JayQuan : Was the Fever the first club that you ever owned ?

Sal : No the first club that I ran was called the Playhouse in 1971. I was 19 years old and back then the drinking age was only 18. I was the youngest club owner in the Bronx.

  Where did the name Disco Fever come from? Did it symbolize anything ?

We were opening the club during the disco era and my father already had R&B clubs in the Italian white neighborhoods , up near Gunhill  Rd , Allison Ave & Whiteplains Rd. He always had Black bars & clubs in the South Bronx ; so we were sitting there building this Jazz lounge called Pepper & Salt on 157th and Jerome Ave , and I was working uptown in the white places he had. We had been lookin’ for a name for about 3 months , and we were sitting down watchin’ tv and my mom saw an advertisement for Saturday Night Disco Fever ; and she says why don’t you name it Disco Fever – we said nah get outta here. The next day we got up sayin' Disco Fever sounds pretty hot. So we got it from my mom , she named it.

  So the Fever was your second club?

Nah I always worked with my father running his clubs , and I had 2 or 3 little side spots of my own. See I got shot when I was 23 , so my dad said that I had to get outta the business. We tried to run a lumber yard , but I couldn’t wake up that early – by the time I was comin’ in it was time to close up. People were stealin’ lumber & shit. I was always doing promoting and stuff – and when my dad opened the Fever he asked if I wanted to work there on weekends until I got myself together. It was no big deal to me because I grew up around 95% Black people and the clubs we operated had Black employees and clientele. Plus everyone knew me from growing up – my Grandmother had a grocery store on 169th & Washington. My family had different stores all around the South Bronx so I never felt uncomfortable being the only white boy in the place. So me being around 25 at the time , young and wanting to change things; some of the older employees like 50 or so felt they might lose their jobs. I was trying to bring in new shows ‘cus REAL Disco like the Joneses and the Tramps was dying out. I would bring shows and they would bomb, and these older guys were happy ‘cus they could keep their jobs. There was a store downstairs and I asked my father to make it into another floor and just have a 2 story disco. He did and we did real well. We had an older R&B crowd – couple hundred people ; and I brought in some younger Djs - and the crowd started getting younger too , like early 20s and the drinking age was 18. At the end of the night this guy would get up on the wheels and takeover for the main Dj  who was a Pete Dj Jones type of Dj. This guy was Sweet G and this was like 1977. The main Dj was ready to go home and Sweet G would get on and do these nursery rhyme type raps , but he would really have a lot of crowd interaction. There was more energy in the place for that last hour and a half that he was on than there was the whole night the older Dj was on !! No club Djs really spoke on the mic back then except for Hollywood at Club 371. Other Djs like Starski & Flash were kids – they were in the parks. No one was in the clubs talking over records. They may have played in the projects or parks.  Somebody might have booked them in a small little fire hazard spot like Sparkle , or a wedding place like Savoy Manor. I went to my father and told him that we needed to do something with the Dj talking over the music , but he didn’t want to. I started getting close with Sweet G and I found out that he could sing too , so I took him to Westchester to all the white clubs and he was winning all these talent shows. These younger kids started coming poking their heads in , and this one kid came in and it was Junebug , and I kept hearing about this 371 , so me & G went to check it out , and I saw Hollywood with his suit on like mack daddy back then. He had this 4 or 5 man crew with him and he would say Holly and they would say Wood and they had this little routine. They had on Hollywood shirts and everything. This guy was making like $1500 a night to play for 2 hours and this was the 70s when guys were getting 50 dollars. He was a star with no record out. 371 was very slick , older & gangsterish , so Junebug started poppin off  at the Fever. I started hearing a lot about Flash & Starski , so I went out to the park where Flash was playing. He was Djing with his feet and mouth and the crowd was going off. Remember the drinking  age was 18 so high schoolers were in the clubs , especially back then everybody got left back. I asked Flash would he like to play in a club & he agreed to it , but I think he wondered why this white guy was down here watching him play. I approached my dad again to let me do this rap thing , he said Tuesday nights and that’s it. I told Flash that the first night I would pay him 50 dollars and he was like  “ I ain’t playing for 50 dollars”. I told him that we were only charging a dollar a drink and no charge to get in. I told him that no one would discover him in the parks , and that he was gonna be a star if he came to the club. He finally agreed but said that he had the Furious 5 , and I told him that he would have to pay them out of that 50 bucks (laughs). We handed out flyers for 2 weeks. Flash came , Sweet G came to hang out with me , and I had 1 barmaid and 1 bartender. 650 people showed up – we ain't ready , the place can’t even hold 650. That kicked it off. The next week we were more prepared , I charged a dollar to get in , still a dollar to drink and I had 3 barmaids. I think we made like $500 for 600 people (laughs again). We had these back rooms and I told my father we should open them up , and we did – they  each held like another 50 – 75 people. The total with all the rooms & floors was about 1000 or so people. Then I grew and had Luvbug Starski on Monday ,  Hollywood on Wendesday ,  Eddie Cheeba on Sunday , Reggie Wells on Thursday , then Junebug left 371 and worked for me on Thurs , Fri and Sat. with Sweet G. Those older guys that thought that they were gonna get knocked off did – but we put them in other clubs. After that it was history , it just blew up.

