Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The History Of House: The 95 North Anthology (Parts 1-3)


3 mixes. 124 beats per minute. 84 records. 2 producers.
Its 95 North, mixed with love by Amateur At Play.

95 North (or any one of the roughly 10 aliases or so they’ve used during careers that span over two decades) consists of Doug Smith and Richard Payton. They’re two DJs and producers from the USA, and they’re not the most famous names in house music by some way. Please understand this is not meant as a criticism – indeed, it’s something they’d probably admit themselves.
 
But that doesn’t bother them in the slightest. Nor does it bother me. And frankly, nor should it bother you. There’s a few reasons for that.
 
Because for me, these two guys are in the same league as the likes of Mood II Swing. Like Mood II Swing, 95 North has a strong discography consisting of a wide mixture of vocal tunes, instrumentals and dubs. Like Mood II Swing, 95 North have quite a few remixes to their name.

And like Mood II Swing, 95 North have a real ability to acknowledge the zeitgeist of the time whilst still putting their trademark on things. Remember the UK garage sound from the early 2000s? I defy you to listen to “Spread Peace” and not hear elements of UK garage in there, even though it was released in 1995. That disco house sound also popular around the late 1990s? Listen to their productions under the Da Hooligans name, the first of which were released in 1996. These pioneers got there first.

The biggest comparison with Mood II Swing, however, is that 95 North remain massively under-rated. And I shall now explain precisely why.

So, who are they? Doug Smith (pictured in 1993 on the left, with George Morel in the middle and Richard on the right) has music running through his veins. As a child growing up in New Jersey, his father made him learn to play the trumpet. He didn’t like this at the time, and eventually gave it up. He’s since said that was one of very few regrets in his life. His dad’s extensive record collection consisted mostly of jazz and R&B records.

Growing up as a teenager, he was interested in funk, particularly from the likes of Parliament and Funkadelic. He was also into hip-hop just as it was coming into being, staying up into the early hours of the morning listening to specialist New York radio shows in the 1980s. This was to come in useful – at university, Doug started DJing as a way of making extra money, playing mostly hip-hop.

Richard Payton’s tastes were not that different either. His interests were the likes of James Brown and Gamble & Huff, and he also loved hip-hop. Although he was from a less musically-minded family, between the ages of 10 and 16, he took lessons in playing the violin and the piano. Unlike Doug however, he was there on a voluntary basis, and Richard can regularly be seen playing the keyboards at their gigs.

Also, like many who grew up at the time – and anyone who knows me can verify that I did exactly the same thing – he regularly taped music off the radio. As a 90s kid, (born in 1984, anyway) I’m probably part of the last generation who’ll know that feeling. Whether that makes me feel sad, or just old, I don’t know...

The two guys met in the mid 80s at the University of Virginia, but their paths didn’t cross much – at least, not initially. It wasn’t until 1989 that this changed. Kevin Suber was creating a rap group called Trigon, pictured right. Kevin was on vocals, alongside Mark Barnes, and Richard was on the keyboards. They needed a DJ. So, who did Suber ask? Step forward a certain Mr Doug Smith.

The group met with what could be called limited success. They opened for the likes of De La Soul, but didn’t have much success elsewhere, and the band disbanded in July 1991. By that time, however, Richard and Doug had become increasingly familiar with house music, and had started experimenting what little equipment they had at their disposal at the time.

Doug was already familiar with dance music, saying he first came across the scene at Club 88 in New Jersey in 1986. Richard got there even sooner, hearing club records (before house was even called house!) during a summer internship in the same city in 1984. He liked what he heard, but only really got into house music at Tracks nightclub in Washington DC in 1986. He even had a house record out in 1987 called “Ride The Groove” – made using, according to the man himself, “a cheesy Yamaha Keyboard that had a very primitive sequencer in it and cheesy drums”. Hey, everyone has to start somewhere...

Richard Payton, Charles Dockins and Doug Smith pictured
at the Miami Winter Music Conference in 1995.
The first records the duo did were written and worked on in the rather cramped basement of Richard’s Washington DC home at the time, with just one sampling keyboard and heads full of ideas. Nonetheless, that didn’t stop them. Within six months of starting work, they managed to land a deal with Strictly Rhythm. This was the label that kicked off a number of careers, including Erick Morillo, Roger Sanchez and Armand Van Helden.
 
Their first track they produced was “Shattered Love”, whose release was delayed by debate within Strictly Rhythm about who would sing on it. In the end, they opted for Brenda Braxton, but there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

Whilst I was putting this series together, Richard was kind enough to send me a file packed with WAVs and MP3s, mostly of their early productions. He told me that Janice Franklin sung the original demo, and “we also did a demo with Lynn Lockamy”, who appeared on later releases instead. Both of the original demos with Janice Franklin appear below.

