Interview with DJ Bobby Busnach

Bobby was there at the birth of disco, when, for him, the best djs were Nicky Siano at the old gallery, Walter Gibbons at Galaxy 21, Larry Levan at the Garage and Kenny Carpenter..... and he was there at the death of disco in the very early eighties, when he stopped djing and left the music industry. The 70s in New York were in his opinion the very very best. Here is my interview with Bobby were he shared his memories of that great time:

-When did you discover disco music and how old were you:
I was a runaway and on the streets of Boston at 15. I had just come out and in those days gay people would look out for one another. Before being gay became legal it was all underground, kind of like one big family. On top of that, wed just come out of the hippie era, so it was all much more communal. The bars then were safe havens where those not in "acceptable" society could  be with friends and let their hair down. The bar that i found, or found me, was called the other side, in back bay Boston. It was wild, full of drag queens, pimps, hos, tricks, gays, lesbians and everything in between. It was rough and dangerous but it was home.  This was around 1971, before disco. I had grown up with the sounds of Motown and James Brown, as well as The Ronnettes and the Beatles. But in the bars they played soul: Aretha, Diana Ross, James Brown, Joe Tex, Little Sister, Sly and the Family Stone, Lyn Collins, Bobby Byrd, Pointer Sisters, Kool & The Gang, Jungle Fever, Spinners, Main Ingredient, Soul Makossa and one of my faves, Black Skinned Blue Eyed Boys by the Equals (with Eddy Grant on lead). The first truly "disco" record i remember being played then was Stop & Think and then Zing Went The Strings of my heartby the Trammps in1972, on the dancefloor of the Other Side. They were just so full and so different some how. Still soul but much more lush and hypnotic. Around 1974, when i was around 18, after I had moved to New York, i started djing myself. I began by taping on my cassette tape from my old record player and using the pause button for a seamless mix. Soon after I got two turntables and got pretty good at bringing in one record after the other smoothly. But once I got my GLI mixer there was no stopping me.There was a record store in queens where you could buy all the import 45's with names like Disco Blood, and they were long versions. This to me was the birth of disco in 1974 or 1975. Though there had been a few long  promo versions released just for dj’s, Ten Percent by Double Exposure, a walter gibbons mix, a mix that in my eyes ushered in the disco era,was the first commercial 12 inch remix to be released. I remember because i was working at downstairs records at the time. 
Disco was born!

-What made you want to become a DJ. Was it something you had wanted to do for a
long time, or did it just "happen" ?
I always loved music. I grew up in the projects of Cambridge, Ma. Where music was everything.  Supremes, Temptations, Shangrilas, Ronnettes, Marvelettes, James Brown ..music music music. Dance dance dance, twist, jerk, monkey, mashed potato....
My mother was always blasting the record player and having weekend long parties. It was the 60s. My dream was to be a dj, my transistor radio was my lifeline and i wanted to be radio jock. We used to put on our own shows pretending we were The Beatles.

-Which clubs have you played in?
Can’t even remember alot of them. The Apartment and The Cage in the Bronx. The Abbey in Queens, Harrahs, Hippopotamus, Cachaca, The Big Basket in San Fransisco, Limelight, Peppermint Lounge 2, Bond in NY.

Entrance of disco Cachaca

-Any favorite club of those?
I liked Cachaca, it was a brazilian nightclub and i started mixing up the music types at that time. Rappers Delight had just come out (the bootleg) and i started playing disco along with rap, new wave, and rock (Doors, Led Zeppelin, the danceable stuff). So i got a great mixed crowd, loved to mix it all up. Bond was great also, it was huge and had a great dj booth and sound system. 

-Do you remember which was your best DJ gig ever?
One night at Cachaca i just wore myself out spinning. It was an industry party for Atlantic records. In fact it was for Chic (speaking of rappers delight). I just played my ass off. We kept the club open till 6 am. And it wasn’t an after hours.

-You told me you worked at Downstairs Records, In what year did you start working there and how long did you worked there:
I started working at Downstairs records around 1974. It was just before Ten Percent was released.I worked there off and on till maybe 79 or 80. Benji, Yvonne, Junior Vasquez, Walter Gibbons, Kenny Carpenter all worked there with me at one time or another. Benji being the longest and most knowledgeable person to stand behind the counter. All the dj’s, went to downstairs records. At times there would be four of us behind the long counters waiting on and playing music for 20 dj’s at a time. And everyone wanted to get in good with us so we would give them (sell) the 12 inches, which were mostly all promos in the early days.

Nick, the boss of Downstairs.

Picture of Downstairs in 1978.

