Welcome to part one in our series of interviews with your favorite DJs on the rockin' scene! We're very happy to feature DJ Rockin' Vic as the first interview. Rockin' Vic is a fixture on the Southern California scene and performs at many of the biggest Rockabilly Weekenders such as Viva Las Vegas. He has a wealth of musical knowledge and is a heck of a nice guy to top it off. We're very appreciative to Vic for sharing his time with us!
|Photo courtesy of Sailor Charlie Photography|
Zack: When and how did you get your start as a DJ?
Rockin' Vic: I have been going out to Rockabilly and Blues shows since 1991. I moved to Northern Califonia in 1993 to attend Sonoma State University. In school, I took interest in film, video, and radio communications. My major in film required I take an elective, out of all the options, college radio was the logical choice. The station KSUN 91.5 FM focused solely on alternative indie rock and absolutely no top 40. So the sleepy towns of Rohnert park, Petaluma, and Santa Rosa, and the squares on campus, for two hours, got an earful of non hit wild rock and roll, rhythm and blues and rockabilly! They thought I was playing “punk rock” or “indie”?! Rightly so, as it’s the original! My radio show was a great outlet and release from the intensity and pressures of studying in solitude. Everyone in school was cordial but I couldn’t relate to the “Dead Heads” and the Frats - they bored me. So I drove 40 miles down, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and sought out a rockabilly scene in San Francisco and made that my fraternity! To my surprise and joy I found a great weekly live music spot at the Ace Cafe. There I learned how to jive properly and I met great like minded people with the same passion for music. If you are interested in the history, there is a CD compilation called “Pushing the Norton” that features all the bands that came through and I am even pictured on the front cover. My first “real” big break was I DJ’ed for "The Greaseball" held annually through 1995 to 1998 for old pal promoter August Ragone. They took place at the DNA Lounge, Bimbos 365 and at 333 Slim’s. Out of this experience, it progressed to a few spots across town namely the Ace Cafe and the DNA Lounge. When I graduated college with a B.A in Film in 1998, a year later, I moved back to the City of Angels and got the itch to DJ once again since 2001.
Z: What were those early days gigs like?
RV: To describe it, I have give a little back ground history to my early DJ years. I have to separate my experiences between Northern California and Southern California and the early 90’s and the mid to late 90’s. In the early 90’s the rockabilly scene in L.A. was dead, very few shows and absolutely no records hops. The Demographic was also different then. It use to be very underground and for the most part a white working class subculture. In Northern California there were shows popping off every week and month and people danced to dj’s and live music. The scene in Frisco was exciting and new and the local rockabilly bands, like the Bachelors and the Sloe Gin Joes were top notch, and at the same time, thrown into that mix, the Swing scene was the “in” thing and everyone wanted to jive and lindyhop to bands like Vice Grip, The Mighty Blue Kings, and Royal Crown Revue. At the time the DJ’s played only jivers of modern bands and original 50’s bands. L.A. did not have a DJ culture until Tom Ingram (Viva las Vegas organizer) moved from England to Southern California in 1996. When he started DJing in the now defunct nightclub “Rudolphos,” which was run by promoters Vito Lorenzo and Gonzalo Gonzales in Silver Lake, he introduced a predominately working class Mexican American crowd to a London style record hop. Prior to that time people danced only to live music. Dj’s were considered just background filler between bands. From that point on, dancing had now become an integral part of the L.A. scene, which therefore encouraged its popularity and demand. In reaction, the old clubs filled up and new clubs were created. Many of the regulars have become accomplished musicians and Dj’s . Who remembers The Derby, The Foothill, Yesteryears, The Hully Gully, The Rumble Bar, Jack’s Sugar Shack, The Bowl-a-rama? If you danced I was probably responsible for your happy feet.
"I still get excited about
buying and hearing new sounds."
Z: I've always imagined that getting into DJing must be difficult due to the large amounts of music you have to own. Was this a challenge for you in the beginning?
RV: Not for me, I was a collector before I became a DJ. My Dad was a Mod in the 60’s and I raided his stash of Rock and Roll LP’s early on in my childhood. I spent countless hours just listening to rock and roll, making mixed tapes and wanting more. When I was able to buy my own music, I practically “lived” at record stores collecting all the gems I could afford and find. I consider myself an eternal student in the “school of rock and roll” always discovering new artists and songs I haven’t heard. I still get excited about buying and hearing new sounds.
Z: Do you remember the first record you ever bought?
RV: The first record I ever bought with my own money, was a French Capitol LP called "Gene Vincent Sings 56.” Essential listening! Gene and the 56’ Blue caps are the real deal, top notch musicians. One of the few bands that played on their own records and toured, not session musicians on the recordings.
Z: What's the song for you that never seems to fail at packing the dance floor?
