MARSHALL JEFFERSON playing as part of Shifting Gears with Dee Jay Nav and Jason Palma at Una Mas (422 Adelaide West), Saturday (June 2). $10. Rating: NNNNN
When Marshall Jefferson crossed paths with fellow Chicago house don Frankie Knuckles at a club recently, they joked about how their roles had reversed over the years.
While Knuckles has largely given up spinning records for production, Jefferson is far too busy jetting between DJ gigs in Iceland and Australia to do any studio work apart from compiling mixed discs like his forthcoming Welcome To The World Of Marshall Jefferson CD-ROM.
Fifteen years ago, it was Jefferson -- then a postal worker with no musical training -- who altered the course of the evolution of club music by laying a rudimentary keyboard melody over a thumping groove programmed on a Roland drum machine and TB 303 bassline unit. It was the blueprint for what's now commonly known as the house sound.
"A friend who played guitar took me to a music store where the salesman pointed out a Yamaha QX-1 sequencer, saying, "Using that thing, you can play keyboards like a real musician without reading music.' So I bought it on credit.
"Then he said, "But you can't have a sequencer without a keyboard.' So I bought one of those. "Oh, you'll also need a mixer, a drum machine and this bass device and....' When I came home with all this equipment, my friends were just laughing at me 'cause they knew I didn't know how to use any of it."
For the next two days, Jefferson studied all the manuals, put everything together and wrote his first song. Soon after, his music was being played on cassette by influential DJ Ron Hardy at the Music Box, although many Chicago clubbers at the time thought Jefferson's weirdly tweaked jams weren't house at all.
That was fine with Jefferson -- he never really liked club music anyway. He was happy as a hobbyist making sounds to please himself. He had no idea he was about to touch off the acid house craze.
"I was always into rock and roll more than the dance stuff. I wanted to make something that could take me to the place where Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin took me. "So I started messing with the knobs on my TB 303 until it sounded cool. That became I've Lost Control. Within a year, I put out Move Your Body, and people all over the world started hiring keyboardists who could play like Marshall Jefferson. Heh heh.
"A couple of months after I produced a song for Phuture called Acid Tracks, I went on a European tour, and everyone was wearing smiley- face T-shirts and shouting "Ace-e-e-d!' "When some dude offered me $1,200 for my TB 303, which cost me $150, I knew something was definitely going on."