OPEN YOUR BOOKS TO PAGE FREAK:
Highlights from Issue 30: Hip-Hop Nuggets
Egyptian Lover at Studio B in Brooklyn, February 2007 / Photograph by IAN ALLEN
Monday, April 09, 2007
By Dave TompkinsRichard Pryor pulls up to the La Rutan barbershop in a brand-new convertible Rolls-Royce and asks how the hell the thing works. La Rutan’s owner, Good Fred Ellis, laughs himself into the front seat and off they breeze for a test drive. It’s 1975. The Rolls is custard, Richard Pryor has a Natural and there is plenty of sky to go around.
Along with Al Green, Leon Isaac Kennedy and Charlie Pride, Pryor was among the regular clientele at La Rutan — French for “natural” backward — which for the past 40 years has been cornering 54th and Western in South Central Los Angeles.
Good Fred started out shaving Mohawks in Detroit in the Fifties before moving to California, where he’d later become Godfather of the Activator Curl. In the early Eighties, Fred’s son Darryl and a young DJ named Roger Clayton helped bottle Fred’s homemade Jheri curl emulsion of glycerin, water and alcohol, which was stored in 300-gallon drums in the back of the shop. Samples of Good Fred Oil were then test-marketed at parties held by Clayton’s crew of DJs, originally known as Unique Dreams before changing their name to Uncle Jamm’s Army, with George Clinton’s blessing. Uncle Jamm’s main attraction, Egyptian Lover, would throw sample vials of Good Fred “Hansom Dude” pomade wave accentuator into the crowd while cutting up Zapp records, such that folks stood a fighting chance of getting dinged in the head, the trajectory so eloquently described by Zapp’s Mini Moog. Repeat often as quite necessary.
The Good Fred formula would ultimately be deconstructed by the chemists at Johnson & Johnson and mass-produced for millions of Michael Jackson dollars. Though discouraged, Fred was told by a marketing professor to just build his pyramid and customers would come looking for him when he reached the top. Egyptian Lover (a.k.a. Greg Broussard), once LA’s most wanted DJ, would find himself in a similar circumstance — specifically, in a Superman suit, apexed on a pyramid stack of 50 Cerwin-Vegas, humping the speakers and violating the sacred order of the eyeball’s parking space.
The crowd dug it and Good Fred would advise Egypt and Clayton, encouraging them to start their own label, Egyptian Empire Records (and distribution company West Coast Wax), as well as providing a building he owned across the street from La Rutan. (Their interior walls were painted like King Tut’s tomb, as rendered in the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas.) The first record, Breaking and Entering, was released in 1983 as a soundtrack for a documentary that included Samoan kids spinning on their heads and a drum machine tutorial by Egyptian Lover himself. The EP featured Ice-T, who collaborated with Morris Day refugees Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for an electro masterpiece called “Cold Wind Madness.” Only 25 copies of Breaking and Entering were pressed, one remaining with Egypt while the rest are presumably in Teutonic custody.
Egypt’s first single, “Dial-A-Freak,” was a smutty electro phone call, followed by the monster hit “Egypt Egypt,” which drew legions of mini-skirted admirers who dreamt of long fishnet walks by the Nile and heavy breathing that defied smog alerts. Airing on LA’s legendary KDAY, the 4-track radio commercials Egypt and Uncle Jamm made to promote their parties were as good if not better than the records themselves, often selling out the Sports Arena in downtown LA, where a significant number of the 10,000 heads in attendance had at some point been activated by Good Fred.
The Sports Arena would be the site of Run-DMC’s California debut when Clayton booked them for an Uncle Jamm party in 1983, back when Run had hair. Egypt introduced the teens from Queens to their first palm tree and drove them over to Good Fred’s, where an 89-year-old regular noted Run’s shelltoe tongues and said, “How come you boys all on TV with no shoelaces in your shoes? You can’t afford no shoestrings?” Outside, girls in “Freak Patrol” T-shirts distributed Uncle Jamm’s fliers. Behind them, on La Rutan’s wall, was a mural of radiant pyramids, pre-mummy Pharaohs and a guy rocking Tut’s diadem on his head — curse be cussed. That would be the evening’s headliner, Egyptian Lover, who remains a Good Fred customer to this day.
