An Interview with Arthur Armstrong – Promoter, Producer and Owner of The Legendary Ecstasy Garage
Interviewed Winter of 2010
FORWARD: This chapter of Troy L Smith’s Old School Hip Hop chronicles sheds some much needed light on an element of the original era that is often overlooked and under realized. I’m speaking about that of the promoter.
Yes, long before anyone had reached the mega levels of the Puffs and the Russell’s of today, we had the around the way promoters from uptown. Yup, I’m talking about that “older guy” who you always saw on the door at the jam back in the days, collecting the money and making sure things came out right. As young kids we might not have really known what all was up with these guys because of the age difference, but it was obvious that they were the movers and shakers that kept the bigger more established clubs & venues (as opposed to house parties and park jams) coming our way week after week.
This chronicle is about one of the most successful of these pioneering visionaries, Mr. Arthur Armstrong, and how his entrepreneurial skillfulness provided us with the venues that helped to incubate, nurture and push forward quite a few of the early crews, and hip hop as a whole, to the next level…because, party people tell me where would HIP HOP have gotten if we never would have had the chance to be AT THE PARTY.. rocking to a MONSTER JAM… IN THE PLACE TO BE!!!!!
Troy- Alright Mr. Armstrong where were you born and raised?
Armstrong- I was born in a small town in Louisiana. I was about 29 years old when I came up north.
Troy- What made you come up North?
Mr. Armstrong- Well as a young man I did a lot of moving around. I first moved to Florida and then I decided to move to New York in 1968.
Troy- So while you were down there were you also into the music?
Mr. Armstrong- No, I only got involved with the music once I got to New York.
Troy- So once you got to New York what borough did you first stop at?
Mr. Armstrong- The Bronx! 165th street, Washington Avenue.
Troy- What was the music you were listening to before you found out about Hip Hop?
Mr. Armstrong- Jazz and Blues, I’m an old guy so…you understand!
Troy- Did you have any favorite Blues entertainers such as maybe a Muddy Waters?
Mr. Armstrong- Well I did like Muddy Waters, B. B. King, Bobby Blue Bland, Lil Milton.
Troy- Were more of a listener or did you play any instruments?
Mr. Armstrong- No, more of a listener as you said. With the Jazz I enjoyed listening to Miles Davis, Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, people like that.
Troy- So how did you feel about New York once you stepped into the city?
Armstrong- I liked it, I like the city. I grew up in small town but before I got here. I had lived in different cities anyway for a short time. I lived in Chicago, Detroit and Houston, Texas. To support myself I did clerical work for a construction company and stuff like that.
Troy- So when did you get wind of Hip Hop and what attracted you to it where it started to make you want to be a part of it?
Armstrong- Well me and another guy opened up a club over on University Avenue, we intended for it to be an adult club. While over there at the club we ran into Kool Herc. Before I ran into Herc I had never heard of hip hop to tell you the truth. Kool Herc sat me down and explained to me what hip hop was and stuff like that. So from there I decided to give a few hip hop shows in the club. So that is where I started from.
Troy- What was the first club you opened up named?
Armstrong- The first club I opened up was called Galaxy 500 over on University Avenue. I later opened up another club called The Ecstasy Garage over on Macomb’s Road.
Troy- With the Galaxy, would that be about 1978 when you opened it up?
Armstrong- No that would be more like 1979 or 1980, around there.
Troy- I bring this up because there was a night when the club got stuck up during that time. The L- Brothers were there along with Kool Herc and The Herculoids. Also that night I believe Bam and his Cosmic or Soul Sonic Force were there also.
Armstrong- Yes it was around that time but it has been so many years that I can’t get the exact date. But I remember the shooting clearly. The L- Brothers were there, I think Kool Herc was there also but it is hard to remember all the groups that were there. But I know the L- Brothers were there. I think Kool Herc was my house D.J. at that point. I can’t say if Bambaataa was there that night to be honest with you. But it was late that night and me and a few other guys were sitting at the door. The club was up the stairs, and we were downstairs at the door. Basically around 2, 3 o’clock in the morning a bunch of guys bust through the doors with shot guns and pistols and slammed me on the floor. I had a few other people at the door but I can’t remember their names. But I know Darnell (Breakout’s brother) who managed the Funky Four was there. But like I said they slammed us on the floor and grabbed the money. The stick up kids made a mistake because they went upstairs to try and rob the bar. That was a mistake because there were a bunch of guys upstairs with guns! From my understanding one of the guys were on their way down the stairs when they saw the stick up kids come through the door so they ran back inside the party. So now the stickup kids go up the stairs and into the party and start shooting into the air and all the kids are now lying on the floor. And that was when someone shot the robber from the best I can remember. I know one guy got killed. I think someone else got shot but I know a kid got beat up. But it seemed like everything happened to the robbers.
Troy- I heard a lot of what you are saying, also heard Mean Gene put Theodore in a garbage can to hide him! I heard people were jumping out of the windows.
Mean Gene and Theodore
Armstrong- Yes people were.
Troy- Was it very crowded that night?
Armstrong- Yes I would say about 500 people were there.
Troy- Dam 500, so that was a hell of a site!
Armstrong- Yes it was packed and it was like all hell broke loose, you know what I mean. People were shooting in the air. And I don’t think the robbers knew they were being shot at you know what I mean. I do know that one guy got killed and I think another got grazed by a bullet. I heard one of them got beat up, to tell you the truth.
Troy- So was there a big investigation afterwards?
Troy- So you closed down the Galaxy after that night?
Armstrong- Yeah I closed it down and I opened the other club later on Macomb’s Road around 174th street or something.
Troy- So before we get to the Ecstasy Garage you were doing bands you said?
Armstrong- Yes I used to manage bands.
Troy- Any notable ones?
Armstrong- No this was just local stuff. I got into music by accident. I used to hang out with some musicians called the Pazant Brothers,
you might not know these guys but they used to be Melba Moore’s backup band. So by me hanging out with these guys and they had some friends over in Teaneck or Inglewood, New Jersey they asked me to help with this little young band and that was how I got involved working with that band. One thing leads to another when working with bands and basically that’s how I really got started dealing with the music.
Troy- So you used to hang out down in Harlem?
Troy- The reason why I asked you that because Melba Moore’s husband owned Charles Gallery on 125th street over by Randy’s Place also known as The Factory before it was called Randy’s Place.
Armstrong- Yes I have been there I remember Charles Gallery. I have been there quite a few times.
Troy- As well as the Top Club across the street?
Armstrong- Yes in fact in the Top Club they used to have a lot of Live Bands there.
Troy- Yes they did, there was a stage heading towards the back of the club with the Baby Grand on top of the stage…and they used to be jamming in there.
Armstrong- Yes and there used to be a house band there all the time as well as different bands coming through to perform. I also remember the Baby Grand Bar/Cafe across the street from the Top Club and I had many groups that played in the Baby Grand. The Top Club was more Bluesy if you remember.
Troy- Well when I was a child my mother used to be a barmaid there and I remember them jamming in there but the type of music that they were playing I did not know, I just know the bands were working real hard and having fun as well as the people.
Armstrong- Well I liked the Top Club because they used to have good Blues bands and a lot of people used to walk in and perform, you know what I mean! Local guys from Harlem and where ever used to perform there. I always did like music.
Troy- So from managing the bands one day you opened a club for adults only, meaning adults listening to Jazz and Blues not an adult club dealing in prostitution or anything like that?
Armstrong- No, I was only going to open a club where I could bring bands and stuff like that, that was the plan. I opened up with an older guy who we called Pops. We were open for about a week and that’s when…well from my understanding the club was where Herc used to give shows at before I got it.
Troy- So before you met Herc that night at your new club had you heard of hip hop?
Armstrong- No I had never heard of hip hop before meeting Herc.
Troy- So what was your response when you did hear the music or you could care less, you just wanted to see the people coming in and you collecting the money!
