Acid Thunder Sleevenotes #5


After the success of Terry Farley's massive 'Acid Rain' box set, the veteran Boys Own member is teaming up with the Harmless label once more to bring out 'Acid Thunder' – a 5 CD retrospective of the best in deep house, jack tracks and classic acid spanning 1986 – 1991. In addition, one disc will be dedicated to the memory of Frankie Knuckles, with songs by Knuckles, as well as tracks associated with him.

You can find the previous 4 instalments of the sleevenotes here. With this final chapter, Jacob Arnold brings this history lesson to a close;

Time to Jack

Mike Dunn grew up in Englewood on Chicago’s South Side. Dunn got into DJing in the early 1980s, spinning at local parties with Tyree Cooper and WKKC’s Hugo H. Like other Chicago DJs at the time, he began playing tape edits and experimenting with a drum machine as he got gigs at larger spots like Hummingbird, Jacks, and The Courtyard.

In 1987, Dunn began making records with Bam Bam on his label Westbrook Records. Then as MD III, he created three singles for D.J. International’s Underground. The early 1990s were a prolific period, with releases as QX-1 and The MD Connection.

In 1991, Dunn DJed at the new Warehouse (738 W. Randolph St). “The club was just incredible to me,” Dunn tells Terry Matthew for 5 Magazine. “Joe [Smooth] had the downstairs and did very well. When everything was at its peak, it was a beautiful, beautiful time for the Chicago House scene.”

Joe Smooth originally DJed at SmartBar from 1983-1985 where he played a Mirage sampler over records. He earned the nickname “Smooth” for his blending skills. Smooth met Chip E (Irwin Larry Eberhart) at the record store Importes Etc., where Chip worked. As soon as Chip found out about Smooth’s sampling keyboard, he wanted to make a record. The two went to Duane Thamm’s studio, Reel to Reel, in his parents’ basement in Villa Park. (Thamm was half of the group Crystalite, also featured here.) Joe Smooth provided uncredited vocals on “Time to Jack.”

Working at Importes Etc. and studying marketing at Columbia College, Chip learned the importance of a catchy chorus. “A lot of times people don’t know the names of records,” he explains. Chip decided for his first single he was “going to put something in it that’s so dominant that it’s difficult for people not to know the name of the song.”

Ralphi Rosario played Chip’s Jack Trax EP on WBMX in the summer of 1985. The initial pressing of 1000 copies sold out in a day. “That was when I decided I was not going to work at Importes any longer,” Chip recalls.

Chip began working A&R at D.J. International. He and his mother, a copywriter for a Chicago ad agency, wrote “Godfather of House,” which became something of a theme song for Frankie Knuckles. Knuckles provided vocals for Chip E.’s second single, “Like This,” which hit #15 on the U.S. Billboard Dance Chart. “Jack Me Frankie – Power House” further illustrates the pair’s relationship.

Meanwhile, Joe Smooth was building a career as a studio musician playing keyboards for D.J. International. Eventually he was offered the opportunity to create his own song. “Promised Land” was inspired by Chicago house music’s success overseas. “With all of these boundaries, music really didn’t have a boundary,” Smooth tells Czarina Mirani for 5 Magazine. 

Smooth has remained active in music production, remixing nearly 100 songs for underground artists as well as mainstream ones like Whitney Houston, Sisqo, and Destiny’s Child.

In the U.S. house music has always been something of an underdog, especially compared to the success of hip-hop. Nevertheless, in Chicago, New York, and Detroit, it has retained its underground cachet, providing both an outlet and a community. 

When Frankie Knuckles passed away this spring, there was an outpouring of emotion from house music fans all over the world. There’s no better tribute than this massive compilation capturing Chicago house’s golden age, when it rippled out to New York, Detroit, and beyond.

Jacob Arnold

Full details on Acid Thunder here.