-Walter Gibbons also worked there, what are your memories with him ?
I worked with Walter at Downstairs, was friends, and would hang out in the booth with him and Kenny Carpenter as he dj'd at galaxy 21. Kenny worked the lights. I also went to a few of Walters private parties at his apartment. Walter became a jesus freak for a time (he used to trip alot) and his music changed, so he didn’t work in the clubs at times. My favorite mix of Walters was his Love Is The Message with the Wizard of Oz "Going So Soon ?.
Walter was a great dj, but kind of miserable as a person honestly. I knew Walter for around 15 years and never really knewWalter. I dont think Walter really knew Walter. But of all the dj's he was my favourite. Nicki Siano of the gallery was my second favorite DJ. Before paradise garage was the gallery. 95% black & puertorican, the original on west 23 st between  6th & 7th aves had speakers that surrounded you. The floor would bounce. The punch was spiked with acid as it would be after moving to larger loft space on Mercer st in 75 or so. It would get so hot and so full of smoke, both cigarette and weed, and between the acid, the coke, the weed, the downs, the liquor, and the best music in the world, by the time you made your way out into the light, and on the subways at noon that sunday you could hardly walk, never mind, breath.
Many nights in the middle of  a song youd all of a sudden hear the record go crazy.
Sure enough Nicki had passed out again right on top of the turntable. They set him aside and the assistant dj/light person would take over. Before then though he’d make us all crazy with his mix of i got it by Gloria Spencer, where he would break it over and over again, shut off the bass, boost the percussion… The peak of the night (and our heads) was always love is the message mixed with the jet airplanes taking off. Just as it broke.  When you were in the Gallery (low low lighting) you were in another world. And when you left and entered into the daylight you felt like a vampire. Totally foreign to the world around you. Nicki took us to a different place.

Walter Gibbons

-Did most of the DJ's buy their records at downstairs records before the record pools started:
I also worked with Eddie Rivera and his brothers at idrc, the first major record pool in new york. also the biggest, until for the record arrived. The pools were great, a place to socialize with the other jocks. And they gave great parties. Loleatta Holloway, Taana Gardner, Teena Marie, all sang at one or the other of the parties in the loft at idrc. Before the record pools, downstairs records was the place to go if you were a dj. Even after the record pools downstairs was a must. You only got so much from the pools. Most of the djs got leftovers. The record companies would send 20 promos, sometimes 300. Depended on the company and how bad they wanted the record to hit. So only the top 15 or so djs got the best promos. Also, not every hot record was a promo, and the pools rarely if ever got imports, so all djs continued to shop at downstairs, long after the pools became powerful resources for them. Also, if you didn’t get the remix or promo at the pool, wed have them at downstairs more often than not. The record companies supplied us with promos and remixes, knowing our influence with the jocks. And of course we would play the record before you bought it. Sometimes you had to buy 3 copies to mix.... downstairs also had a great collection of hard to find records, oldies etc.

-What was the very first bootleg record or acetate you sold at downstairs:
We never sold acetates at downstairs. We did sell test-pressings though, which were like acetates. Many times the test pressing stayed just that, was never released. Also eventually the bootlegs were often made to look like test pressings.
The first bootleg i remember selling was Rappers Delight. Thought i know i sold other bootlegs before then cause i wasn’t surprised that the record was a bootleg. What surprised me was that it became a huge seller, eventually released legit on the no -longer -bootleg Sugarhill label (after being sued for sampling Chics Good Times by Atlantic records). When downstairs opened the break store with Leroy, after rap and hip hop hit, a lot more bootlegs appeared on the scene. Including my own, fusion beats, the very first scratch/beats record.

-When did you decide to make own bootlegs and sell them at downstairs:
I was always taping my mixes. I had a big party at my apartment on 73rd and central park west, was djing and the downstairs crew was there and Nick said bring in some tapes and lets boot something. So i did and he heard Fusion Beats and liked it so we put it out in maybe 1978 ?  I know it was around the time that Rappers Delight came out as a boot. I’m honestly not so sure which came first, Fusion Beats or Rappers Delight. 
We split the proceeds. I don’t know how may were printed but i do know we did a second printing. After Fusion Beats hit we did Eddie Kendricks-Girl You Need A Change Of Mind remix. Fusion Beats was done with mostly all turntables (3), what little editing was actually done on a tape recorder. I did girl after i got a reel to reel, so there is alot of editing in Girl You Need A Change Of Mind, though still alot of mixing.

I think there was a third bootleg with downstairs but I've forgotten if it was ever released or not as a boot. I know we almost put out my infamous Loleatta Holloway-Love Sensation mix that was played at the garage by Larry, as was Girl You Need A Change Of Mind, but we never booted it. Girl You Need A Change Of Mind and especially Fusion Beats was eventually rebooted (stolen) by others after the original small pressings sold out.
I also did a remix of MFSB-Mysteries Of The World that was played alot by Larry, Kenny  and Walter.

