Louie Vega: The Master DJ Producer

Louie Vega: The Master DJ Producer

What can be said about Louie Vega that has not been said before? Standing astride the industry with a talent that sits out of reach of mere mortals, he is, for me, one of those people who are more than just instrumental in developing House Music; he has taken it to new levels. He has achieved international success on the mainstream charts and is a Grammy Award winner; a feat that few have achieved in House Music.

He is a leader. An icon. A visionary. Drawing on his influences from House, Salsa and Afro-beat, to Jazz, Hip Hop, Gospel and Soul, his music transforms the listening and dancing experience into a spiritual journey. Everything he touches is caressed with a unique ability to lift up the soul in a timeless embrace.

Born in the Bronx into a musically gifted family, there was never any doubt that he was blessed with an abundance of talent from an early age. His father is a jazz saxophonist and his uncle is Salsa King Héctor Lavoe. This Latin influence is ingrained in his music. Fused with the vibrant sounds that swirled around his childhood neighbourhood, he has evolved into a multi-dimensional giant in the dance world (belying the moniker ‘Little’).

Playing at the biggest NYC clubs from 1985 onwards, Louie held court and developed a scene that came to typify what House Music would become. By 1991 he had achieved commercial success in a very real sense with Marc Anthony and ‘Ride On The Rhythm’. He began to stretch the boundaries of his music and began an unabated journey into a world of sun kissed beats and eternal, soulful rewards. He would soon form his production team Masters At Work with Brooklyn-based Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez which has been one of the most enduring partnerships in House Music history.



Referenced by Norman Jay MBE as an American DJ that took the roof off at ‘High On Hope’ in the UK during his first visit in 1989, he was truly responsible for opening audiences eyes and ears to a realm of new possibilities.

His label Vega Records is also another success story which exemplifies his desire to work and work hard. Featuring a roster that includes Anané Vega, Luisito Quintero, Elements Of Life and E.O.L. Soulfrito (his live bands), Mr. V, Boddhi Satva, Hugh Masekela, Roberto Roena, Lisa Fischer, and Cindy Mizelle, Vega Records has released over 200 singles and 11 Full Length CD / Albums. In addition, Louie has released over 30 compilations (with over 2 million copies sold) on the industry’s most revered imprints, including Ministry of Sound Recordings, Defected Records, King Street, Azuli, Division (Italy), BBE, Concept, R2, and Strictly Rhythm records.

He has so many fingers in so many pies. He is a man consumed with the energy of life; radio, production, songwriter, performance DJ, streaming; he is the quintessential multimedia superstar but blessed with a humility that underpins everything he does. From his work as a goodwill ambassador for the Cristian Rivera Foundation to various charitable fundraisers, Louie always pays it forward. Breaking down musical barriers and bringing people together through a love of music has always been his aim and after 35 years in the industry he is showing no sign of slowing down. His contributions continue to positively influence global dance music.

He is so busy that we had to pinch ourselves when he agreed to this interview. We are eternally grateful that he decided to join the Switched On family. So without further ado we give you the maestro. One of the Kings Of House. The irrepressible Louie Vega.

So Louie, you grew up in the Bronx. We have had some very vivid descriptions of people growing up in NYC but you are the first we have interviewed from The Bronx. What was your neighbourhood like growing up and the musical tapestry that it was infused with?

The Bronx. My Birthplace, I remember playing with my friends on our street Stratford Avenue. Skelsys, Stickball, Softball at the schoolyard, roller skating on the street and eventually at roller discos. There were block parties right down the street with DJs playing disco, funk, soul, rock and jazz breaks, and hustle contests; my sister joining in of course. Once she came in second place and I remember her dancing hustle style with her friend to ‘It’s Good For The Soul’ by Salsoul Orchestra.

In the Projects (Buildings), just a block away, were Jazzy Jay, Afrika Bambaataa, Red Alert, Afrika Islam; all DJing hot music with the break-dancers rocking the floor on cardboard to songs like ‘Bra’ by Cymande, ‘Just Begun’ by Jimmy Castor, ‘The Mexican’ by Babe Ruth, ‘Woman’ by Barrabas and ‘Melting Pot’ by Booker T and the MGs, to name a few. Out of my Mom’s living room window you heard the music blaring with Fania Records playing e.g. Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe, Ray Barretto, and the Fania All Stars; all with my dad playing his Tenor Sax simultaneously.

