RON CARROLL alongside JASON PALMA , NICK HOLDER and PETER & TYRONE at Roxy Blu (12 Brant), Friday (May 7). $10 before midnight, more after. firstname.lastname@example.org Rating: NNNNN
We hear a lot about Chicago's unique place in house music history, but when you talk to Chicago DJs about the state of dance music in their hometown, their perception is often pessimistic. Ron Carroll is one of the few old-school heroes still playing in Chicago today, and he sees the shift in American house over the past 10 years toward the mellow flute-and-bongos sound as the result in part of Chicago's lack of economic influence and the disappearance of its leaders.
"The soft sound in house music was invented by the New Yorkers. Chicago has always had more grit. We like it a bit more raw. A lot of people around the world started following that soft sound because the leaders - Joe Claussell, Louie Vega and people like that - were going around playing it everywhere.
"Unfortunately, one of our leaders, one of the people we loved, Frankie Knuckles - well, he was from New York and moved back there. We had Li'l Louis, but he just stopped. We had Ron Hardy, but he died.
"People here started following New York. We would go to the Miami Music Conference and hear them play these beautiful smooth records, see thousands of people screaming for them, so you automatically thought that that was where we had to go."
Carroll would like more of a middle ground between the hard and soulful, a place where a more inclusive vision of music might be encouraged.
"Mix it up a little bit, keep people's interest. Don't play smooth all night, you'll want to kill yourself. Don't play hard all night, give us a bit of vocals."
Carroll is known to much of the world as a gospel-tinged vocalist with more than a few hits to his name, and as a songwriter for such legendary performers as Barbara Tucker and Byron Stingily. But to Chicago house heads he's better known as one of the city's pioneers.He started his own club in the mid-80s to showcase the underground sound.
"Chicago back in the day was infamous for neighbourhood clubs. This club was actually in an abandoned house that a friend of mine found. We put a generator outside, used the basement and built bass cabinets in the wood shop at school."
That DIY attitude pervaded the early house scene. People were doing it for themselves, unaware that in a few years the UK would discover their sound and make it huge. Even though his first record didn't come out until well into his career, Carroll and his contemporaries had recorded tons of material just for their own parties. It was around that time that he started experimenting with bringing his church background into the music he loved, a sound that has since had a significant influence on New York's soulful house scene.
"We did a lot of private tracks, records that didn't come out. You heard that gospel sound in a lot of them, but they didn't come out commercially until the early 90s. I remember my father saying you couldn't put gospel lyrics into house music, there's no way you can do that. To me, it was just another form of music."