TONY HUMPHRIES: Musical bliss! The women will be happy, and the men will be happy because the women will be happy. I'm expecting bells and whistles and smiles all night—an anything goes night. It's been decades since I’ve performed on NYE at home, and I plan on giving it all I got! Can't wait.
It seems there is a rebirth, a renaissance of the NYC nightlife. Do you agree?
Absolutely! It's been going on quietly for at least a year or two. Established club brands are doing well, and newer brands are popping up quicker than usual. By the summer of 2016, the club life in NYC will be healthy and vibrant. Who needs "Super-Clubs" when there are so many other local things going on? 2016 will be a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to participating as much as possible.
Being in the right place at the right time! During the 1980s, record companies used to distribute free promotional vinyl music records to DJ's whose credentials had to be validated by steadily working at the same nightclub every week, or if you were a mobile DJ, meaning you had your own sound system equipment and performed at different events steadily enough per month. The proof of legitimacy was advertisements and flyers brought to them weekly over a period of time. During a weekly vinyl pick-up day at record company called Prelude Records on west 57th St. in NYC, I met a guy named Mr. Robert 'Shep' Pettibone. Back in the day, hustling bedroom wanna-be DJ's used to distribute their musical sets recorded in the form of music cassette tapes. Since I was a mobile DJ looking for a break to play in an established club anywhere, I gave Mr. Pettibone my 120-minute cassette that I had just made the night before.
Tony Humphries' KISS FM Mastermix
with Shep Pettibone (1980)
What kind of music did you record on that tape?
Prior to the internet, it was customary to visit vinyl record stores to purchase music you heard the night before from your favorite night club. The 42nd street Subway stop in NYC used to have a section or wing situated below the street level with various shops operating there. One of shops was appropriately place called 'Downstairs Records'. I was a religious customer, spending crazy money purchasing imported 45 rpm speed vinyl discs. They had great knowledgeable sales people who not only sold you what you heard the night before, but new illegal discs from iconic record companies, plus selections from other countries. That was the material I used put on my turntable mixed cassette tapes.
Did you hear back from Mr. Pettibone?
Then came 'The' infamous Friday night telephone message left on my answering machine at my apartment on Miller Ave, in the East New York section of Brooklyn. The recorded message playback said, "Hey Tony! This Shep Pettibone, the guy you met at the Prelude Records record company this past Wednesday. I was chillin' on the beach listening to your cassette tape, and it was fierce! I work for a radio station in NYC called WBLS and there's this new radio station starting called 'Kiss FM'. I got a new job there where I'm responsible for 16 hours of music programming & special re-edited hit songs called 'Mastermixes'. Do you think you could put together 4 hours of music and have it delivered by tomorrow afternoon? One of my new staff members couldn't deliver their prerecorded show tape for airing this Saturday night." Two 120-minute cassettes were delivered and aired July 16th, 1981. Four hours aired on that Saturday night from 10pm to 2am. I was very very very lucky!
Romanthony In The Mix
(Tribute To Tony Humphries)
Did you expect it to take off the way it did?
No, I was totally ignorant to the listener broadcast reach of nighttime radio, especially a new station in NYC. I was later told it was approximately 3 million listeners. Although Shep's programming hours featured dance music and re-edited commercial hits (mastermixes), this was also the beginning boom of rap and hip-hop on the city's airways. 'Kiss-FM' became the hottest radio station, servicing the youth of the Tri-state area and eventually countrywide and abroad.
How would you describe your sound as a DJ then and now?
My sound is a reflection of the culture I was fortunate enough to grow up in. My schooling, neighborhoods I've lived in, night clubs I frequented in NYC, truly exemplified the meaning of a 'Melting Pot' society. Simultaneously, the diversity in my music collection and performances reflected the various tastes surrounding me. The same holds true today. I love taking chances, testing tracks or songs on uncommon musical genres. Embarrassing performance mistakes are difficult to handle, but there's nothing like the rewards of acceptance from different cultures while they're dancing. My approach is the same, only current songs are substituted.
Janet Jackson, Soul II Soul, Urban Soul, SugarCubes and Chaka Khan are some of the artists that you've had an opportunity to remix. What artist would you love to work with dead or alive?
Any music project created by the 'Q' (Quincy Jones). He is my idol, period! There isn't enough time or written space allotted to describe the genius of the man. Undisputedly in a class by himself!
Tony Humphries, BIS Radio Show (2015)
Countless DJs around the world, myself included, were influenced by you. Who would say influenced you as a DJ and a producer?
Many, many people. Confidence to broaden a set with different music tempos, ranging from slow almost ballads to frantic electronic tracks were learned from Mr. David Mancuso at a venue call The Loft, located at 99 Prince St. in Manhattan. I learned the style of 'overlay mixing' which is blending an instrumental song with a vocal singing song a bit lower in volume position when played at the same time (syncing 2 recorded tracks) from DJ Charisma Robinson (RIP), DJ David Todd from Philadelphia (RIP), and DJ Tee Scott from Brooklyn. I also learned how to create vocal delay effects utilizing a reel-to-reel tape player from Mr. Scott. This time period was before electronic samplers were affordable, and common gear for beginner DJ/Producers.
Did Larry Levan have an influence on your style?
I learned the mental stamina to execute 3 music performance sets per night from Mr. Larry Levan. It was then practiced and executed at Club Zanzibar in Newark NJ. Lastly, DJ Larry Patterson of Paradise Garage and Zanzibar fame preached to me consistently, "Do not a play song unless it would be understood lyrically by your audience". Basically take responsibility for what you play lyrically with integrity.
While Larry Levan had the Paradise Garage in NYC, Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles had the Warehouse in Chicago, you had Zanzibar in New Jersey. You are often credited with breaking or introducing new music throughout your tenure at the club and radio. Who are some the memorable artists that got their first play during one of your sets?
Many New Jersey groups, and producers. Intense, Ruffneck, producer Kerri Chandler, Crystal Waters, Ultra Nate, Basement Boys from Baltimore who traveled 4 hours most weekends to the club. I could go on and on. I spearheaded the concerted effort to showcase NJ local talent, especially since I was an out of towner from Brooklyn.
The Joubert Singers Stand On The Word
(Tony Humphries Mix)
Tell us about Yellorange, your first record label and Tony Records, your current imprint and how are they different?
Undoubtedly, a great period for independent music labels. Mr. Louie Vega gave me a tip about an opening to be included on the record label Strictly Rhythm's roster to fund and distribute. At the time I was seriously contemplating retiring from nightclub DJing. A huge rumor developed about the formation of the label, so for credibility sake, I realized there was no turning back. I continued DJing to build the brand. Yellorange (my 2 favorite colors) showcased the same musical diversity discussed previously. Extra effort was made to showcase different styles in the DJ group assembled for Yellorange touring events. Currently Tony Records has been operating out of Europe, showcasing younger artists and producers doing soulful music in a modern form—keeping the soulful underground vibe with fresher sounds.
Tony Humphries was interviewed by New York DJ Dave Tobon for Le Bain in July 2013. The interview has been updated in November 2015.