Francis grasso is the first modern deejay. Why is he so important for Dj culture?
Watch this video of Frank Broughton Dj and journalist co-founder of djhistory.com.
“No-one is more important to the history of DJing than Francis Grasso. He was the first DJ to realise that the excitement in the room was thanks to his performance – his choices, his programming and his mixes -– and not just down to the bands playing on the records. Francis made beat-mixing an essential part of the DJs art and came up with the techniques that made it possible. He inspired the first generation of disco DJs. He nailed the superstar thing, too. He got blowjobs behind the decks, dated movie stars and Playboy bunnies, spent more than his rent on drugs and went on three-day benders with Jimi Hendrix. More than anything, though, Francis invented the set: the idea that the sequence of music is as important as the individual records. Before him a DJ was more like a jukebox; after him the DJ was a creative artist. If you’re a DJ, he invented what you do.”
“One of the greatest draws at Sanctuary was the only straight guy in the place, its legendary DJ, Francis. The most influential spinner in the short history of the craft, Francis Grasso is (sic) a small, muscular, long-haired lad from Brooklyn who got his start in the business working as a dancer at Trude Hellar’s club in the Village, where he was obliged to perform on a narrow ledge against the wall that allowed him to move only laterally, like a figure in a frieze. One night while visiting Salvation II, a club perched on top of an apartment house on Central Park South (today, the site of the Bengali restaurant, Nirvana), Francis was asked to substitute for Terry Noel, who failed to show up for work. Grasso approached his trial with fear and trembling; but when Noel appeared, the manager fired him and hired the novice. Francis soon demonstrated that he had a fresh slant on spinning. Unlike Terry, who was heavy into rock and kept a picture of Elvis Presley stuck up in the booth, Francis worked the soul track. When he got up on the altar at Sanctuary, he would preach that old-time religion with Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Booker T. and the MG’s. Into this mix he would drop Chicago’s and Cat Mother’s Track In A. Once he had the crowd hooked, he’d dip into his African bag with Olatunji and the authentic Nigerian drums and chants of Drums of Passion. Francis was the first DJ to perfect the current technique for stitching records together in seamless sequences. He invented the trick of “slip-cueing“; Holding the disc with his thumb while the turntable whirled beneath insulated by a felt pad, he would locate with an earphone the best spot to make the splice, then release the next side precisely on the beat. When he got Thorens turntables with speed controls, he supplemented his cuing technique with speed changes that enabled him to match up the records perfectly in tempo. He also got into playing around with the equalization controls not only to boost the bass for ass-wagging but to compensate for the loss of highs that occurred when a record was slowed down for mixing. Eventually, Francis became a virtuoso. His tour de force was playing two records simultaneously for as long as two minutes at a stretch. He would super the drum break of I’m A Man over the orgasmic moans of Led Zeppelin‘s Whole Lotta Love to make a powerfully erotic mix that anticipated by many years the formula of bass-drum beats and love cries that is now one of the clich»s of disco mix. What this pioneering jock was doing was composing a hitherto nonexistent disco music out of prefab parts. What’s more, he was forging the new music right in the heart of the discotheque, with the dancers freaking out in front of him and sending back their waves to his soul, exactly as Lindy dancers used to turn on jazz musicians in the old swing bands. Not a high-powered show-biz jock like Terry Noel, who wanted to sweep up the audience and carry them off on his trip, Francis was instead like an energy mirror, catching the vibes off the floor and shooting them back again recharged by the powerful sounds of his big horns. Eventually, Francis taught other jocks his tricks and established his style of playing as the new standard.”
From “Disco” by Albert Goldman Hawthorn Books, 1978.