THE UNTOLD TALE OF AN UNDERGROUND CULT CLASSIC
Tony Williams – TW Funkmasters
The story of the groundbreaking South London producer, Tony Williams, has never been told. He’s the TW behind TW Funkmasters, whose “(Money) No Love” / “Love Money”, has been an enduring underground essential, on both sides of the Atlantic, for close on a quarter of a century, whilst sounding just as unique today as it ever did.
From a US perspective, many people are totally unaware that this is a track that originated in the UK. The mistake is an easy one to make, the assumption being that the recording had something to do with a completely different person, who shared the same name – the celebrated American jazz drummer, Tony Williams, who died in 1997.
Having started out as a DJ three decades ago at the Birds Nest in Waterloo, the Tony Williams we’re concerned with spun soul and funk during the 70s in various London clubs, including Samanthas, Le Beat Route and Gossips. However, he was best known as the Reggae Presenter with BBC Radio London (from 1978 until the station closed a decade on).
I managed to track him down via an old post I found on the internet, which mentioned a new Funk Masters album. The album has yet to materialise but Tony’s still busy working away in the studio, whilst running his own online radio station www.rhythm365.com.
For The Love Of Love Money
Greg Wilson: Are you a musician yourself Tony?
Tony Williams: I’m not a musician but I’ve played instruments on some of my music, but I don’t class myself as a musician. I can’t play an instrument…I can play things in ‘til I get the right people in to work on them, you know what I mean?
GW: So had you done stuff before “(Money) No Love“?
TW: No, in fact that was my very first project.
GW: How did it all come about?
TW: I was working in a club called Fouberts on Carnaby Street and a good friend of mine, Bo Kool, used to come down. “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang was out about that time and we used to kind of rap to the music and just have fun. One day I just said to him let’s go in the studio and make a record. So I met an old business colleague and spoke of the idea and, basically, we financed the project. Having never been into a recording studio before, I found some musicians that I felt I’d be comfortable with. At the time I was working for BBC Radio London, presenting a Sunday afternoon show called “Reggae Time”.
Because I was working for the BBC and playing Reggae, I couldn’t really make Reggae music because the only outlet would be on my own show and I felt that would be unfair. So, I turned my hands to Soul music, cos I was playing this in the clubs a long time before I came on radio.
So we went into the studio with a bunch of musicians. 90% of them were all capable musicians but they mainly played Reggae. I remember getting this Yamaha synthesizer that no one could actually program or even play, so that was a waste. All we could get out of it was one or two notes (laughs). Anyway, we had this idea, Bo and myself. Dennis Brown’s “Money In My Pocket” was pretty popular at that time, being picked up nationally and everything; so, because of Sugarhill Gang, we said let’s write a rap around “Money In My Pocket”, so Bo wrote some lyrics.
Anyway, we were sitting there and no one had a clue what I had in mind and neither did I, but I kind of had an idea of what I wanted to hear. The drummer came in and played his bit and everybody came in… I remember distinctly the bass player, Errol, and I said
Errol, I need you to put two bass lines on this track for me. He looked at me and said, (in a strong Jamaican accent)
Mr Williams, you can’t put two bass lines on a record. I said,
why not? and he said,
it’s not done, man!. I said,
OK, I want you to put this (makes bass boom sound), alright? I want you to put that. You know?
We recorded everything at Hillside Studio in London, with the engineer, Mark Angelo Lusardi, mixing.
So, obviously not knowing too much, and taking into account that technology wasn’t really as it is now, with drum machines to keep time, everything was kind of not quite right. But we captured the sound I wanted.
Mark Angelo Lusardi, brother of the famous glamour model Linda Lusardi, was a pioneer of UK dub who’d honed his shills in London’s Gooseberry Studio recording with the likes of Dennis Bovell, Creation Rebel and Prince Far I in the late 70s. He would later set up his own Mark Angelo Studios which, amoungst its other clients, included the leading Reggae label Greensleeves, with Lusardi working, most notably, on Clint Eastwood & General Saint’s ‘two Bad DJ’ (1983). His long-time association with maverick British bassist, Jah Wobble, goes right back to his time with Public Image Ltd. Lusardi also worked with P.I.L and The Sex Pistols – a good example of the links between punk and Reggae at that time.
In the mid-90s he developed an outboard EQ / filtering device called “The Mutator”, used by numerous recording artists including Massive Attack, Radiohead, William Orbit, Beck, Leftfield, and Daft Punk.
