Look through your records and crates. Do you ever wonder the stories behind these slabs of grooved & tooled black wax? Or the lives of the people who made them? What neighborhoods of Chicago hide another generation’s lost geniuses, pioneers of a music never terribly well loved at home?
Back in the ’90s, Vincent Floyd made several of these records – the ones that have the fortune (and misfortune) of being dubbed “ahead of their time.” A friend of mine once compared them to “Larry Heard ghostwriting for Lil Louis,” which I liked well enough to remember.
Floyd’s atmospheric Deep House had some admirers but he never knew it – and thinking that they weren’t making much of an impression or his career much headway, he put his keyboards and drum machines aside and went on living.
But people were listening. Over the years, Floyd’s records – the smooth I Dream You on Dance Mania, “Daddy’s Record” on Relief and the Your Eyes EP from Dance Mania – were rediscovered, reclaimed, rehabilitated. Rush Hour’s Moonlight Fantasy by Floyd became one of the most celebrated records of 2014. Interviews and profiles of the “lost” Vincent Floyd (who sounds amused to have been “lost” all these years) were at once everywhere – the hottest records of 2014 were made twenty years earlier.
I’ve crossed paths with Vincent’s records (lost, found and one reel of tape that nobody is quite sure about) countless times, but prior to 2014, never with the man. With a new four track record Vault One: Love’s Pain forthcoming from a new label he’s started, Dawn Notes, we thought we better get the story down this time.
Where are you living right now?
I’m on the South East side, the neighborhood they call Marynook.
You grew up in Brainerd, right?
Yep, 91st and Aberdeen.
You grew up with Armando and made records with him and his crew. When did you first meet?
I think the first time would have been when I was in my backyard with myself and my brothers, playing with my neighbors. I was six years old! We became friends from there and played Little League baseball and stuff like that over the years.
My musical beginning would have begun playing guitar. My uncle used to play and I’d guess that if you want to call it that, just strumming the guitar… at age 11.
As far as House Music, Armando would have been the first to have the kind of stuff that people still use today, like a 707. We were just making beats, noise. I had a Casio Something Or Other – I don’t even remember. But it was the kind of thing you could play over beats with.
You know there are a lot of stories about how “Land of Confusion” was made. Mike Dunn said it was a “mistake” – that if you take the batteries out and put them back in, that’s the pattern that plays. Paul Johnson said Armando must have been using two 303s. Do you have a memory of that?
As far as I remember, it was an accident. I don’t even remember where he bought it from, but from what I remember he plugged it in and was just goofing around and came up with that sound. So he recorded “Land of Confusion” on a TDK cassette –
Yeah, in fact a lot of that was pressed off cassette tape. But I hadn’t heard a 303 played that way either – I heard people twisting the knobs but with any sequencing.
How serious were you guys? I mean today a kid putting together beats is at least dreaming of being able to put it out. What kind of models did you have in terms of guys who had made House Music records and put them out?
We just loved the music, you know? Like when I was a kid playing guitar, I learned Prince’s songs because I liked it. We had records from people like Frankie Knuckles, Jamie Principle, Larry Heard, Bam Bam had a song out called “Give It To Me,” Mr Lee. I don’t know, it was just fun and fascinating. We had no real goal though other than to just do some cool stuff.
Were there clubs or places you went that really exploded your head?
It was high schools. Things were different then: nobody throws parties at high schools today, they’d be too afraid if someone got hurt and the liability from it. I went to Leo where there were parties on Friday, and Mendel on Saturday. Everybody danced and everybody listened to House Music. I remember going to see Ron Hardy and hearing “Cherchez La Femme” and maybe “Can You Feel It” and having that experience too. I have a flash memory right now of a stack of speakers taller than me and people just going berserk in that sweat box.
There seems to be a tradition in Chicago, of guys who made records and had no idea they were as big as they are. One is James “Jack Rabbit” Martin, who even today many people in Chicago don’t know. Another is Fred Brown, who made these irresistible little records and then disappeared.
I didn’t know at all that any of my records were being heard by anybody. Maybe the first time I had any indication was when my daughter convinced me to create a Facebook account. I’m much better at it now, but at the time I never checked it. I went back after some time with her and saw I had more than 2000 messages. There were a lot of people asking me if I was “the” Vincent Floyd, as one of the pictures I’d posted had been of one of my records. There were people asking me if we could re-release this. At first I didn’t pay too much attention but now I try to stay on for at least 30 minutes a day to keep up. But that was the first time I ever knew that people knew my records.
