Ace Mungin and the roots of house music in New Jersey: part 1
The fact that Abigail Adams decided to start Movin’ records the label in 1987 – the same year the Paradise Garage closed – might be handy for me in defining this “After The Garage” era, but the foundations of the Jersey Sound were laid a good few years earlier than that. Last week, I had the absolute privilege of having a chat with one of the true pioneers – Ace Beat record’s Ace Mungin. I’m going to write it up in 2 parts to try do it justice, so here’s the first bit!
At the end of the 70s and beginning of the 80s, clubs like Le Joc, Docks and Zanzibar gave New Jersey a club scene that was giving Manhattan a run for its money. At that time, Ace Mungin was an up and coming local DJ, with his own party in Newark called “Rumours” that ran from 1981:
Ace: Rumours was a lot like a mini (Paradise) Garage, a lot my patrons would go to the Garage on Saturday so my big night was Friday (mostly gay women). Friday at the Garage was more about the straight crowd, Saturday was everyone – gay, straight – everyone came out on Saturdays.
Rumours eventually closed in 1984 after the guy that owned the venue sadly passed away, but by then, Ace had already started to make the transition into the recording studio. He soon established his own record label – Ace Beat – and the following year would put out his first release with producers Paul Scott and Shedrick Guy: Everess’ Don’t You Take Your Love
Not content with just releasing a great song, the record included a dub and a deeply intriguing track called “Off the Wall” by Paul Scott. Sorry, enough of me – back to Ace himself…
Ace: Off the wall was my first release along with a girl group called Everess – Off The Wall was like a B-tune, but it was the one that took off. It just so happens that it came out at about the same time as Chicago’s first house records* – Off The Wall was Jersey’s first “House” record. It had all the elements of what Chicago was doing – that was the really the first time that sampling came about, the Roland 909 was brand new, that was the sound you know.
Ben: Wow! So how did you know Paul?
Ace: When I had the club, I had a DJ partner named Stefon Johnson – Paul was a friend of Stefon’s. We started at another club at about the time Rumours was ending called Club 88, which was owned by the guy that owned Zanzibar. 88 was the more adult, sophisticated club – Zanzibar was more of the “lets get wild”, you know! Paul would come in some times and play over the mixing – we had the keyboards playing just with a drum track and Paul would go crazy.
Ben: Sounds amazing! So you just took that into the studio?
Ace: Yeah, well… one of the reasons I started the label was that we were very passionate about the music, but that was a time when labels like Salsoul and Prelude were ending. We were like, wow… you know – I wanted to create something that could run that sound – danceable R&B, the sound of Salsoul and Prelude – so I created the label to fill the gap where that sound had been taken away.
Ben: Had you had experience of the record business then? Obviously you had the experience with the club…
Ace: One of my dear friends was Dave “Pic” Conley – he was one of the members of the group Surface. Pic was a writer: he wrote for Rebbie Jackson (Michael’s sister), he wrote Nothing Going On But The Rent for Gwen Guthrie – so he was a writer, but he was legally blind. He couldn’t drive and he sometimes needed help in the studio, so I would work with him in the studio and help him out, so I learned a lot from that. I would sometimes be in the studio with the Isley Brothers, Kool and The Gang – people of that calibre; so that was my teaching. Then as a DJ, the best way to get your name on a record was to do the record yourself, you know!”
Ben: Yeah! Of course, you were releasing your own tracks in 85 too – you produced tracks on the Beat This EP (a DJ tool of extended drum breaks)
Ace: Yeah, I did that at Pic’s house – he had a little studio in his house… At that time we were working at these little studios – that’s how I got acquainted with Kevin Hedge. We were working at this 4 track studio – he wound up engineering there – and that was our place to hang. The guy that owned the studio was good friends with Kool and The Gang, we would hang out and we had free reign; we didn’t have to pay for any studio time, so that was our place to learn. Different people would come in and pay a little money to make a demo and we would learn how to utilise the 4 track to get the most out of it.”
Ben: Right – and so you and Kevin worked together on that first Blaze record. Were Chris Herbert and Josh MIlan involved right from the start too?
Ace: Yeah, Chris Herbert grew up on the same block [as Kevin] and Josh came in to play the keyboards and stuff. That first Blaze record (Yearnin’) was really raw – we weren’t fluent with the keyboards so thats how it came out like it did.
The 2nd record we did that came out on Quark (Whatcha Gonna Do); that was really polished. Josh brought the professional sound [with the keyboards] and with Chris, he’s a great writer – hey and I don’t know if you’d know this, but there was another person that used to hang with us, a little kid – Chris’ little brother: Vincent Herbert. Did you know that? Vincent Herbert is the manager and producer for Lady Gaga, and he’s married to Toni Braxton’s sister. That’s how he learned his craft, hanging around with us – he was at the right age for the big guys, to trust him with producing some stuff. That was when that specific hip hop sound was really coming into play – me and Kevin were still young but not young enough to put money in and get behind, but that’s how Vincent was able to do production on Toni Braxton’s first album. So that’s the history…
Ben: Wow – it’s all so connected… That’s the thing I’ve found so interesting – I love the house music from this era – that’s enough fun – but, the more I’ve dug into things, the more connected everything seems to be. I find that so exciting – it was just such a creative period in New York and the surrounding areas, its incredible when you connect everything together.
And on that note, I’m going to wrap this up for part 1 – til next time!