As discussions went on within Strictly Rhythm, the label released a series of tracks the duo had done under the Scram alias. Most of them make an appearance here. Shortly afterwards, they decided to form 95 North Productions Inc, the name of which was taken from the interstate highway in America that connects Doug, Richard, and New York City. The two travelled this road frequently in their early days whilst trying to establish their careers.

The 95 North studio since 2013.
Early support of their records came from the likes of Tony Humphries, DJ Disciple, Roger Sanchez, (or Roger S, as he was known back then) and Louie Vega. However, it was the release of “Hold On” that really kicked things off for them. Louie Vega’s support for months before King Street released the track effectively guaranteed it was going to do well. 1994 also saw “See The Light” and “The Journey” released. The first has a hard-to-find dub that features here, and the second has the distinction of being the first record remixed by Joe Claussell.

They also tried making some very unconventional records, and some of them feature here. Almost all house records operate under the 4-bar cycle formula. “Bassline”, released under the DC Track Team alias in 1994, didn’t. It followed a 3-bar cycle formula. Many DJs didn’t take to it for that very reason, which was disappointing, even though the likes of Ron Trent and Louie Vega did. And when “Sunday Shoutin” came out under the Johnny Corporate moniker, a lot of people didn’t even realise it was 95 North under another name. Embarrassingly, that even included some of the DJs promoting it...

Eventually, life started to get in the way of music production. By 2003, things had reached a crunch point. Life for Doug and Richard had changed completely since 1992. The two men were now married and had young children. They decided to take a break. Doug enrolled in law school and graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2006 whilst Richard used that time to get more established with another job and to spend more time with his children.

Mind you, even this break didn’t stop Richard producing entirely. He still found time to release “Now It’s Time” and “Find A Way To Believe” in 2005, and “Do You Really Want It?” in 2006. The 95 North production machine re-started in 2012, with the label being re-launched and a number of new releases. They may not be as prolific as before, but the quality and the sound is still there.

According to an interview they did right back in 1996, their influences include the likes of Masters At Work, Blaze, Frankie Knuckles and Victor Simonelli and, they “wish there were more DJs who would play the full range instead of just tracks or just vocals”. Hence why I’ve tried to do precisely that here – plenty of instrumentals, plenty of vocals, plenty of dub mixes, all rolled together. I did consider splitting the series into parts – early productions, late 90s, new records etc – but it just didn’t seem right. The records range from their very first production back in 1992 to the very latest – “Housin’ Good Time”, which is out now on Traxsource, along with many of their older records. And if it’s not available digitally, you’ll have to get them on vinyl. Tracklistings for all mixes below will appear on Discogs, and you can start your search from here!
 
95 North were never as prolific in the studio as the likes of the aforementioned Masters At Work, but their catalogue still took a while to get through. I’ve dug through the vaults, and hopefully I’ve managed to find some nuggets of gold which even fans would have missed over the years. Naturally, there are a few records omitted that I would love to have included – “Feel Like Shoutin” by Basement Culture, “Jazziz” with The Hepcats, their dub of “I’ll Make U Happy Baby” by Ele Ferrer, etc – but for various reasons, I just couldn’t get hold of them.

Thanks also to Richard Payton for personally giving me copies of some records in this set, and also for answering some of my questions whilst I was writing this. It was an honour to speak to him, more so to have his support on this project!

Finally, you might be wondering – how do they actually produce their records? Well, Richard tells me that “although we varied the formula sometimes, in general, I played the majority of the keys and usually came up with the chords and music, and Doug did the beats and a lot of the basslines. He also wrote a lot of the lyrics and melodies for our vocal productions”.

So now that you know how the magic happens, you can now listen to no less than 84 of their records below, all mixed together by yours truly. Enjoy the three mixes, and make sure to buy their records if you like them. Links to buy them digitally are provided where possible, but do let me know in the comments if I’ve missed any. It’s easily done in this digital age. If you’re into your social media, you can follow them on Facebook here. I just hope I’ve done the guys justice!
 
Part 1 | Listen and download below | Discogs

1. Hoo’s This? –  95 North Presents Da Hooligans
3. Tell Me (95 North Club Mix) – Dru Hill Feat. Crystal Waters
4. Save Your Soul (95 North Vocal) – Mijan Owens
5. The Sun Will Shine (95 North Remix)The Serenity Project Feat. David Blak
6. My Life (Beat Dub)95 North Feat. Sabrynaah Pope
7. Get Your (Mind Together) (Crystal Lite Mix) – 95 North
8. Treat Me Right (95 North Vocal) – Temple Of The Groove Feat. Portia
9. Just A Freak (95 North Sleazy Dub) – Crystal Waters Feat. Dennis Rodman
11. We Lift Our Hands (95 North Anniversary Dub) – DJ Oji & Una
12. Sunday Shoutin’Johnny Corporate
13. Let’s All Get Down (Mute Horn Mix) – K. Street
14. My Feeling (Johnny Corporate Dub) – Junior Jack
15. Sun Goddess (Dark Dub)95 North Feat. Josef Saddler
16. Unbelievable (95 North Deep Dub) – 95 North Feat. Heather Rose
17. Paradise (95 North Peak Dub)Michael Procter
18. Still Of The Night (Hard Dub) – 95 North Presents Prime Time
19. Shattered Love (Caffeine Mix - Original Unreleased Demo) – Janice Franklin
20. Do I Do?95 North Presents Da Hooligans
21. Need Your Love (Grand Dub) – Groove Patrol
22. Soon To Be Free (New Dub) – 95 North
 