Armstrong- Well I was impressed by these young guys, it seemed like they were trying to do something, you know what I mean! That was what I was impressed by. It wasn’t the music that I particularly would listen to by myself, but it wasn’t bad, you know what I mean. So what happened is I got to know a few of the kids in the neighborhood who used to hang around all the time and they started telling me who was who, like they started schooling me with who was popular with the rest of the kids and stuff like that. If you wanted to know something talk to the kids, you know what I mean. So they started telling me about Bambaataa, Flash, and Theodore. You know people like that.
Troy- So do you remember who the kids were that were getting into your ear, might this be Breakout’s brother?
Armstrong- No, these were the kids from around the block, but basically guys started coming around and quickly I started learning who was who. See if you are going to book a show you need to know. I remember Kool Herc telling me he was the Muhammad Ali of Hip Hop. I will never forget that statement. (We both chuckled.) And I had been around long enough to know if you talk to a rapper he is going to build himself up.
Troy- So how did you look at Herc as a type of person?
Armstrong- Off and on. We were OK. for a while but it was an off and on relationship. We didn’t have any problems in the sense of…you know what I mean. It was a situation that developed later on where Herc couldn’t draw a crowd like say the L- Brothers or Flash and people like that so conflict started to come about because you know Herc was suppose to be the house DJ. and he felt he was suppose to be the guy at all times, you know what I mean!
Troy- So he wanted it every night?
Armstrong- Yeah, so it was some conflict that arose after that. But we are cool if we meet up now. You know I see Herc every once in a while, you know we laugh and talk. It wasn’t anything like any beef like young people have today, you know what I mean?
Troy- I understand. How many years do you have on Kool Herc?
Armstrong- I am way older then Kool Herc! Today I am way up in my 60’s man so when I got in hip hop I was up in age. Like I said it wasn’t a thing I was set out to do, you know what I mean, I just got involved.
Troy- I asked you that because I was wondering if there was a time you would close up The Galaxy and you and Herc would go and hang out, drink a beer, talk business, chew the fat, anything of that nature.
Armstrong- No, I never hung out with any of those guys, I was too old you know, so it was a business situation. But it was more or less different guys I talked to that I liked and got along with, like Caz from the Cold Crush Brothers, Tony Tone, in fact all the Cold Crush Brothers. Those guys I talked to a lot because they were OK. You had people you didn’t like too much and people you liked. So it was a situation like that in hip hop. We had our ups and downs and our problems here and there but it wasn’t any beefs like people have now.
Troy- So who did the security at the Galaxy for you?
Armstrong- At the Galaxy at the time you had the L- Brothers security. The L- Brothers had a manager name Trevor. So they had their own security. I don’t know if you remember but most hip hop artist had their own security force. Like The L- Brothers had theirs, Flash and The Furious 5 had their own also.
Troy- Flash and the Furious 5 had the Casanovas; The L- brothers had the 9 Crew.
Troy- Bambaataa had the Zulu Nation. So how were you able to deal with all those gangs as well as stickup kids robbing people in the bathrooms etc. I am sure you seen it. (Mr. Armstrong laughs.)
Armstrong- Yes I did. Basically you have to know the guys. So I got to know the guys and most of them were OK. but like I said you had a few like say D.J. A.J. him and his crew of fellas, I had a little problem with them from time to time. But how I got a long with them was certain guys you let in with guns and certain guys you didn’t! Like the Zulu, I knew they had guns but these guys helped with security while they were there, you know it was a matter of trust. You got to know guys.
Troy- So you weren’t fearful at times that these guys carrying these guns might make a mistake and kill somebody in there that they weren’t suppose to or those guys taken advantage of people by extortion in the party?
Armstrong- Put it like this, killing somebody…how can I put it…you just have to hope nothing like that happens. Like Bambaataa and some of his guys you let in free but not all of them. They knew you and you knew them and they gave me X amount of respect. If I needed security anybody can tell you they would be raising hell helping my people. I had guys on security but Zulu and other guys would help in security also. Like the Casanovas with Tiny, Cletus, Football etc, all of those guys you know. If they were in the house I didn’t worry about security that much. If anybody did something stupid they would be on the case. So for the most part most of them had unwritten rules. You had unwritten rules back in those days. Most of these guys wouldn’t shoot up a party. If they are Zulu they didn’t want to lose that respect you know what I mean. If the Casanovas came to the door you would let the main guys in, not no 20 or 30 guys! You knew who to let in and who not to. You knew who was carrying a gun; you knew who wasn’t carrying a gun. But A.J. came in there with some of his guys one night and took some guys equipment.
Troy- I am surprised to hear that about A.J. Who were the guys he took it from?
Armstrong- I not sure I believe it was some unknown artist I had one night. That’s when I got some of the guys from the 9 Crew to start working with me you know. See you didn’t call the police you know what I mean, you dealt with it yourself.
Troy- So you bought in Big O of The 9 Crew?
Armstrong- I knew him but he didn’t work for me, I bought in Blue and Champ and other guys. And believe it or not, A.J. came back and these guys working under me now gave him a choice. A.J. and his boys had to be searched because they lost their gun privileges. And that is how it was dealt with. So Blue and them told them straight up you have to get searched or you are going to have to leave. That was the choice that was given to them and that was how it was.
Take a look at Pow wow, I knew Pow Wow, he came in the club one night and I kept this big bag at the door when I was collecting the money and some of the guys would leave there knives and guns with me in this bag. But Pow Wow came in one night and reached into his jacket and pulled out two guns and dumped them in the bag and said I will be back for them later. But Pow Wow was cool though so I knew those guys very well even Globe. Bam’s guys would show up and they could bring their guns in, even the Casanova’s. Now you had some cool guys that we knew but they weren’t allowed in with guns.
Troy- And you didn’t tell Pow Wow he just dropped them off himself!
Armstrong- Right and we knew Pow Wow good and you have to understand it was like a family, a clan, so you would have to say it was the guys who were down and the ones who weren’t. See Bam’s guys you knew weren’t going to shot your party up, you knew the Casanova’s were going to help. Plus those types of guys you knew weren’t going to let you take their guns anyway. But at the end of the night you would not believe how many knives and guns I had in that bag that if the police would have caught me I probably would have still been doing time.
Troy- So the night of the stick up at The Galaxy they took that bag of guns?
Armstrong- No that night I didn’t have any guns in the bag just money. To tell you the truth during those days I felt so safe that I didn’t have anything on me that night. I left and I said oh s— and I didn’t have anything on me, but then again I knew I had all the security.
Troy- So that night of the stick up did you get your money back?
Armstrong- No whatever they took, they took that night.
Troy- I thought all of them got caught or died before the night was over.
Armstrong- No, I know one or two got killed but they didn’t catch everybody. What I can remember it was probably 4 or 5 guys that robbed the place that night. One guy threw me backwards he had a sawed of shot gun. See 3 or 4 of us were at the table and we were all talking and the gunman shoved me backwards on to the floor, in fact we were all shoved backwards. One of the guys were patting me down once I was on the ground. It was a little scary to tell you the truth. It didn’t frighten me that much believe it or not that night, but I thought about it a day or two later. It’s kind of you know unnerved you a day or two later to tell you the truth because it happened so quick.
Troy- So out of all of these gangs who was the most respected?
Armstrong- Well Zulu had probably the most man power, but Tiny of the Casanovas told me one day, he said, “let me tell you something The Zulu’s have a lot of numbers and I got about 30 guys or so but the difference is every one of my guys are carrying heat.” So Troy the Casanova’s were much feared. But the funny thing about these guys is we got to know each other and I paid the guys. Some nights you didn’t make any money in the club, you know profit. I wouldn’t try to lie, what I would say is look this is the money and if I promised you a thousand dollars and I don’t have it then I would say look I am paying you 700 because they knew I was telling the truth, you know what I mean!
Troy- OK. so that was the going rate for security?
Armstrong- No that was for the artist and the artist would pay their security. I would pay my own security 30 or 40 dollars a night in those days. It depends.
Troy- I guess that was enough during those times and they just wanted to party anyway.
Armstrong- You talking about back in the late 70’s early 80’s. So if a young guy can make 30 or 40 dollars a night and he is enjoying himself partying then it’s all good.
Troy- So how much time is in between you going from The Galaxy to the Ecstasy Garage?
