In conversation with the First Lady of New Jersey house: Abigail Adams!
Abbie: How about we do this face to face?
Each time I think I’m getting the hang of this interviewing thing, something else kicks me in the balls… I’ve spent the past hour getting myself prepared to chat with Abigail Adams, the woman who introduced the Jersey Sound to the rest of the world, but now she’s having to show me how to make Skype work…
Me: Oh, I thought I’d set it up as a face to face call. Hang on… Ah, there we go! Hello!!
Abbie – as Abigail introduces herself – is just as warm and friendly in person as she had been when I first contacted her on Facebook before Christmas. I had already written about Abbie’s label Movin’ records in November, but there was still lots that I wanted to know.
Abbie: I’m always thrilled when someone shows interest – particularly someone from another generation – on some of the things that were going on at the time. Some of the people that were key players that… I think I expressed to you that sometimes I feel that New Jersey sort of got overlooked a bit
As I’ve said previously, it seems to me that it’s difficult to overstate the importance of Abigail’s role in introducing the world to the music coming from New Jersey – especially here in the UK. As we talk, Abbie clarifies that it was more in the US that she didn’t always feel Jersey got the recognition it deserved independently of NYC. Whether that was the case here in the UK, I don’t know – I’d always been under the impression that most of what we called US Garage in 90s had its roots in Jersey.
If it was local DJs that introduced British clubbers to the sounds of US house, it was often journalists that provided a vocabulary to describe it. The same year as Neil Rushton introduced the UK to Techno: The New Sound of Detroit , this article in December 1988 issue of The Face introduced us to Jersey’s Club sound and Abigail’s Movin records.
The following summer, a party was organised at The Zanzibar by Abbie, DJ Tony Humphries and Club manager Shelton Hayes as part of that summer’s New York New Music Seminar:
Abbie: The early independent labels over there were people like Pete Tong and Joey Negro, Republic and Cooltempo and those labels – they were coming over here to sign records to put out over there. Then they started naming what “it” was – the Jersey Sound name really came when Tony, Shelton Hays (who owned the Zanzibar) and I decided to focus more attention on what we were doing. We came up with the Jersey Jams event for the New Music Seminar that was run by Tom Silverman in New York City – there were always events in New York city, but none in New Jersey, so we thought: let’s have this party and see if we can’t get everyone to come out to Jersey. It was a huge success, we had a lot of fun!
That same year Abbie brought some of Jersey’s best artists to the UK and could hardly believe what she found:
Abbie: I came over with Phase II, Vicki Martin and La Chandra and we did the Brixton Academy; and I can remember standing in the corner when the DJ played Reachin and ahh… it was an incredible moment for me… Nobody knew who I was, I was just standing in the corner and the response on the dancefloor was so incredible – I was just awed and moved by it. Here I was, thousands of miles away from my own community, but the reception was incredible. It was a crazy time – a lot of these artists hadn’t been outside of Newark or New Jersey, let alone coming to England! It was an interesting trip – I can’t remember the promoter who brought us…
Me: Sounds expensive! There must have been a lot of you?
Abbie: Vicki Martin, La Chandra and Phase II – Phase II were three young men, and Vicki came with her husband who was her manager… It was very interesting travelling with them – it was a pretty special time and I feel very fortunate to have been, sort of in the crossroads of a lot of different things that were going on.
How much of this might have happened without Abbie’s influence it’s impossible to know of course, but she’d found herself at the heart of things in Jersey from the early 80s:
Abbie: I started with a roller skating store (Movin), deep within a very urban area (East Orange, NJ) where we would make custom build roller skates – roller skating was very popular. I happened to open up a second store at The Roxy in New York City, but then in 1983/84 roller skating started falling back a little, so the owners of The Roxy started having a Hip Hop night there. That’s when Afrika Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay and Hip Hop was just starting to explode in New York City. I was also managing some breakdancers and where I had the store (in NJ) Naughty By Nature and Queen Latifah and Lauren Hill – they all lived right in the neighbourhood and as teenagers used to come in to my store all the time, so I felt very fortunate to be around the birth of so much incredible music. At The Roxy, Danny Krivit was the DJ that I owe a lot to – he really schooled me. He was a friend of Larry Levan’s, his father had been in the music world and he had such an extensive knowledge of R&B.So I knew the music industry from The Roxy and Danny and roller skating, and then I started hanging out at the Paradise Garage. One of my dear friends (that was the manager at Roxy) was dating Ron St. Germain – he and Larry were mixing Plane Love in the studio one night and she asked me if I wanted to come along. I went to the studio and was fortunate enough to meet Larry, and he became a friend of mine.
Larry offered me a comp card, because it was very difficult for me to get in to The Garage. They discouraged women from coming: you had to be 25 and have a passport to prove it cos they didn’t want anyone with fake ID coming in. At the time I was 22/23/24 and I couldn’t get in, but suddenly I had this gold card which meant I could go whenever I want!
So I would go to The Garage, but I would also go to The Zanzibar, so I had a lot of exposure to songs and people that were up and coming. Technology was such that people could have drum machines and small recording studios in their living rooms or their basement, so more and more people started to become writers and producers.
My skate shop gradually turned into a record store, sort of accidentally because my boyfriend was a DJ and had Technics 1200s in the store and we’d have all these breakdancers in there dancing as well as selling the skates. People would come in and ask what the music was that we were playing, so I would go to New York and buy it from Frankie Ramos at Downtown Records or Vinyl Mania. I’d bring it back with me and resell it for 25 cents more or whatever. It became more and more and more until the point where I just figured: less skates, more records! So Movin organically went from a skate store to a record store.
