Get outcher Number Two pencils and a clean sheet of paper, and at the end we’ll be having a quiz. Quite a few of the classic House artists of the late ’80s have been ‘rediscovered’ of late, to far more commercial success than they had in their heyday. That’s never been relevant for Master C&J. Appearing on nearly every compilation about the early days of Chicago House, Master C&J – and, by extension, Carl Bias – are essential to anyone that wants to understand the first wave of Chicago House Music. Their records – Mind Games, Face It, When You Hold Me, Can’t Get Enough – have been consistently praised over the years as touchstones for what Chicago House could be.
Multiracial, multiethnic and multifaceted, Master C&J presented, in a sense, Chicago’s best face forward to the world.
There’s a lot of mythology about the Chicago House scene in the ’80s that we all either lived or read about, but I don’t think we’ve heard this story before. How did Master C&J get together?
Not a lot of people know, but the music was all done by me. Jessie did the spoken word and when Liz Torres got involved she did the ad libs and whatever. The way it happened was I was working at Loop Records, which was on Jackson and then moved around the corner to State Street. One day a guy came in with a label. His name was Rick Sepak and the label was called Sound Pak Records. That’s the label that “Mind Games” was released on.
Sepak was having Larry Sherman of Trax press his records up. They had their first record out and it really wasn’t going anywhere. I was working on “Mind Games” at the time and Jessie said, “Hey, we’ve got this guy with a label.” I said sure, I don’t care. Like most hit records, you don’t actually think the track you’re working on is going to be a hit record. You never think that this is the one. But then Boom! Everybody loved this stuff we were doing.
First we released “When You Hold Me”, and we figured we needed a group name after that. So we settled on Master C&J, the “C” standing for “Carl” and the “J” for Jessie.
The owner of Loop Records then decided to start his own label, State Street Records, and that’s where we released “Face It”.
“Face It” was the first release under the Master C&J name when we pulled Liz in. And then with “Mind Games”, it just kept spiralling up and up. Ed Crosby was along and he did one song, “Can’t Get Enough”. But I was talking to Benji of DJ International one day and he said he had no idea I did the music. Chicago didn’t realize that at the time. Later people understood after I came out with my own label, Velvet City Records, and did the Black Ice releases with Sherman Rogers and Darren Brandon.
After many years and solo releases and such, another great Chicago act of the ’80s, Ten City, have played some gigs together again. Do you think that can happen with Master C&J?
I’d be cool with that! If everyone wants to do their own thing, that’s cool too, but if we all want to get together again, I’d love it. A while ago, Dave Taylor of Souldeep Inc Records in the UK – I had an EP on his label – put me in touch with Jessie again but the timing wasn’t right.
I ask that because really, Master C&J was so unique and I think the fanbase now could be huge. A lot of the old Chicago sounds are coming back, and some have been more successful now than they were the first time around.
Man, I know. I go through traxsource and listen to the sounds. You know, there’s a real big divide in Chicago sometimes with politics and that shit. A good record is a good record. If somebody I don’t like plays a record I do like, I still like that record. If they make a record I like, I still like that record and will play it.
You have some people hitting the same old material, all the way back to stuff from the ’80s. There are just as many good songs being done today as were done then, but how are people to know who they are if they don’t play it?
I do plan to do something with all of my old stuff. I just had a release a few months ago under the name “CB Masters” on my friend Oscar P’s OpenBar label.
To the extent that younger people are familiar with Master C&J, I think it’s probably through a couple of records – the Master C&J comp that Trax put out back around 6 or 7 years ago and the “Trax Re-Edited” series that was put out last year. I’ve read some really bitter comments about the latter. Do you have any opinion on those?
Screamin’ Rachael is in charge of Trax now. I thought that one was cool. The other one… I’ve told people in the past, “Whatever money you might make off of this, it won’t last forever.”
There are other situations though, like with licensing music for video games. I love playing video games – sometimes I’ll hear “Carl, put the PS away so we can make some music!” A while ago, I was playing Vice City and suddenly I hear this old Chicago dance record. Mine! Trax, I guess, did a deal to put a bunch of music into the game. So sometimes as an artist, you hear about it and it’s the first you know.
Carl, I’ve seen you play some gigs in the last couple of years here locally. Are you looking to flex your muscles and do more of both here and on the international circuit?
I’d love to get into it more here. As far as the international circuit, I’ve played in a lot of countries and, when the big records broke, was almost a household name. You know Lloyd Dev? He runs Chicago House Radio and we started it up together, but it’s been hard to hook up as much lately. I played at Betty’s when Rees Urban invited me and had a really nice time playing at The Shrine and the Silver Room Block Party. But a lot of it is political and I just don’t like to play those kinds of games going into it.
What do you mean by “political”? I think people could read a lot into that.
By political I mean cliques. Everybody has their own group and there can be a common cause that shuts out people on the outside. Nothing’s really changed about that – it’s the same all over the world. And I’m not out there as much, going to the clubs and going up to the bar with a drink, checking out the music and the crowd reaction and rubbing shoulders with everybody, so that might be on me. But you hear people doing so much complaining. It’s like, you seriously are paying to go into a club just to dis the club and dis the DJ? Why?!
As a person, I don’t need to like you to like your music. It’s not like we’re going out to have breakfast afterward or anything. There’s so much of that on Facebook and everything….
A lot of people have really bitter memories about the old days but most of yours seem positive, particularly with the labels at the time that have been common cause for criticism for their business practices.
It wasn’t all great, but a lot of people don’t let go. Like with the Trax and DJ International business. I’ll tell you what: I got paid, I made my money and I got taken care of. To the average person, you’re talking about suddenly making $1,000 a day, on average – or $5,000 for 5 days of work. That’s pretty good. Maybe the label sold a lot more than that. But nobody was thinking what they were doing was going to get so big. Marshall Jefferson and Curtis McClain were working at the post office when “Move Your Body” came out.
So you got a thousand dollars up front and the label took the copyrights and publishing. And those times that you went up to the office and took a few hundred here and there – hey, they weren’t giving you that because they were your friend! Those were advances.
It took me a few times of getting screwed to understand the biz, but I was never one of those people to walk around saying “To hell with Rocky” or “To hell with Larry”.
The weird thing is, that sort of practice was pretty much accepted (outside of dance music) as the indie record business model. More money up front for less on the backend was the way it was done.
Exactly. And then the records come back into circulation and you’re asking where’s mine. You have to weigh your options, to take big money but have less control or take little to no money but have full control.
So what are you working on now? Are you looking to get more music pumping?
Yeah, I’ve been getting back out on the scene more here in Chicago. It’s hard though, because I’m not really familiar with who are the main labels that are really doing something and have everything together. I’m also looking at starting my label back up.
Carl Bias can be reached via facebook; His most recent release just came out – the Spike Rebel EP from SoulDeep Records. Also check out the Chicago EP by “CB Masters/Carl Bias & Darren Brandon”, released in March on Open Bar Music and available from traxsource.