-You know bootlegs were illegal, didn't you get questions from the police or record companies ?
Nick (one of the brother owners at downstairs) was very careful. They stayed behind the counter in the early days, as did the promos. Every once in a while wed get raided by a record company and all the promos and boots would be confiscated, but that didn’t happen often. Fusion Beats was put out (my later, Girl You Need A Change Of Mind remix also) with nick at downstairs. My name on Fusion Beats was Ritchie Upstairs (Robert Downstairs). He printed them overnight at a printing plant in long island, when it was supposed to be closed. So at first they were only sold to djs and from behind the counter. After a few years that all changed and everything was in the bins on the floor with no fear.

-Did you know many of the other great DJ's of the Disco era?
Between working at downstairs records, idrc, dance music report and being a dj myself i knew them all. I also did promotional work for a few record companies so would take the promos of their new releases to the dj’s at their clubs on a saturday night to play.  I worked with Junior Vasquez for ages at downstairs records, when he had just staring djing. David Mancuso, Larry Levan, Bobby dj, Tee Scott, Kenny Carpenter, Francois K, I hung out with Walter at Galaxy 21, was a member at the old Gallery (the best), and later The Garage (Paradise), and Better Days. Was also there at the beginning of the end of disco with Saturday Night Fever and studio 54 (music sucked). There were so many great dj’s. Some of the best were starting out at that time in the playgrounds in the South Bronx and Harlem, where rap, scratching, break dancing and all of that was born.  I was one of the few white boys to hang out in the south bronx. In fact my nickname was white Robert. The truth is that the birth of hip hop came about because the boys who played in the playgrounds didn’t always take care of their records. And theyd skip some times cause they were scratched. Every once in a while someone would use the scratch and let it play as a groove. Also as a dj we were always trying to extend a break to make it last longer. As for rap, theyd extend the grooves and to break up the monotony would start to talk, which soon led to rymin and rappin.

-Did you also go to Sunshine Sound:
I loved Sunshine Sound, spent alot of time there. Frank Trimarco the owner was a great guy. I can still remember the smell of the acetate as the song was burnt into it on the metal platter.
I had my mixes printed up there, and sold some of them there. I also bought alot of other peoples mixes. I would hang out for hours watching him work.

-What can you remember from your visits at Sunshine Sounds:
All the dj's used his services. And he sold alot of our mixes that way. Walter Gibbons used him alot. One of the reasons he was such a great dj. Youd see everyone up there, Kenny Carpenter, Larry Levan, Nicky Siano,Tom Moulton.
As a dj you only had so many hands, three turntables and a reel to reel and tape deck were more than enough to handle. So wed have acetates made of our favorite mixes or beats and then play over those during the night. It freed us up and layered our sound alot. At least that’s why we went to sunshine sound in the early days. But again, i think Walter made the best use of what Sunshine Sound had to offer to expand on his sound.
Remember that in the 70s, the clubs were about music (and of course sex and drugs), so there was alot of competition to be the first with new mixes and to be the best mixer.

-Have you got a favorite remix from the ones you've made?
Girl You Need A Change Of Mind, it is so much of its time. And brings back so many memories. It was a special time.I also really loved love Sensation. It was a really good mix and was so uptempo, and with the tom toms becoming breaks unto themselves… it got people packed onto the dancefloor.

-You also mention you worked at dance music report magazine, what years did you work there and what was your part in it:
I worked with Tom Silverman and Stephanie Shepherd at Dance Music Report for the first two or three years of its life and into the start of the new music seminar (think that was the name). I worked there while Tom started his label Tommy Boy records, and
released Planet Rock by Africa Bambata and The Soul Sonic Force . I ran the office, dealt with the subscriptions for the mag and did many reviews, which meant i got to go to the clubs and artist performances for free.  I saw Grace Jones, First Choice, B-52's, Loleatta Holloway, Donna Summer, and many others this way. Many times id get to interview them.

-What kind of music do you personally prefer?
Today i love the old stuff remixed and updated, all the old first choice songs updated and remixed, the old James Browns.... i greatly prefer the old stuff remixed. Also listen to a lot of ambient, trance, electronica.

-Do you still have all your records:
I sold my 20.000 records (mostly promos, test pressings, bootlegs and acetates), ten years ago in New York. It was very hard to sell the collection. Most of my records had my stamp on them (Robert M Busnach). I was sick of lugging thousands of records every time i moved and i needed the money Badly, Unfortunately.
So if you come across an acetate or promo or 12 inch with Robert M Busnach stamped on it, that was mine :)


    Bobby Busnach

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