'Todd the God', they called him. In the late 80s, Todd Terry was New York house music. Arguably he invented it, certainly he defined it. In truth, the moniker was probably coined by a deadline-surfing journalist searching for a quick headline. However, it stuck, because Todd Terry bestrode the scene like a colossus.
New York had long been considered the world's clubbing and dance music capital. However, in the mid-80s that position was under threat. The soulful disco records that were the staple diet of the NY club scene seemed pedestrian in comparison to the other-worldly sounds coming out of Chicago and Detroit, sounds that the world outside America had needed no second invitation to take to their hearts.
Sure there were stirrings in the boroughs. New Jersey was home of the garage sound, so named in homage to Larry Levan's hugely influential dj sets at the Paradise Garage club. Hispanic producers were developing what was dubbed as the freestyle sound. And of course New York had hip hop which, whilst an ever-growing force on the international stage, still had the air of the snarling underdog. Pro-active NYC-based independent labels like Sleeping Bag, Profile and Cutting Records provided a ready outlet for all these sounds, but the shadow of house music loomed ever larger, as it stormed the UK and European pop charts.
Enter stage left from Brooklyn one Todd Terry, a young kid steeped in hip hop attitude, but with an ear that was also finely attuned to the city's other dominant urban sound, Latin….and Chicago house music.
Terry's formula was simple. He mashed the whole lot together. The sampler was the must-have gizmo for the new generation of bedroom producers, and Tee put his through its paces with missionary zeal.
1987 saw Terry debut on Fourth Floor Records with two notable club hits in 'Alright Alright' and 'Dum Dum Cry', as NYC's freestyle take on the house sound began to find its feet. The man who was to become king of the production aliases caused confusion from day one, borrowing a name for these releases from a friend who had been running hugely successful street parties under the guise 'Masters At Work'. He was later to repay the favour to the friend, Kenny Gonzalez, by introducing him to one Louie Vega.
For Todd Terry 1988 was a classic tale of 'right time, right place'. Acid House, the so-called summer of love, and the UK's biggest youth cult since punk. The soundtrack to the revolution came in equal parts from Chicago, Detroit, New Jersey, and proto-UK and euro house. The undisputed king, however, was New York's Todd Terry.
Edited highlights of Terry's incredible 1988 output? Well, there was a trio of tracks which reworked recent New York classics from different ends of the clubbing spectrum: the nouveau disco of Class Action's 'Weekend' was reworked, still as 'Weekend', under the name Todd Terry Project; also under this moniker Dinosaur L (aka Arthur Russell)'s quirky leftfielder 'Go Bang' mutated into the sampladelic stormer 'Bango (to the Batmobile'); whilst b-boy block party favourite 'The Mexican' by Babe Ruth formed the basis of 'Dreams of Santa Anna', released as Orange Lemon.
That little lot should have been more than enough for even the most workaholic of producers. Amazingly, Todd Terry topped them all with a further three releases, all stone cold anthems.
Collaborating with ultra cool rising rap stars the Jungle Brothers, he produced the mighty 'I'll House You'. There was Black Riot's hypnotic 'A Day in the Life'. However, biggest of all was 'Can You Party' by Royal House, in many ways the defining record of the summer of 1988. Its trademark wailing sirens, and dancefloor call to arms of "can you feel it!" (sampled from a live recording by the Jacksons) caused mayhem whenever it was dropped. Legend has it that one Saturday night, the police were called to London's Astoria club in an effort to clear the huge crowd which was refusing to go home after a night at seminal acid night Trip. As the massed sirens began to wail, the crowd spontaneously started screaming as one "can you feeeel it!!!"
Todd the God saw out 1988 and saw in 1989 dj'ing from a tank on stage at the Brixton Academy. New York's Chief of House Staff marshalling his army of devoted London clubbers onto the dancefloor.
Terry had helped cause two seismic shifts. The UK arguably became the centre of house culture; and 1989 arguably saw New York became the epicentre of house music djs and producers, as the likes of Clivilles & Cole, David Morales, Kenny Dope, Frankie Bones and Tommy Musto all began to look over the parapet.
NY-based Nu-Groove briefly became the cult label du jour. However, as the 90s kicked in, it was Strictly Rhythm that was to take full advantage of New York's centre stage position. The pairing of business-savvy owner Mark Finkelstein and A&R queen Gladys Pizarro appealed to the djs and producers, and as has been well documented, it is hard to think of a New York player who didn't record for the label.
Terry did, and played a key role in Strictly's evolution. Through 1990 / 91, still very early days for the label, he recorded a brace of releases as Tech Nine, and a further brace as Static. Whilst they may not have hit the commercial or critical heights of most of his late 80s output, it was the very fact that NY's house don was giving his patronage to this new label on the block that was crucial. He also wasted no time in recommending the label to Brooklyn buddy Kenny Gonzalez, who in turn brought in his new production partner Louie Vega.
He reinforced this support by dj'ing regularly at Strictly parties, not just in the States but also Europe, often alongside a hot up'n'comer like Roger Sanchez. Once again this helped showcase the innovative side of what Strictly Rhythm was doing. By the mid to late 90s it was commonplace for a label to be built around a core of dj producers, a mix of experienced and new, who were not only responsible for much of the label's output, but also promoted it by going on the road, almost Motown revue style. Strictly, with Terry to the fore, was in the vanguard of that trend.
Of course, this being Todd Terry, he couldn't help but leave an indelible mark on the label's catalogue. By far his biggest tune on Strictly Rhythm was 'Can U Feel It', this time under the CLS moniker (and not to be confused with Royal House). A routine hip houser in its A side mix, as is the case with so many house music 12"s, the real treat was in store on the B side, wherein lurked the mighty 'In House Dub' mix, which found favour with djs of almost every house sub-genre you care to mention (or indeed invent).
The mid-90s saw Terry's rep reach new levels. His simple but brilliantly effective revamp of Everything But The Girl's haunting 'Missing' became a massive international hit, single-handedly revived the duo's then flagging career, and made Terry the superstar remixer (Bjork, Garbage, George Michael, Jamiroquai, the Cardigans). Meanwhile, a deal with major label Mercury saw Todd working with vocalists such as Martha Wash and Jocelyn Brown, scoring crossover hits with 'Keep On Jumpin' and 'Something's Goin' On'.
Terry's career as producer, remixer and dj continues unabated to this day. However, much as George Harrison once wryly remarked that whatever else he achieved in his life, his obituary would inevitably start with the words "ex-Beatle", so any analysis of Todd Terry centres around 1988 and all that. To continue the Beatles analogy, much as they took Elvis & Co's rock'n'roll blueprint, turned it on its head and repackaged it to the US, much the same could be said of Todd Terry's influence on house music. He took Chicago's baby, gave it a New York upbringing, then sent it to finishing school in Europe.
Can you feeeeel it???!!!