 

I have heard the name Reggie Wells , but I am not very familiar with him , can you fill me in?

  He was a very classy , R&B Dj. He wasn’t too much with the Hip Hop , but I wanted to keep a lil flavor with the older crowd. He did Sundays with Eddie Cheeba.

 

Kool Herc and Clark Kent did play for me before Junebug , but only a few weeks. The music that they were playing wasn’t going with what I wanted. I wanted more Disco at the time and they were playing the funk that they would play at their parties.

 

Starski to me was the best Dj/rapper  who did both at the same time . Hollywood needed a Dj .He could play by himself , but I thought that Starski was the best at doing the Emcee/Dj thing at the same time.  Everyone wanted Junebug to mix when they were rapping because he mixed perfectly and he never made them fall off beat. He was so good he didn’t need earphones half the time.

  From what you saw , what was the difference between Herc and Flashes style of spinning?

  Well Flash had the Furious 5 , Herc didn’t have Emcees. Also Herc would play a dance record , then go off into somethin’ else , while Flash stuck to James Brown , Jimmy Castor and what was hot at the time.

  People put Starski , Kurtis Blow & Eddie Cheeba in the category of “Disco Djs” and Flash , Herc and Theodore as “B Boy/Bronx” did you notice a difference?

No , the only thing I noticed was that I could never get the Zulu Nation to come play. Bam and his whole crew rarely came to the Fever. I think it may have been too commercial for them. I would have loved to have them. Red Alert came near the end , he was the only one. Maybe it was because I was a white owner , I don’t know.

  How did you meet Kurtis Blow?

  He was just a kid comin’ in the club , just like Russell (Simmons) they were both just kids that were customers. Then Kurtis tells me that he made a record , and it was Christmas Rappin’ . Then he did the Breaks , and im watchin’ Dick Clark and the Breaks is on the top ten countdown. Im like this is the fuckin’ guy who hangs in my club and he is on the top 10!!

 

What was good about the Fever , and  no rap club today could never come near it ; was that the customers started becoming recording artists each week. Like this week its Whodini , then Marley Marl , next Mc Shan at any time you could walk in my club and there would be 40 or 50 people with hit records in there at the same time. Nobody is paying attention to them , and they are comin’ in by themselves !! No limo , security – Oran Juice Jones , Force Mds - people with big hit records sniffin’ blow sippin' some Moet and partyin’. That’s why the club is still mentioned in records today – ‘cus people hear stories from Russell & Kurtis and Andre Harell (of Jeckyll & Hyde,Harlem World Crew and Uptown Records) hung out there too. Lyror Cohen of Def Jam also.

