Chad Jackson Exclusive Interview

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Chad Jackson is a UK scratch mix DJ, winner of the DMC World Championships in 1987, Hacienda resident DJ, producer of the world wide smash hit single ‘Hear the Drummer (Get Wicked)’ which sampled Public Enemy (vocals) and Mark The 45 King (horn loop) heres what he had to say about him becoming one of Manchester’s most influential pioneers.

Mike Mannix: Chad Jackson spoke with us at length recently about his early influences that would eventually mould him into one of Manchester’s most influential pioneers. Nice one Chad, how’d it all kick off then..?

Chad Jackson: Cheers Mike, well basically. When I was young I played the piano and I used to write songs, I was in a local band and we used to rehearse in a barn. I used to live on a farm in the middle of nowhere which meant we could make a lot of noise.

That was really early days, I had already been buying records for years before that anyway you know. I think I bought my first record when I was six or something. For some reason, I had been bitten by that music bug from day one. I basically started collecting loads of records, living to the music. I remember doing crazy things when I was younger, walking around school with a huge ghetto blaster on my shoulder. These were the days before we had portable music, but I just couldn’t live without it you know? If I couldn’t take my ghetto blaster to school with me I was seriously distraught!

I started down the whole DJ route by becoming a mobile DJ, I used to do weddings and 18ths, this, n that and the other. I must admit that was a brilliant education, a brilliant kind of apprenticeship. The gigs I do nowadays are easy compared to them. I lived in St. Helen’s at the time and I got some gigs there, one as the resident DJ even though I was underaged…. I was lucky in that I looked older so I kind of got away with that. Even before getting those first gigs, I was a big clubber. I just loved dancing, I was a real big dancer. I used to go everywhere, just never stopped – that is what it was all about for me.

It wasn’t about chatting up girls or getting pissed. It was just the music full on, through and through!

MM: That kind of brings you up to the mid-80’s – did you start getting interested in scratching then?

CJ: Yeah, I kind of moved on from those local clubs and at the time Greg Wilson was playing at a place called Wigan Pier, which was one of the best nightclubs in the Northwest at the time. It was a real American style discotheque, had one of the first lasers and all this, it was just amazing! I remember getting a job as resident DJ in Wigan Pier at the weekends. Greg used to do a Tuesday night Jazz/Funk kind of night and that’s when my connection with Greg started really, then I moved on to a few other residencies like the Hacienda. In those days DJs talked on the mic in-between every record which I thought was kind of pointless you know? People don’t want to hear your voice, they just want to hear some good music – if you have something to say then say it. I wasn’t scared of the mic or anything, but who wants to hear my voice when I can be playing a tune?

So I started to mix records together and then I started to BPM them all and mix them together, which was really difficult because I only had belt drive turntables so

there was a lot of fingering going on with the vinyl to keep things in line.

I compiled this BPM book, which I started around 1981 and I used to BPM every record I bought and put it in this book.. it ended up about 4″ thick! I used it to enable me to find records that were the same BPM that I could mix on belt drive turntables. I also used to do mixes for myself, little re-edits of cassettes.

Once I met Greg we became great friends and I used to go around to his house and practice on his decks because he had a really nice mixer! It was an old mixer that a London guy called Froggy had designed – he was another one of the early mixing DJs and he designed this club mixer that had a crossfader on it. I had never seen a crossfader in my life, I was transfixed with this thing. I started the scratching thing in those days and it might have even been Greg who told me people were doing this.. scratching stuff.

One of the things that really set me off on the whole scratching thing and the whole turntablist thing was the good aul Grandmaster Flash.

I will never forget buying one Saturday “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash and the Wheels of Steel” – it was just mind blowing man! So I just tried to copy these sounds I was hearing and Greg really helped, let me go round and practice on his mixer and that was brilliant.

Then the whole electro thing was taking off, which eventually morphed into hip-hop which was starting to grow and I really got into that scene from early on and it just developed from there. Greg used to mix but he wasn’t big on scratching, he did bits and pieces but I kind of went full hell for leather into it. Then I heard about the mixing championships that DMC were putting on and I thought “that sounds like great craic” I decided I was going to enter and give it a go. I did loads and loads of practice – on belt drive turntables again! I didn’t have any Technics at that time.

