Whether you remember him as Virgo, Hercules, On The House, Jungle Wonz, the producer for Ten City or simply Marshall Jefferson (website, discogs, facebook, myspace), he has been in the crates of DJs from the beginning. He now resides in the UK to keep up with his busy European DJ schedule and maintains the label USB Records with CeCe Rogers. From Acid House and Ten City to the real deal about “Video Clash” and taking mushrooms, Marshall tells his story…
Considered one of the pioneers of the House Music movement, do you find it difficult to out-do the early works that your name is synonymous with, like “Move Your Body”, “Ride the Rhythm” and “The Jungle”?
Not musically, because I usually played all the instruments myself and still do. Most of the stuff I do now is way better than the stuff I did back then. It’s just that nobody gets to hear it. There were five to twenty-five new dance records a week back when I started. Now there are 30,000+ dance releases a week to compete with, and my stuff gets lost in the haystack.
The life expectancy of a new release these days is often a couple of months at best. What do you feel is the best way to maintain the momentum of a new release without it getting lost in the shuffle?
The only way is to promote the music either on radio or MTV-style video. If you’re not doing that, you’re just wasting everyone else’s time and cluttering up the market.
Assuming most independent labels these days probably don’t have a budget that would allow them to do that, what else would you recommend? Unless you’re a label like Defected or Ministry of Sound it seems that may not be feasible.
It is feasible if you put in the work and concentrate on that area. You don’t always need money. The rappers did it and we can too. People forget that in the early 1980s, House and Rap were at the same level. Rap started concentrating on artists and videos and House stayed with singles and no artist development and got left WAY behind.
If a label tosses a single out there with seven remixes and no promotion, they’re doing nothing for House Music. A remix is worthless. So you get the song played in a few extra markets… All the extra markets are dead too, because everyone’s doing remixes in those genres as well. There are no promotional avenues left for dance music except radio and videos.
I know a guy that does 500,000 emails, MySpace and Facebook promotion, and hits every message board there is, yet he’ll sell a maximum of twenty-five downloads a month. When you get two hundred promo links in your Facebook or MySpace inbox, do you listen to every single one? It bothers the hell out of me. I’m scared to give out my email because every time I do, that adds to the spam.
Do you have a different process in your method of making music comparing the mid-1980s to the current times, seeing how things have greatly changed?
No, I have basically the same way of doing things, same way of playing, same or similar keyboards. I just moved from a sequencer to a computer.
Not a lot of people are familiar with the controversy of “Video Clash” that was released by Lil’ Louis as well as the same formula follow-ups like Tyree’s “Acid Crash” and Mike Dunn’s “Magic Feet”. Could you give us the story from your point of view?
Tyree and Mike Dunn were and still are good friends. I was in my living room with some friends and I did “Video Clash” right there in front of them. Lil’ Louis was one of them. I did a lot of songs then that were played in the clubs and never came out. At that time I was giving all my rough demos to Ron Hardy and since he was there, Lil’ Louis called dibs on the new hot tune. He also told me not to give it to Ron Hardy.
I had a lot of other songs playing in the clubs and I started concentrating more on my major label groups like Ten City, CeCe Rogers and Kym Mazelle and kind of left all my instrumental tracks behind. A lot of them are still being played.
Anyway, Mike and Tyree, knowing this, put out their versions. Lil’ Louis came to me infuriated. He said the original version should come out, but I didn’t want people to think I copied off Tyree and Mike. He asked if he could put it out on his label for me and I said yes. The only problem was that when the record came out, it didn’t have my name anywhere on it. That was Lil’ Louis’ first record.
Will the “real deal” ever see the light of day?
Nope, I lost the tape. I could remake it. I still remember the keyboards I used, but I don’t know if I can duplicate that raw sound because it was done in my living room on cheap equipment.
We always hear the stories about how everyone got taken advantage of in the early days of Trax Records and DJ International – not getting royalties and licensing money among other things. Was that the same case with you?
You’ve had many popular aliases over the years including Hercules, Dancing Flutes and Jungle Wonz. How did you determine what music was made under each moniker and will you continue to use any of those names for future productions?
I just did a track and thought of a name on the spot. Hercules is an actual person and one of my best friends. Harry Dennis from Jungle Wonz is also a good friend. The way I decided what was done under each name was who I was with that day.
Do any of the aliases hold a closer place to your heart than others?
I thought Jungle Wonz was a pretty cool name.
You did the vocals on the mid-’90s song “Mushrooms” produced by Noosa Heads (two producers primarily known individually for their harder techno sounds) which went on to be a huge song in the Tech House scene over the years with all the various mixes. How did this record come about and was the tripping experience spoken about a true story?
Chris Liebing is a really good friend and I was just hanging in the studio with him. He asked me to test the mic and I told that story. It was a true story. I didn’t know he recorded it.
Were you upset to find out after the fact?
Hell no, women were flying at me after that song came out for some reason.
“Raindance” by Ragtyme (eventually known as Ten City, in which you were the producer) was recently released on Joey Negro’s Zedd (or Z Records) label. From my understanding that was supposed to be the follow up single to “I Can’t Stay Away”. How come the release almost twenty years later?
It just kind of got lost in the shuffle. Byron Stingily got signed to a major label with Ten City, and they didn’t want to put it out under Ten City because the production didn’t really involve the whole group – it was just me and Byron. They did perform it live for years, because it was fun to do live, but it never came out on a Ten City album.
You co-founded the label USB Records with CeCe Rogers. How did that business relationship come about? What should people expect and look for on the label?
CeCe and DJ David Dee came to me with the label idea, and CeCe, being one of my best friends for over twenty years asked me to be his co-partner in the label. I don’t want to say what to expect, but stay tuned.
The last several years have seen resurgence in Acid House. Is there any chance of ever hearing any more Acid Trax from you?
I don’t know, maybe… I’m doing albums only now. If I feel like doing an Acid House album someday, I may do it.
You are spending a lot of your time overseas these days. Where are you stationed and why did you make that choice?
I stay mostly in England and use it as a hub because it’s two to four hours away from everywhere in Europe. I play in a different country every weekend and losing a day flying back and forth to Chicago is not very appealing.
Final thoughts or anything upcoming you’d like to promote?
Only thing I’d like to say is my label is doing albums only now, any genre. Remixes are frowned upon. So if you’d like to do an album, but have a few slow songs or rock or techno just because you’re bored with doing the same beat for years and years, come to me. I’ll put YOU and your complete repertoire out.
There’s also open accounting, so you can see how much you’ve made at any time, and I’ll cut a check right on the spot or over the phone. There’s also a 50/50 split with the label on every cent that comes in (the highest royalty rate ever was Michael Jackson’s 37%).