 

I ran a classy spot – everything was for the customers. People wanted to know how this white Italian kid with a mafia father ( people thought that) could be so cool. I played basketball in Evander high School, every thanksgiving half my table was Black. I grew up on Motown music , and I am very comfortable in the Bronx. I started the basketball tournament at the Ruckers with Greg G (Disco 4) & Mr. Magic. I won 2 MVPs. People didn’t even know I could play and they went crazy. I played in the first game. It was Disco Fever  against Sugarhill Records at Mt Morris park. There must have been 3000 people there and the only advertising that we did was on Mr Magics WHBI show. I scored the last 15 points of the game & the winning shot. They were picking me up carrying me around the court. That was the turning point when motherfuckers was sayin’ he ain’t white , this motherfuckers Black !!!! A lot of those people went to schools in Harlem and the Bronx and didn’t have any Black friends , and they only dealt with whites on jobs or whatever , but not at a club. My father had the same legacy before me and that made it easier for me. Between me and him we were down there a total of 40 years.

  So to back track the first person that you ever saw Emcee was Sweet G ?

  Yeah , and he was the first rapper to rap and sing on a record – “Games People Play”.

 

  Did you realize that your records were big outside of New York , for instance “Games” was real big here in VA.

Oh you’re in Virginia – Blair Underwood is from VA. We were cool on the set of Krush Groove. He was whiter than I was (laughs). Well we released Games in 1983 and right after our distribution company (West End records) went out of business and we didn’t even get paid. See in ’79 Rappers Delight came out , and I was doin' community work , and paying for peoples funerals that I didn’t even know etc. I became Mr Magics biggest sponsor on WHBI and got him started with that. Big things were happening and I was having a ball. Kurtis Blow was getting’ big and Sweet G was managing the club. G made a record on West End records called Heartbeat. Then Treacherous 3 made a record off of Heartbeat also. Then Kurtis met Kenny Nix (producer of Tanyaa Gardners original Heartbeat) and Kenny wanted to record a rap record with his music since everyone else is doin’ it. I overheard them talking about it and I said let Sweet G do it. Kurtis didn’t want him to do it ‘cus Sweet G wasn’t young and Hip like Treacherous 3 . People used to call G the “singing rapper”. Kurtis finally agreed ‘cus I had been good to him. Well he did the record and it blew up – June Bug mixed it though he never got credit. Russell kept sayin’ start your own record company – I told him I didn’t know about the industry , but he said you don’t have to……I really should have been partners with Russell , but that sounded like work…like going to the office and getting up early. But Russell kept pressuring me and he said that he was starting a label and that his first record was droppin' soon (LL Cool J’s "I Need A Beat"). Finally in ’83 I met with West End and discussed releasing records with them with the Fever Logo. We put out “Games” and it  blew up !! I wrote that in my office. I had a gambling spot called Games and I based it on that. But everything was goin’ well and Kurtis was doin’ shows with G , the club was open till 6 in the morning and of course the drugs were there. The drugs weren’t a problem yet because we were all young and healthy , but as we got older it posed some problems. By this time everybody is makin' records, Starski is my Dj and the best cats with no records are Starski & Hollywood. Hollywood thought that he was above records OR  he was afraid to flop. He thought that it was a fad. If he walked into a room even guys that had records gave him respect.

 

83 was a big year. Games blew up , Starski had “You Gotta Believe” / Live At The Fever” , the club was big , we were getting tv coverage. Run Dmc just came out. We did a concert at Radio City Music Hall and Fearless 4 , Kurtis Blow , Sweet G and Whodini performed. .Everyone got in for free. That’s 6000 kids. They gave me 1500 tickets to give my customers.  Oh,  and they had the contest and the Fat Boys won. That’s how they got their deal. Charles Setller was their manager and me, Kurtis and Russell got him to WBLS with Mr. Magic.

 

  Did Sylvia Robinson get the idea to get into rap records from hanging at the Fever?