From out of my next-door neighbour’s window you’d hear disco music. We were all on the first floor so out on the street you’d hear it. My sisters had a hookie party once at my Mom’s apartment. They were playing ‘Touch and Go’ by Ecstasy, Passion and Pain and all doing the Bus Stop. Then later on they played the funky slow jams and slow dancing. I remember my sisters asking me (I must have been 6 or 7 years old) to show their friends a move called the ‘500’ (don’t ask lol). I was like the entertainment lol. My Mom came home and they got the word and everyone jumped out of our first-floor apartment window. It was only about 7 feet high.

I remember my uncle Hector Lavoe coming to our home to see his older sister Priscilla (My Mom) and bringing over 7-inch test pressings of his new releases for her to hear in the middle of the night. I’d say around 2am! Wow, so many memories!!!

Obviously your Puerto Rican heritage runs strong within you. What do you think that has given you that contributes to your success today?

(Correct) My Puerto Rican heritage runs strong within me. Firstly, the roots of our rhythms, Bomba Y Plena, Rumba, Guaganco, and Afrocuban sounds which come from African Rhythms, runs through our veins. We all grew up together in our neighbourhoods; Latinos, Afro-Americans, and Jewish people, so it’s always been a melting pot. 

Soul, Jazz, RandB, was in all pop music, and pop music was soooo funky. Whether a rock, jazz, folk, latin, soul, or RandB band, they were all funky and so creative. The music was out of this world, that’s why it’s still with us today and I still play it! I look at some old posters of shows in NYC and I’m still in awe. Here’s one example, I saw a poster for a show back in the 70s that had Earth Wind and Fire, Mandrill, War, and Stevie Wonder all in the same show!! Imagine a show like that! Yes that happened!!! That’s our roots and it all contributes to who I am today. 

You started DJing at a club called The Devil's Nest as House Music began to emerge from Chicago. How quickly did you adapt to that sound and what was your initial response to it? 

I’ve always played House Music from the very beginning. So when I started at The Devil’s Nest in 1985, I was already playing early Trax Records, Marshal Jefferson, Virgo, Mr. Fingers / Larry Heard, DJ International and the Farley Jackmaster Funk early beat tracks on the orange label (can’t remember the label). I was also playing dance music from NY Labels with releases from Prelude ‘The Music’s Got Me’, ‘Somehow Someway’, early Timmy Regisford and Boyd Jarvis productions; Winston Jones, Paul Simpson, Yvonne Turner, DJ 45 King, Larry Levan, the Peech Boys and more. 

I was also part of a musical movement called Freestyle / Latin Hip Hop, and that started at the Devil’s Nest. My initial response to House Music? I loved it from the start! It was a sound that just took over the sets eventually. But in those days, I also played Latin, Hip Hop, Freestyle, Disco, Boogie, Dance orientated Rock, and Nu Wave. It was all about good music. 

In Chicago House Music was initially a very Afro-American affair but in NYC it resonated with the Latino community too. Why do you think it appealed to that community in particular?

(Correct) It was both the Afro-American and Latino community in NYC who loved house music. We felt the rhythms. It was dancers’ music and we come from a strong dance culture in NYC. The sound was powerful. Those 909 drums were a new sound with House Music. At first it was created with some borrowed basslines from disco classics, and other original grooves and basslines. Tracks such as ‘On The House’ by Pleasure Control, ‘R U Hot Enough’ by Virgo, ‘Move Your Body’ by Marshall Jefferson, ‘Can You Feel It’ by Mr. Fingers, ‘Your Love’ by Frankie Knuckles and Jamie Principle. Some were instrumentals and others full-on songs. There was even poetry spoken on top of tribal house sounds (e.g. Jungle Wonz). House Music had a drive and pocket that was like no other. It took NYC by storm. We all played it and it hit everyone emotionally. We couldn’t get enough of it! 

