HE HAS BEEN CALLED “the Miles Davis of dance music”. An undisputed legend, his nearly 20 year career has brought us unforgettable hits such as “The Nervous Track”, “It’s Alright, I Feel It”, “Beautiful People”, “I Get Lifted” and “Love and Happiness”.
Born in 1965 in the Bronx, Little Louie Vega was raised in an environment suffused in Latin music. He began as a DJ in the mid-eighties around New York clubs such as Roseland, Studio 54 and the Palladium. Through an introduction by Todd Terry, he met Kenny Dope Gonzalez and from there the Masters at Work (already an existing entity) took off with flying colors. They created House remixes for the likes of Tito Puente, St. Etienne and Debbie Gibson that sky-rocketed their name in the dance music world.
By the mid-nineties the duo created a new alter-ego by the name of Nuyorican Soul. They released their self-titled album in 1997, bringing together an all-star cast including Roy Ayers, Jocelyn Brown, Eddie Palmieri, India and DJ Jazzy Jeff. More forthcoming albums were Masters at Work’s Our Time is Coming (bringing us the refreshing Soca beats of the crossover hit “Work” and the return of diva songstress India with “Backfired”), and his solo album, Elements of Life.
Louie continues to break down musical boundaries by exploring, reinventing and fusing all kinds of genres from samba, jazz, salsa and African beats. An ongoing project for Vega is MAW Records, a label that he and Kenny Dope founded in 1995. MAW Records also serves as the parent label for Louie’s own Vega Records, which has music from Anane, Mr. V, Luisito Quintero and Elements of Life. And this year, after more than two decades of hits, he joined the short-list of House music legends by winning his first Grammy Award.
Added to his nonstop production work, Vega continues to spend two-thirds of the year with a hectic DJ schedule playing all over the world. He graced Chicago’s Boom Boom Room last June, playing an amazing set as befitting his reputation. Here he talks to 5 Magazine about his music, his inspirations and the future.
I saw you play at the Masters at Work party in this year’s Winter Music Conference in Miami and was blown away. What instruments do you play?
I play keyboards. In the studio. I can play chord progressions, basslines, etc. but I’ve been using our EOL band, and have been spoiled with them. They are great players.
I have to ask, because I think that “Love and Happiness” has got to be the most beautiful House song to me, and I’m not alone in thinking this. Can you tell me about how your created this masterpiece? Do you practice the spiritual beliefs sung about in this song?
Creating “Love and Happiness” was memorable. If any song would represent that point in our (MAW) career in the early to mid-’90s it would be “Love and Happiness.
India’s adlibbing on that song was something I’ve never heard before and I played keys on that song, Kenny on beats and Tito Puente on timbales. A special combination. The prayer comes from the Yoruba religion which I do respect very much.
You and Kenny Dope have a musical partnership unrivaled in this industry. But not all partnerships can ever be perfect. In all those years, did you ever think about breaking up Masters at Work once and for all?
Kenny and I never broke up Masters At Work, we just took a break and developed a few dreams we’ve had in our minds, like our labels and group/artist productions. This led to us taking a break from Masters At Work, but never breaking it up. We are brothers. We wanted to release some individual creativity, but still being there for each other when need be.
Tell us about Vega Records. What artists are you currently producing and are excited about?
Vega Records is developing nicely. We have a new album out now by Luisito Quintero titled Percussion Maddness. Anane just finished recording her new album Selections with her new single “Walking on Thin Ice” released next month. And Mr. V’s new album Welcome Home will be released this fall, which we licensed to Defected Records. His first single will be “Da Bump”. A video is being produced as we speak. Singles from all artists above will be released this coming fall and winter.
Where do you continue to seek musical inspiration?
My inspiration comes from many places all over the world, especially in New York. It can be a performance from an artist, my record collection, a night at Roots (my residency with Kevin Hedge of Blaze), even hanging out with family and friends. My mind is always moving with many musical ideas and collaborations that come to mind.
Everyone knows about your countless successes. Your discography is staggering. Behind all that, were there any bombs? In other words, songs you thought would blow up and didn’t?
Of course there were flops. You learn from your mistakes. I’ve done songs that I hear today and say, “Why did I do that?” or “Why did we do that?” But I’m proud 98% of our work.
Do you and India still work together?
India and I have not worked since Nuyorican Soul’s “Runaway” in 1997. About nine years.
Your thoughts on the whole Chicago vs. New York debate?
I didn’t know there was a debate between New York and Chicago. I understand that was many years ago. New York had its style of House music and Chicago as well. But the term “House music” did come from Chicago. Uptempo dance music with drum machines was done in both places. When there was Frankie Knuckles, Marshall Jefferson, Mr. Fingers, JM Silk, Farley Jackmaster Funk and more in Chicago, [in New York] there was Larry Levan, Boyd Jarvis, Paul Simpson, Winston Jones, Blaze, Pal Joey and others. So there was House music being made simultaneously in the two cities. But the term “House music” was coined in Chicago.
I always ask this of all my interviewees… Where do you see House going 10 years from now? Will it ever get the commercial notoriety of Hip-Hop?
House music is like jazz music. Going live is it. When I brought Elements Of Life on the road, it really took our music in front of our fans eyes and came to life. We’ve crossed into other worlds of music and the audiences are growing. It also took our fans from the clubs to festival, live venue, atmospheres. It’s about spreading our music to open-minded people who love feel good music. It’s also a way of life for many of us. We’ve been with House music since the birth of House music. It will only leave if we stop making it. Dedicated is what we are. The people do this to us – all over the world there are many who seek this music and come to get enlightened through the DJ.
Can you name us 5 songs that you are listening to right now?
“Walking On Thin Ice” by Anane, “Put Your Drink Down” by Mr. V, “Cabo Parano” by Martin Solveig, “Born Again” by Pasta Boys, and “Put Your Back Into It” by Peven Everett.
Any advice to up and coming DJs and producers?
My advice to young producers and DJs is to learn an instrument, music, and the business. If you are ambitious, believe in yourself and stay true to what you love, you will have a good chance in some success. Study your craft and learn from experienced ones. If they invite you to a studio or you can get tips from a successful DJ, do so. I was a bedroom DJ, just like many of you with a dream…