Armstrong- Maybe a couple of months.
Troy- How did you get the Ecstasy Garage property?
Armstrong- I rented it, you rented stuff back then I didn’t buy anything you know.
Troy- How did you find it?
Armstrong- I don’t know to tell you the truth, some way and somewhere along the way. You know you talk to different people. Back then I knew a lot of people you understand what I mean, so you talk to different people and they will tell you this place is over here blah blah blah. The Ecstasy Garage had been originally used as an after hour club, so it had everything already set up for me.
Troy- I see, but wasn’t that pretty big for an after hour spot; also was it actually a garage that was turned into a club?
Armstrong- Yes, it had a front and back part meaning you had the bar area and you walked through the door into the dance area which is the larger area of the club.
Troy- Was there one or two Ecstasy Garage?
Armstrong- After the shooting took place at the Galaxy on University Avenue, for a couple of months I opened up the Ecstasy Garage on Jerome Avenue. It was a big old garage and that was how it ended up with the name. But I only stayed there for like a couple of months before I moved to the one on Macomb’s road.
Troy- So why did you move from the one on Jerome?
Armstrong- Because the one on Macomb’s was a better place it was bigger and it had a big bar area where you could probably put 200 people. Then you walked through a door to the back part, it would hold like 5 or 6 hundred people in the back.
Troy- So the first one was more of a garage then the second one?
Armstrong- Yes, it was a big old wide open garage, but I kept the same name, you understand.
Troy- So the second one didn’t look like a garage but you took the name with you?
Armstrong- Yeah, what you would do is walk in and walk up stairs to the second floor.
Troy- The first one was a big long space?
Armstrong- Yes but you had to walk upstairs also. It was a big square place and to be honest I don’t think much about the first one because it didn’t stay open that long, see it was a train strike at one point.
Troy- Yes, I remember the strike on April 1, 1980, after the board of the city’s major transit union rejected management’s offer of a 6 percent wage increase in each of the next two years.
Armstrong- Yes and that’s when I was in the big garage on Jerome Avenue. And I said for some reason I didn’t like it and it was big.
Troy- But isn’t that what you wanted for it to be big right?
Armstrong- But the one on Macomb’s road looked more like a club and you had tables in this bar area and stuff like that in front.
Troy- I never been to the first Ecstasy Garage but in my mind I always had this impression of a big type of garage that once held cars or trucks and you came along and turned it into a club and it’s a big open space on the ground floor and instead of a gate to pull up and down that allows cars and trucks to go in and out, now patrons are going through the side door next to the gate!
Armstrong- Well that was the one on Jerome Avenue.
Troy- So the crowd followed you from the Galaxy to Ecstasy Garage with no problem?
Armstrong- No it wasn’t no problem because you have to understand there wasn’t a lot of clubs back then. What’s the club up by Gun Hill Road?
Troy- The T- Connection.
Armstrong- Right and during that time The Disco Fever catered to an older crowd.
Troy- In the early days of the Fever yes.
Armstrong- Yes, a young 20’s crowd, they didn’t cater too much to teenagers, you understand! That’s where Russell Simmons and guys like that hung out at. But at my club teenagers hung out.
Troy- So how did Mean Gene become the manager of the club or house DJ.?
Armstrong- He was my house DJ. and at some point and time so was Theodore.
See you might book a guy for a month or two and that was the situation with Theodore. But in that respect with anyone they would supply the equipment. Sometimes I would bring in another artist while they were playing also and that artist would play on their equipment.
Troy- So if you had Theodore as your house D.J. then the Fantastic Five is coming up in there as well?
Armstrong- Yes but when you booked Theodore you booked the whole crew; it wasn’t you just booking Theodore! See back then it was who was popular and you didn’t have any 50 popular guys, you know what I mean.
Troy- I understand it was only a handful of guys. The main dudes, Fantastic, Cold Crush, Funky 4, The Zulu Nation crews, Busy Bee, Love Bug Star Ski and Furious 5 etc. In Harlem it was Treacherous 3, Crash Crew, Johnny Wa and Rayvon along with Master Don and The Def Committee as well as The Disco Four.
Armstrong- Right also Spoonie Gee, you know what I mean. So it wasn’t a whole lot of crews. Back in those days the two most popular crews out there were The L-Brothers and Flash and believe it or not when I first got involved the Cold Crush they weren’t even calling themselves the Cold Crush yet. They just got together somewhere right after I got on. But I used to book Caz and J.D.L. all the time.
(in this photo) Grand Master Caz and J.D.L.
Troy- Caz and J.D.L. were calling themselves the Notorious 2, later through Tony Tone and Charlie Chase they formed the final members known today as The Cold Crush Brothers, one of my all-time favorite crews.
Armstrong- Well I agree to be honest with you, I got along with those guys better than anyone else. I booked them more than any other crew.
Troy- Can you please answer this legend. It was said that you sold quarts of beer out of the Ecstasy garage, and the patron took the cap off right there and started drinking?
Armstrong- Yes, it was there I do know I sold beer, not sure if they drunk it straight from the quart bottle, but to be honest with you I didn’t have a liquor license, but I do know I sold liquor. (We both laugh.)
Troy- So how did you deal with all that marijuana being smoked and cocaine being sniffed?
Armstrong- Ignored it!
Troy- (what)I understand but did you try to tell them to put it out or you did but you seen it made no sense because they would keep on doing it!
Armstrong- Yes but let me tell you it wasn’t as bad as it is now, you know what I mean! See you talking about before crack. Crack wasn’t in during the early 80’s it came towards the end of the 80’s! So yes they did smoke weed and it wasn’t what you might call bad, the deal was you ignored it. You would be running through the club all night trying to keep these guys from smoking weed. So I ignored it and to tell you the truth basically I didn’t have that many problems in my club. There was a few knuckleheads but the most important thing is when you’re giving a party you got to know the people. Like I said there would be a few problems but if you got the Casanovas hanging out and the Zulus and all of a sudden the knucklehead looks around and he’s got 20 guys surrounding him he will change his whole frame of mind!
Troy- So all those guys Zulu, Casanova’s, 9 etc. followed you from the Galaxy?
Armstrong- Yes back in the days when you got to know the guys you used them. Up until this day if I see any of those guys today it would be like old times. You have to understand like I told you earlier you didn’t have a lot of places to play. People got a few high schools and stuff like that but otherwise it wasn’t a lot of clubs so people more or less went to the same places and seen the same people. Once they got to know your club that’s where they went. T-Connection had that crowd uptown, I had my crowd and a few schools here and then. I don’t know if you are aware but hip hop was more territorial back then if I am using the right word. Certain people and certain artist hung out at certain places. Like if you gave a show uptown you made sure you talked to Donnell (Manager of Funky 4) and them, you know what I am saying.
Troy- Ritchie Tee owned The T- Connection
Armstrong- Well they played there but there was a few schools up there like Evander Childs and I believe the Funky Four used to play there too. But you didn’t go to Bronx River without an understanding because Bam and them had that crowd of people so you didn’t go there unless you talked to Bam and most likely Bam had to be down. But with The T- Connection and my club it was what you might call neutral territory, you know what I mean. All the artists would come there, you didn’t have to worry about going into someone else’s neighborhood. I don’t know if you know the history of the gangs and all that type of stuff but some of those guys by the time I got involved still hated each other from the old days.
Troy- (Troy chuckles.) Yes I do know what you mean.
Armstrong- So what you had is a lot of kids and a lot of artist that wouldn’t go into certain neighborhoods, so basically my club was like a neutral spot where everybody could go to and they felt safe and nobody got hurt or beat up unless they did something and that was primarily the way the club was ran. We didn’t have the trouble you see now.
Troy- So your first record you ever produced was with The Cold Crush called The Weekend?
Armstrong- Yes I did.
Troy- Did they come to you or you went to them?
Armstrong- Well I knew them that well. After I closed The Ecstasy Garage down I started doing shows in northern Jersey, upstate New York as well as Connecticut.
Troy- So you did the first Cold Crush record when the Ecstasy Garage closed?