On February 2nd, the evening of his inaugural New York DJ gig (and first visit in over 25 years), I met up with Egypt to talk about Good Fred, the early LA electro scene and the Freak.
Stop Smiling: Roger Clayton said when he used to DJ, he’d ask the crowd to say where they were from. You and your brother would be up front in surgical gowns yelling “Cairo!”
Egyptian Lover: Yep. Me and my brother dressed up in doctor suits, doing doctor dances, like fake heart attacks — different gimmicks to get girls. We had the green surgical scrubs, masks and gloves. The girls liked the gloves.
SS: So you’re not from Cairo?
EL: No, but they know about my records over there. I grew up in South Central on the east side: Slauson and Central Avenue on 60th Street. On the West Coast everyone made up their names and put them in Old English writing on the back of their jackets. In eighth grade I always liked King Tut and Rudolph Valentino. So Egyptian Lover came from that. Both of them died young — that was the only thing.
SS: How did the Lambada, the “Forbidden Dance,” bite the Freak?
EL: We had this dance called the Freak that was made by these guys called the Carson Freekateers. That dance took Los Angeles to another level. It brought so many people to the dances — we were playing “Planet Rock” and “Electric Kingdom.” Everybody was freaking from beginning to end. Guys humping girls all night long. You just grind.
They made a movie out of it and changed the name. The Lambada was the Freak. They acted like they invented it, but we was doing it back in ’82, ’83. There were serious freaks going on. It was the only dance we did. All the other dances were obsolete when the freak came out.
SS: I noticed that. You said, “Open your books to page freak.” Everything had to be freaked. Freak must’ve been the most popular word in LA.
EL: It was. We turned everything into a freak song. We’d speed up “Five Minutes of Funk” to +8.
SS: The freaks were into the Vocoder.
EL: That Vocoder is what the freaks liked to freak to. “Scorpio” changed me — when I played it I was like, “Oh man, this is a Freak song.” We had Freak contests. Give a thousand dollars to the best freaks. They used to get seriously freaky. You didn’t even need a partner. It could be one guy laying on the ground, five girls dancing over him. It was a live sex show with clothes on.
SS: Parents must’ve loved you guys.
EL: They’d show up looking for their daughters. Once this girl’s momma came in. I got her name and said on the mic, “Your momma’s here.” Everybody knew who she was. They put the lights on her. She was freakin’ this dude.
SS: Roger Clayton said there was mud from a leak in the roof. A Freak-a-leak.
EL: She was there freakin’ dude in the mud. This was at the Playpen on Crenshaw. The flooring had been ripped up. It was so hot and crowded in there, with sweat coming up from the floor. It was a mess. It was wet from all the humans — the walls were sweating. Sweat was dripping from the ceiling.
SS: So Mom came busting in—
EL: Wearing hair curlers. Her mom was hitting her with the belt on the way out. “I told you not to come here!” I was probably cursing on the mic when she came in, saying something about pussy. I learned all them nasty lyrics from Prince. One time I was talking real nasty on the mic and I turned around and my dad was standing on the stage. And he said, “Talk that shit, boy! Talk that shit!” I was so embarrassed. I was 17. I looked at my brother like, “Why’d you bring him here?”
SS: You made a record for your dad, “The Ultimate Scratch.” What was that weird voice flying through it?
EL: That was from a record my dad bought at the racetrack. That was the announcer doing the horse race. So as a joke for them, because they love horse racing so much, I was scratching, “Here they come! There they go!” and then slowing it down.
SS: A lot of DJs took notes on your scratch.
