I was at work and just about to take my lunch when fellow R$N lyricist and Thunder matriarch Miles ‘tagged’ me on Facebook as Reckless Records had posted that they just had in two rare slices of wax on Chicago’s Rockin’ House Records – which Miles had featured in last week’s special edition of House Hunting COINCIMENTAL! On inspecting the photo closely I noticed one of the records was ‘House Girl’ by Mystic which is a proper Chicago holy house grail and one I needed to get my hands on – especially as I could see it was in the original stickered sleeve (you know I have OCD regards original sleeves – I need to get a grip!). So I jetted down to Soho to ensure no Chicago head copped it before me regardless of how many £££’s it was gonna set me back – I don’t think I’d be competing with Miles coppin’ his copy for a quid in a cash converter in Edmonton!
The staff at Reckless are proper purveyors and know their s**t so you’ll be hard pressed to find a super bargain but they always get in the facets of house I love (Acid/Chicago/Detroit/NY/etc…) so always worth a weekly jaunt or pre-work peruse. On entering I was relieved to see that the 12” was displayed on the recommended racks – price-wise take Miles’ quid and times it by 25 and that’s what I had to shell out but considering the vinyl was surprisingly mint it’s a deal I was happy with as I doubt I’ll see one in that condition again…
So on to the record and though implying that it’s a mythical figure, Mystic is actually none other than Chicago House pioneer and Rockin’ House Records founder Rodney Bakerr. Though Rodney was very influential in the beginnings of Chicago House he had a more unorthodox route in the scene. When studying at the School of the Art Institute in the 70s, Rodney got into punk and new wave which influenced and inspired him to form rock group ‘Strange Circuits’ – their sole release was the ‘Industrial Living’ 7-inch on Wax Trax! Records back in 1980. He later taught at the Chicago Vocational Career Academy where his students introduced him to house and its burgeoning scene. On listening Rodney liked what he heard and having studied electronic music he thought he’d give it a go and like they say the rest is history… On founding the label his first contributors were his students including Terrence Woodward who released the ‘Jack The Box’ (Part Two) track on the ‘Rockin’ House Tracks’ EP. The original ‘Jack The Box’ was released in ’85 on the super-rare Progessive Records 12” which was a rawer precursor – check ‘em out both here:
Also featuring on the EP is alumni Fred Brown who contributed with ‘Roman Days on the same EP and the scarce ‘House Whop’ 12” on Rockin’ House. Fred also released the obscure 12” ‘You Don’t Really Care’ on Cam Records which is on a more early garage tip in contrast to his rawer excursions on Rockin’ House – again if like me a hardcore Chi-Town house enthusiast then all worth trackin’ down have a listen here:
Rodney also released tracks by more prominent kats including Tyree Cooper and Mike Dunn who both ultimately gained legendary status as Chicago House hierarchy. At the time Tyree was having issues with Chicago behemoth DJ International Records so Tyree approached Rodney if he could release a record via his imprint – with the result being the influential dancefloor destroyer ‘Video Crash’. Viewed by some as controversial, the story goes that Marshall Jefferson originally produced a tracks entitled ‘Video Clash’ which Lil’ Louis used the parts and released via Dance Mania without Marshall’s consent. So Tyree wanted to produce an improved version dedicated to Marshall (he is credited as ‘M.J’ on the label) and ‘Video Crash’ was born… Even though it was Rockin’ House’s biggest hit to add to the confusion it was bootlegged in New York as ‘Acid Crash’ and was universally known as this on the East Coast! Rodney also found a kindred spirit in Mike Dunn and regularly called upon him to utilise his dexterity with the TB-303 – collaborating on the label’s more iconic tracks such as ‘Number’s and this week’s house hunting find ‘House Girl’ also runnin’ through with the Roland TR-808 and TR-909 on them.
What makes Rodney’s productions more unique amongst the TR-soaked tracks of the era is the use of live instrumentation in his tracks (which you can hear on the above Mike Dunn collaborations) – a lot of his house tracks feature live guitar and the chapman stick which was unusual and unheard of at the time. Personally I think this gave the tracks a bit more personality and colour – a nice contrast to the raw and primitive sound of the Roland drum machines complimenting them effortlessly. However he’s not averse to giving a pure raw 303 workout – check out this acid odyssey under his Jaquarius alias which is another Rockin’ House holy grail:
Back to this week’s choice find and as well as the original and aforementioned Mike Dunn remix with the live guitar and high-pitched male falsetto exclaiming ‘House girl, oh oh yes’ building up to an apex of acid, it’s the ‘Acid Mix’ of Mystic’s House Girl that is the version to opt for with four minutes of acid-drenched bliss – Rodney if you’re reading this it needs a longer edit! Why Clone inexplicably didn’t include this version when they reissued ‘House Girl’ for their ‘Classic Cuts’ series (the original, Mike Dunn remix on there but they should have forsaken the Serge & Tyrell edit for the Acid Mix or at least included additionally) is beyond me but anyway here it is:
Though not as prolific or as iconic as Trax or DJ International, Rockin’ House Records’ small but perfectly formed discography is well worth huntin’ down for some early Chicago obscurities… Even though Dance Mania’s Ray Barney and Cap Exports’ Walter Paas distributed the Rockin’ House releases with Trax and DJ International’s monopoly it was hard to get the records overseas – so how Miles found not one but three Rockin’ House 12”s in a cash converter in the deepest depths of North London I don’t know!
Rodney’s legacy still lives on as he wrote the original house drum patterns for Roland (including their TR808 and TR909) for the Roland Drum Machine Dictionary – as they were the first in print and distributed around the world this has influenced no doubt many a producer wanting to utilise the drum machine to best effect. After laying dormant for nearly 20 years Rodney has also brought Rockin’ House outta retirement and has released tracks from the vaults including last years ‘The Lost Tracks’ EP and ‘The Club House Sessions’ released earlier this year. I was at a record fair in the London Fields Brewery on Saturday (more on that next week…) and Kristina Records’ Jason handed me The Club House Sessions EP – why I didn’t buy it I don’t know but it’s still available if like me you can never have enough acid… Kristina are also stocking Rockin’ House Records’ latest release in which Rodney has got Dance Mania’s DJ Lil’ Tal to drop some ghettotech juke flavour to the label so if you fancy droppin’ some furious footwork get this on the go too not to mention Rockin’ House T-Shirts (Thunder’s Rick dropped one and it looks boss).
So remember it’s not all about Trax and DJ International – get hunting for that obscure allure on Rockin’ House Records! You never know Reckless may still have that ‘Homeboy’ 12” by Derek “Smoking” Jones and yes it comes in the original stickered sleeve…