Me: So how long did that take – when did you feel you were now a record store?
Abbie: I think probably about ’85 – then I was asked to become a Billboard reporting store. I was courted by the record labels to chart their records and we started having a lot of “in-stores” where recording artists would come in. I had Salt-N-Pepa and LL Cool J and Sylvester and James Ingram and The System and Ten City – they would all come to the store to sign autographs, which was huge in that neighbourhood.
Between having our finger on what was happening and also being a Billboard reporting store with the connections to the record labels, it all kind of gelled together for me. There was a lot of attention on the store and people were coming from all over – Marques Wyatt would fly in all the time from Los Angeles to get records – and Tony (Humphries) would get records from us, he would come over on a Saturday afternoon and go behind the counters to listen to records; and Larry Patterson and Tee Scott (the other main Zanzibar residents)…
Tony Humphries involvement with everything Abbie was doing at Movin’ was very significant:
Abbie: Tony is very shy and modest, I think more of the kudos should probably should have gone to him (with regards to breaking new records) – he flew under the radar a bit. In New York he had the advantage because he had the radio show (on Kiss FM in New York), so he could use both platforms – the nightclub (Zanzibar) as well as the radio. What Vinyl Mania was to the Garage, Movin’ was to Zanzibar, so Tony would play something and people would come in with their cassette tapes from what they recorded and they’d want to know what this was, or they’d come in singing things. I was part of the reason Tony moved to New Jersey, because he was initially going back and forth, cos he lived in Brooklyn – he’s not from New Jersey.
Me: Right – I didn’t know that
Abbie: Yeah – Hippie Torales was the first DJ at Zanzibar and Hippie was from New Jersey. Hippie was the first DJ when Al Murphy opened up this club with this incredible sound system, he had live tigers – it was a big event in New Jersey that had never happened in an urban area like that. It was like nothing anybody had ever seen. But Tony was the resident during the peak period of time and I was just very fortunate (to be involved then too).
Tony Humphries would evenutally move to the UK to take up residency at The Ministry Of Sound an become one of the most famous US DJs in Europe, but he wasn’t the only part of the Movin crew to make a global impact. In his teenage years before forming Blaze with Josh Milan and Chris Herbert, Kevin Hedge would spend every second he could in the store:
Abbie: Kevin came into my store one day and said look, I just want to be around the music, you don’t even have to pay me – I just want to be here. Kevin couldn’t mix at all, but he would show up every day – many days he would walk miles from his house in Newark to get to the store. And I remember meeting Josh when he was 16 years old and terribly torn between secular and non-secular music. I spent hours in the car one night talking with him because he felt like he was doing himself an injustice by going away from the church and how the people from the church were telling him he was going against his religion and he shouldn’t do that. Blaze then started with Curtis Urbina at Quark music – there was some overlap between people in Brooklyn, people in New York City and New Jersey. There weren’t really any labels in New Jersey apart from Ace, and then I came along.
Movin’ the label first appeared in 1987, with I’ve Got The Music by New York DJ Timmy Regisford’s partner in crime, Boyd Jarvis, who Abbie had known from her early days at The Roxy:
Abbie: Timmy had a record show on the competitive station WBLS when Tony was on Kiss, and I used to listen to Timmy a lot – he was definitely a favourite DJ of mine, he had the ability to run two records together for the longest time, it was incredible. One night when I was at Roxy, Timmy was playing with Boyd Jarvis doing live overdubs at the club right behind called Kamikaze (where Bruce Willis was a bartender!), so I went to Kamikaze and introduced myself to Timmy and Boyd and we all became friends.
This was before he did stuff with 4th and Broadway (in 1984). Timmy was the forefront as he was on the radio, but Boyd was doing all the sound and production that was fuelling all the tracks that Timmy was playing, that nobody had yet. Boyd had stuff on many different labels, so (eventually) we talked about putting a track out.
Me: Right – and that’s where label started from
Abbie: Yeah – I was just going to put one record out, I never really had the intention of doing a record label but one just sort of rolled into another. I was just exposed to so much in New Jersey – there was Smack Productions that were doing Stomp and Adeva, there was Fly Guy Productions that was doing the Keisha Jenkins records. There was Ace – Ace did stuff way before most people, he had Intense on his label. Kerri Chandler lived right down the street on Central Avenue and he also had the basement you know, the red light, you know – a little studio in his basement. There were so many people around.
Me: On Not Gonna Do It you had mixes by Mike Dunn and Bam Bam (Chris Westbrook) from Chicago, so you were connected to Chicago as well
Abbie: Yes, that was through the record store too – people wanted to come to the store because they knew it was a big place to promote their records. When they would come and do shows at Zanzibar or clubs in New York, we would make sure that they would come to the store to sign autographs. So I started to become friends with Bam Bam and Marshall Jefferson and Harry Dennis – it was great to get that sound on a record I was doing, it was nice to have an alternative. Bam Bam’s mix did very well.
We finish chatting about how things have changed and our shared hopes that all this great music won’t be forgotten. Mainly though, Abbie expresses how blessed she feels she was to have experienced what she did during such an incredibly creative time in Jersey and New York’s music history.
Abbie: It was a time before things got real watered down, it was very pure and real, it was pre-Aids and the club-scene was just in that perfect moment. It was before MP3s and file sharing, where part of the delight of the whole thing was that anticipation – there would be the recording session but then you would have to wait; you’d get the lacquer (dub-plate) and only maybe one person would have the lacquer, then you would have 4 or 5 test pressings that people would have… You still had to wait for each element of the process to come to fruition. People would run to the club to hear that song because there was nowhere else to get it – the anticipation was part of the moment and it just worked. It was special.