JOE SMOOTH: The idea for "Promised Land" came to me while I was on the first Jackmaster Tour back in the late ’80s. [Farley "Jackmaster" Funk had a huge house hit in the UK entitled "Love Can't Turn Around".] I saw how well house music was received around Europe even though there were language barriers in many of the places we performed. I saw that this house music we had created was music of togetherness, love, and a bonding spiritual feeling. It was a universal language that was bringing us all together.
When I got back to the States, I thought about the classic songs of the past. Mowtown came to mind, so I studied my favorite hits from Mowtown and was determined to write a classic song with the same type of spirit in our house style. Through that process, “Promised Land” was born. The lyric expressed that through music and love, we all can come together as one to create what could be referred to as the “promised land,” going off of what I saw while on the Jackmaster tour.
The song was released in 1987. Could you describe the atmosphere of Chicago at that time?
Back in the late ’80s, we were all having a great time. There was a underground culture in Chicago that had a love for great danceable music. We were into all types of music, like disco, funky R&B, italo dance, punk rock, and alternative. House came out of us DJs wanting to make music to play in the clubs that would be different than what all the other DJs were playing so we could give people a great, memorable experience. That’s why it was important for it to be driving and club-oriented. House music was designed to make the people in the party get on the floor and “jack your body!”
We had no idea! It just so happened that people across the pond also wanted to “jack their bodies,” and the revolution followed. Those were great times!
In 1983, before "Promised Land," you became a resident DJ at Smart Bar, which was visited by such greats as Prince, Sheila E, Frankie Knuckles, and Peter Hook (New Order). Being 20 at that time, you must have felt like the king of the world.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that at that time, Smart Bar was in its second year and was becoming the hottest adult liquor-serving club on the North Side of Chicago. Where Frankie [Knuckles] and Ronny [Hardy] were playing at juice bars to kids ranging from 16 to 25 on the South Side, I was DJing to the over-21 crowd and introducing them to our music. On any given weekend night, we were getting a very eclectic crowd of 1,500 to 2,000 coming through the doors. There are so many memories, from Prince requesting that I DJ his private afterparty and Sheila E’s birthday party, to the Art of Noise asking me that I come to the UK to remix one of their songs to give it a “house feel,” to being able to help school the young 19 year old Patrick Moxey, the now-owner of Ultra Record and president of Sony’s dance division on his DJing skills.
Joe Smooth's "I'll Be There" (1988)
From the early ’80s to the mid ’90s, you dedicated your life to music production, DJing, and nightclubs, and even opened your own club in 1990 called The Warehouse. You definitely know what makes a good club. What’s the key?
What is the greatest gift that house music gave you?
The ability to share my God-given gifts and talents with the world as His plan unfolds my journey. It has also allowed me the freedom to live a life doing something that I love while being able to help and inspire others to live their dreams, especially the younger emerging talents. I have also been able to work with some incredibly talented people like Frankie Knuckles, Prince, Chaka Khan, Destiny’s Child, Peter Hook, Art of Noise, Darryl Pandy, Anthony Thomas, Dohn Conley, K Alexi, Tyree Cooper, Robert Owens, Marshal Jefferson, Terry Hunter, Whitney Houston, Jamie Principle, Jerry King, Mike Dunn, Steve Hurley, A Guy Galled Gerald, and many more. The list goes on!
On Sunday, September 4th, Le Bain presents Joe Smooth
The Standard, High Line at 9pm