909 is the name of the machine, not its price! The depressing yet predictable tale of how Derrick May sold a stolen Roland drum machine to Frankie Knuckles to pay his rent

Derrick May is a master at telling stories. He’s remarkably good at it. Whether it’s because he genuinely believes they’re true or just because he knows he has a fairly charismatic personality, I don’t know.

Back in 2004, May gave an account of how Frankie Knuckles bought a Roland TR-909 from him. According to the DJ History archive, courtesy of Red Bull Music Academy…

How much of this story is true will almost certainly never be known. The one other person involved, Frankie Knuckles, sadly died in 2014. But there is one detail that I can confirm was omitted.

Derrick May had stolen the 909 from Juan Atkins and sold it to pay the rent. According to Eddie Fowlkes…

“Derrick was my roommate at the time. At one point Derrick stopped working so I was the only one to pay my half of the rent. One day I get home and Juan was there. I was tired and wanted to get to sleep. Then Juan wakes me up and says: “Fowlkes, Fowlkes! You know what this motherfucker did? Derrick went and gave away the fucking sound! He couldn’t pay his rent and sold his 909 to Frankie Knuckles in Chicago!” Juan was very protective of his sound and Derrick didn’t understand this.”

Not that I have much sympathy for Atkins at this point – it’s somewhat tempered by the fact the so-called Belleville Three purchased most of their equipment in the 1980s with their “earnings” from a credit card scam…