What is important about the Sound Factory Bar and the Underground Network Parties hosted by yourself, Barbara Tucker and Don Welch?

That was a special time at the Underground Network Parties. This was another unique movement in NYC. Let me tell you a story and lead into the UN Parties.

In 1990 I got together with Kenny Dope and we formed our production team Masters At Work. As I said, I played freestyle music along with house, disco, hip hop and reggae from 1985 - 1990 at top clubs in NYC. I played at the Devil’s Nest in 1985, then 1986-1988 I played at Hearthrob (which was formerly The Funhouse where Jellybean played). 1989 - 1990 I played at Studio 54 and I also did guest spots at 1018, Roseland, Lamour East, Pay Day, Mars, Palladium and more.

By 1991, Kenny Dope and I had started remixing and producing lots of music for Masters At Work, so there was a lot of music on the horizon which would eventually be released worldwide. In Late 1990 I stopped playing residencies at NYC clubs and took 1.5 years off of DJing. I came back to it in 1992. By that time Masters At Work music was cooking all over.

Don Welch who I knew from years back in 1984 when I worked at the IDRC record pool (he was a DJ in the pool too), asked me if I would play a party for him at a club on 23rd Street called Elite / Savage. He was a promoter along with his business partner Barbara Tucker. The timing was perfect because I had all this music that was hot. I played about 3 of his parties within a few months.

Don Welch and Barbara Tucker had the vision. They asked me ‘if we were to get a weekly club night would you be the resident DJ?’ I said yes, if we had the right venue. He reached out to me and said if I would come see this club on 21st Street called the Sound Factory Bar. It just so happened that Frankie Knuckles was already playing there for close to a year on Fridays. Don and Barbara had the opportunity to do Wednesdays.

When we went to see the club on a Friday night with Frankie, I was blown away hearing him work that Steve Dash sound system. It was perfect for the Underground Network party hosted by Don and Barbara and I (agreed) to be the resident DJ every Wednesday night. The concept was unique because it was based on the music industry, dancers and fans of the music. On any given Wednesday you would see singers, DJs, producers, musicians, even Broadway dancers; artists from all genres of music and entertainment having a good time to our music.

This night really created a movement for House Music in the 90s. Besides all the Masters At Work sounds being played, you also had Todd Terry, David Morales, Timmy Regisford, Armand Van Heldon, Harry Romero, Eric Morillo, Lil Louis, Francois K, Joe Claussell, Danny Krivit, Tony Humphries, Roger S, Frankie Knuckles, Kenny Carpenter, Merlin Bobb, Kerri Chandler, DJ Camacho, Kim Lightfoot, Smack Productions and Jovann; all frequenting the club and getting their sounds played as well. Many of the DJs I mentioned were also our guests on some nights. So this night was critical to the 90s house sound that came from NYC and NJ. It lasted ‘til 1997 right when Kenny Dope and I finished up Nuyorican Soul.

Besides XXVIII, Nuyorican Soul is actually one of my favourite albums of all time. What does that album mean to you looking back on it and can we have another one…? Please 😊

Nuyorican Soul means a lot to me. It’s the album that was very pivotal in our lives, careers, and represented what it was like growing up in New York City. We are Native New Yorkers and to be able to tell this musical story to the world with such a high calibre of talent was a dream come true. To create a timeless piece is very special and we hold this project close to our hearts as one that embellishes some of the musical landscape of Masters At Work. We hope there will be another one. We will see, you never know!!!

David Morales recently praised your work ethic in our interview with him. What inspires you to keep producing music after all these years?

David Morales is my brother of many years. We’ve been friends since the mid-80s and before that I used to go hear him and take DJ notes at Inferno, Lovelight, Better Days, lol. His work has inspired me for years as a DJ and producer, and still does today. I can be inspired by so many things; everyday life. It can be my wife and my son that inspire me, a night out checking out a musician or singer, travels around the world, a night playing at a club or event, or even just listening to a track or song, a dream with sounds or even an idea out of the blue can pop into my head. I have a passion for DJing and producing music. My work ethic is intense. It’s something that’s been with me since a very young age.

