocker] took me to Zanzibar and I saw Tee Scott at Better Days. Tee… now he was a MIXER! Sounded like a train wreck at first and then it would just come together into great sounds that nobody was doing. Tony Humphries taught me how to spin. Little things like no vocals over vocals. I idolized him. This is how my love and understanding for music grew and I knew then that I wanted to be a part of it.
Is there anything about your youth in Trinidad or experiences overall that have helped to shape you?
Timing and the will to fight to get to another day. I thought I could never be a big DJ because most of them were gay. But Sergio Munzibai at WBLS gave me a chance and I did all the mixes for him for three years! That really helped me get established even though he took credit for the mixes, that’s the way it was… he really helped me. Jheryl Busby (VP at MCA and CEO at Motown) taught me that “Failure without a plan is inexcusable. Music is subjective, so take your shots!” That helped me to venture out. Signed Boyz II Men for $160K – took a shot!
There’s no genius behind it. ANYBODY could have done it. It was about timing and quality. Chase the songs and success follows.
I passed up Tone Loc with “Funky Cold Medina” and when I went to apologize to my boss after it went platinum, he told me, “I don’t judge you on what you missed but what you make.”
You’re someone that people always want to know more about and yet you’ve only done a few rare interviews. You’re also a very private person and never been one to seek out the limelight. Does it bother you when people make judgments because their style may be different than yours?
DEL, I connected with you and trusted you so that’s why I did this interview. As for others’ opinions: nobody walks in your shoes. We all should take things day-by-day and enjoy our passions.
Today, people in the music business and DJs are treated like gods and they shouldn’t be! We all put our shoes on in the morning and take a crap too! People can think what they want, because the people that need to know me, do.
Timmy, that’s really nice of you to say and I’m glad we’ve spent the time together, thanks! Now let’s wrap it up on a serious note. Another expectation of your audiences comes at that point when you’re totally in the vibe, pouring your heart into the selection, and are totally connected with the crowd… that you’ll take the shirt off! Should the crowd in Chicago expect that on August 26th?!
Only if I’m feeling the vibe! (laughing) Seriously, I really don’t do it to show off or anything like that. I do it because I start feeling comfortable in the vibe, I’m dancing around, and I start to get hot… so, I take my shirt off to cool down and it just feels better!
Timmy’s latest LP is At the Club released on Tribe Records. To find out more about Timmy, The Shelter, new releases and more, go to clubshelter.com. Photos for this article are from Nasheim B. Williams.