Interviewed Winter of 2008
Troy- Thank you for giving me your time today.
B- Fats- No problem. Thank you also.
Troy- First things first where were you born and raised?
B- Fats- I was born in El Peso Texas. I was raised in Wilmington North Carolina. When I was about 10 years old my family moved to Harlem New York. The first place we moved to was 304 7th avenue. Drew Hamilton projects is where we ended up which was right across the street from 304. I have 4 biological brothers, two passed away, and one sister.
Troy- How did you guys get introduced to the music because I remember you telling me you guy were a family band.
B- Fats- My mother was always involved with the music industry. My mother was a singer and she had a couple of groups she sang with.
Troy- Did your mother have any dealings with Bobby Robinson?
B- Fats- No she was with Otis Blackwell. He was the cat that wrote a lot of hits for Elvis Presley. Let’s make sure with this.
(B Fats calls his mother Mrs. Vee Bowden on a three way.) Ma how did you get together with Mr. Otis Blackwell?
Mrs. Bowden- Well I started with Otis Blackwell when I was a teenager.
I recorded for 3 major labels, King, Mercury and another.
Troy- All of this was in New York?
Mrs. Bowden- Yes I was very young at the time. I had a record out that did pretty good. It was so long ago. Even before my son was born I had my own 5 piece band. Vee Vee and the Superb’s.
Troy- Now during that time did you run into Bobby Robinson and his label Enjoy Records?
Mrs. Bowden- Yes I did. And many times he wanted us to record with him but it never worked out because we were signed under another label. He tried to get us out of the contract but it never worked out.
Troy- So what inspired you to want to start your children in the music business?
Mrs. Bowen- I guess because I was so musically incline. See I love music and the keyboard is beautiful. So I love to play, I also write and produce. I also produced the singing group SWV
I started them out when they were in high school. How it started with them is because I worked in Foster care and I heard one of the girls singing and so I told her I liked the way she sounded. I invited her over to the house and she bought one of her friends that she felt could also sing and I sat them down by my key board and I gave them the harmony notes and they hit them. They sounded very good so I started teaching them voice lessons. The next thing you know they were a group and the first song I wrote for them was Take your Heart off the Shelf and give it to me.
Troy- So what inspired you to do a family band, The Jackson 5 or something like that?
Mrs. Bowen- No I had a friend by the name of Mr. Brown and he worked for BFW and he was drummer. After my husband died I wanted to get them into something constructive. So Mr. Brown said send them over to me and let me see who can play the drums. It started off with one of the kids doing the drumming and later I got another son a guitar. I bought Donald a Bass. And before you know it we had something going. Those boys were 13, 14 and 15 years old doing block parties, community centers and birthday parties. Right in the projects it would be jammed pack with people listening to them play. I even had them on boats. I would have to sneak them in and sneak them out because they were under age but they were hot. They would rehearse right in my living room.
B- Fats- We use to live on the second floor so people use to climb in the trees that was next to our window and sit their in the tree to watch us practice.
Troy- So why did that stop with you and your brothers?
B Fats- Bands sort of played out. The Band originally was doing great. A lot of promises as usual from all types of people. We actually played with groups like Crown Heights Affair and other top bands from New York City. Because back in the days bands are what did block parties and not some d.j. So we patterned behind guys like Kool and The Gang, Earth Wind and Fire, War and any other funky bands. We did a piece of anybody that was popular.
Troy- So once the band started to come together did Bobby Robinson, Paul Winley and other labels try and get back to you.
Mrs. Bowen- Their were many people that came. And they were shot down! (We both laughed.) There were so many people; I didn’t know who was who. Some would say the children were too young and we had to go to court for permission to record them. No one wanted to kick out that money because during those days you had to go to court for a child under 18 years old.
Troy- So even though you were giving permission you had to still go to court.
Mrs. Bowen- Yes you still had to go to court.
B Fats- It was really about accounts. So money could be transferred into young people’s accounts and they were able to access that account when they became a certain age.
Mrs. Bowen- Exactly, so a law was passed so the parents could not steal the children’s money. So when a child got to a certain age he wouldn’t be broke.
Troy- That’s good to hear but I didn’t think it kicked in in the 70’s. I thought it did not kick in until the 90’s.
