“When there’s 15-20 performance artists together in one space, you know shit’s going to get buck wild.”
Larry Rodriguez, aka DJ Larry of the Press Club’s Sunday Dance Party, aka church, and this month’s What I’m Listening To playlist curator, was that dude with a boombox in high school. He grew up in Del Paso Heights, Sacramento in the eighties and remembers, “blasting jams in the back of the bus and providing the soundtrack to spontaneous popping and break battles.”
Rodriguez’s first inspiration was his parent’s record collection. He remembers being in bed as a three or four year old, while his parents listened to music with their friends. The music would spill into his dark room and artists like Santana, Chico Hamilton, War, Hugh Masekela, Osibisa, Azteca, Cal Tjader, Janis & Big Brother, and The Beatles would transport him. By five, he was obsessed with his mother’s Beatles records: Rubber Soul, Help, Revolver. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and The Magical Mystery Tour. That Christmas, his parents bought him a Mickey Mouse record player and his grandfather scored a box of singles from a junk shop. “There were so many good songs in that batch like, ’96 Tears,’ ‘Lady Madonna,’ ‘Teddy Bear,’ ‘Pancho Claus,’ ‘Gimme A Little Sign,’ ‘Tighten Up,’ etc.”
In high school, he hung out with a hip-hop crew called the Technicrew and DJed house parties using “shitty stereos that we collectively put together.” At 16, he found himself calling in on Majala Johanson’s radio show of “conscientious spiritual jazz” on KYDS. “I would call her during the show to ask her about certain pieces of music she played and to make requests. She thought it was cool that I was a teenager who knew a lot about soul-jazz music so she offered me a weekly show.”
Broadcasting from an old church at the corner of 23rd and K St., Rodriguez’s show (called ‘Soul Sauce’ after a Cal Tjader song) aired on Wednesday nights from 10-11pm. He played jazz, latin groove, African music, along with some funk and soul. Later he was bumped up to the Friday night 8-10pm slot. However, he wouldn’t start DJing in clubs for another eleven years.
On New Year’s Eve 1996, Rodriguez’s brother Mike called him from a punk basement party in Downtown Sacramento. “He told me to bring my funk records because they were having a goof playing pop 45s from the eighties.” Armed with a stack of records, including “crucial LPs like James Brown’s ‘Jungle Groove,'” Rodriguez arrived. The moment he played ‘Jungle Groove,’ he “set the place off.”
Marla Kanelos, who booked Old Ironsides, a venue owned by her family, saw it all. She later approached him and asked if he wanted to do a weekly Dance Party starting the next Sunday. “I said hell yeah, and that’s how The Dance Party started.”
The Dance Party has been going ever since and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. When asked about any standout moments, Rodriguez makes a coy comment about “a few discreet encounters behind the DJ booth” before remembering a time back in the early 2000s when he was playing a song called ‘Mundian to Bach Ke’ by Panjabi MC which he had found digging through Indian shops in Southern Sacramento.
“I noticed every time I played it, the crowd would go nuts and then a bunch of cats would come up and ask what it was. At that time my brother Mike was the doorman at the Press Club and he told me that hip hop producers such as Rick Rock who worked with Jay-Z, had been coming through regularly.” Several months later, he and Mike were driving, listening to 103.5 KBMB when the radio announced, “‘Brand new from Jay-Z, here’s ‘Beware the of Boys’!” Rodriguez called the track “pretty much the same Panjabi MC track with Jay-Z saying a few things over it. We did not think it was a coincidence.”
At the Dance Party (also called Church) Rodriguez mostly plays funk and soul but says he has been “mixing it up from the very beginning.” Because strictly ‘old school’ nights “kinda bore” him, Rodriguez likes to throw in “jazz, blues, classic rock n’ roll of all eras, music from Africa, Brazil, Syria, Morrocco, Columbia, early hip-hop, techno-cumbia, post-punk and new wave with a heavy groove.” However, he says, “a lot of the music that I play is rooted in the musical tradition of the black church.”