EL: At the Playpen there was a bridge that went over the DJ booth to the other side of the dance floor. One time I was mixing Prince and Roger said, “Look behind you” and every DJ in LA was there: Lonzo, Dre, Yella, Bobcat. This was a Saturday night and they’re all supposed to be working! Man, that’d freak ’em out.
SS: So they saw you play “Planet Rock” backward?
EL: I played “Planet Rock” backward from the end to the beginning and my arm was hurting. It was sore, boy. Then everybody was clapping their hands — they’d never heard anything like that. This was 1983. It was like hearing “Planet Rock” for the first time. At the end it goes “party people,” but the words were going, “imsump imshumpyump.” It was like speaking another language to the beat. I played “Numbers” backward, too.
SS: “Keerfatsujehs.” We used to walk around saying that in eighth grade. From an old Sir Mix-A-Lot song.
SS: It was more fun saying backward verses. Those freak fricatives. Nobody knew what the hell we were doing. Didn’t quite work with the girls, though.
EL: I used to play “Planet Rock” backward with one hand and get the girls phone number with the other. Now I play one backward and one forward at the same time. I can walk the record with my fingers backward. A lot of people think it’s a CD playing and that I’m not really doing it.
SS: People expect records to walk around by themselves these days.
EL: One time this girl from the LA Times came up and said, “Wow, you’re better than the Egyptian Lover. What’s your name?” And I said, “DJ Sperm Cell.” LA Times the following Sunday: “DJ Sperm Cell Better Than Egyptian Lover.” With pictures of me in the paper. Some damn fools!
SS: Then the guy from Cybotron, Rick Davis, thought you were dead?
EL: He saw the headline: “Lady Diana Dies With Egyptian Lover.”
SS: What did George Clinton, the original Uncle Jam, think of all this?
EL: He was cool with us using the name. George and them brought “Atomic Dog” to Uncle Jam’s Army Party and we were playing “Mirda Rock” and “Scorpio.” We said, “Man, we can’t play this.” But George Clinton’s in the house, so we got to play it. I didn’t know who he was. I knew Parliament. Roger said, “That’s him.” I was like, “Oh yeah, the guys with the diapers.” So we played “Atomic Dog” and it was terrible. “Atomic Dog” cleared the dance floor, and George was there. They were testing it. His producers and engineers were there, watching us mix and they made the “Atomic Dog” remix from that. They made that backward, stuff from me and this guy Magic Mike. Their creative team was very smart. Then they brought ”Hydraulic Pump” and that came from watching the way other DJs like the Glove and Dr. Dre mixed.
SS: I love “Hydraulic Pump.”
EL: Roger hated it.
SS: What’s up with that Glove song “Tibetan Jam”? At the end, after all that DVP (Korg Digital Voice Processor), he says, “You mean I can get my faaavorite little rainbow sprinkles for only $2.79 a dozen?”
EL: That’s the Glove talking about donuts.
SS: Then he goes “Huh?” in the way a fat guy would elbow you and say it.
EL: That was weird. But we had fun back then.
SS: When was it not fun?
EL: The gangs. They had one fight and said, “I’ll see you at the next Uncle Jam’s Army party,” and then have another fight at the next one. It got so they’d say, “If they’re coming, we ain’t coming.” Ninety percent of the gangsters came to have fun. It was the 10 percent who couldn’t get a girl — they were the ones starting problems. There were so many women there — women outnumbered us five to one. This was at the Sports Arena. Everyone was selling dope and making money back then. Gangsters with money — no problems.
SS: I guess you couldn’t play “Killer Daytons” (the 1987 Dr. Dre production).
EL: That was the first song about carjacking. They wouldn’t ask. They’d just shoot you and take the rims.
SS: And you couldn’t play Michael Jackson.
EL: Play Michael Jackson — that will make you fight. The Rolling 60s Crips would shoot up every-fucking-body. Slow songs and ballads make the gangsters fight. No room for Michael Jackson. Sorry, Mike.
Special thanks to Jeff Chang and Mike Nardone for transcript surplus