In the world of nightlife, there is almost no one that you can speak with who has not spent one evening on a dance floor where Junior Vasquez was providing the soundtrack. From the Sound Factory to Arena to Twilo, nights spent on a Junior Vasquez dance floor were always magic. As Vasquez & The House of Ellis enter a new phase of his career (including projects with both new and established artists, an appearance on The Wendy Williams Show, and a featured track on the new Donna Summer package Encore), it was the perfect time to sit down with this nightlife maestro for an extended conversation. From nightlife memories, making new music, and even the unreleasedmusic he might want to release, the man who helped define a nightlife sound has plenty of songs left to play.
Michael Cook: In the midst of a pandemic, how are things for you?
Junior Vasquez: I’m really cool. I’ve had a few disappointments because of the pandemic, the Donna Summer Encore album release party was going to be amazing, so we’re waiting. Everything with me is really cool now, right now I’m staying inside and working with the House Of Ellis and keeping that going. It’s alll about telling people what I have coming up.
MC: It seems like Junior Vasquez and the House Of Ellis is getting a rebirth of sorts, is that fair to say?
JV: That is absolutely fair to say. I started working with my current management after I left my last management, and I had been wanting to rebirth for a long time, but in different directions. Playing less, but focusing on writing and doing certain mixes that I want to do. A lot of in-house things that I am organizing, song and things like that. At this point in my life, I feel great about it and am hoping that I can throw the biggest event in Central Park when this whole thing is over, right near the roller skating park! It’s leading up to that; people are hungry and music is the answer to this virus.
MC: What do you think about the numerous DJ’s spinning online during this craziness? Any thoughts on getting behind the decks for an online set?
JV: I see some people spinning on Facebook, but I don’t know if would not do it, although I have thought about it. I am working on a way to do it, that is really something that I would actually be going into. At least the music is out there and they are doing it. I saw Victor Calderone and David Morales spinning online and I am so happy and so glad that they are doing it. It’s difficult, because you have no audience and no crowd. I am hoping that I can get something going on with that soon, because I have playlists from forever.
MC: The Junior Vasquez library must be absolutely massive to both you and would be a treasure trove to music fans.
JV: I have made playlists for all the bars and clubs that I have ever done. Female vocals, gospel, classic, that is how I want to do it. I guess I’ll have to poke my head in there though and play (laughs). I am much more animated, so I would be rather it be linked to something where I could maybe be at my work station where I make jewelry and do art. I could switch back and forth and make it an All Day With Junior and at the same time, I am playing music. I am trying to work it out so it would be almost like a clubhouse kind of thing.
MC: Considering you have done so much and played practically everywhere, what could possibly be left that you want to accomplish?
JV: One thing that I really would love to get next year is a Grammy and I am working on that with this remix of Donna Summer’s “My Life” that has finally been released commercially. I would just love to be rewarded somehow, not that I ever really needed it, it would just be nice to be recognized by the Academy. I am happy that Tracy Young got hers, she was determined and went her own way and made it happen. I am so happy that it’s finally being recognized. I have been in the spotlight for almost five decades and would love to see that happen for me.
MC: My Life by the iconic Donna Summer has been one of those mixes that so many people loved hearing you play live and was considered one of those rare unreleased gems. What made you finally want to go ahead and release it to the public as part of the Encore project?
JV: To tell you the truth, when they were doing the album, they contacted my management wanting to use the song on the album. I had it, refreshed it and I would play it myself. While people had it, they did not have the version that is out now on the album that is all cleaned up. I am happy to have done it and happy to see it recognized. I am also happy to have been pulled into the advertising of the album. I think that it is putting me in the forefront of where I want to try to go with my career now. Getting onto projects like this, doing albums, and I am hoping to do something with Expose’. To write and produce is where I am trying to go. At the same time, I want to plan parties but I want do parties that are mine. Not to just go into a club to DJI, I want to produce parties as well. I want to have a really good record label and to bring in other young DJ’s. I am like the Pied Piper of the business and that is what I am going for now in my career.
MC: When we hear you play now, we still hear the Junior that kept us on dance floors for endless nights. When you are playing now, do you get the same rush that you got when you were playing nights at Twilo or nights at Arena?