Armstrong- It was around 1982 when I did that record. I am not sure if it was open or closed at the time but the deal is I never stopped booking those guys like the Cold Crush and a few others because I was giving shows in Jersey City, Newark, Paterson New Jersey, Elizabeth, all the way down to Trenton New Jersey and then all the way up to Poughkeepsie. Down in Trenton they had a big roller rink down there and that was the only one in Trenton.
Troy- A good friend of mine by the name of D.J. Ready Red who used to D.J. for The Ghetto Boys used to play in that skating rink and he told me you used to bring all those acts down there. He told me that the people went berserk when you would come through because they were so happy you bought hip hop down there.
Armstrong- I remember Red, where in the hell did you meet him at?
Troy- At the www.oldschoolhiphop.com message board, we are both moderators there and he used to speak about you from time to time. In fact he told me you used to bring M.C. Mikey Dee down there.
Armstrong- Yes I used to put Mikey on at one time.
Troy- Yeah well Red always wondered when Mikey first came out did you have a contract with him, because it appeared that you used to get him on a lot down in Trenton.
Armstrong- Yes I did work with Mikey and in fact we were together for a while. I used to book Ready Red also! Red was my connection to Trenton. If you talk to Red he will tell you he was a big Flash fan!
Troy- Ah man you ain’t kidding Mr. Armstrong, you know what time it is! You are right he is a big fan of Flash. (Armstrong starts laughing.) Damn.
Armstrong- He used to have this jacket he wore that had Flash’s name across the back of it.
Troy- That is right, the black leather jacket.
Armstrong- The last I heard of Red he moved to Houston years ago.
Troy- Yes that is right he was running with the Ghetto Boys as their DJ. After living in California for a while he is back in Trenton.
Armstrong- Red was a real nice guy and he was my connection to Trenton. He used to travel with me when we used to come down to promote (Capitol Roller Rink.) and stuff like that. I used to book him. He used to travel with us, you know show us around Trenton and stuff like that. He is a nice guy I liked Red.
Troy- Well he also wanted to know what made you go all the way down to Trenton, New Jersey.
Armstrong- Well when I closed the club down I continued to do shows. I always had my steady job but music was like a side line to me, and I liked it. So basically I gave shows on the weekend in Jersey all the way up to Poughkeepsie, New York as well as Newburgh. I would travel to those areas as well as New Haven and Bridgeport, Connecticut. I would go to all of those areas.
Troy- So do you feel you took Hip Hop to places that never had it, especially that type of hip hop where it was the live shows instead of somebody playing the rap records?
Armstrong- More or less or if they never had hip hop before, basically they had only a little. They had never seen the New York crews. In Elizabeth, New Jersey they too had a roller rink over there as well as Patterson, New Jersey. You didn’t get that many in upstate New York either, as far as the New York artist.
Troy- So what made you pick all those spots around New York instead of downtown Manhattan?
Armstrong- You know when I look back and think about it, I don’t know, I be honest with you. I don’t know.
Troy- It could have been a lot of money made in Manhattan right?
Armstrong- Yes, it could have been, but the only problem with Manhattan is you couldn’t get a lot of places. I should say you couldn’t get a lot of places in downtown Manhattan, it’s not like it is now.
Troy- Did you ever try and get one spot.
Armstrong- Not at that period, no! When I like back now that is something I should have done. But to be honest with you, you are talking about the beginning of Hip Hop, everybody was afraid of Hip Hop, you understand me. I think what really opened up hip hop was the club Roxy’s.
Troy- And that was one of the clubs I was thinking about you trying to promote your shows if that was possible. Did they have their own promoter?
Armstrong- Yes, they had their own promoters and I was out on the road at that time. That is what really expanded hip hop in the city is when they started going down there. Because before that you just didn’t have any clubs down there, below 110th Street giving shows.
Troy- So would you say that the Bronx came to a point where it was dead as far as live hip hop shows?
Armstrong- Not during my era, it died years later. When I closed my place up T-Connection closed up and all the other local places started gradually going down and people started going downtown.
Troy- So what was your reason for closing The Ecstasy Garage
Armstrong- I really don’t remember at this time but I did want to get out the city and to get on the road.
Troy- So was The Ecstasy Garage still staying packed just before you closed it?
Armstrong- Yes I was making money. You have to understand something I had a 9 to 5, so working my 9 to 5 and running a club that you have to promote got to be very hard, to tell you the truth. See out on the road you book the place, you make the flyers and you can make a run through that town and drop off a couple hundred flyers and everybody knew, you know what I mean. But with a club you have to be sure you have liquor there as well as sodas and etc so it was kind of like a second 9 to 5.
Troy- So you got more of a profit going from place to place then staying in one spot?
Armstrong- Correct, only thing you had to do was book a place, say like a community center in Bridgeport. The only thing I had to do was bring the band, the equipment and promote the show and we split the money whichever way and that was it. But with a club you had utilities and all that stuff to pay off, as well as rent.
Troy- What was that experience like making the Cold Crush Brothers first record?
Armstrong- We did the record Weekend at a studio in Brooklyn. I would have done more but at that time I don’t know if the Cold Crush understood the importance of making records. You understand what I mean.
Troy- No, can you be clearer please.
Armstrong- It meant that these guys were out there and they were already popular in their neighborhood and one time you can put it they were Superstars of New York. See they were very popular in this area but I don’t think they knew a change was going to come. I don’t think they were that serious about recording, they weren’t that serious about writing. When I was telling them let’s get some music together let’s get some songs together I had problems trying to get it out of them. That is why I didn’t do many songs with them. After the Sugar Hill Gang made Rappers Delight Hip Hop changed forever. I don’t think Cold Crush and a lot of other groups understood that. There were several other groups I was trying to record also.
Troy- So you tried to get more than one song out of the Cold Crush, did you get them to write anything at all?
Armstrong- Not really, because it was a situation where you couldn’t pin the guys down where I would say I can get you the music you just write and then we go to the studio. That’s where I had problems, they never finished the songs. The Cold Crush at that time were used to coming up with rhymes to do on stage. I don’t think most of the artist understood the concept of writing a song back then.
Troy- Well to be honest with you what was said in the streets was, “What is this Cold Crush put on wax? This is not the Cold Crush sound, instead of putting into a record form they should have taken those same popular routines that were being recited in The Ecstasy Garage and turn that into a record.” (Ex. Jazzy 5 with Jazzy Sensation.) And I am sure that would have sold.
Armstrong- Well you are right about that Troy, I made a mistake with that I am going to be honest. But that was one of the things I planned to do, but you are right about that I made a mistake with that.
Troy- So why do you say you made a mistake, are you the one that gave them the theme for The Weekend record?
Armstrong- Well like you just said I should have said let’s do those routines you guys do in the clubs!
Troy- So the guys didn’t fight you on it saying no let’s do it this way or you didn’t give them any creative freedom?
Armstrong- No they just did it. But the problem is I used to tell them let’s get together to do some more stuff, but it was hard as hell to get anything together with those guys. You know even if you are doing routines you had to put it together to a certain way!
Troy- So you got the guys to do it in one day or you had them do it over a couple of days or weeks?
Armstrong- Just one day. Like I said they were used to doing their shows, doing their rhymes. The same thing with Fantastic 5, I tried to record them and I know some other people who tried to record them.
Troy- They did that one record with Johnny Soul but I always wondered why The Fantastic 5 didn’t do more records as well.
Armstrong- Well that was the same problem, these guys didn’t understand recording either.
Troy- So how far did you go with Fantastic as far as trying to get them to do a record with you?
Armstrong- Well I just talked to them we never really got to a studio, we talked and they said yes but I didn’t hear anything from them, but they got interested once they found out Cold Crush was doing a record. But the Fantastic also didn’t understand that you have to sit down and plan. When you go to the studio you need to have your stuff like your music ready. And you didn’t have a lot of music like you have today; I used a band with the Cold Crush.
Troy- So what was the band that you used for the Weekend record?