B- Fats- It was but it wasn’t really enforced until that young boy Macaulay Culkin from the movie Home Alone went through that situation with his parents.
Troy- No how did the Bands slip out and now the d.j. is coming in? Also I talked to Hollywood last night and he co signed what you said about hip hop starting in Harlem and not the Bronx. He said he was doing rhymes in 1971. I did an interview with Coke La Rock and he said he was doing his rhymes in 1973. Coke said he didn’t hear or know anything about Hollywood doing any rhymes in 1971. And I understood when you said it became popular to say it was from the Bronx because it picked up so much speed from people believing that. But it was actually done in Harlem first.
B- Fats- It started from the band era. Bands basically started to pattern behind a new fad that came in call Disco. When hip hop first started it was really Disco hip hop thing if you can remember. Talking to beats that were one forth beats. “I am a d.j. and I like to move and I make you wanna…” that was basically during a disco era. And being a band member who got caught up into the transition I can remember hearing Fat Bat Band as well. But keeping it on me I remember during the transition there was a gentleman name Mr. Larry Dee who had a GLI mixer and some B12 turntables and he lived right about us on the 20th floor. Larry always loved what we did with the band. On a occasions he would allow me to travel with him as he did this thing called d.j.ing at parties. The job that I played at that time was just help him get into the building. And then there was another guy name Markie Dee that lived in the building on the 10th floor and I use to get in trouble with him. See I was a nerd growing up I didn’t do the gangster thing. All I wanted was more cake, more cookies, “can I get more milk!” I was the kid that other kids would take my lunch money. I was also a cub scout. So when I started dealing with Mr. Larry it kind of put me in contact with Markie and I started to come out of my shell. Markie was already hanging with Mr. Larry and me and Markie are about the same age. Markie one day invited me up to Mr. Larry house and when I went into Mr. Larry’s apartment he had these two turntables that were sitting there along with a mixer. And I watched Markie play with this thing and I was like oh s—. (B Fats laughs.) I got cool with Larry’s daughters who were Fay and Cathy. But I started coming to see Mr. Larry by myself. And he allowed me to fool around with them. Now I am fooling around with them and from my experience as a band member it was like an instant identification with what I wanted to do. I just knew that this song mixed to this song. It was just natural for me. It wasn’t anything I had to really learn. And Mr. Larry acknowledged my ability to do some great things right before his eyes in such a short time to where as he started allowing me to spin on his sets. It got to a point were he would set up and I was the d.j.! So me and Markie had a falling out over that because Markie felt like, “damn I bought you up here and now you the man!” Brother I use to sing in the band. So we knew how to say give the drummer some and that was what band members do as well as the, “clap your hands come on.” My brother was playing the drums so when we were doing breaks I would incorporate the same behavior that I had from the band to spinning these records. I use to do it to the point were when we threw our parties in the 1970’s at Drew Hamilton and it was a quarter people would go crazy when we use to do this thing. We use to say the corniest things like, “people in the back and people in the middle.” But that was one of the things that got implemented by a circle of brothers like me Love bug Starski, my brother Donald Dee, Al Bee. And The Disco Four wasn’t even born yet.
Troy- So Al Bee goes way back with you?
B Fats- Al Bee goes back to the Band with me. Al Bee use to play Congo’s in the band. Guys like Country and Mike Gee of the later Disco Four were probably on crate and speaker detail at that time. There was a time where you could always bring the music out at any time of the day during the summer months. Just find the right street lamp and plug it up. The speakers of that era was Cerwin Vega speakers 115 inch was in it with a tweeters in it. You take that one speaker along with a Macintosh power amp with the tubs in it and you get off. (B Fats laughs.) It was a beautiful thing. It was the era of Disco so a lot of stuff like Kool and the Gang and Fat Larry’s Band “Check out the avenue” got played. Also have to include groups like Earth Wind and Fire, ah man I could just go on and on.
Troy- So with Mr. Larry was he like 15 to 20 years older then you?
B Fats- Yes Mr. Larry was old enough to be my father. He was older cat who was on the level of Pete D.J. Jones. I can remember being in the company of Pete when I was a young man. To be totally honest I was naive to the fact that there was more then me and Mr. Larry that existed until Mr. Larry started doing gigs with other D.J.s that were in the same room or on the same venue. That’s when I met cats like Pete D.J. Jones, The Disco Twins.