Part 2 | Listen and download below | Discogs

1. I’m Talking To You (B***h!) (95 North Hard Vocal) – Shampale Cartier
2. Love So Strong (Metro Dub) – Lynn Lockamy
3. Groove MeJohnny Corporate
4. Exposed (95 North Club Mix)Ken Christensen Feat. Alexander East
5. Jazz Ascension (Hard Dub)95 North
6. Dancin’ To The Music (Caffeine Mix) – Groove Patrol
7. In My Mind (95 North White Label Mix) – Stevie Wonder
8. Alright (95 North Salsoul Remix) – Mijan Owens
9. Why Do Why?95 North Presents Da Hooligans
10. Funk With Me – 95 North
11. Red Sun Groove – 95 North
12. Step Into My Life (95 North Step Into My Dub) – Valerie Johnson
13. It’s Alright (Caffeine Dub) – D.C. Track Team
14. If I’m Not In Love (95 North Club Mix) – Jody Watley
15. Let Me Tell Ya – 95 North
16. Party Hardy (Main Mix)95 North Presents Da Hooligans
17. Say Yeah (Empire Mix) – D.C. Track Team
18. Tell Me (Bonehead Mix) – 95 North Presents Metro
19. Come On (Smooth Mix) – Scram
20. It’s Music (95 North Dub) – Century Falls Feat. Phillip Ramirez
21. Change The Beat (Unreleased Mix) – 95 North
22. Everything (95 North Deep Jersey Mix)Stephanie Cooke
23. Hangin’ On (Caffeine Mix)95 North Feat. Lynn Lockamy
24. Shake! (Richard's 95 North Vocal)Ultra Nate Presents Chris Burns Feat. Ra.Free
25. Say...If You Feel Alright (95 North Club Mix) – Crystal Waters
 
Part 3 | Listen and download below | Discogs

1. Bassline (New Classic Mix) – D.C. Track Team
2. Deliver Me (95 North Scat Beats)Urban Blues Project Ft. Michael Procter
3. See The Light (95 North Dub) – 95 North Ft. Phillip Ramirez
4. Lush (Just Happened That Way) (95 North TLC Mix + Beats) – The Rurals
5. Life And Times (95 North DMC Remix) – George Duke
6. Check It Out (Dub)95 North Presents Da Hooligans
7. Find A Way To Believe (Club Mix)95 North
8. Hold On (Metro Dub + DJ Disciple Dub) – 95 North Ft. Sabrynaah Pope
9. Everything You Do (95 North Instrumental)Lenny Fontana Ft. Carole Sylvan
10. I Need You – 95 North
11. Funky Collards – 95 North
12. Ill Street Theme95 North Presents Da Hooligans
13. Now It’s Time (Club Mix)95 North
15. Off The Beaten Track (Error 129 Reboot Mix) – Scram
17. Chasin’ My Dreams (Red Dub) – 95 North Feat. Marie Tweek
19. Don’t Go (Vocal Mix) – 95 North Feat. Heather Cairncross
20. Lost In The Groove (Deal Mix) – Groove Patrol
21. Feel It, Oh Yeah95 North Presents Da Hooligans
22. Gotta Get Up (Mute Horn Mix) – K. Street
23. Shattered Love (Metro Mix - Original Unreleased Demo) – Janice Franklin
24. Thank You (Caffeine Mix) – Scram
25. Ay-Tu-Bah (95 North Red Dub)95 North
26. In The Pocket + Pocket Beats – Johnny Corporate
27. Elevation (Red Solo Mix) – 95 North
28. Bring Back The Love (Spaced Out Dub)95 North Feat. Laura Harris
30. The Journey (Caffeine Mix) – 95 North
31. I Can Feel It (DC Groove Mix) – Groove Patrol
32. Pressure (Metro Mix) – D.C. Track Team
33. Groove It Y’All (Break Dub) – 95 North Presents The Beltway Bandits
34. A Change Is Gonna Come (95 North Dub)DJ Pope Feat. Adrian Blu
 
Still want more 95 North after that? Check out this exclusive mix that I did for the brilliant Music Is My Sanctuary for another hour of their records.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for doing this! I am truly humbled. :-)

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