When I spoke to him, he told me that he hadn’t heard “Love Money”; since it was released and had no idea of it’s cult credentials. When he mentioned that he didn’t even have a copy of his own I immediately burnt a CD and sent it to him. After listening to it he e-mailed me with the following observation:
Sounds pretty good even if I say so myself. Funny listening to it. Brought back a lot of memories. Did you know that in parts (Large parts) 50% of the drum sound is actually an echo of the original drums? I set up a triplet feedback echo on a channel on the desk to get some dubby bits going. Then I fed the drums in and liked it that way, and so I just left it sitting there. In order to get the timing of the delay just right, I always tested it with the drums first as this was the most accurate method.
There was an extensive mixing down process. We took so many different versions, so many different tracks of the instrumental. We mixed some Jazz tracks, we mixed some Dub tracks, we mixed some tracks that you guys have never even heard. Then we went across to Ireland to edit it.
GW: Wow, (laughs) I would never have seen Ireland coming into the equation.
TW: We went to a place near Blackrock to edit the 12” and 7” versions. The Champagne mix, which was released later via DJM Records, resulted from the rejected edit bits that we compiled together.
GW: The 12” that I originally had in 1980 was on Tania? Was this your label?
TW: Yeah, that was my label. The original label.
GW: Where did the name Tania come from?
TW: It’s my daughter’s name. I also opened a record shop called Tania Records.
GW: Now the Tania version had on one side, “(Money) No Love” and on the other side the original version of “Love Money”, but the 1981 Champagne mix of “Love Money” is what we’d now regard as the classic version of the track.
TW: That’s right, I’d released the Tania 12” and Champagne wanted a version that hadn’t been released.
GW: Was that Dave McAleer?
TW: Yes it was.
Dave McAleer was a 60s R&B enthusiast / DJ who was responsible for one of the UK’s earliest soul fanzines, Fame Goldwax Survey, before eventually working in an A&R capacity for record companies including PYE where he’s probably best remembered for setting up the Northern Soul Label, Pye Disco Demand. Champagne was a short-lived dance label, via DJM, which McAleer headed in the early 80s.
So I went into the studio and edited a version for them.
‘Love Money’ Champagne Mix
GW: The Champagne release was as part of a 5 track 12” EP called ‘Re-Mixture – The Best Of UK Jazz-Funk’ (which also included tracks by Powerline, The Inversions, The Rah Band and Not James Player). There was no other version apart from this, was there?
TW: No, but some years later when I released “Fort Knox” (on the Tai-Wan label), I got a letter back from a distributor in Chicago saying ‘if you put the original Champagne mix of “Love Money” on the back of these “Fort Knox” we can sell a hell of a lot of it’.
The way Tony Remembers it, New York went for “(Money) No Love” while Chicago was into “Love Money”, although, in reality, both versions were popular with New York DJs – “(Money) No Love”, when it first arrived on import on the Tania label, along with the original ”Love Money”, and later, the Champagne version of “Love Money”.
When we originally released the record, DJM weren’t interested. So anyway, I remember one of the guys sent a copy across to America and they text back and said it was not suitable for the American market. Then, about 6 weeks later I got a letter from them telling me that TK Records, who had KC and the Sunshine Band, wanted to buy the record outright as their product. TK were having a bad time, they just couldn’t get anything that was quite funky enough, you know? So that record would have taken them out.
After I did a thing with DJM, they wanted me to sign contracts with them to pass it over to TK records. Then a couple of weeks later in Billboard it said, it’s the biggest record. It’s the hardest record to get. It’s the most sought after record.
GW: Why wasn’t it licensed to TK?
TW: Because they were offering chicken feed, you know.
GW: So was it never released on an American Label?
TW: Only on Champagne. You see it on an American label, you let me know!
GW: I only know of bootleg pressings in the States. I know that there was another bootleg of ”Love Money” done not that long ago.
TW: So, the phenomena of the record, I mean, from ’79 to this day, it still creates interest after, what is it, twenty-odd years?
GW: Twenty-five years, pretty much. I mean, it was actually released in ’80 so you would have started working on the idea in ’79.
TW: The rap, as far as my memory takes me back, was probably the first UK rap.
GW: You mentioned this and I can’t think of anything that actually pre-dates it. I mean, Bo Kool, was he coming from a toasting side originally?
TW: Well, Bo Kool was just a lyrics man.
GW: But had he done any stuff before?