I went down and entered the Manchester heat and then went through to the final in that first year in 1986′ and ended up coming 2nd to DJ Cheese, who pulled out a great scratch performance. Scratching was really really new at that time and the fact he was doing loads of it was just one of those mind-blowing moments for a lot of people. After coming 2nd I ended up going on a world tour because of it. I was quite lucky being one of the first DJS to properly start touring the world and seeing all these different countries and then I realised a few months into the year Cheese didn’t want to defend his title and because of the DMC rules of the competition I was put forward as the runner-up to defend it in his place.

That kind of took a bit of the pressure off, so I decided to put my head down and practice like crazy for months and months for the 87′ final at the Royal Albert Hall in London. I was glad not to have to go through all the heats again really! {Laugh} Because it is so nerve-racking, you really get nervous doing that stuff; that’s part of the skill in being able to do those competitions as far as I can see, you have to have control of your nerves.

There are loads of DJs, who in my opinion should have won it in the past but they never quite got over those nerves when they have been in the hearts or whatever and not quite managed it. 

MM: Must have been hard going from practicing on belt driven decks to using direct drives in a competition! How did you manage that – did you have to adjust your touch in any way?

CJ: Quite a lot yeah, because I played the piano when I was younger as well as a couple of other instruments like sax, drums, and percussion, it made it easier. Because I’m a musician, it was just like a different guitar.. adjusting what you’re doing slightly to compensate for the technology/instrument really. It more like ‘’ Thanks God we have these now!” Belt drive turntables are just a nightmare, there is a lot of stuff you can’t do like suddenly speed a tune up and run it into something that is slightly faster. Thinking of kids today that are doing it and how bloody difficult it was in those days, it’s just like “We must have been mad!” Compared to the ease of things nowadays, if you want to do a bit of DJing for fun you can pick up a controller and do a bit of auto sync or whatever, you can get a reasonable thing together and have some fun; but

in those days just to get a reasonable.. rough, slightly dodgy thing together was really hard work.

MM: So anyway what happened next?

CJ: Yeah, so I won that and went on a massive kind of world tour because I was world champion by then and I just visited so many places and made so many great friends and contacts you know. During that time – starting in about 1985 – I did my first DMC mix, so all over that time, I was kind of doing DMC mixes for the vinyl only thing they did for DJs. So I had already for years been doing loads of mixes and remixes, so when I won the world championship I kind of started setting up my own studio at home. I kind of had a small thing at the time, but I bought a little more gear and started to build a studio and just do loads and loads of tunes. I have been listening through to a lot of it and I’ve been thinking “What a fucking idiot!” Why didn’t I release any of it?

So now I am collating things and re-mastering things and re-doing a few things.. I mean I have always been good with ideas, I’m an ideas man as well as a musician. So it’s just fascinating to go through all of this stuff and kicking myself that I didn’t release any of it. I’ve had a real bad perfectionist kind of thing going on for years and years, which is where that comes from; nothing was ever good enough. Even now I do gigs and this, that and the other; it’s never good enough, no matter how good the night is and how everything just fits together luckily: I’m like “Uhhh could have done better” I’m some kind of masochist. {Laugh}

MM: That the truth though.. Everything can be improved, that’s the reason people are still talking about your stuff all these years later, because of that attitude.

CJ: Yeah, the only problem with it is sometimes, especially at my age now it’s a little bit stressful. Why can’t I just calm down and maybe just enjoy it a bit?

MM: Indeed man, enjoy every moment… then you discovered House?

CJ: Yea man, with House, I mean.. As I said I got into the Hip-Hop thing early. That was just a part of me, I was heavily into Reggae, Jazz, Funk, Soul, Northern Soul; the whole lot, I mean I’m into everything you know. The minute the house thing came about, I was working at the Hacienda in 1985 and

I think I may have the dubious honour of being the first person to play a house record in the Hacienda

because I remember J.M. Silk “Music is the Key” which had that proper kind of House groove. I remember going mental when I went down to a record shop one Saturday and I played this record and it just sounded great. I didn’t know it was House, I mean it wasn’t House then – it was percussive dance music you know, In those days the Hacienda hadn’t got its House head-on.

MM: Were you surprised how quick, House changed everything?

CJ: Yeah absolutely! It was just one of those perfect storms you know? There was a lot of things involved as we know, there was the drugs thing, the political landscape, all contributing to this House revolution. The thing that was great about it, was that it was unifying.

MM: So from the Hip hop scene using samples to House doing the same thing, was that the inspiration and attitude you had when you made the massive worldwide hit “Hear the Drummer(Get Wicked)”?

