Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage – 80’s New York Punk, Funk & Reggae

Once a month at Jubilee Library, there’s a free music talk – everyone is welcome!
In Febuary, Francis gave a talk about the infamous Larry Levan and in case you missed it, he’s kindly given us the transcipt!

Larry Levan & the Paradise Garage

Larry Levan & Grace Jones

Why I admire Larry Levan and what he achieved…

Born Lawrence Philpot in 1954….maybe wisely changed his surname, he started out playing records in the early 70’s with another legend, Frankie Knuckles at The Gallery and then Soho Place (not the trendy new one).

He was the main DJ at the Paradise Garage in New York from 1977 to 1987 when it closed and the people who went there loved him. This was the civil and gay rights era and the Stonewall Inn protest in New York was only back in 1969, just a few years before Larry started as a DJ.

This was when customers at the gay pub had had enough of Police harassment and stood up to them, their bravery became a historic moment in gay rights. Larry was black and gay, this makes his success all the more impressive for the times he lived in

He was very open minded in the music he played, especially being interested in the synthy and experimental new European music of the early 80’s, Kraftwerk being one of these bands, their records were also popular with the Bronx hip hop scene. (Whitfield Records, home of disco-funker’s Rose Royce, assisted in the production on the Man Machine album, which includes with Model.)

As the 80’s got going he experimented more with spacey and dub effects, in his remixes and his own two bands.

He died at just 38 in 1992, after a very successful DJ tour of Japan with the DJ, mixer and great friend Francis Kervorkian. Drugs had alas become more a part of his life and caused problems, sometimes his friends would buy his records back from market stalls, which he’d sold for his habit. One of his friends remarked that Larry was an intelligent and smart guy and it was a choice he made, but a real shame.

Returning to the positive, he played, mixed and made his own great records. We’ll look at the records after taking a look at the Paradise Garage itself.

The Paradise Garage, sadly knocked down for flats in 2018

Paradise Garage & New York club scene

84 King street in New York was set up by legendary West End Records Mel Cheren’s boyfriend Michael Brody. The idea was originally for a downtown Studio 54 styled very fashionable club. However on the snow bound opening night, the sound system got stuck at the airport and the trendy crowd left after freezing as they queued for ages in the snow.

This actually did the club a favour, as instead it developed into a much earthier and underground place, far removed from Studio 54 where you went to be seen. The Paradise Garage however was where you went to hear great music with a friendly and accepting atmosphere.

It had a very mixed crowd, black, latino, gay, straight men and women, though more men when it started. Initially one of the women said she had to go in disguise as a man as it as more male orientated, when Mel Cheren found out he went out of his way to make sure women were welcome too. It opened in 1977, only 8 years after the Stonewall protests of 1969 and it was membership only, this meant that the Saturday night booze hounds and brawlers were not there and it was a safe place to be.

There are many pictures of Larry happily standing by the incredibly powerful state of the art sound system he had put in or behind the three record decks with room enough for a party behind them, which there often was!

Other NYC clubs

There were other very exciting and cutting edge clubs in New York at the same time and the Paradise Garage didn’t exist in a complete bubble, though as the 80’s went on it did maintain a kinder friendlier atmosphere. I’ve listed a few of these other great clubs and it’s very interesting checking out the DJ playlists for them. They all have a slightly different take on what they played but generally it was very eclectic, no club just playing say just disco or rock.

The Loft

Larry was heavily influenced by David Mancuso, the bearded chap who created and ran The Loft. People literally partied in his own loft. It was guests only, long mixes of deep disco, funk often with a spacey nature. Tracks such as War’s psychedelic soul-funk “City, Country, City” and Dexter Wansel’s very trippy disco song “Life on Mars” were favourites.

David Mancuso

The Roxy

In 1982 Kool Lady Blue ran the “ All races dance club”, featuring punk and early hip hop club, gay night with lots of DJ’s. Live there was Madonna, Beastie Boys, Kurtis Blow and Kraftwerk.

Ruza Blue AKA Kool Lady Blue

Danceteria

The club scene from Desperately Seeking Susan was filmed here. Featuring DJ Mark Kamins who got Madonna signed and produced her first single “Everybody”. A hangout also of Duran Duran, the B52’s , New Order, Jesus & Mary Chain, Sonic Youth. Alternative rock, rap and disco was the sound.

