House Hunting #12 – Lil’ Louis
So my House Hunting partner Tomi gave me a heads up that there was a record fair at London Fields Brewery. As Jason at Kristina Records was curating the event in tandem with The Diggers I thought worth checking out as potentially some choice dealers representing and second hand stalls selling the vintage house I yearn for. Joining us on our house hunting session was crate crusader Matt from the deepest depths of Northampton’s Vinyl Underground – a dependable source of house holy grails and vintage vinyl check ‘em out here
After a small detour to The London Fields Pub as Tomi had lost his shirt there the night before (he did the same at Electric Elephant in Croatia – you know it’s a good night if Tomi tearin’ his shirt off!) we got to the record fair early afternoon to ensure there were some decent records left so we could dig that little bit deeper. On entering you couldn’t help but notice Kristina’s boutique (serious tee & tote envy!) but we went straight to the back where we could detect the vintage house and cheaper crates luring us in from discernible dealers like Danny McLewin of Psychemagik and Dig A Little… Immediately what caught my eye was a stall that had some choice records laid out including the Armando ‘One World One Fear’ LP on Radikal Fear plus Victor Romeo’s ‘Love Will Find A Way’ on Dance Mania and it turned out this stand was run by Hackney Wick’s Vinyl Pimp who always have a decent second hand house selection so naturally got checkin’ the crates…
I shouted Tomi over as I noticed the ‘In And Out Of Fog And Lights’ LP by Gemini which he has been after for time was behind the racks but alas it was already saved – some guy paid £65 for it mental! Still loads of decent house records especially more of the obscure Dance Mania releases… Matt was deliberating over a Paul Johnson 12” and a Dance Mania double pack so as they totalled £38 I said to the vendors that he’ll take both for £35 thinking it’ll be a done deal but there was no room for negotiation the boss who wasn’t present wouldn’t allow it. Considering the records were at a premium price I thought it was a bit militant they couldn’t knock off a quid or two so fair play to sticking to their guns as many a dealer would have caved in but ultimately their loss as Matt opted just for the Paul Johnson 12”. I found the ‘Second Generation’ LP by The New World Order aka Armando on his Muzique Records imprint complete in original stickered cover so at £11 it wasn’t a bad deal so recommended to Tomi – no they wouldn’t accept a tenner for it! As Matt and Tomi both copped a Chicago House 12” I finished the Chi-Town triptych by finding a copy of Lil’ Louis’ ‘The Original Video Clash’ on Dance Mania for just a tenner! A bargain for this piece of house history…
So where do you start with Lil’ Louis?! Coming to prominence by hosting his now mythical parties at Chicago institutions such as Future, The Bismarck Hotel and Medusa’s, Lil’ Louis made the natural transition from DJing to producing, first appearing on ‘7 Ways’ by Hercules aka Marshall Jefferson on Dance Mania and remixing the Ragtyme & Byron Stingily anthem 'I Can’t Stay Away’ on Bright Star Records. It wasn’t long before he released his own record and in ’87 he released his first 12” for Dance Mania featuring the eerie acid of ‘Frequency’ and the B-Side bliss of ‘How I feel’ (my personal favourite) – coincidentally I picked up a rare mint copy of this record in Hoxton’s Love Vinyl last month so Lil’ Louis my current flavour.
However, it’s his defining cross-over anthem ‘French Kiss’ in which contributed to his legacy. Initially debuting on his own Diamond Records (a subsidiary of Armando’s Warehouse Records) as the label’s first release, it was then licensed to FFRR and CBS’ hit-making machine Epic Records – giving the record international exposure and propelling it in becoming a ubiquitous, multi-platinum hit that transcended the usual boundaries of house. Subsequently the success of the track triggered Epic Records to offer a major-label contract and in ’89 under his Lil Louis & The World alias he released his debut LP ‘From The Mind Of Lil Louis’. The LP was a cross-over hit fusing house with jazz and R&B though it’s the house excursions on the ‘Dance’ side that are the more memorable. As well as ‘French Kiss’ there’s ‘I Called U’ (a top 20 hit in the UK Charts), ‘Blackout’ (to me sounding like a precursory prototype of French Kiss), the jackin’ Chi-Town flavour of ‘Wargames’ plus the sensual ‘Tuch Me’ co-produced by fellow Chicago forefather Larry Heard – not to mention on the ‘Romance’ side ‘Nyce & Slo’ which is a favourite of many.
