LET ME SKOOL YA ON THE 45 : DISCO DAZE #1
STRAWBERRY LETTER 23
My friends, Kathi Jo and Jack, and I used to go dancing all over Columbus, Ohio. We were seniors at OSU and it was 1977, the heyday of disco . The only fun places to dance were the 3 gay bars located downtown ; Ty’s [leather + levis]; The Grotto [snooty + slightly more upscale]; and Tradewinds [young, dumb + full of…] - or the dance palace known as 2001: A Dance Odyssey - if I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’. 2001 was a black disco located between campus and downtown and slightly off the beaten track - aren’t all the best places. The larger dance places tended to be located on the outskirts of town and were more or less populated by white farm folk who thought they were having a big night out. Places like TGIFrigay’s, with dance areas adjacent to the bar. There were a few places located on or around campus, but that was US, we didn’t see any reason to hang with US. We would go to 2001, drink our ‘near beer’ (that 2% concoction for the cowtown campus crowd) and work up a mean azz sweat. More often than not we would be the only 3 white kids in the joint, but we were dance majors and could shake our tail feathers with the best of them. Many was the night when a crowd would gather around us, hootin’ us on as we’d slide into a groove and bust some new moves like we was Toni Basil’s Lockers. If you’ve never found that perfect person to dance with, that tag-teamin’ someone who intuits and feels your every move, then takes it to the next level for you to turn it back out again - I feel sorry for you. That was K Jo and me.
I have set the stage for the slow jam of the day, The Brothers Johnson’s STRAWBERRY LETTER 23. The brothers, were actual bros who went by the faboo monikers of “Lightnin’ Licks” and “Thunder Thumbs”. The song was written by Shuggie Otis for a girlfriend who used strawberry scented paper. TBJ would not last long together but they had great separate careers in music, Thumbs was the bassist on Michael Jackson’s THRILLER. But on SL23, Licks + Thumbs took Shuggie’s love jones for his girlfriend and jammed it out. The DJ at 2001 would play this greaser around midnight and the lights would dim a little bit more and the slow grinders would take to the floor. It had that eerie little "Exorcist"-style tinkling intro tha took you to the disco-bubble-wa-was that were trademarks of the mid-tempo dance song. It was such a hazy tune that lent itself to a delicate bumpin’ of nasties with your mate, poppin’ and lockin’ and freezing for effect. We boogied down. The near beer wasn’t doin’ it. It was the music. STRAWBERRY LETTER 23. The endorphin rush. The sweat. The haze of cigarette smoke. We danced until last call and the harsh work lights would come on and we would collect our selves and head out into the night, high on our new found solidarity with this crowd who accepted 3 out there element kids like us. And why, because we could all dance.
To this day I hear STRAWBERRY LETTER 23, and it all comes back, the rush, the slow bump + grind with K Jo, the salty taste of sweat and the smoke filled room of beautiful people who welcomed us into there slightly out of the way joint for a night of pure escapism.
Thom Fogarty aka TERIFF
LET ME SKOOL YA ON THE 45 : THE JUKEBOX BABY #1
MY WORLD IS EMPTY WITHOUT YOU
I will never forget hearing The Supremes’ MY WORLD IS EMPTY WITHOUT YOU for the first time. We were at a local a food joint in Cocoa Beach, FLA and I had just played I HEAR A SYMPHONY for about the 4th time when suddenly this new song came on the jukebox. It was their follow up song and the owner had just put it in the juke box that day. This was a place that had one big jukebox at the front door that was a stand alone machine. The sound came from the box itself, not pumped thru a sound system. In some places, that we would call a traditional diner, there were little mini-jukeboxes, one at each booth and then several along the counter. You put you dime in for one play or quarter for three and they played right at your table! You could adjust the sound, never really loud enuf for my tastes, but hey, it was a novelty after all. But I have digressed.
MY WORLD IS EMPTY WITHOUT YOU was pure heaven in 2:33. Released at the end of 1965, (12/29/65) this song was riding on the big gothic orchestral sound so perfect in I HEAR A SYMPHONY. Recorded in Studio A at HITSVILLE U.S.A., this was just one in a long line of classic HOLLAND-DOZIER-HOLLAND songs that were sheer pop perfection. It was a song of breakup and the loneliness that ensues. Backed by Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson, Diana Ross’ voice had that plaintive tug that made you want to just grab her and hold her tight and assure her that she would be fine.
I would play this song every chance I got in diners and joints. I would put my quarter in and play anything by THE SUPREMES, including the B sides. The B side of MY WORLD was EVERYTHING IS GOOD ABOUT YOU , penned by James Dean and Edward Holland, Jr. It was a wistful little ditty about the grandness of love and thus the antithesis to the hurt and depression expressed on the flip side - which is prolly where that expression “the flip side” came from. The Supremes were soon to release a song that would have us all ‘bitten by the love bug” - LOVE IS LIKE AN ITCHING IN MY HEART, another H-L-H penned ditty that was a brassier more up-tempo song and their reign at the top of the charts was about to take off.
What was so brilliant about the jukebox was that you could have an artist’s ebb and flow at you fingertips wherever a jukebox as to be found.. You could play the string of hits by any one group or artist and have their entire oeuvre while you were having the all-you-can-eat Fish Fry at your local HOJO’s. In that regard it was the precursor to the iPod. Although it was not portable, and more often than not you were at the mercy of the owner’s taste in volume and selection, you could still create your own play list - usually interrupted repeatedly by others playing their fave tunes - and feel like you were sitting in your bedroom and these songs were being played just for you. Thanks to the cue that was created, by your selections along with those of the others in the joint, it also offered up the original mash-ups. Where else could you hear The Supremes, The Dave Clark Five, Conway Twitty, The King Sisters, Jackie DeShannon, Sam and Dave, Andy Williams, and the STONES - in 20 minutes!
Indeed, MY WORLD would have BEEN EMPTY WITHOUT the 45 and it’s grand pimp - the jukebox, which was truly one of the first purveyors of multiculturalism long before we even knew what that meant.
Thom Fogarty aka TERIFF 1/14/10