Armstrong- It was some musicians I used from the Bronx. These guys weren’t into hip hop, they were just doing music. See that was why Sylvia Robinson was so successful with Sugar Hill, she had been in the studio so she understood and she knew bands, you know she had been famous herself for years. So she understood the music and she knew the people. She knew everything, things that I didn’t know. So that is why the Sugar Hill label was so successful for a while because they jumped right on top of it before anyone else knew what was going on, meaning the big labels and stuff like that. They didn’t understand Hip Hop until Sylvia, that’s why she made such inroads.
Troy- Did you ever get a chance to meet Sylvia or Bobby Robinson of Enjoy records?
Armstrong- Yes I have met Sylvia, I have been to her studio and she is from Teaneck, Jersey. And you know Bobby Robinson, everybody knows him.
Troy- Did you try and do something with Sugar Hill Records?
Armstrong- No not really but for some reason I ended up going over there a few years ago. You know a situation like that even with Bobby Robinson if you dealt with them you weren’t going to make much money.
Troy- Why do you say that?
Armstrong- Just by what I heard you wasn’t going to make much money. With Bobby Robinson I don’t know if you are aware of it he has had every one from Gladys Knight to James Brown.
Troy- Yes I do. I know his history and not to long ago I used to see him walking across 125th Street here in Harlem in his sharp suits although his record shop is no longer open and his health is not the best for him today. But I see him from time to time and we talk small talk.
Armstrong- Bobby had hits out there you wouldn’t believe.
Troy- Yes I used to hear the stories about him. So how was it with the distribution of the Cold Crush Record? How were the numbers over all at the end?
Armstrong- It wasn’t that good, because what happened was you didn’t have real distributors so I dealt with a distributor here in the Bronx. I put some records in the local record shops you know as well as Manhattan and later Brooklyn and Queens. At that period you didn’t have the national distributor on hip hop you know what I mean?
Armstrong- It wasn’t like that back then, people weren’t dealing with hip hop on a larger scale like that.
Troy- So were the record shops getting it from you on consignment or did they have to pay for it in advance?
Troy- So what would you do like go around every week to the different record shops you were working with and collect your money, and bring more records?
Armstrong- Yes, well you would call them or go by and if they sold the product they would pay you and you would leave them more product. But it was a pain in the ass trying to do that. I would have to go from place to place and it’s not a lot of money involved you understand what I mean?
Troy- Yes, so the best place that particular record of the Cold Crush sold was right there in the Bronx!
Armstrong- Believe it or not it sold a lot also in Manhattan,
Troy- Over in Harlem?
Armstrong- Yes in Harlem, but also on Broadway and 43rd or 44th Street. This store carried nothing but black music and they sold a lot of the Cold Crush’s Weekend record. To tell you the truth they probably sold more than any other shop.
Troy- And they were way down in Times Square, isn’t that something. So is it safe to say the Cold Crush record Weekend sold 70,000 records?
Armstrong- No, hell no, I wish. (Armstrong laughs.) Like I said you have to understand something people were buying records but they were also tapping to cassette. You may put a few records like in Jersey or somewhere like Connecticut but you not selling that many. Say Newark for example if you sold maybe 40 to 50 records that was all you were going to sell and that was good. Like I said during that period you didn’t have any national distributor or a One Stop to carry your stuff all the way down through to say D.C.. Maybe Sugar Hill when they came they opened up avenues, you understand. They had distribution they also had Sylvia’s name and everybody knew who she was anyway. To tell you the truth Sugar Hill actually opened up Hip Hop nationwide you know what I am saying. And I don’t know if you are aware of the history of music but the first generation of people who invented some music like Bebop or Jazz stuff like that more or less never made the money, it’s the second and so forth that made the money. In case you don’t know that, that’s history, you go back to Jazz…
Troy- I understand what you are saying it opens up the door then the people that come behind make all the money.
Armstrong- Correct, that is what you have to understand about Hip Hop. In the first generation who made money in hip hop, you think about that? I know Bambaataa made a decent amount of money with Planet Rock, you remember that?
Troy- Yes and I am sure it is still selling today.
Armstrong- Correct, yes and that was the most copied record, but looking back on history out of all the guys Flash and them sold a few records.
Troy- Well I am sure they made some money selling their records, they were very popular.
Armstrong- Yes they sold records and they were able to sign with Sylvia. But my point to you is out of all the guys you have talked to me about and the people you have interviewed on say first generation how many of them really made that much money, you understand what I am saying!
Troy- Oh I understand what you are saying, what it is, is some of these cats are still working today because they didn’t clean up back in the days, as well they love the game. But you have young boys from the 90’s and today who sell records and they are getting million dollar contracts and a whole lot of money back. So like you said the first guys had to lay the foundation but they didn’t get paid.
Armstrong- Correct and since you are a writer and I am sure it has been written about before, you know I found out some of these next generations didn’t try to help some of the first school. See they can oral recite their favorite artist from the old school, but the funny thing about these guys is some of them more or less tried to help these guys at least get them on a couple of tracks, just get them on an album you know what I mean?
Troy- Right like Kool Moe Dee with Will Smith on the Wild Wild West soundtrack or what Nas did with a whole crew of M.C.s from back in the days. But other than that it is just sprinkles of pioneers getting on with artist of today but it’s not enough. Also a lot of rappers today have no idea of the history of Hip Hop that they claim to be a part of. In fact they have no idea what the Ecstasy Garage and T- Connection is or where it was and they are making millions of dollars because of Hip Hop.
Armstrong- Right and some of them have only heard the tapes.
Troy- But the majority of them have not even heard the tapes and those that have heard the rhymes they are like, “Oh that’s that old fogey stuff or they are saying ABC rhymes,” like they have no respect for it.
Now how did the Cold Crush feel about the money in return for the records? Were they hard on you about it or they just didn’t pay it any mind when you said this is all I am getting back from the record shops because it is not selling! Where they able to deal with it?
Armstrong- Well naturally they were going to think I was selling records, you know what I mean. To tell you the truth I gave them a few hundred of their records back. I had about 9 or 10 hundred here in the house and I gave most of them back because they thought I was selling records for a while.
Troy- So they ended up taking it to the stores themselves?
Armstrong- I don’t know what they did with it. I wasn’t working with them at that time; I would book them on shows here and there and a lot of artist had to be careful back then because some people did jerk them as far as shows and stuff like that. They were always aware of someone might be jerking them, you may be doing this or that but they grew a little older and they understood the business a little better.
Troy- Alright so from a promoter’s point of view what is the story when artist say the promoter is shady when it comes to paying people on time, what is your point of view on that? Artist will say this promoter ran out the back door on us and stuff like that. (Armstrong starts laughing.) Another might say “I don’t have enough to pay everybody or I have to give you short money because the house didn’t make enough money”
Armstrong- Well I am sure some of them talked about me but I know no one said I ran out no back door!
Troy- Well you hear stories like that all the time about promoters and I am not saying they are shifty but a lot of times they say “Yo, we didn’t make any money, you see the place isn’t crowded and so I can’t pay you what was promised in the beginning!”
Armstrong- Well let me explain this to you, that is the way of the old school that was the way the rules were written, you know there were unwritten rules. Sometimes you gave a show and you tell the guy I am going to give you 500 then they do the show and you got about 200 people that show up. The way it was written is you sit down and negotiate with the guys and you tell them you got 200 people and you not going to make any money, the promoter is not making any money. The fact is he has not made enough money to pay the artist, so what I used to do was sit down and tell them we didn’t make the money you saw the crowd, blah blah blah, look I am going to give you 300 dollars and I will book you on another show! That’s the way I did it.
Troy- So who gave you the most trouble when it came to those types of moments when you couldn’t pay? Were there some people that understood and some that did not understand all the time?
Armstrong- They all raised hell, you know what I mean! But they basically knew I was honest. But there were some guys they didn’t trust.
Troy- So did you ever butt heads or work with any promoters such as Mike and Dave, Mandiplit, Tiny, Ritchie Tee, Van Silk or Ray Chandler? How did you feel dealing with any of those guys?
Armstrong- Let me tell you something ——- he was a thief. I haven’t heard about him in years, but he was a thief.
Troy- Why do you say that?
Armstrong- (Armstrong starts laughing.) Because this guy has ripped off so many people doing shows. I don’t know if you remember this club that used to be on Broadway for a short period of time. It used to be a clothing store.