Rodriguez has also been in other musical acts besides DJing. His youngest brother Ashwut “sorta tricked” him into playing percussion with his ten-piece band Los Gallos. “All of those kids were 21 or younger but were so talented, playing latin jazz and funk but with a wild energy. I have to say that being on stage with my brother launching into one of his guitar solos was nothing less than electrifying.”
In 2003, he started playing with Dan Quillan and Sally Strobelight as WoW LSd, all three of them recovering from “traumatic relationships” at the time. “It was a good form of therapy.” They played a few art galleries and Noise Fest using mostly homemade instruments and unusual sounds constructed by Quillan. Then Strobelight brought Erin Domingo into the group and they became Eat the People. “Together we had this dark, brooding, hypnotic thing coming out of us, really quite magical, our chemistry was good. Sally was the star of the show in Eat the People. She had the gift of coming up with lyrics almost spontaneously, all intimate subjects, even the most absurd was basically truth.”
Later Strobelight and Domingo moved to Portland so Quillan and Rodriguez started playing as Art Lessing & the Flower Vato. “Art Lessing (Dan) is my favorite person to collaborate with, really bright and full of unusual ideas, we’ve created some great music together.” They still play occasionally with their friend Mark Griffith and sometimes Domingo. They had a side project with Chad Stockdale, Chopstick (Andrew Wayne) and “the legendary terror,” Hailey Chase (aka MOM) called Night Nurse. “It was some scary shit, but so much fun to play in.”
So what is multi-talented musician and DJ Larry Rodriguez listening to? Let’s find out.
Eugene McDaniels – ‘Headless Heroes’- “From the man who wrote Roberta Flack’s ‘Feel Like Making Love’ and Les McCann’s ‘Compared To What.’ This song is more relevant now than it was 45 years ago. [It] points out that every day we are all being stirred into conflict with each other while the wealthiest laugh all the way to the bank. They’re slitting our throats in so many ways, or at least they try [to.]”
Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger-“Legal Illegal”-“Another song that hits the nail on the head over and over. Cheery sounding British folk with a radical bite, the delivery cracks me up. This is the real subversive shit, don’t let the punks tell you otherwise.”
Porest-‘Diplomat Smile’- “From the new Modern Journal of Popular Savagery LP. [A] poppy tune with a rapid fire critique of first world follies that you can dance to. Very catchy, Mark Gergis is a genius. I learn something new with every listen.”
Talking Heads – ‘New Feeling’- “This song seems to come from the perspective of someone who is obviously tripping balls. I had a similar ‘experience’ of yearning to meet everyone I’ve had relations with in this lifetime and past lives (if there is such a thing, seemed real at the time)to greet them, show them gratitude and wish them good luck on their future journeys. Perhaps we’ll meet again someday. [laughs] Anyway, that’s what I get from this song, and it has a killer groove.”
War-‘Nappy Head’- “[Though] mostly an instrumental, this song has taken me places since I was a child. I can picture southside Stockton in the seventies with broken glass and empty cans everywhere, but then there was the miracle of the vacant lot across the way from my grandparents’ house with overgrown grass and weeds, dirt piles to play in and sometimes muddy pools with tadpoles to catch and put in a soda bottle. I see all the staggering winos that filled downtown who I somehow figured were God’s holy people. There was something special about the wino. He was unlike any other human that I knew. My dad and uncle Jose cruising in the Monte Carlo, smoking a joint while holding tall boys in their laps, on their way to the park to play handball. And my parents having a backyard party with friends and family dancing barefoot in the grass, bonfire going in a rusty barrel as it gets dark.”
For their 20th Anniversary, this Sunday (1/8), the Dance Party will have live music for the first half of the evening starting at 7pm. The bands are all longtime friends and Dance Party Churchgoers, they include Swank, City of Trees Brass Band, Sacto Storytellers, The Scratch Outs and The CUF. Rodriguez calls it a “killer combo of funk, reggae and hip-hop party music.” The Dance Party is every Sunday at the Press Club. It is free.
Words: K. Hules.