In the '60s and '70s, if you had the phrase "A Tom Moulton Mix" tagged to your record, you probably had a hit. The former record-promotions-man turned-studio-engineer took classic funk, soul, and R&B artists to new heights with his patented brand of mixing. But when disco came around, Moulton blew everyone out of the water by literally inventing the 12-inch single–because his mastering studio was out of blank sevens. Since then, he's been a sought-after producer, arranger, and engineer, and Soul Jazz recently commemorated his legacy with A Tom Moulton Mix, a two-disc set compiling some of his greatest hits by the likes of Grace Jones, Eddie Kendricks, and more.
In the '00s, if you haven't been to one of Rub-N-Tug's NYC happenings, you haven't really partied. Over the past decade, the producer/DJ duo of Thomas Bullock and Eric Duncan has breathed new life into the city's club scene, mashing together disco, rock, soul, and everything in between for an innovative take on the Loft-lovin' lifestyle. We gathered them all for a look at the disco lifestyle, new and old.
Thomas Bullock: Tom, what do you consider to be the first clubs that were getting the disco sound together, when they were really still, like, playing 45s?
Tom Moulton: You had Le Jardin, you had Hollywood, 12 West, Sanctuary. There were a lot of clubs. And when I say a lot, I think, like, 15, 16 clubs was a lot.
Eric Duncan: Were all 15 worth going to? Like, now there's 500 clubs and only three worth going to.
TM: That's true, because you don't have leaders anymore. People say, "You always wanna make things easier for a DJ," but yet, when you give them beats in the beginning and outro, you take away the creativity of how to mix or play a record. You could be the Muzak DJ, for God's sake. And I think that's why all the filtering and different effects are coming into play, because otherwise, what makes you different than any other DJ? In the old days, if you liked the record, even if it didn't have an intro, you found a way to play it.
TB: That's how me and Eric do it... We play rock, soul, and disco, and take the tempo up and down for eight to 10 hours.
TM: I think in the old days, if somebody found a record, they would put a white label on top of it so that nobody else could find out what they were playing.
TB: Funny you should say that [laughs]... Eric reintroduced that style. Me and Eric are quite like that with certain records. People miss them, and we sort of introduce them... but you can't tell them [what the record is] because of the internet. There's no challenge anymore; any person can come up with a pen and paper and they've got your record collection with the touch of a button. We actually have these things we call "knowledge protectors." They're like these heavy stabilizers that we put on the record.
ED: So you still work in the studio, right Tom?
TM: Well, I do everything at home now. I kinda retired back in the '80s. [Loleatta Hathaway's] "Love Sensation" was the last thing I did. When so many people wanted to do disco, I thought, "Oh my God, I can't deal with this any more." I work more now than I've ever done before, but my tastes vary so much. I'm mixing probably all the songs on the Brand New Heavies [disc] again.
ED: The new way now, though, right? Like on computers?
TM: The stuff was all recorded in the studio, but I'm doing it all on Pro Tools. I like it because I can have, like, 600 different studios going at the same time. I have so many hard drives here, it's a joke... but it's fun. I'm doing a lot of work for [Kenny] Gamble again now. We're gonna do the Johnny Williams album that never came out, so I'm thrilled about that. And I'm gonna do a Philadelphia Classics too, which will be great, too, for me, because I love that period of music.
TB: Do you hear many of the new records being made at the moment, like the new dance 12s?
TM: You know who I like? I don't know if they're considered new school, but it's the Shakeshifters. But you have to remember something. I still come from being a promotion man, basically, and I still gravitate towards commercial [records], things that have a mass appeal, as opposed to just turning out a couple DJs. Like, when I first heard [Robin S'] "Show Me Love" I went nuts over that, and a lot of other people did too. I love those commercial kinds of things that just get everybody.
TB: I love that record!
TM: When I walked into Vinyl Mania and first heard it I said, "Whatever that is, I want it!" But see, that's the thing I love about music–what I call the power of music. It absolutely rattles your bones, and that's the reason I'm in this business.
TB: It's just a great pop tune, innit?
TM: And of course when "Keep on Movin'" came out...
TB: Soul II Soul?
TM: When I heard that, I said, "That's a New York record!" That's the epitome of what I call the New York style. Everybody said, "It's so slow." And I said, "Yeah, well, you wait 'til that soul creeps into you. Then you'll see how slow it is."
TB: Tom, did you have a hand in making the first-ever 12-inch dance record?
TM: Sure did [laughs]. I always went over to Media Sound. See, every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, I had Studio A at Sigma Sound booked, a year at a time, because I worked four nights a week down there. I used to go down there Monday afternoon and I'd come back early Friday morning, and I'd go back to Media Sound. And I would work on Gloria Gaynor or Melba Moore or somebody there Friday night, but during that afternoon''d always master the records. They ran out of seven-inch blanks and I said, "I gotta do this song. What am I gonna do?" "Well, we got 12-inch blanks." And I go, "Okay, well, I just need four of them." And they cut them in spec, and I go, "What is this? Can you, like, spread the grooves or something so that it's at least covering more of the surface?" "We'll have to make it hotter." So I said, '"Okay, what the hell." Well, when I heard the sound, I went, "Oh my lord!" But it was an accident.
TB: When you did dance mixes, back in the day, would you duplicate the tape and then splice it?
TM: I'd never alter the original multi-track. I had it all mapped out in my brain. I'd listen to the multi-track and I'd always listen to the rhythm part of it, where they cut the rhythm section. At least with Philadelphia, you'd have the rhythm section, which you'd cut first... So I'd listen to get the nucleus of the song, but I'd do it in pieces and then edit it all together.
ED: What were your favorite records that you made, Tom?
TM: Well, anything by The Trammps, naturally. They were my favorite group. And I guess mainly the Philadelphia stuff, because I felt like I was part of the family there. That spoiled me for everybody else, because I work on a lot of Motown stuff now, and it just doesn't have the same quality as the Philadelphia stuff does... I got spoiled by Sigma, because there were just certain things they would not allow. If there was a mistake, you corrected it.
TB: We have a friend in London who has the actual Sigma Sound monitors, the Tannoys.
TM: I always scratch the "T" off [laughs]... because they were always tubby-sounding. You think you're getting all this great bass, and you take it out of there, and you go "What happened to it?" But there's something about having something from the day, because it's not only mystifying, it's sort of inspiring...
TB: What kind of monitors do you use now?
TM: I use these little, inexpensive Genelecs [laughs]. No, I like the low-end, and the [Yamaha] NS10s, which are called "the reality speaker."
TB: I've got the NS10Ms.
TM: All the studios had those, because if you can make something sound good on those Yamahas, then you had something that was good anywhere. They don't make them anymore. They can't get that wood anymore. It's an endangered species now... It's like good mixes now. That's an endangered species, too, now that I think about it.