Troy- Bonds International?
Armstrong- You got it. Something happened in the club so they left him at the door. He was a part of the people giving the show. But what happened is when the people got back that owned the club he was gone and he walked out with over $10,000! That’s what I heard. I know Stevie Dee was booked there that night. I even remember giving this dude some Cold Crush Records and he was supposed to take them somewhere, and it was over a 100 records. I didn’t see him until six months later. (Armstrong laughs.) In Jamaica Queens they had a shooting there one night, he ended up with the money. To be honest I think that was the only time someone scammed A.J. to tell you the truth. Is this guy a friend of yours?
Troy- No, I only brought his name up because he was a promoter.
Armstrong- He was a promoter but let me tell you something about him he talked good, he had connections to people in the news media and they would phone him all the time, I don’t know if you are aware of that. The guy was a talker he used to hang out with Mike Tyson, etc. But he never made any money promoting shows, what he did was he stole the money! And what he would do is once he stole the money he would disappear for a long period then he would come back. And you really don’t want to get yourself in any trouble. You talk to some of the old-school guys like Tony Tone, they will tell you.
Troy- Many brothers have told me about him. Was there ever a time you had a guy you booked at The Ecstasy garage that was a ventriloquist?
Armstrong- Yes I used to book him, the act was Wayne and Charlie.
Troy- So how did you meet him and how did you incorporate him into the show?
Armstrong- It was a change up in the show and he was different. It’s like any show you have Hip Hop then all of a sudden you bring another act on stage and it was something the kids could laugh about. He was one of those guys if he had put the time in he could have been even better. See he didn’t do what he was supposed to do as far as write out the routine, you know what I mean?
Troy- So a lot of that stuff was off the top of his head or ad libbing?
Armstrong- Yes, but if he would have taken the time to come up with better stories he would have been better off because he presented himself on stage nicely you know what I mean. People liked him and I believe he could have made the local TV. shows, you understand me.
Troy- Yes I do and I might have seen him on T.V. on a couple of specials. Did you produce an album for him because my Mother owns one of his records?
Armstrong- No he must have done that afterwards. He moved to one of the islands, St. Croix I believe for a few years and just recently came back to the States I know that. I know he was there for a few years because my nephew ran into him down there.
Troy- How did you run into Charlie to book him?
Armstrong- He came to the club I guess the best I can remember. You know a lot of guys came to the club and that was how you met people they would say I want to do a show! And in the case of Wayne and Charlie it was something worthwhile because it was different.
Troy- So any time, a new act would come by and you would make them do a try out in front of you before they would actually go on stage in front of your audience?
Armstrong- I don’t remember how I did it with Charlie but with hip hop artist it was different, they would come by the club and perform. I booked known acts but I also booked a lot of acts that weren’t known you know what I mean. But back then you knew by reputation and that was how the game was played back then.
Troy- So how was your relationship with Ritchie T?
Armstrong- I knew Ritchie Tee and it was OK. but we didn’t get to know each other that well, but we knew of each other. I went up to the T- Connection once or twice and that was how I met him.
Troy- So why did you go up there, to recruit?
Armstrong- No it was basically because we were in the same business. He wasn’t an enemy because we both owned a club. We didn’t compete against each other but for whatever reason I did go up there once or twice.
Troy- What about Ray Chandler?
Harlem Worlds Charlie Rock and Ray Chandler of the Black Door
Armstrong- Yeah I knew Ray. We were OK. I spoke to Ray Chandler the other week when I was coming across Fordham Road. This guy stopped his car in the middle of traffic had a line of cars behind him and it was Ray Chandler. He gave me one of his flyers for a party he was giving over at The Paradise Theater a few blocks off of Fordham Road and he didn’t have the light so cars were honking while we continued to talk. Then it turned red.
Troy- So he was happy to see you.
Armstrong- Yeah we see each other at least 3 times a year, he lives I guess somewhere close to me. But whenever we see each other it’s not what’s up and keep going we stop and talk for a while.
Troy- So once in a while you would book Flash and The Furious 5 at the Ecstasy back in the days?
Armstrong- Yes I did, I did a lot of shows with Ray.
Troy- You and Ray are about the same age?
Armstrong- Probably, maybe I am a little older.
Troy- So you always had good parties when Flash and the Furious were booked?
Armstrong- Oh yes when you booked Flash it was going to be packed. One thing about Ray, give him his credit he knew how to promote and he had a lot of people out there promoting for him and that was what made Flash and The Furious 5 the number one group back then. It’s just the whole situation with Ray is trying to work out the terms, and the money.
Troy- So Ray Chandler, Grand Master Flash and the Furious 5 had a different set of rules or payment plan then say The Cold Crush Brothers?
Armstrong- Yes with Ray back then you gave back half of the door, but you knew it was going to be packed.
Troy- The Cold Crush was packing them in too, so did you do half with the Cold Crush as well?
Armstrong- No, you have to understand during that period the Cold Crush were just coming into being. I started out booking Caz and J.D.L. first; the Cold Crush came a little later.
Troy- OK. staying on promoters what about ———-?
Armstrong- Yeah I knew ———-. You know how he got his name right?
Troy- Ah man let me hear this please. (Armstrong starts laughing.)
Armstrong- Because he dipped, that’s what the kids told me. He would dip. What they told me is when he would do a show they would have guys stationed at the back door as well as all the exits. The reason for that was they knew when the show was over he was going to dip! So that was how he ended up with that name. So they would catch him and then whip his ass and get their money.
Troy- Damn, why would he do something like that?
Armstrong- Well in entertainment you have to understand you end up with all kinds of characters. Every kind of character you want to name is in entertainment business. So he was one of those characters like say ——- who we talked about earlier. He is another one of those characters only difference with ——- is he could talk his ass off and people thought he was this big time promoter and stuff like that but the only gift ——- had was he was a talker. But as far as his promotion his shows never made any money his shows weren’t worth s— to tell you the truth. But believe it or not ———- shows were better than ——- shows to tell you the truth.
Troy- To be honest I am surprised because I thought ——- did do big things especially since he knew Furious!
Armstrong- No ——- was involved with different people. All this stuff is starting to come back, he did a show in Paterson New Jersey, the place was packed and he did the same thing. He ran off with the money. I used to do shows over there at the Rink but one night he went over there and talked to the guy and said look man you will get more money with me instead of dealing with Armstrong if I put the show on for you. The guy gave ——- ex amount of dollars to get the flyers and posters and stuff and guess what, he never say him again.
Armstrong- Talk to Mike and Dave about ——-, they can tell you about him also. He was suppose to do some shows at this roller rink in Brooklyn called The Empire I believe, and they gave him the money again to get the flyers for the shows and stuff and he disappeared on them. His whole history is coming back to me as we talk about this character. (Armstrong chuckles.)
Troy- I hear the stories as well, what about Tiny? Didn’t he promote some shows as well?
Armstrong- Are you talking about Tiny of the Casanovas? Now I am going to tell you something that might confuse you, do you know that there was another Tiny from down in Manhattan who promoted shows?
Troy- I didn’t know that, maybe that is the person I am referring to. So this guy you’re referring to is his name Tiny Wood or Woods?
Armstrong- Well the Tiny from the Casanovas I don’t think was Woods and I don’t know what the Tiny from Manhattan name is although I met him a couple of times. Now the Tiny from the Casanovas used to help promote shows when Flash was on the bill. Maybe they are talking about that because I remember when he helped me a couple of times.
Troy- So how would he help you, he too would pass flyers out?
Armstrong- Yes. He would take a ride with me to different locations and he would bring a couple of his guys with him.
Troy- Was Peanut the leader of the Casanovas also running with you?
Armstrong- No, Peanut got killed before I met those guys. I used to hear them talk about him but no.
Troy- What about those guys over at 371 Hollywood, Eddie Cheeba and Reggie Wells, did you ever try and book them?
Armstrong- I never booked Hollywood, but I knew of him and what’s his name D.J. Jones
Troy- Pete D.J. Jones
Armstrong- Those guys had been around but they were like for a little older crowd.
