What happened in the early days of house music? Well, we know that much of what has been chronicled about Detroit techno, for example, was rubbish. The Belleville Three story, which lazy journalists continue to recite regularly, has long been disproven as a marketing myth.
So it’s only reasonable to ask questions of what happened in Chicago too. And one person who’s particularly keen to make sure his role is remembered is Jesse Saunders. He has claimed in an endless number of interviews over the years that “On And On”, the song he released back in January 1984, was the first ever house record put on vinyl.
Is he right? Despite this claim being around for years, no one’s been able to verify it’s true – but nor has anyone been able to credibly dispute his words either. Whatever the truth, Saunders gets very annoyed when he reads what he perceives as information about house music history that’s wrong.
Which is why Saunders wasn’t happy when he read an article which first appeared in print all the way back in November 1986. And he appears especially irked with claims in the piece that Farley Jackmaster Funk – real name Farley Williams – was the first to play “obscure oldies, imports, drum machines, and early rhythm-only tracks like ‘On And On’.”
He points out that “How could he be the first to do all this if Ron Hardy, Wayne Williams, Frankie Knuckles, myself and many others before him were already doing it? Farley didn’t start DJing until 1980.”.
So what does Williams have to say for himself? He gives a rather rambling reply, which I’ve tried to clean up as best as I could. He says “Jesse Saunders never claimed, even in his TV interviews in Chicago that he made house music. He wanted to [work with] Prince and Motown. My truth is my label was the first record label to tell you it was house – House Records. As Chip E often states, Jesse never claimed he was making house music until much later – but I still have him credit, even though it was Vince Lawrence who was really the first with ‘Fantasy’.”
“I wasn’t the first – that was my ego talking. But I know if I didn’t play this on the radio, we wouldn’t be talking about this today. The 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 is Jesse Saunders, Farley Jackmaster Funk, Steve ‘Silk Hurley, Jamie Principle and Chip-E. Now mix that however you like!”
Well, that cleared things up, didn’t it? When even those who were there can’t agree on what happened, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of us…