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Zanzibar's Tony Humphries- I Still Call Myself A New Yorker

Author: Jonty Skrufff
Tuesday, June 10, 2003
Brooklyn born legendary house DJ Tony Humphries made his name in New Jersey's best known club Zanzibar and also paradoxically became synonymous with garage music, named after Manhattan's Paradise Garage, a club he never played at. Though contradictions aside, Humphries remains one of the world's DJ greats, respected for both his contribution to house music through his early 80s Zanzibar residencies and for his subsequent globe trotting career, carrying house to the masses.

Two decades on, he's stepping back to the future, via an Azuli compilation Club Zanzibar Classics, featuring 25 tracks that rocked the legendary club.

"Everything goes in cycles, that cliche is true," Tony told Jonty Skrufff this week.

"When people run out of ideas, you always go back to the well, or the library and there's a certain amount of talent or good music that was always there inside disco. You just need to go back and check it out. Most dance music originates from soul so whether you want to go back to hip hop or disco whatever, the common denominator is soul."

Skrufff: You could have chosen thousands of potential tracks for the Zanzibar CD, how did you choose these 25-

Tony Humphries: "These particular 25 are synonymous with Zanzibar, in other words if any of those people who patronised the club hear these tracks they'll go 'Oh yeah those are definitely Zanzibar'. I've also gone for tracks that weren't championed at other large venues, such as (Paradise) Garage or Shelter. We went through the record collection and the library, and also thought about how readily available the tracks are. There are some tracks like The Pointer Sisters' Happiness that some people must have but they probably didn't play it in clubs as much as we did."

Skrufff: Why didn't you mix the CD-

Tony Humphries: "I chose not to mix it because everybody else is mixing them, I concentrated on the flow, which I do with all my CDs. It's got to be an interesting flow. The first track is Welcome To Our World, which is an invitation type record, and would be a great record to start a live set. While Take Me Home, which finished CD1 would be good for closing a set. Then you've got the final track on CD2, 'Where Will You Go When the Party's Over- which was actually the last song ever played at Zanzibar."

Skrufff: You started DJing at El Morocco in New York in 1975, what kind of club was it-

Tony Humphries: "The El Morocco was for the stars of the time, it was a Diva club where the High society people of New York went to eat and party a little, it was a private club. I was an aspiring DJ at the time and I was putting in job applications anywhere where they had two decks. I worked for the New York Daily News, in the mailroom, I was a young kid trying to get it together. The Daily News is on 42nd Street and 2nd Avenue so I basically walked up 2nd Avenue one day and ran into the El Morocco. It was on 52nd and Second, ten blocks away."

Skrufff: DJs then weren't seen as stars, what was it like DJing at the club-

Tony Humphries: "There was a huge disparity between me and the guests there at that point. I was a 17 year old kid and I'd see these people in high society magazines and at the time my job title was 'discote', which I think is French for DJ but the booth was right next to the kitchen and I had to play dinner music initially. My favourite opening track would be a Quincy Jones song; Tell Me A Bedtime Story, until they'd finish eating, then I'd get the nod to start playing some danceable tracks. Most of the people there were actors and film stars, I can't name them, I don't want it to backfire on me."

Skrufff: Were you hanging out at Studio 54 then as a punter-

Tony Humphries: "Oh yeah, absolutely, I was a part of it as a patron, then later on through connections, I got a chance to play there twice though not during its heyday of the late 70s, during that whole Donna Summer era. It was very hard to get into the<