Troy- They were considered Disco D.J.s
Armstrong- Correct I had met them but I never booked any of those guys. None of those guys were really doing the regular Hip Hop scene you know what I mean. I do remember Pete D.J. Jones because he used to be a basketball player. I met him a few times and we used to talk. Tall guy and he is close to my age.
Troy- So how did you get in contact with the Force M.C.s to do this party with the Cold Crush which turned mythically into a battle over the years?
Armstrong- (Armstrong starts laughing.) You know all the guys came around. These guys developed a reputation and they were a good group and they came around, but usually you got to know crews by reputation back then. If a group was good they would come to the club and do a free show. See you had to understand how it was, no matter how you got booked they would get up and do a show and a lot of them would do it just so they could get the girls you know what I mean? They would get on stage and show their wares and stuff like that, so for the Force their reputation started building. They were a good group.
Troy- So now this was 1983 when this battle/show was about to happen, so that means the Ecstasy Garage was closed and that was why you were out in Jersey doing this affair?
Troy- You weren’t doing any shows at other locations when you had the Ecstasy Garage?
Troy- So how did you get in contact with them, or did they get in contact with you to do this show in Patterson New Jersey?
Armstrong- I had phone numbers on everybody so I knew how to reach everybody back then. I booked the show as a battle and I billed it like that from time to time to create interest in the show. So basically I billed it as a battle, but I didn’t bother to mention it to them, you know what I mean.
Troy- So you didn’t mention it to the Force or the Cold Crush that it was a battle?
Troy- But the Force had to know that was why they said Battle!
Armstrong- The Force knew and I don’t know how, somebody told them. I had a D.J. I used named Dr. Shock, not Dr. Rock! Well he was my house DJ. on the road. Dr. Shock was close to those guys, so that is probably who told the Force you know what I mean?
Troy- They had to see the flyer anyway if it is being passed around, especially when it was brought to the club.
Armstrong- The show was promoted in Jersey not New York. So Cold Crush didn’t see a flyer I don’t think. See I didn’t think anything of it. We used to do it all the time so it wasn’t no thing I’m calling Cold Crush and saying look man we going to do a battle be ready because it was routine for us and thought no more of it. But for some reason Troy and let me tell you something I can remember it like it was yesterday the Cold Crush came in and the Force and everybody was there. The Cold Crush came in and did their show as usual…
Troy- So let me get this right when The Cold Crush performed the Force M.C.s were already there just before the show started, meaning they were all there at the same time basically?
Armstrong- Yes both groups were there at the same time. But what happened was the Cold Crush had to come back to New York, so they did their show and they hung around for a while afterward, you know just hanging out in the crowd. So now I remember telling one of my guys I said, “Look go tell the Force they got to get their ass on stage because time was passing.” But the Force would not go on. I did not know what was going on, but they would not go on stage. But what happened is they wouldn’t go on stage the whole time Cold Crush was there but soon as Cold Crush left that is when they went on stage. All of the sudden that’s when they started knocking the Cold Crush and Dr. Shock recorded it. That’s what happen and Cold Crush didn’t know anything about it and they had problems between those two groups. The Cold Crush never liked the Force after that.
Troy- So when the Force M.C.s started doing that routine where they are going at the Cold Crush what was your feeling at that moment?
Armstrong- Ah I said there is going to be some problems you know what I mean. That’s what I remember saying, “There is going to be some problems.” But it wasn’t a situation where there were any fights or anything like that.
Troy- Well there wasn’t a fight but it was dam near close to one. Did you speak to the Force M.C.s after they go off the stage to ask them, “What the hell are you doing?
Armstrong- Yes I mentioned it to them that what they did wasn’t right. They didn’t do anything but laugh. What could I do, it had been done. I didn’t even know it had been recorded.
Troy- I guess Stevie Dee and Merc felt they had to do that to put them on the map, but I don’t understand it because they were hanging with the big boys they were known for giving good shows already, they were already on the map.
Armstrong- Yes they were talented. I wouldn’t take anything away from them. I just believe that when Tommy Boy recorded the group instead of doing ballads they should have been doing that bubble gum stuff like New Edition, because they did the bubble gum stuff.
Troy- They did somewhat, but mostly love songs for older teenagers to adults. But they were really a good R&B group and I put them up there with some other top groups.
Armstrong- Yes they can hold their own, I can tell you that. But as far as that night I am telling you the truth to what happened. And today Stevie Dee wouldn’t tell me they battled the Cold Crush because he knows I know what happened. Cold Crush fought a lot of battles and like I said if you heard the tape on Cold Crush they did a regular show.
Troy- You are right, they never made any reference to the Force M.C.s until the end when J.D.L. said and if this was a battle we would be going off or something like that. Basically what he said was “If this was a battle!” Nothing like we are going to kick the Force M.C.s butt or can’t nobody beat us. They didn’t saying anything like that, just their regular routine.
Armstrong- So you understand what I am saying then.
Troy- Yes I do and I got a chance to interview Caz, J.D.L. and Tone about that night and they said they knew nothing about it. Tony Tone also told me about a crew from Poughkeepsie that they went against.
Armstrong- Well there was a crew up in Poughkeepsie New York that carried the name Cold Crush. I booked the real Cold Crush up there and they battled them. They real Cold Crush said we are going to battle your ass so we can make sure you don’t use our name again. But it was common for a lot of crews from like those small areas to name themselves after Harlem and Bronx crews back then. You had a Kool Herc down in Pennsylvania. I can’t remember all the players involved but it was common back then. But it just so happened I used to promote shows in Poughkeepsie all the time and The real Cold Crush knew about these guys and the real Cold Crush called them out and battled them right on stage and the real Cold Crush wiped them out. So that was why I was telling you if the Cold Crush would have battled The Force and lost I would not have defended them because too many people would have known.
As far as the guys that called themselves The Cold Crush from Poughkeepsie the leader of that crew was named Mr. Nice he was a very popular guy around Poughkeepsie. I remember going to Mr. Nice’s house because his mother was a singer from back in the days of Sylvia Robinson and them. So when I went to the house I seen pictures of Jackie Wilson and etc. she had one or two hits back in the 50’s or so. So I would go to the house a couple of times when I was promoting the shows and the mother would pull out the book with all the pictures of Silva, Jackie Wilson and God knows who else. That was why I remember Mr. Nice so well. I remember he was cocky as well and he hung out in New York a lot. But they did battle and there was some cursing and they scared the hell out of a few people at the community center where I was giving the show. The place I believe was called Catherine Community Center. I might be mispronouncing the name. So they cursed at each other a few times on stage and the people that ran the community center got a little upset, and I had to assure them it wasn’t going to be no fight or nothing like that and the real Crush crushed them.
Troy- So after that party with The Force M.C.s did you ever promote anymore shows with The Cold Crush or Force M.C.S?
Armstrong- Yes I promoted them but I never booked them together on the same show. I booked Force M.C.s all the way up until they got with Tommy Boy.
Troy- How did you and Whiz Kid form a relationship?
Armstrong- Whiz was among the guys, he used to be the D.J. at the T- Connection in the beginning and earned a local reputation as being a good DJ. and you remember him and Globe had a hit out at one time. But before that, I started booking Whiz because people uptown knew him where he was more popular. Like I said it was about reputation, I don’t know if you are aware of this but like in the Bebop era guys used to have battles just like Hip Hop. I don’t know how much you know about the history of jazz see back in that time there were great sax men, trumpets or whatever so a lot of them built their reputation in clubs where they battled.
Troy- They would have jam sessions!
Armstrong- Exactly, and as they moved around they built their reputations and they built their following up at some point. Then the recording thing came later. We’ll see that’s kind of like how Hip Hop was built locally. You booked artist that had reputations that people knew. So that was how Whiz Kid came into focus, I started hearing about him and stuff like that. He was a nice guy and God bless him because you know he is dead.
Troy- Yes I do, God Bless him. Mikey Dee told me you produced him and his crew of girls the Symbolic 3
Troy- How did you run into Mikey Dee being as he was way over in Queens?
