Marshall Jefferson’s early influences are going to surprise you. The pioneering house music legend spent his teenage years listening to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Rush!
“Yeah, man. I was a heavy metal kid,” laughs Jefferson. “That’s what I grew up with. I loved the energy and the power of the music. I loved the way you could immerse yourself in the sound.
“And I might have stayed with metal if my hormones hadn’t kicked in. Ha ha! I got to, like… 16 or 17, and I suddenly began to notice that all the shows I went to were full of guys. Longhaired guys, guys with beards, sweaty guys… In my mind, I’m thinking, ‘I’d quite like to meet some girls, too, but that ain’t gonna happen at a Deep Purple show’. So, I started going to clubs, and that was the first time I became aware of anything that you could call dance music or electronic music.
“I guess I outta say a big ‘thank you’ to Mother Nature!” he laughs.
Bizarrely, Jefferson thinks that it was all those years he spent listening to songs like Paranoid, Whole Lotta Love and Smoke on the Water that actually helped him to create a unique sound when it came to releasing his own records.
“Obviously, I was living in Chicago at the time, so I was aware of what was happening in the clubs and how dance music was evolving. What you gotta remember, though, is that back then, there were not a lot of records for us to listen to. Dance music, house music – whatever you want to call it – was a limited commodity.
“So, when I started writing my own songs, there was a whole bunch of other stuff still going around my head. Rock ‘n’ roll, the Beatles… even Elton John. When I first started using piano on my songs, I was trying to copy Elton. But with a track like I’ve Lost Control [put together by Jefferson and Sleezy D, aka Derrick Harris, I’ve Lost Control was released in 1986 and is generally accepted as one of the songs that introduced the world to Acid House], you can definitely hear my rock background making its presence felt. It’s hard… it’s nasty. There was nothing else around that had that kind of vibe.”
Jefferson has produced under many different names and aliases over the best part of 40 years – Virgo, House to House, Hercules, Mood Life – but perhaps the most commercially successful is Ten City. Originally a Chicago three-piece fronted by vocalist Byron Stingily, they were joined by Jefferson in 1987 and went on to have a decent run of US and UK hits, including Devotion, Only Time Will Tell, That’s the Way Love Is and Right Back to You.
And Ten City is the reason we’re talking to Jefferson, via Zoom of course, in his New Jersey studio. For the first time in 25 years, Jefferson and Stingily (the other two original members, Byron Burke and Herb Lawson, are not involved) have been working on a brand new single, Be Free. A quarter of a century is a long time to wait, but it’s been worth it. Be Free is classic Ten City: the totally-funked-up bass, the skip-along beat and Jefferson’s warm production, all guided by Stingily’s soulful falsetto.
It’s bang on message and on time too. Stingily calls it, “A song about respecting and appreciating our differences”.
“That’s the whole thing about house music,” Jefferson agrees. “Even right back at the start, it was music that was designed to bring people together.”
cm: Was there any particular reason why you decided that 2021 – with the world in the grip of a deadly pandemic – was the right time to get Ten City back together?
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