Q&A: Cajmere On His Roots, The Differences Between House And Rave Audiences, And Tweaking "Percolator"

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Curtis A. Jones would be one of Chicago house music's most important figures even if all he'd done was start a couple of record labels. Twin pillars of the city's mid-'90s second major house wave, Cajual and Relief were matched opposites—the former oriented toward club DJs for whom classicist, soul- and gospel-rooted house held sway, the latter focusing more on tougher, "trackier" music that played to younger rave crowds.

Between them, Cajual and Relief issued 12-inches and the occasional album by a Who's Who of the era's Chi-town luminaries: Spencer Kincy, DJ Sneak, Glenn Underground, Paul Johnson, Boo Williams, Roy Davis Jr., Mark Grant, Gene Farris, Johnny Fiasco, and Jones's longtime friend Karen Gordon, née vocalist Dajaé.

Accordingly, Jones also recorded for both imprints, under different names—for Cajual as Cajmere (both names take off from Jones's initials), and for Relief as Green Velvet, a nickname given by an ex's father-in-law who liked to mock Jones's first alias. Two Cajmere tracks from 1992 kicked Cajual into gear: "Brighter Days," a house anthem sung by Dajaé, and the infectiously raw "The Percolator." But Green Velvet was the wilder, more memorable persona; it was under that pseudonym that Jones made his greatest record, "Flash" (1995), which mocked the excesses of the rave scene by treating it like a tour guide from (and through) hell. Jones had a brief moment in the major-label sphere when short-lived Warner Bros. dance subsidiary F-111 issued a self-titled Green Velvet collection in 2000.

This year is Cajual Records' 20th anniversary, and the label has been more active in recent years than it has in a while. SOTC spoke with the sweet-tempered Jones in March.

When do you remember house music first coming into your life?

Back in the mid-'80s; I was introduced to it via the radio. When I first heard it I just fell in love, because all my life I had been brought up listening to a lot of blues, jazz, and funk—some rock stuff too, with David Bowie. When I heard the house music, it was refreshing. It spoke to my generation.

Did you want to be a DJ first, or a musician? When did you begin writing songs?

I wanted to be a producer originally. I started writing songs while I was going to college in undergrad at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. They told me that I needed to have a hobby, so I started off with music as a hobby. From there I just fell in love with it, so I started to produce stuff. That transitioned into me performing out of necessity because people wanted to see me perform "The Percolator."

How did you hook up with Clubhouse?

The owners are Hula and K Fingers. Hula and I were best friends growing up, we were close as close could get—really, really good friends as kids. We used to go and catch crayfish and all that stuff together. Get worms to catch the crayfish, just doing little boy stuff.

Midwestern boy stuff.

Yeah—catching crayfish with worms! Hula had been doing stuff in the music industry, with Jive Records. I came back from college and had a talk with him. At that time he stepped away [from running his own label] it because he was with a major label. I said, "Why don't you start it back?" He said, "Well, it's so dodgy—it's shady. As far as distributors go, getting paid and stuff like that, who knows what would happen?" He'd had success with Lidell Townsend, with "The Nu Nu" [on] Clubhouse Records. They transitioned out of it because they got so popular with the stuff they were doing with Jive Records, like Will Smith, "Summertime."

Where did you go to college?

I went to the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, around '89-'90. I did not go the following year because I was pursuing my musical aspirations. At the lowest of my low, when I did not even have money for gas in my car...

You were probably a little older than the other guys you were to sign to Cajual.

Not much, maybe a year or two. Maybe four or five years.

Just enough to be an older brother type of figure?

Exactly.

Location Info

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Highline Ballroom

431 W. 16th St., New York, NY

Category: Music

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