Roy Davis Jr. is a legendary DJ and producer who has helped and participated to the premises of what we know today as “house music”. Rising up in Chicago, his self-titled “soul electronic” sound combines efficiently garage, house, disco, r&b and soul music, through excellent labels like Strictly Rhythm, Large Records, King Street Sounds, Peacefrog Records, Bombay Records, Planets or even Universal, Sony and Warner Brothers.
Nowadays, Roy Davis Jr. keeps going to deliver his DJ sets and productions, bringing the powerful sound of Chicago all around the world. Saturday, he will play at the french club Nuits Fauves beside Smallpeople and Jacques Bon.
In your early life, you joined Phuture after DJ Pierre’s departure, and started to produce on the New York based label, Strictly Rhythm. Could you remind us this period of your life?
Yes, it was tons of fun being a kid in a neighborhood crew being able to participate in history, when everything was raw and simple, you didn’t have people breathing down your back telling you how your music should sound, it was great and you can’t beat those beginning stages of watching your peers grow.
Did you realize what you were doing?
I knew what I was doing but just didn’t know that it was going to be my career.
We also heard that you were a skillful breakdancer?
I was a Boy but not as good as I would have liked to be, so I had to turn to djing for most of my more skillful friends who needed that dj to play the cuts back in my Chicago Heights days.
Today, what would you say (or advise) to the young Roy Davis Jr?
Go for your dreams, do everything from the heart and get educated on whatever you decide to do in life, take music lesson if that moves you, it will allow you to grow with the times and fast pace of things, especially the music business!
Did you start mixing and producing at the same time, or one at a time?
I grew up in a musical family, so i was always around instruments, drums, guitars pianos, so it was very easy to add the turntables in the mix, then purchasing my own music equipment like boss drum machines. Roland 909s came later for me to purchase, I use to borrow Armando’s 808 and 909 then Spanky‘s MPC god rest their souls, I had so many people from everywhere helping me grow. My first music partner was a guy named Jamie Commander who was the face unseen because we took different paths in life. He did a song with me and Jay Juniel named “Angels Calling“, then he left for college and never got a chance to see us finish the record.
Is it something you learned by yourself or did your family or someone from your entourage teach it to you?
I learned from everyone around me, my uncle Benny, my mother, I learned congas and bongos from my uncle Larry Boykins, when it came to forming different styles that came from hearing Lil Louis at the Bismarck Hotel play different styles in one set, DJ Pierre taught me a lot personally with my Wild Pitch Style and Acid style… It’s so many teachers Marshall Jefferson signing my first group named Unity then later to be named Umosia. Showing me how to have orchestras play out your strings. I give all my thanks and credit to GOD first then to all of these guys from Chicago, who took time out to show me the game respect!
How would you analyse the evolution of the music scene in Chicago?
The music scene isn’t just known for house anymore, there’s Kanye, Chance The Rapper, there’s BJ the Chicago KID… it’s evolved and still evolving, it’s still so many to name keeping the city going with a lot of vibe and truth in their music.
Is there something in particular that left a mark on your life when you went there for the first time?
Do you think it’s important today that established artists encourage younger ones?
It’s very important to pass on what knowledge of the game, believe me it is all helpful, it’s also helpful to bring new youth in the business to make sure the sound grows with integrity.
You started by acid and techno sonorities, then with something more oriented towards UK Garage with your track «Gabriel».You also possess a really soulful touch in your samples and remixes giving a major role for vocals. How would you define your style?
I always was more of a song writer before acid house, with my original group Umoja or spelled “Umosia” in my earlier days. I always had both sides of me like most guys growing up in Chicago. You had a more harder side because it’s a tough city and you have a more soulful side because of your upbringing. I will always keep defining my sound the same since the day i named it “Soul Electric”, that’s just who I am and I to share both of those sides of me, it’s very important to what I do.
« Gabriel » is often quoted when people evoke your work. But tracks as « Inside Out», «Who Dares to Believe in Me» or «Gotta Keep Holding On» remain also essential anthems of House music. Which track do you think, highlights the most your musical universe?
And what would be your personal anthem?
My personal anthem would be one that no one ever has spoken about to my knowledge. There is actually two. “Remember The Day” & “Rock Shock” besides having another “Gabriel Tribute” (laughs), Peven Everett being the co-producer on that track, helped make it what it was will always be special to most because it was on a bigger label to be noticed.
During an interview, you said : « The soulless dance music that most people have access to is so commercialized and sugar coated. It’s time to take this black music from the hoods of Chicago, Detroit, LA, back over the top. » Do you have the impression that house has lost its essence and beauty during the years?
Yes! In a more commercial sense to the masses. Its called “house” by people who don’t even respect the culture it started from, and giving millions of dollars to those who don’t deserve it… That’s the part that saddens me the most. Especially, when they don’t know who Steve Hurley is or Marshall Jefferson… It’s horrible to watch the distortion of its funk and rawness. But there younger guys coming up and showing respect as they pass through. Right now, my focus is something totally different what it has been in the past. Right now i’m just trying to stay focused on being positive in such a corrupt world we all have a responsibility, don’t you think? As writers and artists..? It’s just time to fight for Love & Unity right now we all need it in our lives.
This Friday, you play for a party organised by the vinyl shop and label Smallville, is it a deliberate choice?
Have you had the occasion to go digging in the parisian vinyl shops? What do you think about the parisian scene in general?
I have and I dig the shops in Paris, it’s all love and the guys and girls are always helpful and on point with good music.
You’ve now been touring worldwide for a long time. Which culture stroke you the most?
That’s always hard for me because there are so many good vibers out there keeping this thing alive!
A track that makes life sweeter when listening to it?
James Brown – “Funky Good Time” !!