  Nah , I think she got that from Harlem World. But she visited the Fever often , and we hit it right off. My father knew her and her husband ‘cus she was a big R&B star herself. We became really good friends and we would go out to eat at a Japanese restaurant a few times a month. I will never forget her and Joe coming to the club after “Freedom” came out and telling me that Flash couldn’t play there anymore. Freedom was huge for them and they really let him continue to play there long after it came out. I remember Furious 5 would get really homesick and they would be in Europe and call in to the Fever. I put a phone in the Dj booth and put it up to the mic so that they could talk to the people.

  Do you remember the Callout , or the battle between Moe Dee and Melle Mel?

 

  From what I can remember Moe got the best of Mel , but it wasn’t a real battle. I think Mr Magic kinda instigated it. But that’s from what I can remember. Same with the Call out. Being that im the owner im in the back office , or just entertaining , so I don’t have the same point of view as a customer or performer. But Treach 3 and Furious weren’t friends at all  , I remember Mel wouldn’t get off the stage during the Moe Dee situation. But the Fever was Mels spot like his house. Moe was at home at Harlem World.

  What was the biggest non rap song in the Fever?

  Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now by Mc Fadden & Whitehead and Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye. Those were huge records.

  I just wanna say that a big thing for me was getting the club not to be so gangsterish. I would have a red carpet , have my bouncers – who just had bulletproof vests on the night before- wear tux & bowties. Guys that had a  prison background like Mandingo.  It was about molding the kids and getting them to do community work and give back.

  Mandingo just passed right?

  Yeah that sucked…. 55 years old. They found out that he had cancer and he passed like 7 months later. He was a lifetime criminal , and after I met him he never went back. On one of the United Negro College fund telethons I let him present a check on channel 11. He had his tux on – he was so proud. At his funeral they had that picture and the one of him on Krush Groove.

  Man im 51 goin' on 80. I did so many years. In ‘86 after the Fever closed I discovered Latin Hip Hop. It happened all over again. Nayobe won a talent show in the Fever when she was 15 years old. She is singing right before LL came on in Krush Groove. Her record set it off for Latin Hip Hop. Then I discovered the Cover Girls .I had a club called the Devils Nest for Spanish music. I heard of this Dj named Little Louie , I brought him in the club and it blew up.

 

  What is your relationship with Russell Simmons like today?

  We’re cool. He calls me every few months , he is supposed to be doing a movie about my life. I went to his house a few years ago to watch a fight . When we see each other we hug. He got me everything back then , People Magazine , he used me to blow his shit up because people would listen to a white guy. He used the Fever to blow Hip Hop up and he was a genius. The club was excellent to bring executives to , they weren’t gonna go to the parks. They knew that the club was run well. He would call me up like ”Sal im bringing Japan tv there tonight”. Every week someone was there London , Germany…..

  But with the Latin Hip Hop music id have 50 or 60 recording artists in the Devils Nest at one time and it’s like how could this happen again. But the biggest thing for me was the Cover Girls. They signed to Capitol later and remade “Wishing On A Star”. I gave C&C Music factory their first big break. Also Tony Moran from the Latin Rascals. Funkmaster Flex worked with me before going on the radio. Then in the early 90s I had Fever 2 and Method Man got discovered there.

  Why did the original Fever close?

  The community board closed me down for not having a cabaret (dancing) license. I think I just got too big. They closed us down the night we finished filming Krush Groove.

 

 Were you ever harassed by Ray Chandler or any of the Black promoters?

  No we were never harassed or robbed or bothered at all. Maybe they thought we were big mafia guys (laughs).

 

 Did Prince ever show up at the filming of Krush Groove with Sheila E                                          

I think he came to one rehearsal.

 

Last Words ?

  It’s a good feeling to walk in the park with my kids and have 20 or so Black guys in their 30s or 40s come up and hug and kiss me on the cheek. My daughter says who is that , and I say that’s just my friend LL Cool J. I was at a birthday party for Moe Dee last year and we hugged , we didn’t say much but what I represent to these guys is the best days of their lives. Like “damn that’s Sal from the Fever”.

 

 

For more info on Sal & the Fever check www.feverrecords.com 

 © 2003 JayQuan Dot Com No part may be reproduced without authors permission.

 

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