25 Years of Henry Street & Johnny D

As Henry Street turns 25, Brian Tappert caught up with Brooklyn’s own… Johnny D

So nice to see you in Miami. It’s been a long time… I hear it has been 25 years since Henry St. Was born, that’s a long time.

Yes, it was great seeing and catching up with you. I can’t believe it has been 25 years for my label, time flies!

First, massive congrats for this remarkable achievement… How does it feel?

It feels great. An idea that I had one night while with Tommy Musto at Sound Factory Bar, turned into a reality and a label that put my address/street on the map around the world. It’s actually hard to believe what has been done in the 25 years. I get tired just thinking about it.

What is your secret to longevity in the house music world?

My philosophy 25 years ago, a time when in my opinion, the other house labels were hitting a wall with very generic disposable music, was to take a groove that was hot from 20 years ago and re-make it hot for another 20 years. It wasn’t about stealing or sampling, it was more about my respect to the legends of disco and funk/soul who created masterpieces that were no longer being played or heard. It’s almost like paying tribute to them and keeping the songs/singers/producers relevant years later.

Some people say it’s a 20 year cycle for music and fashion, what do you say?

Absolutely. It was my philosophy when I started and I wasn’t even aware of that statistic!! I guess I’m not as dumb as I look.

When I was coming up, you, Nicky, Tommy, Vic and the crew were people I very much looked up to and aspired to be… Who are some of those people for you?

For me, I’m now and have always been a fan of music. I also love your work (Numero Uno is played at most of my gigs, and quite honestly, should have been a Henry Street release, but that’s for another story). From my early days of collecting through today, I’m a fan first and foremost. As for house, Kenny “Dope” is the person who really pushed me into making music as I really didn’t have a desire and was then and even now, more into making my mixtapes/cd/drives. He and Todd are 2 that I totally looked up to and still do today and respect what they did and do. Another major influences in house for me are Tommy Musto, E-Smoove, Marshall Jefferson, Steve “silk” Hurley and the list goes on. I have a book coming out, hopefully before I’m 90 (it’s been taking awhile) and I speak in it about house music and how there are certain people who actually changed the game. Yes, there are many people in it who have contributed a lot, and I would hope that people look at my discography and see that I have done my share, but there are producers, remixers, and songs that actually changed the game.

game changers for me are, Steve “Silk” Hurley, he took his talent from underground to mainstream and didn’t miss a beat (I’m also proud to have been behind one of his grammy nominations for Brandy “What About Us”).

Todd Terry, what Todd did when he came on the scene was unheard of. He took sampling from one place and blew it through the stratosphere, to say he was on fire is an understatement. Those records in the 80’s from freestyle to Royal House and Black Riot and so on were and still are today as important to the scene and dance floors all over the world. like Steve, Todd is a major game changer. I also share some nice history with Todd as I had him remix “Missing” by Everything But The Girl which I believe is the biggest record of his career so that makes me sleep well at night.

I’m always amazed to find a 20 year old kid who loves the mid 90s era… But in a way, isn’t it the same as how in the mid 90s we were all into the mid 70s music? (And maybe it is that 20 year cycle?)

It’s funny, I live in Brooklyn and now Williamsburg (which to me is Queens) is so hot right now. If I go to a club and see these 22 year old white kids dancing to house and disco, I’m amazed. I guess I shouldn’t be as I was that kid years ago. I just don’t think this new crop is as intelligent as we were. I could be very off and might be my ego but, I feel that kids today have so much music readily available to them. They say they are into everything, but don’t have that 1 genre or group with crazy passion which is what separates our age groups I would say.

what I’m trying to say is, in the 90’s, we (you me and the builders of house) had to find music in different ways, and it was more of a lifestyle. Today, you go to your phone and scroll. It’s not the same as going to 5 different record shops on a Friday night and Tower or Virgin Megastore on a Sunday.

What is one of your favorite releases from the last 25 years and why?