Mark Kamins with someone we all know!

Radio support

Frankie Crocker of WBLS was often in the DJ booth with Larry.

Frankie Crocker

He would check out the records Larry was playing, see which ones went down well with the dancers and then make haste to a record shop and play them on his radio show. This really helped make what were often very underground records become club hits and sometimes chart hits. It also helped promote both Larry and the Paradise Garage as a place to fins cutting edge music.

Great NYC disco/boogie labels

Queen Yahna – Aint it Time 1976, P&P Records

Prelude Records

Sam records

P&P

West End

Salsoul

Becket –(see below Denroy Morgan)

Some Great Records he played

Sinammon – Thanks to You

Eddy Grant – Walking on Sunshine

Grace Jones – Nipple to the bottle

Lace – Can’t play Around

Central Line – Walking on Sunshine

Central Line

Later garage record labels (with disco-boogie sound still)

Easy Street

Jump Street

Supertronics records

Lola – Wax the Van (Lola Blank, Arthur Russell)

Euro electro and rock on the Playlist

Kraftwerk – The Robots

Manuel Gottsching – E2-E4 (Ashra Tempel)

Ian Dury – Spasticus Autisticus

Marianne Faithfull – Broken English

Modern Romance – Salsa Rhapsody (Dub Discomix)

The Police – Voices inside my Head

Cat Stevens – Was Dog A Doughnut

Cat Stevens

Ian Dury – Spasticus Autisticus

The Clash – Magnificent Dance 

(This track had Norman Roy-Watt from The Blockheads on bass and was used by Larry to tune the sound system in the club)

Joe Strummer said “When we came to the U.S, Mick stumbled on a music shop in Brooklyn that carried the music of Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, The Sugarhill Gang…these groups were radically changing music and they changed everything for us.”

The Clash

Selected Remixes

Influence of dub when mixing Island records

Gwen Guthrie – Padlock EP 1983 (Garage Records)

Class Action – Weekend 1983 (Sleeping Bag) – Arthur Russell Connection

Ednah Holt – Serious Sirius Space Party 1981 (West End Records)

Ednah Holt

Loose Joints – Is it all over my Face 1980 (West End Records)

Gwen Guthrie – It should have been you. – Sly & Robbie

Class action – Weekend – Leroy Burgess

Frontline Orchestra – Don’t turn your back on me (Eddy Grant again – legend!)

The Funk Masters – Love Money

Larry’s bands

Larry had two bands and I’ve just named a few selected tracks, there are other very good EP’s and also unreleased tracks that have come out for the first time. Man Friday’s “It’s in the Rythmn” and Peech Boy’s “Stay with Me” are amazing songs that for whatever reasons never made it to vinyl in the 80’s, though with the latter just go for Tom Moulton or Larry’s own mixes. The Peech Boys also included the fantastic Bernard Fowler.

NYC Peech Boys – Don’t Make Me Wait 1982 (West End Records)  

On a Journey 1983 (Island Records)

Man Friday – Love Honey, Love Heartache 1986 (Vinylmania)

Peech Boys

End of the Paradise Garage in 1987 and feedback from fans

Sherri Eisenpress; “It was the only place around where no matter who you were, people came together in the shared spirit of love and music that, when you heard it, you had no choice but to get up and dance”,

Anonymous; “Not a day passes when I don’t think about the man or listen to one of his totally unique trippy and dub inspired mixes”.

Dave Piccioni, owner of London’s Black Market Records lived in New York in the late 80’s, he said it was ; “New York, cut throat money time. Everybody was sticking knives in each others backs. It was dog eat dog. Aggressive. Dealing, sixty thousand people living on the street. And then you’d go to this little oasis, where people were really well-mannered and friendly to each other. You just felt totally comfortable. People who shared something, and that was an open mind”.

Last night at the Paradise Garage

I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey into the life of Larry Levan and the Paradise Garage. I’ve only mentioned a tiny bit of the amazing music he was involved with, there are loads to discover on-line and of course on the great CD’s in the library. We’ve got a lot of rare underground disco-funk from the late 80’s early 80’s and funky rock cross-over bands such as The Clash and talking Heads.

Thanks for the music Larry!

Francis Field

Larry on the Decks

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