Armstrong- Couple of friends of mine were at a concert in Manhattan he was playing at. I had 2 or 3 guys bring me Mikey’s phone number. Dr. Shock was one of the guys. They were like they got some kid named Mikey Dee and you got to hear him, that was how I met him.
Troy- Why did they call you, was this something you were doing before Mikey Dee came on the scene?
Armstrong- It was something I was trying to get into. Mikey was a real good M.C.
Troy- Mikey and others told me he was pretty good in fact he used to M.C. with L.L. Cool J before he got his record deals.
Armstrong- Let me tell you something L.L. would not have followed Mikey on stage.
Troy- He was that nice!
Armstrong- He was that nice. You know Mikey took out Melle Mel?
Troy- Yes I do at the New Music Seminar.
Armstrong- You know the heart breaking part about Mikey and you not going to believe this, there was nobody out there better than Mikey.
Troy- I hear you.
Armstrong- It might shock you, I know you got quiet when I said that.
Troy- Well I was just imagining because there were a whole lot of good dudes during that time.
Armstrong- You probably never heard those battle tapes by Mikey Dee.
Troy- Well he gave me a few of himself and yes he did sound real good he also told me himself that he used to go all over Queens looking for people to battle. He told me he even went at a young Cool G Rap on his search through Queens.
Armstrong- He did, I have heard the tapes, I know of it. No one would battle Mikey, Mikey was that good. He was also that good of a writer.
Troy- So were you the one that told him to form that girl group Symbolic 3 to make a record called No Show.
Armstrong- That was just some B.S. to put it on there.
Troy- Do you remember the response from Doug E Fresh and Slick Rick?
Armstrong- They got pissed off, you not going to believe this but it was done on the same label.
Troy- Right I heard Doug and Rick didn’t understand why they would do something like that!
Armstrong- Well the record sold good down south and stuff like that.
Troy- So back to the promoting of shows, was there any back lash from the out of town shows you promoted. Did you ever get denied permits or not allowed to promote because of violence at some of your shows.
Armstrong- No I was pretty lucky because I had a pretty good security force.
Troy- Well I asked because it was said you had did some shows at the Rink in New Jersey and pandemonium broke out in this white neighborhood and that was pretty much the end of partying over there for awhile.
Armstrong- Well I can only say it didn’t happen within my party but possibly when the kids hit the streets. See the thing I learned is when you go into a new town you get to know the guys and the tough guys are the one that always want to be seen, they are the hip guys that want to talk to you. The catch is is you talk to them ask them how they doing and then you let a couple of them in. Then they go back to their homeboys and they say I know the promoter he is from New York. So they were basically my second security force, and I had phone numbers on all those guys. So it is just like any other business it’s a catch to a situation.
Troy- How far did you go upstate and down south?
Armstrong- I went as far as Trenton New Jersey and up to Chicopee Massachusetts.
Troy- So what would be the last show you promoted and what made you stop?
Armstrong- I can’t tell you the last show I did but the reason I stopped was times had changed. The people used to come to New York to catch the big acts and basically the money wasn’t there, it started drying out to tell you the truth. Everybody was buying the records of the recording artist. Remember when I told you Sugar Hill Gang made that record Hip Hop was changed forever, so the change caught up and that was when I backed down. Today I help this guy who has a label and I help him run his business on line I don’t go anywhere. His label is called Black Eye Records and he has a few groups. I help with the online promotions and stuff like that. But otherwise I am out of it and I guess that would be the early 1990’s when I finished promoting shows. Back then I booked a lot of people. I booked LL Cool J when he made his first record. I have booked the Fat Boys, RUN-DMC, etc. You know Cool Jay and them were considered the beginning of the 2nd generation of rappers.
Troy- Did you ever promote the Fearless Four?
Armstrong- Yes, I used to book them all the time. I knew Tito and O.C. I knew all those guys. O.C. was the connection for them but I always liked Tito because he was the talker. I remember him a few years ago with his own crew. From what I heard he also had a bus to drive his crew all across the United States promoting his records. His son was a rapper.
Troy- That is correct and the name of his crew was called Iron Clad.
Armstrong- I never forgot about Tito and his crew either I used to book them right along with The Cold Crush.
Troy- So what was your introduction or your mission statement when you were trying to get someone to play on your flyer or show I should say? “How you doing my name is Arthur Armstrong I am interested in booking you for a show!” What was your way of trying to get some one?
Armstrong- Basically it was simple “I am giving a show blah blah blah.” Then we would start arguing about the money. (Armstrong laughs.) I don’t mean arguing, I am just kidding. But we start negotiating. Back then it was different, now when you book a group you have to pay half that money up front with the recording artist. But back in the days you didn’t pay a guy up front, you paid them when they got there. Sometimes you had to give them money for transportation if they are from out of town. But that is how it was done back in those times.
Troy- And you had a Rolodex filled with numbers of all these different crews and soloist?
Armstrong- I knew everybody and I kept them in my phone book. It was a situation like this if I didn’t know who they were back then they more or less weren’t anybody. I hate to use that term. Although I was an older guy it was like a small world and I learned to understand rap music. I understood rap as well as a teenager understands it today as old as I am. Like I said it was more word of mouth and you knew who was hot and who wasn’t and the kids will tell you. Like I said when I met Kool Herc I knew I had to talk to other people to find out because I was new. And the kids started telling me who to book. “You should book Bam and Flash” Etc.
Troy- Last question, what can you say today about Hip-Hop as far as what you remember from the birth of hip hop to today?
Armstrong- How can I word this! Ah I like where Hip Hop has gone you know what I mean. I think like most old school guys I am a little disappointed the way some of it went, like some of the gangster rap and stuff like that. I regret that some of the old-school guys weren’t able to make some money. Because I remember looking back and seeing these guys when they were rehearsing and doing their scratch like in the club in stuff. Talking amongst myself I remember saying, “these guys are all trying to do something, they were trying to invent something.” I remember clearly watching Theodore practicing one day trying to work out scratches. I remember saying, “these guys are trying to do something invent something, they didn’t have no idea what the hell they are doing but they were trying to invent something to make it better.” They didn’t say let’s go out and just scratch.
Troy- So do you think that once they got the hang of it, they knew what they were doing and they got the crowd appreciation that they relaxed because you said once it came to recording they weren’t hungry enough?
Armstrong- Well it wasn’t a matter of relaxing it was a matter of them not understanding that times were changing. In other words they didn’t understand to make that big jump from being the local hero to being national or international superstars. I don’t think they understood that and when I look back I don’t think I understood it fully either. I knew a change was coming because I was a promoter and I watched how the shows were coming the money and stuff. I can’t criticize the guys for it. When I look back and talk to them about it and remember it I don’t think they basically understood. It’s like the people that rode the back of the bus for 50 years in Alabama, you know what I mean? They did it simply because they didn’t know any better, that’s the way it had always been. Then somebody called King and people said hey we don’t have to put up with that lets make a change. There was no we can follow in the footsteps of somebody else because there wasn’t anybody else. So I guess it was like they didn’t know how to go from being the hometown hero, “I am a superstar in the Bronx and Manhattan,” to try and cut records to be a superstar. And with a lot of them something was going on that should not have been going on you know what I mean? But it would be nice for some of these stars you interview and one of them say, “Man I love Cold Crush, I used to love Flash and Mele Mel.” But these guys never took the time to say I am going to put these guys on a couple of records, do a duet together or something. So they can make some money.
Troy- True story Mr. Armstrong, thank you for taking us back.
I would like to thank my brother shbzz7 from the OldSchoolHipHop.com message board for the forward he wrote in the beginning of this interview.
I would like to thank my sister us_gyrlz also from the OldSchoolHipHop.com message board for her contribution to this interview.
Also want to thank the website www.toledohiphop.org for the usage of their flyers as well as Mr. Armstrong’s flyers.
Also want to thank my brother Sure Shot LaRock for the contribution of his flyers. Be on the lookout for some powerful work coming from him.
Thank you Lord for my two sons Shemar and Troy jr. and my lil daughter L’Oreal and my beautiful wife India.
All Cold Crush pictures by Joey Conzo
Praise God and God Bless you.