Do you remember your first visit to the UK? How did the British audience differ from NYC?

My first visit to the UK was special. It was 1989. I was managed by Patrick Moxey (now CEO of Ultra Records). He brought me out to London. I was staying in Camden Town where his Mom lives. We actually stayed at his Mom’s house and we went to the gigs from there. My favourite thing was eating the famous English breakfast down the block from his Mom’s. It was where all the drivers and workers ate in the morning. I’ll never forget those breakfasts.

When we went out in London I was in shock when I saw so many Caucasian people into soul music. Patrick took me all around town to meet DJs and check out the scene before my gigs. I remember meeting Pete Tong for the first time at the Hippodrome Club. When I walked in, he was playing ‘Dancing In Outer Space’ by Atmosphere. I was blown away by this because that’s a straight-up NYC record for the dancers. The Club was packed and there were many people dancing to such a funky track. Usually it was Afro American and Latinos dancing to this track in NYC; it was underground. I later realized the group Atmosphere came from the UK!

I stayed in the UK for about two weeks. In those two weeks I played at the early raves ; Sunrise and Energy, I also played at ‘High On Hope’ for Norman Jay (his party). I met so many amazing people and I was in a whole new world. There was dance culture in the UK with a movement of all kinds of soul music; from uptempo to downtempo, and especially House Music. I even did a remix while there. Let’s see if you can find it. (ENTER THE COMPETITION ON OUR MAIN PAGE)

When it came time to play at the raves Sunrise and Energy, that was a trip. First, we waited to be picked up and it wasn’t until 3am that Patrick received a call that the driver was on his way. We didn’t even think it would be happening. Luckily I was on NY time lol so I was not sleepy. We drove for hours and hours into farmland country arriving at 5am. When we got there, we had to park and walk through mud with record crates (Patrick, the driver and I). Then we arrived at a large hangar in the middle of a field. When we got to the doors they were opened by the security and there were over 10,000 people going mad to House Music. That was my introduction to the UK. I was on the same line-up as Paul Trouble Anderson, Paul Oakenfold, Carl Cox, Bobby and Steve, and so many other amazing UK DJs.

We cannot talk about you without talking about your wife Anané. Separating the relationship from the artist, you must be very proud of her journey from humble beginnings. What do you think she brings to the House scene as an artist?

I’m so proud of Anané. She has contributed lots to the House scene as an artist, as a DJ, as a label owner and A&R of her projects and more. She empowers so many women worldwide and is a huge role model. Her hard work whether in the studio, at a live show performing / singing or DJing, daily works with her labels Nulu and Nulu Electronic, shows the many contributions she’s given to the culture. Bringing in her Cape Verdian sound to House Music was a new sound that she introduced me to. She incorporates it in some of her work e.g. ‘Bem Ma Mi’ and ‘Terra Longe’ to name a few. She’s an incredible Mom to a 20-year-old young man and when you see him, you see her! She’s my partner in life and I’m very lucky and blessed to have met Anané. She changed my life, all goodness!!!

You monster an isolator and a rotary mixer. What makes those pieces of equipment so special to you?

The isolator is an instrument. If you really listen while one of us (Djs who use it) are working it, you can feel words of songs coming at you, rhythms with dynamics while twisting the knobs; you tell a story with it. The Rotary Mixer has a touch that is very different to faders. You can feel that next song coming and the two songs become one at a point then the incoming track becomes the dominant one and the transition comes to fruition. It really hits human emotions that I can’t explain. I learned how to use it by watching the maestros work the knobs and isolators (or in those days crossovers). Larry Levan, Tony Humphries, Bruce Forest, Jellybean, Kenny Carpenter, and David Morales. They were the ones I went to hear at clubs when I was a teenager.

How does a DJ go from mediocre to outstanding? What weapons do they need?

When a DJ goes to outstanding, he really connects with the audience. Your weapons are your ears, your heart, your hands. The ability to be ambidextrous. You are using most of your senses when DJing and doing two and three things at the same time. It’s being able to read a crowd and knowing how to get them dancing, feeling good, closing their eyes and falling into that deep musical journey. When you can make a person explode with emotion, sing, smile, cry, get the goose bumps. That’s when you got it!!

