An afternoon with Booker T

Back in May this year I was lucky enough to interview one of my DJ/producer heroes Booker T on my show.

As well as my music I like to write and so when we were done I turned our interview into an accompanying article.

Any I had nowhere to put it at the time so now I have this shiny new website, I thought I’d share it here.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

An afternoon with Booker T

On big crowds, beats and the recipe for house music happiness

“I’m feeling rough today.” Hardly surprising after nearly forty years in music and a weekend with Mi Soul in Ibiza. Booker T won’t hear of rescheduling for another day though when offered an easy out. “No, no it’s cool, let’s do it.” People say you should never meet your heroes as they’ll disappoint. Here was a man who had worked with pretty much everyone I’d idolised from Mica Paris to Soul to Soul making time for me even though he was feeling under the weather. No chance of that.

We’d begun our conversation on a nostalgic note via Instagram, my eye caught by a stream of labels from his seemingly never ending discography. I’m interested in how a prolific career like that even begins. “I was a reggae selector back in the late seventies and early eighties as a youngster, “ he remembers, “then I started playing soul and rare groove. There wasn’t any house, any jungle, any garage, there was none of it.” His switch to house music was triggered by the London acid scene, catching his big break at the now legendary Energy events in front of twenty thousand or so dayglo party people. “That was pretty scary at the time,” he chuckles, the memory clearly still vivid.

Like so many stories in the music business, serendipity played a big part in his progression to remixer. Ricky Morrison, himself a house production legend of M&S fame, had a small studio above his Catch a Groove record shop in London’s Soho where he and the young Booker T would spend time. “He was hanging out with another DJ producer called Danny ‘Buddah’ Morales and they were working with this drum machine called the [Akai] MPC-60. When I saw them doing the drum programming it really hooked me. I was like, yeah this is what I wanna do, I wanna make some beats.”

His remixing CV of course now reads like a who’s who of R&B and soul of the last thirty years. When I press on how he deals with star names, he’s remarkably humble to the extent I sense even a little discomfort in talking about the limelight. “At first it was nuts! I was really starstruck but now it’s just the norm. I just try to do my thing. Most of those tracks were R&B style songs and what I did was I took them, time-stretched up the vocal, changed the vibes a bit and gave them more of a house feel.” In the beginnings of what became UK Garage, Booker T defined his own very specific sound in that early scene. Whilst identifiably part of that genre, unlike some of the more drum ’n’ bass influenced contemporary tracks, it was somehow unmistakably still connected to the US garage world too too. It turns out that was deliberate. “I followed the American vibes of house music more. Even though I’ve got a UK flavour and I’ve got my own style, I kind of blend my style from the Americans.” And favourite collaborations? Tellingly the majority are from that era, Angie Stone’s Life Story, Bizzi Bizzi’s Party getting a specific mention. Typically he’s not afraid to gloss over some less memorable moments. “There’s some tunes I didn’t like, remixes I did that I didn’t think were that great.” I don’t press for names, and he’s far to much of a gent to say.

What advice would he give aspiring to DJs looking to emulate his success? “Just be real with what you’re doing, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do whatever you want to do. Just practice hard, there’s always a learning curve. Even DJing’s a learning curve.” He goes on to describe his continued happiness as attributable to a deeper sense of purpose that is poignant when considered in the modern era of the superstar DJ. “I just love music. If you really love music you will get through. If you’re doing it for the money, your head’s not really there. It’s nice to get paid, but I really love what I do. I love making music, I love DJing. It keeps me going, pushing the music, pushing the boundaries.”

And keep going he does. True to his word, as well as a busy schedule DJing, the remainder of 2019 is just as busy on the production front. “I’ve got loads of stuff coming. I’ve just finished doing a new Stephanie Cooke track, a Mike City track’s coming, I’m doing my album at the moment. I’ve got my own label Liquid Deep Recordings which I’m promoting at the moment, and I’m putting out tracks on there.” As we conclude and say our goodbyes, one thing is for sure: whether it’s as a prolific musician or as a person, Booker T is one hero that definitely doesn’t disappoint.

Martin Gale, May 2019

Published by Martin

Geek, DJ, runner, family man.