Characterizing his first DJ experience as a “baptism by fire,” Philadelphia DJ Jimmy DePre’s remembers his earliest foray into DJing as a fortunate accident. Starting his musical career at 15 working for legendary Philly radio personality Jerry Blavat, DePre's experience up until that “baptism” was audio editing and behind the scenes radio work. However, one day he was invited to accompany Blavat to a live appearance where he met Blavat’s DJ. After getting a crash course on the DJ equipment, he was handed the headphones and stepped up to perform in front of 2000 people when the DJ decided to take a smoke break. After this moment, his journey to becoming a professional DJ began.
Today, he’s not only known as a seasoned DJ, but a radio personality, a capella singer, and disco aficionado. We spoke with Depre about making musical connections, DJing Pride, and his latest edits. He makes his San Francisco DJ debut for Go Bang! this Saturday, July 4, at The Stud.
[jump] Congrats on making it out of a 10-hour night of DJing for Pride in New York! How was that?
It was a blast! Bobby Viteritti, Warren Gluck, and I took turns throughout the evening so between the three of us we had a really interesting and diverse night of classics. The best part, however, was the beautiful crowd of people. They are the ones who made the party such a success and so fun to play. It was also very special for me to spin some of the first gay classics like “Make Me Believe In You” by Patti Jo in the sleaze set toward the end of the night. It felt like everything came full circle in light of the national marriage equality vote last week. This was a Pride that none of us will ever forget, and I count myself blessed to have been able to be a part of it.
What attracted you to the disco genre?
My first love was Doo-wop and soul music. The natural progression led to disco and when I found it — I fell in love hard. Philadelphia was such a hotbed for dance music for years and played a huge part in shaping the sound that would become known as disco and later house music. If you look at all of the early Philadelphia International releases, it's very easy to see how disco and house were both derived from things the guys and gals at Sigma Sound were laying down. It's one of the things I'm most proud of as a Philadelphian.
How did you get acquainted with the Trocadero Transfer crowd? For those of us that don't know, what is the significance of Trocadero and its history?
I got acquainted with the Trocadero crowd through friends that have been clubbing through the years. Philadelphia had the DCA. NYC had Flamingo, 12 West, The Saint, and The Garage. San Francisco had Trocadero Transfer. My first full foray into that scene though was with Bobby Viteritti, whom I met through a mutual friend. We hit it off immediately. Since then I've gotten to know Steve Fabus, who introduced me to Jason Williams, a close friend of Sylvester's and a Trocadero regular. Jason then introduced me to Carla Nicholson who ran the arc light at The Troc. During my last trip I also spent some quality time with Paul Goodyear. That spawned he and Jason introducing me to Jerry Bonham. It's quite amazing how things unravel and all because of the love of music.
When did you start making disco edits?
I started making them about 5 years ago. I only do them when I feel inspired though so there have been long periods of time where I've done none and other times where they seemed rapid fire. I'm a stickler for preserving the integrity of records so I try to make them as natural as possible. The early ones were me combing vocal and instrumental sides of 45s to make what I thought would have been the 12″ mix of a song. As time moved on, I began to fix the layout of songs that I thought should have been arranged differently. I love music and for me editing is a way of adding your own touch to material you love or highlighting the parts that really make you smile.
Tell us about your latest Atkins edit. What inspired this?
My dear friend, DJ and someone I musically admire immensely, Terry Sherman, turned me on to this song a few years ago. I fell in love with it immediately but it somehow shortly afterward slipped through my mind. One day in the past few months I ran across the 12″ in my collection and decided to feature it at the monthly vinyl party my friend John Michael Di Spirito and I throw in Philly. It got a really good reaction and the low synthesizer parts and vocal harmonies sounded monstrous on the club's system. I knew I had to somehow make this little slice of fun disco longer and fix the oddly counted out introduction thus the edit was born. I played it Sunday night at Classics Never Die and it went over in a large way. We'll see how San Francisco feels about it on Saturday night.
You're also part of an a cappella group, Junior and the Four Seniors. How fun is that?
It's a lot of fun. I got together with the guys in the spring of 2008 basically by accident. They had all been singing in different groups since the late '50s/early '60s and all recorded material over the years too. The baritone had heard me singing at a club we all frequented and wondered if I had any interest in singing with a group. I told him that was something I'd always wanted to do. He went a grabbed a few guys, we went outside and tried a few songs. It clicked immediately. We went inside, sang two songs on stage and got together for our first rehearsal the following week. We've been at ever since, releasing an album in 2010 and preparing to go into the studio next month to start work on our second release.
You've held many roles in your career, from radio host, singer, to DJ. What has been your musical mantra for your career?
Passion. Be passionate about what you do. Love what you do. I live and breathe music and I live to make people happy. Seeing someone getting their life to song, smiling, and enjoying themselves is the most satisfying thing in the world. Music is the healer of all things in my eyes. Being able to give that to others is everything to me.
Since you're from the East Coast, what's a song you think resonates with all disco lovers all over, no matter the place?
Funny that the song I would pick would be an East Coast record and moreover one recorded in Philadelphia, but I've always felt that “Relight My Fire” by Dan Hartman and Loleatta Holloway resonates with just about everyone regardless of where you are from. I've watched it send all different types of crowds and people in to a complete frenzy as soon as it comes on. With the way it builds, how it moves, the performance, I defy anyone to sit still when it's playing. Obviously it's very difficult to please everybody with every selection during a night but to me, this is one of those records that, regardless of your particular taste, appeals to everyone and has the power to unite every person in the room for a moment we can all share in together.
What are you looking forward to doing in San Francisco?
Besides playing Go Bang and celebrating the birth of Steve, Jason, and David, I'm really looking forward to exploring the city more and spending time with my dear friends who I don't get to see very often. I visited San Francisco for the first time last spring and immediately fell in love with the whole vibe of the city. I hung out with some truly wonderful and talented people and made a handful of new friends during that short trip that I can't imagine life without now. I'm incredibly thankful to be coming back not only to visit but to do my favorite thing in the world: play records.