Troy- So you was going out to Queens at this young age?
B Fats- Yeah we use to go out there and see the Twins set up on top of the park house roof!
Troy- So what year would you say this was going down?
B Fats- I would say about 1977 or 78. In Queens I believe the most popular skating ring was I believe Spin Easy. I say that because I really dug that spot when I would go out to Queens. But as far as Larry Dee he was like the best kept secret. Larry was not the type that was flashy. Larry had the station wagon and Cerwin Vega speakers and I just thought he was the greatest. Some of the spots we would do were like Smalls Paradise, The original Savoy Manor in the Bronx on 149th street. I have done the Savoy a thousand times.
Troy- So have you and Larry ever played The Apollo?
B Fats- No not me and Larry, but the Band did. My brothers and I did amateur night at the Apollo.
Troy- Who is the oldest between you and your brother Donald Dee?
B Fats- I am by 2 or 3 years older but me and my brother were very close, very close. In fact the whole Sapphire crew was built around me and my brother. We were very big coming out of Drew Hamilton projects. We already had a following from the band. So to make that transition to d.j.ing it just broaden our horizons as far as pulling crowds that were actually paying to see us now. I remember there was a time we were d.j.ing and the band was playing. One of the main places we would have something set up like that would be the Renaissance Ballroom.
Troy- That place was like an extension to your house! Because I heard you and your brother had that place from day one of hip hop.
B Fats- We lived in there.
Troy- How did your mother feel about you and your brother going up in there?
B Fats- She did not like it. I can remember when our band was ending and my mother fought hard against that transition. She did not like the fact that we were not playing guitar and drums etc and she spent all this money. She didn’t like the fact we were not playing any more and going upstairs to Mr. Larry. She did not like it one bit. I remember coming home one day with a pocket full of money. It was only a hundred dollars but back in those days it was like having a grand! She said how did you get it? I said d.j.ing.
Troy- I ask you because Busy Bee told me his mother use to whip his ass when he would come home 2, 3 in the morning. J.D.L. would experience the same thing. A lot of cats were getting their ass whooped but they just kept going because it was like a drug to them. They would say, “I would take an ass whooping but I had to get to the party.”
B Fats- She use to punish us crazy but the difference with me I didn’t play with my moms. When she punished me she punished me and that was it.
Troy- So you would close down the Renaissance at say10:00pm?
B Fats- Well the beautiful thing about was the Renny would be closing down at that time any way, because it would be from about 4:30pm to 9:30 10:00 at night. And that was because it was an after school thing.
Troy- So once you got to 18 your mother left you alone with that time!
B Fats- Right
Troy- So at 17 and in the 12th grade that still could be an embarrassing thing?
B Fats- Man I had to go or that crazy woman would be downstairs waiting! (Troy laughs real hard.)
Troy- I hear you buddy. I was 33 one day when my mother told me, “I will f— you up boy!” All I could say was, “ah ma!” (B Fats laughed.)
B Fats- Ain’t no need to be trying to act gangster. “N—– what? I gots to go! I holler at ya’ll later.” (We both laughing.)
Troy- So take me to the beginning of you, your brother and the making of The Disco 4. And I know towards the end you and The Disco Four slowly departed from each other.
B Fats- Well Greg Marist aka Greg Gee sort of took the crew in a different direction then what I was looking to do. I would also have to admit that when the Disco Four was coming together my interest was still mostly on me though.
Troy- Solo thing?
B Fats- Right, so The Disco Four is an extension of what I did and they launched off my back but on the same note The Disco Four took on its on identity. And that was only from the Sapphire Crew. The Disco Four was originally apart of the Sapphire crew.
Troy- So The Sapphire crew was actually a gang from Drew or mostly from Drew that did security for you guys? Did they actually have anything to do with music it self?
B Fats- Sapphire Crew was a bunch of cats and females that loved to hang out.
Troy- O.K. I got you. So they were like a big entourage that liked to hang out and they also had some thugs in there but it was similar to Hollywood’s crew that would do the shout outs with him in 371 or any where else he was partying. So the Sapphire crew just loved hanging out.
B Fats- Exactly.