It’s funny because if I had known about this at the time in the ’90s, I would probably have 2000 records out now. I had the momentum to keep going but the lack of feedback or response just discouraged me and convinced me that maybe I should be doing something else… Like maybe this wasn’t going to go over well and maybe I should just become – I don’t know – a teacher…? That sounds pretty good…
That’s what you did, right?
It’s interesting because that’s what Rodney Bakerr did too. We talked once and he told me that a Fred Brown – and maybe a Jack Rabbit and a Vincent Floyd too – wouldn’t be “obscure” if you guys were born in London, where they had a half dozen magazines and the newspapers all covered the scene too.
Oh yeah, I know Rodney. That’s interesting…
And how did the Rush Hour compilation come about?
Antal had messaged me and asked if I would be interested in re-releasing my records. I said it was cool with me. He was coming to Chicago for a different reason anyway – it must have been a record show or something like that. Interestingly I looked through my messages and saw he had messaged me 5 months before that too.
So persistence pays off.
So I want to go through a couple of your records. Which one came first, “Your Eyes” or “Cruising”?
“Your Eyes” was released first.
You guys had made a ton of tracks and beats before then. What convinced you to finally release this one?
Yeah we had a bunch of tapes. Actually I found some of the original tapes a few months ago – demo versions and with a bunch of different things on them.
Armando was instrumental in me doing anything back then. I used to make stuff, record it on tape, put the tape away, make more stuff, put that on tape too, put that tape away… Armando and I were both working out of our basements and he came over to mine to check out some things I was working on. He listened and encouraged me to finish this one, keep this one, etc.
“One thing I’ve learned in my life is that you should spend one day working on music or whatever it is you do and the rest of the week telling people about it. I was the complete opposite: I just wanted to sit alone and make music.”
With “Your Eyes,” I didn’t like how it sounded so I went to a real studio. Armando lived across the street and Dwayne – he’s the “Chan” on the record who did the vocals – lived next door. I gave him the lyrics and we went into the studio and recorded it, it sounded much better and Armando mixed it.
“Cruising” is much different and really much different than anything in that circle – Terry Hunter, Mike Dunn, Armando, Gershon, Steve Poindexter – was making.
Yeah, “Cruising” was made all on one keyboard – it was an ESQ1 I think? – that I borrowed from Armando. It was more chill or laid back. Just music that evoked “cruisin'” around town.
Do you remember meeting Ray Barney?
Oh yeah, but I don’t remember exactly when or the circumstances. It was through Armando and it must have been either dropping off a record or picking up records.
Was it a fair deal?
Oh yeah, Ray always paid you what you were owed, whether it was a lot of money or a little. They always were fair.
One thing I’ve learned in my life is that you should spend one day working on music or whatever it is you do and the rest of the week telling people about it and promoting it. I was the complete opposite: I just wanted to sit alone and make music.
There were a lot of bootlegs that came out prior to Moonlight Fantasy. Did you know about them or authorize them?
I didn’t know about them and I didn’t pay attention for a long time. This was all new to me, you know. Then Jordan Fields, if you know him –
Well Jordan said, “Hey, you know these guys are bootlegging ya shit!”
How did you feel when you found out about it?
Violated. It’s just a violating feeling. Like when I was traveling recently and I picked up my suitcase, and there was a little tag on it that said the TSA had searched my bag. You see it after the fact. I felt violated.
You put your time into something, and while we don’t make tons of money on records, if you make a penny you want it. We spent a lot of money on gear and things – I’m sitting in my basement now and I’m surrounded by gear I paid $1000 for but wouldn’t sell for $70 now, if you could sell it at all.
I’m not hard to find. I have looked into a bit who did it and I have some idea. It’s really just the worst kind of violating feeling.
And now? More tracks?
We do have some other unreleased tracks. I’m going to release my stuff under the name “Dawn Notes” – that’s my daughter’s name, “Dawn” and there was a track on Moonlight Fantasy with that name. I have a lot of stuff on cassette as well.
Vault One: Love’s Pain is out on vinyl from Dawn Notes.
Originally published inside 5 Magazine Issue #133 featuring Vincent Floyd, Karizma, Tony Humphries, David Marston, Doc Link, Deep Club Denver and more. Become a member of 5 Magazine for First & Full access to everything House Music – on sale for just $1 an issue!