TW: Nah, that was our first project. It was all our first project. We went on to do two other songs, which weren’t really my cup of tea, before we did “It’s Over” which, you know, kind of went into a different direction.
GW: Yeah, I mean the style, with the female vocal, was so different to “Love Money”.
Reaching the UK Top 10 in 1983, “It’s Over” pre-dated the on-coming British Soul bands like Loose Ends and the Coolnotes by over 12 months
You were telling me that when you first played “Love Money” in a club, people didn’t know how to dance to it and were just moving in their seats?
TW: OK… we did “Love Money”… we pressed it… we did everything independently and I was working in Fouberts and remember when we put this record on after “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” and the Sugarhill Gang and all that stuff. I was gonna blend it with that kind of music… and it emptied my dance floor! It emptied my dance floor, believe it! I didn’t know what to do so, basically, I just let it play and play and play. It was one of those nights where I was in control of my dancefloor and you know when you have the audience eating out of the palm of your hand. That’s why I thought “we’re gonna play this record, we’re gonna play this record” and that’s when I realised everybody was rocking in their chair, with that beat. Everybody just started moving but they couldn’t get up on their feet and do it. You look at the dancing situation 20-25 years ago, the kind of dancing that people are doing now where you can do all kinds of movements to the beats… we were still dancing around handbags and doing the Funky Chicken!
GW: What kind of audience was in the club?
TW: It was a mixed audience cos it was a West End club. It wasn’t a black audience.
GW: So at that moment you must have thought “God, what have we done?”
TW: The thing is everybody was rockin’. And towards the end people were coming over and saying “What’s the name of that, mate?” So what happened was we started knowing how to play the track. So we used to tease them with it, we used to use it as a filler and stretch it into something else and eventually they still just sat round the bar rocking and shaking and doing all kinds of gyrating movements, but they couldn’t actually get up on the floor and dance like the way they’d dance to it today.
GW: At the same time it was also being played on the Jazz-Funk scene. I worked at a club in the North called Wigan Pier, which had one of the best Jazz-Funk nights in the country back then. Had you been able to see this, you would have witnessed a serious floor reaction. It was one of the biggest tracks of the period for me. Absolutely massive!
It was also taking off across the Atlantic in New York, where import copies had begun to arrive from the UK.
TW: I didn’t realise how big it was until about 1985, when I was in New York and I went to Studio 54. I was there at the weekend and I asked one of the DJs if they’d heard of a record by the Funkmasters, “(Money) No Love” or “Love Money”? He said, “hey man, if you come back here on a Tuesday, you will see what that record does. When we want our dance floor full, this is our record”.
GW: So basically, you didn’t have a clue that “Love Money” was a New York underground classic until you went there yourself?
TW: Well, even when I went there, the record was probably about 5 or 6 years old by then.
Prior to the interview, Tony had told me that Larry Levan had licensed “Love Money” a few years previuosly for a compilation album. I explained that Larry Levan had died in 1992, but when he mentioned it had something to do with “These guys who put out Loft compilations”, it all became clear and I realised he meant David Mancuso, whose first volume of “Loft Classics” included “Love Money”. Given the track’s cult status with these two great DJs I felt the need to explain to Tony how they fitted into the scheme of things.
GW: Larry Levan was the DJ at the Paradise Garage, which was one of the most famous discotheques of all. Levan went on to do a track called “Don’t Make Me Wait” by the Peech Boys, which kicked off the whole Dub mix approach in dance music. Because “Love Money” is listed as a Paradise Garage classic, it’s highly likely that it would have been a major inspiration for the Peech Boys track. Levan would actually go on to make a record in tribute of “Love Money”, called “Love Honey, Love Heartache” (1986).
David Mancuso is a pivotal DJ whose massively influential underground parties date right back to start of the ’70s. He still does stuff now, including the occasional London Loft party, which I’m sure you’d enjoy. It’s really good to be able to shine some light on all this for you now I’ve realised that you haven’t fully understood the implication of the track that you made and how it’s affected a lot of people and a lot of things. The fact that it’s on David Mancuso’s first Loft compilation is no small thing. This is a guy who’s been playing great dance music for a span of 30 odd years, and he’s picked “Love Money” as one of his examples of 18 defining tracks!
I mean these two DJs that I’ve just mentioned are as legendary as you can get! Both of whom have included your record in their all-time selections.
TW: Wow, you mean to tell me that this record is bigger than I even thought it was?
