There are about five people on this planet that you can say were genuinely irreplaceable in House Music – that if you could somehow take out their contributions from the stream and pour them down the drain, things wouldn’t be anywhere close to how they are now.
Tony Humphries, the King of Zanzibar, a giant of a man in every sense of the word, is one of them. Both in the club and on KISS FM, Tony Humphries had a massive influence in pushing new sounds to a world that wasn’t necessarily predisposed to hearing them.
Never one to blow his own horn, Tony Humphries’ influence is largely told through the words and sounds of others. Here’s one such testimony from Terry Hunter, told to me circa 2007, about what an accidental trip to Zanzibar did to him:
Everyone back in those days were playing classics. It was actually similar to how it is today. Everywhere it was classics, classics – by which I mean disco, and by then, some of the older House records. That’s all anyone wanted to hear. Glenn Underground, Boo Williams – you can print this, they were discoheads!
What happened is that DJ Lil John, Armando and I went out to New York for the New Music Seminar. That was a big deal then. We went out to Zanzibar and heard Tony Humphries spin and – man, it was like a revelation!
The next day, Lil John and Armando were going out from the hotel to the conference. I said, “Go ahead – I’m going out to New Jersey.” I went to Movin’ Records, a record store there run by a lady named Abigail Adams. That day I bought $700 worth of records. That’s $700 then. I’m not kidding – I had to FedEx them all back.
Well, the first time I played those records here in Chicago, the dancefloor parted right down the middle and there wasn’t a soul out there. Every DJ in this town – I can’t stress this enough – every DJ in this town was ripping on me for playing these whack new records. “What? This is Chicago House! You want to sound like you’re from New York, Terry?” Really, everyone was dragging my name through the dirt.
But the one exception was Armando. I remember one night he came up to me and said, “You know, don’t worry about that. We’re tight, and I’m not going to stop booking you.” That meant so much. Business is business, but he knew this would be big. He knew this was the right way, that we had to change and had to play new music or this would never grow.
The man that taught that lesson, Tony Humphries, will be in Chicago this Sunday, November 15 in another amazing booking for SmartBar’s Sunday night residency Queen! $7 at the door, with residents Michael Serafini and Garrett David, hosts Lucy Stoole, Jojo Baby and guest host Ivory.
3730 N. Clark Street
$7 All Night / 21 & Over / Doors: 10PM / Show: 10PM