JV: Absolutely. I tried to get out of the business out a couple times, but I start getting anxious; it’s literally all that I have done for fifty years. I have to have my foot in it somehow. I love playing live, and I knew I wanted to do it again. I love playing live and I wanted to do it again; so we have the House Of Ellis. I’m not saying I would not want to have a residency, but I would like to have a residency on maybe a Sunday afternoon in the city, like the old Body and Soul. Very private, and I could play anything that I want, it’s not about all the mixes. I could play any kind of music genre that I like, it would be a gathering basically.
MC: You have now released “My Life” but there are so many mixes by so many artists that you have done that many fans yearn for and would love to have officially in their collections. What is a track that you have remixed that you would love to polish up and release commercially?
JV: Off the top of my head, it would probably be Madonna’s “Bedtime Stories” or “Secret”. The one song that I am thinking about going after now is Billie Ray Martin’s “Your Lovin Arms” because it is essential now, that is the kind of stuff I want to be playing when I potentially play live online. There are quite a few I would like to release. We have recently dug things out from the past, mixes that I have done that I have never played a particular mix of. There is definitely a stockpile of music. Certain dubs that I did that I may not get royalties on them, but I do own the dubbing track. There are songs that are written for me, if you take the dub or a B-side and use that to make a new song out of it completely, with lyrics and melody. My studio is in Connecticut and once we are able to travel I can get working. I will say, having to wait is definitely giving me time to think slower and not so fast. It’s helping me know what is important.
MC: People right now want to dance and be together; what artists now are you listening to that are inspiring you?
JV: The music that I listen to now is from the 70’s and the 80’s. Acoustic, soul, things like that. I use Shazam all the time when I hear something I love. I am trying to get into the bounce style with the Tommy Boy release that I am doing with an artist named Radha, who was on The Voice. The lyrics are brilliant and she is just dishing! I need to be fed from an audience in front of them and raised slightly above. I need to get it as much as the crowd “gets it”.
MC: There are so many people that have sat at the feet of Junior Vasquez and have come up after you, but you would be hard pressed to find a DJ or remixer that would try to claim themselves of be claimed as “the next Junior”. Who is out there now that you think could take the reins from you?
Well, the people that have broken apart from me like Victor Calderone and Jonathan Peters, Danny Tenaglia, the most elite of the DJ’s. They found their path and they became really great at what they do. None of them play the way that I do at all. Funny enough, I don’t listen to myself at all, my tapes or recordings from the all the nights. It’s just a part of me that goes into a trance and I miss it. There are just too many sound alike and wanna be’s right now. I personally have to keep going in a direction where I have to create something new in a way. This downtime right now is a way to sort things out the right way and not jump into anything. I can come out with something brand new that I have created. I don’t have to worry about sounds of music, because it is always changing for me. I go into one song and hear something that gives me an idea for another one, and so on. That is why I like remixing a lot of times. There are so many people out there spinning and I am grateful that the ones that are honest about what they are doing and educated by me are so wonderful.
MC: This current way we are all living has made many of us look back on our lives and think of what could be looked at as the “best” time in our lives. What do you think was truly the “best” time of your career?
JV: That would be Arena. It was short but incredible. I then carried that into Twilo. Every place that I play, the sound of my music changes. For instance, I went to Tunnel angry, because Twilo ended up opening. They said that Sound Factory could never open again and there it was, so I was pissed. I would play hard house and then all of that caught on. I would play techno or drum and bass and just play it slower, and a lot of songs came out of there. I would say that Arena for sure was the best. I will say, if it had gone longer than it had, not so much then. I think it had that absolute impact for that year. Many people go towards Twilo, but I always thought that Twilo was only two years, but it obviously was not (laughs). Everything was so cool back at Arena; Twilo got messy though, but still…I would love everyone to be able to go back into the Arena.
MC: We’re going to have a summer, no matter what. At the end of Summer 2020, what would you like to have said that you accomplished?
JV: That would be to be being able to play on Fire Island. I have accomplished a new wave of some sort. Something that I can be proud of and to give something back to the people. I am going to have to go through some hoops to do it, but I would love to open another space. I am going to be thrilled to have made it through 2020 (laughs)! For those of us that came out on the other side of it, now the parties are going to be incredible. We should be able to break down the laws of the clubs again. They should not be run my community boards. They should be a stationary space. They need to not keep closing them due to rules and techicalities. The clubs should not have to close when we all want these spaces. For me, I am just so saturated by doing this job and what I do. It’s all that I think about. It can keep me up nights. All I can do is think about what I am going to do next. And if I can make a song, I am going to make a song.
Follow Junior Vasquez’s music on Spotify
Donna Summer’s “Encore” is available on Amazon