A Disco Masterclass from Joey Negro

Disco-Supremo Joey Negro talks to us about his latest compilation, the superb ’Remixed with Love by Joey Negro’ Vol II: “In my 28 years of releasing music, this has been maybe the best ever received project both in terms of punters reactions and sales”.

Joey Negro is of course, one of the many pseudonyms of world class DJ, Producer, Artist and Remixer Dave Lee. ‘Remixed with Love’, released last month, is his latest remix project, a chance for a seasoned pro to get his hands on the original multi-track tapes of some of the finest disco tracks ever recorded and give them the benefit of his expert touch in the studio. Featuring artists like The Trammps, Gwen McCrae, Patti LaBelle, Kleeer, George Benson and Robert Palmer, for some of these cuts, it’s the first time they’ve ever been available in a dance floor friendly format, having been tucked away as little known album tracks. Others – the O’Jays Philly anthem ‘I Love Music’ for example – are already well-known on dance floors around the world. All have benefited from Dave’s sympathetic updating the classic disco, soul and jazz-funk sound for contemporary dance floors. Vol.1 of this compilation was massive; Vol.2 is already looking to be even bigger. We caught up with Dave and asked him to tell us about the release in a bit more detail and to focus in on some of the tracks:

Thanks for taking the time to chat to us today Dave. First of all, tell us about the process of getting hold of the original multitrack master tapes:

Most of the these songs are owned by major labels, getting multi tracks then remixes cleared is very, very difficult. They’re very protective of their multis, understandably so in this era when things can easily get leaked onto the net for all to have. So it took literally 1000s of emails. I also had to pay for the tapes to be transferred from analogue 24 track to digital, which is expensive. That’s why they is so few projects released like this. It’s a labour of love, but I can honestly say in my 28 years of releasing music this has been maybe the best ever received project both in terms of punters reactions and sales.

Presumably, it takes a subtle and sensitive approach to successfully remix tracks that are so well known and well loved – how do you approach a project like this?

It depends on what you want the final mix to sound like. I’m normally looking to do something that’s not a million miles away from the original musically, as what’s great about the originals is the whole production. Getting rid of the music and starting again or replacing the drums with house beats would be losing something really good. To start with we’d warp the multi in Ableton so the new version is to a level tempo, I find this comes over less rigidly quantised when done to a multi than just the stereo master. Once it’s warped it’s far far easier to move stuff around within the track to come up with an interesting new arrangement putting end parts in the intro or whatever. Also I can now replace or back up drum sounds which I feel aren’t strong enough. For example Jean Carne and Cheryl Lynn both have new sounds for kick, snare, hats, I’m still using live type hits but not the ones from the original. I’d love it if all multis had great unused parts hidden away but sadly that’s not the case. However there may well be things that were buried deep in the original mix, like the Vince Montana’s vibes on “I Love Music” which I pushed to the forefront like a proper solo. If there’s live strings I’ll often make a big feature of them, you can hear this in the intro of “Ride Like the Wind” as it’s such a lovely big ,rich sound and one we don’t hear too often these days. If I think I could do with some extra stuff I might get a keys player in to add parts like the piano in the intro of Patti Labelle or organ on the Pockets. However it needs to fit in sonically with all the original old analogue recording. I brought in Julian Crampton to replay bass on a few of the songs, i do this if I don’t think the bass sound or playing is up to the job. When actually mixing them the idea is to make it still sound disco but to be able to be played next to a house record without loosing energy. I’ll put the original and few old tracks of mine I’m happy with the sonically (like the Patrice Rushen from previous RWL) on another output as references. After its mixed there’s often still a lot of post mix tweaking to be done once it’s been lived with and played out. If after it’s mixed the session has become very processor heavy with lots of plug-ins and automation I might bounce it down to stems as I can then make more changes without having to deal with a lethargic buggy session.