GW: Oh, much bigger! It’s a cult underground classic. There’s a book called “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life” which is like a history of the DJ, and at the back of the book there are lists from these famous venues and I’m sure that both Paradise Garage and The Loft have either “Love Money” or “(Money) No Love” in their top 100’s. François Kevorkian, one of the great remixing DJs is another one that played it around that time. So this track was being spun in New York by the elite of the elite, and if they were playing it, it means that many other DJs in New York and beyond would have followed their lead.
TW: You could write a book on the Funkmasters!
GW: (Laughs) Well we’re going to do a piece for a New York magazine, which is more like a journal. It’s a beautiful magazine called Wax Poetics, which concentrates on the history of black music. I certainly think this will be something that a lot of people on this underground level would be interested to know the story behind.
It’s so sad in a way that you weren’t aware of the response to the track back then, not only from a New York or Chicago perspective, but in certain UK clubs. If you’d have seen what was happening, just how big it was, packing the dancefloor, rather than the reaction in your own club, where people sat in their seats not quite sure what to do to it, it would have been a huge buzz for you!
TW: I know that Froggy (London Soul Mafia DJ) got his name ‘The Funkmaster’ from the record, cos his sound system was the only one that could handle the bass!
GW: Did you ever see Froggy playing it?
TW: No, I never actually heard Froggy playing it, I’d never been to one of his gigs. But I understood that he had one of the biggest sound systems and because of the bass line on that record, most systems in those days didn’t carry it. They were not big enough to take those kind of bass lines, but Froggy was the only one that could play it cos his bass bins could hold that bass.
GW: We were the same at Wigan Pier, cos the Pier had one of the best sound systems in the country at the time, so your track sounded just incredible!
TW: You’ve made me want to come back and start producing!
GW: Good, you should do. What you did there was like… split the atom. You know it was like a totally new sound. I think that because of your own influences, you had the Reggae side, doing the radio, but at the same time you were playing Funk and Soul stuff within a club setting. As you said, “I couldn’t do a Reggae track because it would seem wrong to play my own record on the radio”, so you had to go in a different direction, your circumstances made that decision for you. But the sound that you got!
The great thing is that now there’s a movement back to the early 80s period. For years you’ve had people making dance music purely via their computers, with everything programmed, whereas now people are looking to introduce live elements back into things again. So the idea of working with musicians, as well as utilizing the technology of today, is something I’m sure will continue to gain momentum.
What you were doing with those musicians back then was wonderful. I mean, I’m not saying that you could ever chase that sound again, cos it was such a distinctive thing, but I would certainly think that from a production level you’ve got more to offer. It would be fantastic to hear you do some new stuff. There’s an increasing number of artists who are basing their sound on what was happening in New York in the early ’80s, and “Love Money” pre-dates the whole New York Dub thing. You were ahead of the game and, regardless of whether of not people cite your record as a direct influence, you did something that was going to happen, before it happened.
TW: You’re the first man who’s ever said that.
GW: “Love Money”, in a way, would make more sense if it was a 1982 track, because there were things happening at that point in time that would suggest the kind of approach that you took. But the fact that you did it in ’80, totally in isolation, is really something. You have those moments, with certain things, when someone almost forecasts something via what they’re doing, and I think that’s what happened here. You did it purely, naturally. You had a few ground rules. You wanted to do something from a rap side with the vocal. You used Reggae musicians and an engineer with Dub sensibilities, but you didn’t want to make a Reggae track. A little further down the line, the Dub mix came into play within a dance music context. It was originally a Jamaican concept, but now it was being used to great effect in New York, instigated by a DJ who was majorly into your track.
TW: I’ll let you into a little secret, right. I’ve been deejaying now for the best part of my life, yeah. I’ve always been involved in music in some way or another. I never ever thought I was going to be a producer. I never ever thought I was going to make a record. And what you’re telling me is that the first record that I ever made in my entire life is a phenomenal, legendary record.
GW: Yeah, a total legendary underground classic!
TW: I mean, that is really uplifting to hear that in the year 2004.
GW: I’ll have to come and see you in London just to say hello and shake your hand because it’s still such a wonderful, wonderful record and it still holds, it’s just as fresh today.
TW: Very nice to be speaking to you on this day. You’ve made it all worthwhile.
GW: Nice one Tony, thanks for your time and all my best wishes for the coming year.
Check Tony’s online radio station www.rhythm365.com
© Greg Wilson, 2004