Senior Junior

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by Michael A. Knipp
Contributor

If ever there were a school that specialized in vinyl education, Junior Vasquez would graduate summa cum laude.

Once an up-and-coming fashion illustrator and designer, his career change to DJ quickly proved lucrative as one of the most sought-after spinners on the circuit. Celebrated as a house-music innovator and later as co-founder of New York City’s famed former night spot Sound Factory, Vasquez has built his fan base through years of careful cultivation.

Tapped by Madonna to remix several of her records in the 1990s, the Philadelphia-born beat breaker has also written and produced tracks for many of last millennium’s most successful artists, including Cyndi Lauper, John Mellencamp and Lisa Lisa. As a solo artist in his own right, Vasquez was responsible for the club smashes “X” and “Get Your Hands Off My Man.” But, despite his unmistakable self-made success – and seemingly got-it-together attitude – he’s not immune to the potential disasters that lurk inside nearly all nightclubs. Having spent a half-century in the limelight of urban underground, he’s still learning that there’s a delicate balance between what feels good and what’s good for you – the hairline separation between which is a point of no return for many.

In a recent interview, Vasquez discussed how lessons learned in and outside of the dance-hall classroom have changed his life. From his tiffs with the Material Girl, to his abuse of Crystal Meth, he’s got years of experience that swirl like his signature sets in a “Juniorverse” of their own.

MK: You’ve worked with some pretty big names… Elton, Madonna, Britney. Creatively, are they difficult to handle?
JV: Cyndi Lauper was the ultimate control freak, and I didn’t always agree with her about her music. Madonna was all right because she let me do my thing. Prince is brilliant, and so is Elton. I love Mariah and Beyoncé, too.

MK: Who’s the best artist you’ve worked with?
JV: Cher was the most fun to work with because she was very open to new ideas and during the recording of her “Believe” album was completely open to remaking herself. We had a lot of fun in the studio. Three of the songs we recorded were never used, and one of them became an unreleased cult hit, “Love Is In The Air,” the cover of John Paul Young’s song.

MK: Any bitches in the mix?
JV: In the past I would have said Madonna, because she turned on me. She used me to get the gay and black/Hispanic communities to embrace her when it fit her little of idea of what was fierce, but she turned her nose up at the same thing she embraced when I produced “If Madonna Calls.” Basically she showed herself as a two-faced monster. But now I’m over all that — and I don’t feel any negativity towards her. I respect her artistically.

MK: What are your thoughts on Mariah’s comeback? I didn’t think she was ever returning, but she emerged better than ever.
JV: She deserves it. Her voice is magnificent, and I’m glad that [last year’s release] has vindicated her from a few tough years she had. I know Mariah; I worked with her closely on a song once and the girl is great.

MK: In the past few years, you’ve had noted problems with drug abuse. In your opinion, what makes certain drugs so popular. In the ’80s, it was cocaine. The mid-to-late ’90s, Ecstasy. Now the drug of choice is Crystal Meth. What’s going on here?
JV: It’s like a domino effect – the word gets out that Ecstasy is hot, then everyone tries it. I’m sure that’s how Crystal became popular, too.

MK: How did you get hooked on Crystal?
JV: Out of boredom. I never used it for sex like most people. I used it to work, but it’s no excuse.

MK: Had you always been a drug user?
JV: I had never used drugs before I tried Crystal. I worked stone-cold sober, with just a lot of coffee, for over a decade before I tried Crystal.

MK: What made you decide to seek help? Was your drug use affecting your career?
JV: I just decided one day to stop, and I realized how ridiculously stupid it was. It definitely affected my work and influenced the sound of my DJing and my productions. When I listen to my “Marathon” mixes from the Twilo era, I laugh at how tweaky they sound and how long the mixes are.

MK: Now that you’re clean and sober, you’ve been helping health organizations combat this epidemic. How’re you contributing?
JV: I’m working with GMHC to discuss ways to join the effort to combat Crystal use in the gay community. Sadly, Crystal makes most guys sex-aholics, and it’s caused so many people to become HIV positive, besides destroying their lives in so many other ways. I’m lucky that it only affected my work habits and that it didn’t affect my health in a long-term way like it does to so many people.

MK: If you weren’t DJing, what would you be doing?
JV: I would probably have continued my career as a fashion illustrator. I was pretty good at that too in the ’70s and early ’80s.

MK: At this stage in the game for you, is it difficult to compete with the influx of new DJs that seem to always pop up? Any catfights?
JV: I don’t catfight anymore. I feel confident in myself and don’t get worked up over some new cat trying to come for me. I’ve outlived them all and still have years of new ideas for music and energy to work.

MK: How’s your love life? Anything to report?
JV: It’s very healthy – let me just say that. I’m feeling much more confident about myself and my body since I’ve been clean. I hope my new lifestyle, i.e. being Crystal-free, will inspire my fans to do the same. My boyfriend John fulfills me.

MK: What’s your life anthem, Junior? When they drive in the last nail, what song do you want booming from the sound system?
JV: Probably “This Is My Song” by Donna Summer.
 
MK: Nice choice! But let’s hope you don’t have to dust that off anytime soon.

For more information on Vasquez’s career and music, please visit www.juniorvasquezmusic.com. Vasquez will be spinning at Play Dance Bar in Nashville on Thursday, June 29. For more information on his visit to Play, visit www.playdancebar.com.

Michael A. Knipp is a Baltimore-based freelance writer and the founder of Line/Byline Communications. He can be reached at mybyline@aim.com.