What have you got in the musical pipeline?

A new album coming out in early 2021 entitled ‘Expansions In The NYC’ on Nervous Records. It’s an album inspired by my NYC nights at my last residency called ‘Expansions NYC’ where we brought together a cross section of generations; all of whom shared an appreciation and passion for music, culture and art. Those jam sessions brought out ideas for me to go in and create another musical trip in the studio. I am bringing together unique collaborations with Unlimited Touch, Bernard Fowler (formerly of the Peech Boys), Robyn, Moodymann, Anané, Josh Milan, The Martinez Brothers, Honey Dijon, Kerri Chandler, Joe Claussell, Janine Sugah Lyons, Axel Tosca, Lisa Fischer, Karen Harding, Bebe Winans, Rick Wilhite, and my son Nico Vega (who is now in the studio producing his music).

We are revamping our label MAW Records and putting out unreleased tracks and new music this year. We have some MAW remixes in the pipeline too; Dua Lipa ‘Pretty Please’, Dj Krust ‘AntiGravity (Crosstown Rebels) and Joseph Capriati ‘Love Changes Me’.

I have been working with The Martinez Brothers with new music in the works. We’ve recorded over 20 tracks in a few sessions and have the single out ‘Let It Go’, with our new dubs and remixes coming out by Kaytranada and Honey Dijon. Of course, Louie Vega Presents Unlimited Touch ‘I Hear Music In The Streets’ just came out on August 28, 2020 which is a single off the forthcoming album. ‘Chapters Of Becoming… Anané’; an album executively produced by Louie Vega and Anané Vega. I am also going back to my roots with a collaboration with the King of Freestyle George Lamond on a classic Barrabas cover called ‘Woman’. Plus I am working on remixes for Honey Dijon, Conclave (the band), Isolee (on Classic Records), and Dj Bobbito (“Que Bonita Bandera Remix").

The list is endless. Remember he said his work ethic is insane!!! And with that, its back in the studio to pursue his passion and deliver on the musical promise that has surrounded him from the very day he started. Thank you Louie 😊

Thank you for this interview, wonderful questions!!!

 




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My favourite genres are definately Deep and Soulful House. That is what my weekly show on Housefm.net has always consisted of.

18:00-20:00
20:00-22:00 The Shiloh story has really, only just begun as her assault on the scene, through both her infectious live gig sounds and pulsating vibe join forces with her rapidly rising Virtuoso movement.

The Shiloh story has really, only just begun as her assault on the scene, through both her infectious live gig sounds and pulsating vibe join forces with her rapidly rising Virtuoso movement.

22:00-00:00

Marl Radford is known for his unique bassline driven underground sound & outstanding technical ability behind the turntables...

00:00-02:00

Welcome to the NO RESTRICTIONS show, bringing you a broad blend of the very best dance music!

02:00-04:00

The Release Yourself radio show is the home of all things House, presented by the iconic, international super star DJ and producer Roger Sanchez.

04:00-06:00

House and Techno all the way from "Solardo" UK producers Mark Richards and James Elliot.

06:00-08:00

Kaluki Radio With Pirate Copy supplying the freshest house and techno direct from the underground, packed with new and exclusive cuts from all four corners of the globe!

08:00-10:00

Receive the Sunday Morning Blessings with the Gospel vibes served up in a Soulful style

10:00-12:00

The deeper, edgier soulful house sound. The kind of stuff that makes you put on that nasty bass face when you hear it!

12:00-14:00

Rooted firmly with the best of the Garage sound and a love for the deep, progression and soulful styles.

14:00-16:00

Deep, Godly, Soulful and Uplifting House with the sultry influences of Latin and tribal African sounds added to the mix

16:00 -18:00

The Selection Show with the best in Soulful House

18:00-20:00

The deeper side of House combined with vocal tracks and quite often House in all shapes n sizes!

20:00-22:00

A man on a mission to  just keep providing you all with plenty of soulful goodness!

22:00-00:00

The connoisseur of Soulful House with the Groove Odyssey Sessions