So turning to the music on this compilation, tell us a bit about working on some of the tracks:

George Benson “Love Ballad”
Love Ballad was originally recorded by LTD but it’s Benson’s more uptempo remake that has been an enduring favourite of mine since its release 1979. Unfortunately the multi was missing a couple of things, I’m not even sure it’s the exact same recording as the released version but it was all they had. I first arranged it in a more conventional way with both verses but I felt it sounded a bit predictable. So I got rid of verse/chorus 1 and decided to emphasise the jazzy elements and bring the vocal in much later. You can’t go wrong with that lovely chord progression, especially on real strings. Francois Kevorkian took a similar approach on his mix of Sharon Redd “Can You Handle It”, which I always loved.

Gladys Knight “Taste of Bitter Love”
As with Benson this was a multi I was very keen to get my hands on. There’s only ever been the album version, as no extended DJ mixed 12” was released at the time. It’s also one with beautiful live strings and brass, all superbly recorded and played. As a remixer this all makes my job easier. I did most of the arranging on a trip to Ibiza. I remember it was a pretty crappy weekend as it was raining and the gig was outdoors, so a bit of a washout but I had a good time in the hotel with Gladys. Once it was mixed I did come back and tweak a few things but it was minor stuff, I kind of knew it was generally how I wanted it.

O’Jays “I Love Music”
I was really excited to get the parts for this stone cold classic but when I started to listen to it I thought, “What am I actually going to do with this?” As there’s been many edits of it already. Some songs you have a clear concept before you start what direction to go with the remix, but not on this occasion, I just thought it a great track I’m sure I’ll be able to come up with something once I start messing around wit it. Using the organ from the end of the song with the ad libs seemed like a nice alternate way to start it off but it took me a while to lock down the rest of the arrangement and make use of the parts in a way I was happy with. Sonically it wasn’t the easiest one, it sounded quite messy in places, so it was a case of going in and tightening up hi hats and congas enough that they still sound live but in the groove with the everything else.

You’ve been in the game a long time and so perhaps have the benefit of the long view – how do you feel about club culture and dance music at the moment, is it in good health?

From a personal perspective things are great at the moment. I’m very busy gig wise and I’m playing the music I love. In fact 2015 was one of my best years ever for gigs. The whole disco thing is very big in the UK right now and I guess I’m seen as one of the stalwarts of that scene. I like the fact there’s a new generation of producers making house music and I like some of the stuff they are doing. It’s also nice to see younger audiences getting into this sound, both new stuff and the classics – and its interesting to see what old records are preferred to others by younger ears. They often seem to head for the underground looking and sounding production from Detroit over something on major label with a pic sleeve. I’m very happy with the music I’m making, both the original stuff and the remixes. Overall though there’s lack of musicality in dance music since the DJ took over the controls as the main producer. Too many records are are made by people with no musical ability what so ever, so its samples and little vocal snippets rather than anything original. There’s also lots of forgettable empty drum, sub bass tech tracks which will maybe hold a busy dance floor at 2am but do nothing for me and I doubt they’ll stick in anyone’s memories. If it’s just a groove, then it need to be a hell of a groove to hold my attention. I understand if you can’t play then it’s expensive to hire in musicians/vocalists and often the money is not going to be returned from sales income. That’s not to say I don’t like modern music, I do and i think there’s good stuff coming out across many genres, it’s just often lost in a sea on mediocrity, in excess of 10,000 releases per week I’m told. I also think lots of DJs only seem to want buy or play the sound of the moment, currently what is mislabelled as “deep house” so if you produce something that doesn’t fit in with that style then there’s a good chance it will go unnoticed by many.

Finally, I know it’s an unlikely scenario, but If you were campaigning for the nomination for the US presidency, which song would you use as your campaign theme?

Gil Scott Heron “Gun” – with its anti-firearms message I’m sure it would ensure a very short campaign.

Thanks to Dave for giving us a piece of his huge store of disco-info. ‘Remixed With Love by Joey Negro Vol. II’ is a superb, stand-out package, packed full of simply beautiful dance music; this one is a must-buy.

Remixed With Love by Joey Negro Vol. II is available now on Traxsource HERE