RV: That’s a hard one to choose because there are so many. But I’ll break it down to three songs that are popular at the moment:
Jivers - Deuces Wild - I’m in a Whirl
Boppers - Bunker Hill - You can’t make me doubt my baby
Strollers - Trini Lopez - Sinner not a Saint
Z: Record hops and rock 'n' roll shows are often full of intoxicated people by the end of the night, what's the most bizarre or funniest thing you've seen from behind the booth?
RV: I have residency at Viva Cantina for promoter Reverend Martini Presents, so you bet I have seen it all. There was one night when a really drunk girl was leaning too close on the turntables. The dance floor was absolutely packed, everybody dancing and singing long, air guitars and about when the song was to crescendo into a glorious guitar solo, her elbow rams into my tone arm, and the needle skips of the record. She doesn't know what happened, dead silence, the crowd starts booing and she then has the nerve to join in on the booing! I throw my hands in the air and point my finger to the dumb *%*#$ (it’s a family Blog). She then turns around, realizes what she did, and in reaction covers her mouth and giggles like a shy geisha girl, and says “oops. ”
Z: What songs seem to be the most requested?
The Harptones - Gimme Some
Bobby De Soto - The Cheater
Tommy Roe - Carol
Lanny Duncan - Romeo’s Teacher
The Sonics - Have love Will Travel
Ben Hewitt - My Search.
Z: And I've heard some DJs tend to get upset if they get a lot of requests, how do you feel about them?
RV: One time a hipster asked me to play some modern R&B on a all black rock and roll, R&B, and early soul night. I just gave the person a blank WTF stare. But for the most part, if it's "good" and I happen to have it, I will honor the request. I have played to capacity crowds that kept on screaming, one more, one more, ten minutes past 2:00 am. In that situation, you best believe I will play one more or else a riot would of happened!
Z: Do you plan sets for any of your shows?
RV: I organize my favorite 45’s prior to coming to the show, but I let the spontaneity of not knowing what to expect from a crowd to choose what order to play them in. My Goal is to create excitement or compliment it. It’s really about reading the crowd. I get a kick to see if I can make them dance their asses off until 2:00 am.
Z: Do you have a preferred format, CD vs. vinyl, mixture of both?
RV: After many years using CD’s and LP’s, I prefer to play 45’s only now, they are easy to transport and have the best sound hands down, but don't get me wrong I am not a vinyl snob, I play styrene too.
"DJ’s in this scene, do it for the passion."
Z: Are there any particular challenges for being a DJ that most people probably don't realize?
RV: The money invested in records and equipment is not equal to the pay. It’s gas money really. Dj’s in this scene, do it for the passion.
Z: Who are some of your favorite DJs on the scene right now?
RV: Rex’s Fool’s paradise on WFMU, G-Minus Mark’s Truckers, Shuckers, Freaks and Geeks, The Rockabilly DJ With Bill Smoker, Steve Stax of Wax Rockin Radio, Del Villareal on Motorbilly radio, Mouse’s Honky Tonkin, Howie Pyro of Intoxica Radio, Frank Gannon of the Roots Room, “Tall” Mark Greenway, David Crozier, and Cosmic Kieth . I also belong to a referred member group on face book called The Vinyl Record Association who are collectors and DJ’s. In that group I admire all the active contributors for their amazing finds and knowledge of primitive unsung rock and roll. They have wax that would make anyone salivate.
Z: Boppers, strollers or Jivers? Rockabilly or R&B? What's your preferred?
RV: I play all styles, tempos and more. I am an equal opportunist, I play everything under the sun that has the right beat. I have even ventured into Mexican, French, Italian and Japanese rock and roll from the 50's and 60's. There is so much good stuff, why limit your self?
Z: How has what people want to hear changed over the years, or has it?
RV: It has definitely changed. The Dj scene in L.A. picked up where Tom Ingram left off. The dancing went beyond couple dancing. He introduced us to the boppers, jivers, strollers format. So we pretty much played the same stuff as London from 1996 to 2006. Later I saw DJ's take chances and put their own unique stamp in their sets. A few Dj's like myself play 50's and 60's Mexican rock and roll, garage and R&B. The crowd digs it as we are predominantly Latino. Before the internet discovering bands and artists was a big challenge, you had to dig deep at record stores and buy via specialty only shops via snail mail. You took chances on names you never heard of. “Hasil Atkins, hmmm…who is that, is that a girl?” LOL! Before computers, people in clubs only knew the basics until DJ’s promoted “a new song to you” on the dance floor. With advent of the internet people have practically unlimited access to hear the most obscure songs for free - just youtube it. We live in a crazy world, just point your phone and bam - it will tell you who it is instantly. For those who are really “into it” they are well versed, but of course the scene in L.A. attracts a lot of newbies who are just learning so I will still play the classics and educate them. I do make a point to play unknown or underplayed or new rockin’ artists that “break” the mold because believe it or not, even in this digital age, no one has heard everything. That elusive killer song on 45 is still yet to be heard.
Thanks again to Rockin' Vic for speaking with us. And remember, this was part one in our series of DJ interviews.
The Rockabilly Gentleman