This is a hard question to answer having so many songs/tracks on the label. I am going to say “The Bomb” by Kenny “Dope” – The Bucketheads for a few reasons. First off, it’s a great way to fit it in the interview. Also, until a few months ago, while having a conversation with someone, it occurred to me that “The Bomb”, correct me if I’m wrong, is the biggest disco sample house track ever done!! As I said, in the middle of a conversation, it was brought up and I initially said no, then thought about it and couldn’t think of a bigger one. Also, at the time, and for years before, Kenny and I were like brothers. That helped me start my label with the first Bucketheads release, and then for my 5th release (5 is my favorite number), I get this “Bomb”. It was and is still today, truly a very special release and I’m forever thankful to him and all that have supported this track. At the time, I was at the height of my promotion career and was so wired in the United States and overseas that the flow was working. From “Missing”, to “The Bomb”, to Tori Amos “Professional Widow”, I was definitely having a moment and I was so happy that it was me behind my closest friends getting international praise and recognition outside of the house music world!

Can you tell us about your massive record collection?

My collection is incredible, and I love it, and it drives me crazy, and I need more records, like I need a hole in the head but am still going. It’s over 80k with no junk – fat free – no promo record pool junk. I’m very selective about what I put into my walls which is why I started my label. In the 90’s, I noticed that I wasn’t bringing as much house stuff home due to space purposes and the light bulb went off in my head. Music was starting to have a quick burn shelf life and a change was needed. I have the largest test pressing and acetate collection in the world with gems that I find hard to believe are there. When I have time, I go through the wall and pull some stuff out randomly and shock myself. When you are in NY, please come by and check the records as well as my disco museum apartment out, it really is crazy with major history.

What would you say is the main difference in the music biz in 2019 as opposed to 1995?

The main difference between now and then is that in 1995 we, the labels, were following the blueprint of everyone before us. Whether it was Atlantic, WB, Columbia, Stax, it was basically the same model. You had the record process, mastering, pressing, acetates, test pressings, promo, finished copies, promotion, marketing, publicity, mailouts.

Today, the vinyl situation is basically gone (I know it’s back, but it’s not the same). We’re no longer following the majors before us, we are now following silicone valley! The magic is gone. It has become a young computer genius game and is changing daily. When we went from physical to digital download it was changing but you could still incorporate the same kind of strategy. Now with streaming and companies coming and going, it’s the wild wild west. People and companies are doing what they want and the kids today are content with not owning the music, most could care less about physical. The art of collecting is gone and these kids are looking and listening to life through an iphone. The truth of the matter is that the majors were never able to wrap their heads around the Napster situation years ago and have been playing catch up ever since. Today they demand money from anyone who wants to do anything with music they control.

How have you adjusted your business strategy to adapt to the changing climate?

I have partners that I work with to aggregate my music. I’m not a fan of promotion today as I feel it’s very hard for DJs to digest music. I feel that Traxsource is a better way for people to find my music than to do a promo mailout. It’s time consuming to go through emails and wait for downloads etc. Where I can say I will spend an hour or so is going to your site and through the top 100, or DJ charts, or another genre. That in my opinion becomes the more important place to make sure my music is. Hopefully, the DJs and traffic will follow.

Are there any living or passed artists that you would’ve liked to have had a release on the label?

There are so many artists I love, respect, and would’ve loved to have worked with. Not necessarily on my label as it has always been more of a producer/dj driven label. That would be if I was at Atlantic or in the business 10 years before I was. Producer wise, I covered just about anyone and everyone in the genre of house who is/was anyone. People missing from roster I would’ve liked to be down would be you and Marc, David Morales, Dave Lee, Ron Trent, Osunlade to name a few.

What projects should be on the look out for on Henry St?

I have a 25th anniversary monthly series of remasters catalog coming out for the next few years. Also, new music from a bunch of new guys as well as That Kid Chris, Furious George, George Feely, Keller, Evenn, Chemars, Jonny Stecchino, Robbie Tronco Lp, Disaronno, and much more from the early morning Dewsh Bag.

What is next for you and Henry St ?

I will continue to look for new music to release and try to stay as relevant as possible. The music business is forever changing these days, faster and faster. I have always been about the music, at the end of the day, if I’m happy with the tracks, I don’t care if they sell 50 copies or downloads. my A&R ear has been pretty successful and I pride myself with the fact that 25 years later, most of my catalog is as strong as ever.

The funny thing is, when I go to your charts, I hear so many of my songs and tracks being redone (poorly I must add) but being done and fed to the marketplace. So if people dig deeper, they will see/hear the originals and I believe in the end, the catalog will sustain and keep moving. The most difficult part of being an A&R today is that most producers are using the same equipment. The chances of me getting another “Funk Phenomena” are slim to none and that is probably the most frustrating part of trying to be different. There’s a formula being used by most and it’s watering down the finished product.