After the LP dropped Epic released the now collectable Discogs speculator special ‘I Called U’ 12” featuring ‘The Conversation’ and ‘Why’d U Fall’ mixes – still rinsed by the more discernible DJs who know a classic Chicago joint. In ‘92 he returned with ‘Journey With The Lonely’ LP and though it didn’t receive the commercial or critical success of his previous album Lil Louis still achieved what many of his fellow Chicagoans failed in that he had a successful period with a major label and wasn’t dropped or ripped off which was typical of the era. The LP features his hit ‘Club Lonely’ and there are some under-appreciated gems on there like ‘Do U Love Me’ featuring Joi Cardwell and the Masters At Work mix of ‘New Dance Beat’ too. Time to reminisce…
Anyway, back to this week’s pick and as it seems with every Chicago House record this one of course comes with some degree of controversy. The track in question is ‘The Original Video Clash’ that Marshall Jefferson originally recorded with Kym Mazelle back in ’86. The story goes that Lil’ Louis who used to hang at Marshall’s was present when he recorded the track in his living room and at the time Lil’ Louis was playin’ at Future and The Bismarck so he insisted on having a copy for his sets as Marshall usually gave his rough demos to Ron Hardy. On getting a copy Lil’ Louis edited the track removing Kym’s vocal in the process and it became a staple in his sets sending his crowd wild. As Marshall was focusing on producing on his major-label projects with Ce Ce Rogers, Kym Mazelle and Ten City, though considered friends of his Tyree and Mike Dunn released versions of ‘Video Clash’ without his consent – typifying the backstabbing nature of the era. As touched upon in last week’s edition of House Hunting, Tyree’s version was called ‘Video Crash’ and was released on Rodney Bakerr’s Rockin’ House Records – which was bootlegged in New York as ‘Acid Crash’ adding to the confusion. Mike Dunn’s version was entitled ‘Magic Feet’ and was released on the ‘So Let It Be Houze!’ 12” on Bam Bam’s Westbrook Records.
Lil’ Louis was upset that the track had been ripped off and approached Marshall in releasing ‘The Original Video Clash’. Though concerned that the record had already become saturated in its various guises, Marshall reluctantly agreed to Lil’ Louis releasing the record though on its release on Dance Mania neither Marshall or Kym were credited on it. The story has a happy ending though as Lil’ Louis gave back Marshall the rights to the track. Regardless of its controversy it’s still a defining record and I would argue that the Lil’ Louis version the best interpretation though you gotta thank Marshall otherwise these tracks wouldn’t have seen the light of day…
Let’s not forget ‘Music Takes You Away’ on the flip which though has the classic TR Drums and instrumentation synonymous with the era it has Lil Louis’ yearning larynx complimenting it perfectly, adding another dimension and bringin’ some warmth to proceedings – a nice antidote to the harsh and rough aesthetic of the A-side check it here…
So what of Lil’ Louis now? Well he’s directed the forthcoming ‘The House That Chicago Built’ film that will no doubt document Chicago’s influence in house music – here’s a trailer in which various peers in the scene deliberate on ‘What was the very first house record ever made’ (answers on a postcard please – I would say Jesse Saunders & Vince Lawrence’s ‘On and On’ on Jes Say Records or ‘Come To Me’ by Gwendolyn on Precision Records though I could be wrong as both made before I was born!)
Keeping the Lil Louis revival flowing and Horse Meat Disco will be deviating from their disco dynasty in bringing the windy city wizard to the UK on Sunday 14th September! For more event details guest R$N contributer and lucid lyricist Manu gives us the lowdown right here on the Ransom Note
Maybe then you can ask Lil’ Louis himself what was the very first house record ever made…
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