CJ: Absolutely! I’d been setting up the studio and I was doing a few remixes for record companies and I’d met some guys from Island Records and they got me in to do some real early mix albums – this was around 1986′- mega mixes as they were called then. Things like Bob Marley and Kid Creole and I did a couple of albums called Crew Cuts, Crew Cuts – Lesson 2 for a while with Island Records, which were all the stuff they had on 4th & Broadway which was a big dance label they had at the time, with a lot of New York electronic stuff.. then this opportunity came up to do this remix of 45 King The 900 Number, I was obviously already really into that record so I said to the label “Yeah, yeah, great I’ll do a remix for that: no problem!”. I already had the sax loop from that in my bag.

I mean for years I had been compiling discs of samples to use, I had loads and loads of samples which I use in quite often regular sessions when I’m looking for ideas, collating them all so that when your in the zone you just got to your collated ideas and pick a couple out, you know? SO yeah, I already had that loop, I had it earmarked to actually do something with it. The 45 King thing was just a basic 2 bar loop which carried on for 3 minutes and I wanted something that just did a little bit more than that, so I kind of went a little bit crazy with all my ideas! {Laugh}

I mean before the session I had sorted out things I might want to use, like little bass loops from the O’Jays and a couple of beats, the “Hear the Drummer(Get Wicked)” vocal and a couple of other vocal bits. I just went down and worked with a guy called Steve Mac who had a Fairlight sampling system at the time, which was really really expensive at the time, like the price of a house just for this 8-bit. It was a really quick process, it only took a day, we might have even mixed it down the same day from what I remember. If not it was the next day. I am a big one for prep, so I kind of already had sorted out roughly the way that I wanted the track to go and so it was just a matter of piecing it all together when we got to the studio.

So then, I sent it to the label and the label were like basically “You know, this isn’t like a remix? This is like a whole new track, really” “We would like to release this under your name because this is more like an original”. So I was obviously like “Yeah okay, fine; yeah great!”. So that was how that came about and they released it as Chad Jackson “Hear the Drummer(Get Wicked)” and the rest as the say is history. As I said, I kind of feel really lucky. It was kind of right place, right time.

The atmosphere and the vibe was kind of around for stuff like that. Although I wasn’t prepared for how big it was going to get, so quickly. I remember sitting down listening to the chart on a Sunday night and I remember listening and hoping that I might scrape in the lower 40’s and in the first week it was straight in at number 13 or something. It was in a daze from then on, suddenly I’m on Top of The Pops doing loads of interviews and TV things. It was a bit crazy!

MM: In fairness though, that wasn’t your typical poppy pop track, it was credible! A lot of people were using samples, that’s when samples were really big.. Even in the Hip-Hop scene as well. Even just a few years before with M|A|R|R|S “Pump Up The Volume” it was really iconic at the time. I would have assumed it could have easily straddled the underground and the commercial scene?

CJ: Yeah, I mean those ideas, if you like, are out there all the time – if I hadn’t have done that, then someone else probably would have. I don’t always have the time to act upon them but they fly past my eyes and ears all the time, you just got to be switched on if you like to notice them.

MM: Coming on from that I see you got involved with the Renaissance crowd as well, you produced a few things there with Jeff Oaks?

CJ: Yeah, and I was really good friends with Dave Seamen, we used to share a house and I started to engineer and programme a lot of his mix albums for Renaissance and people like that. And now looking back all those years ago,

I just never imagined I’d still be doing this by now, I didn’t think it would have this much longevity 30 years on…..

MM: [Laughs] When I was interviewing Todd Terry, he said the exact same thing as did Joey Beltram…

CJ: I must admit that if I’d known this was gunna happen I think I might have had more of a long-term plan going on {Laughs} one thing comes to mind that I always try to get across to younger DJs and producers, is preparation, I prep for days before a gig, it’s not just a quick process. It’s not easy out there, even for people who have been out there for years and years. I always try to make the younger ones know that,

You’ve just got to keep on, full on hacking away at it.

You have to have full on energy and passion and you have to just keep up the pressure, you can’t ever just think “Yeah, it’s running nicely and smoothly now” you’ve got to really put that effort in, you gotta just keep on keeping on.

MM: Keep on keeping on, I like that! That sounds like a good place to leave it Chad thanks for having a few words with us.

Live Interview Page Design Editing – ~Mike Mannix

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Mike Moggi Mannix is the CEO founder Publisher and Editor of Iconic Underground magazine

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