Francis Grasso, the father of DJ culture, the modern nightclub DJ and nightclub music programming
Francis Grasso was one of the many unsung heroes in the dj world! He was the first dj to perfect how to slip-cue a record and release it on beat in order to create a non-stop mix of music in the nightclub scene. Yes, radio djs had used this technique previously, but not to create a continuous mix of music; furthermore Francis started paying attention to the energy and feeling of each song and began putting the songs together into sets that corresponded with the energy he was getting from the dancers on the floor. The more they gave off, the more he gave back. More importantly, he was the first dj to segue (or overlay) 2 records together in order to maintain a consistent flow of energy throughout the night while matching the beats of the music. Though these things seem simple by today's standards, in the late 60's and early 70's these techniques, along with his progressive and innovative programming style, were quite revolutionary and provided the basis for the rest of us who followed. All done with LPs and 45s! As these techniques started to spread, Francis worked with other djs, first the other DJs at the club with Francis, Steve D'Acquisto and Michael Cappello, and later as the news spread of how hot these guys were, Nicky Siano, Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan, David Mancuso and Walter Gibbons. From there, it literally spread across the country and around the world. To this day there are elements of what these pioneers started within the framework of the modern nightclub DJ's sets.
From "Disco" by Albert Goldman, 1978.
"One of the greatest draws at Sanctuary was the only straight guy in the place, its legendary DJ, Francis. The most influential spinner in the short history of the craft, Francis Grasso is (sic) a small, muscular, long-haired lad from Brooklyn who got his start in the business working as a dancer at Trude Hellar's club in the Village, where he was obliged to perform on a narrow ledge against the wall that allowed him to move only laterally, like a figure in a frieze. One night while visiting Salvation II, a club perched on top of an apartment house on Central Park South (today, the site of the Bengali restaurant, Nirvana), Francis was asked to substitute for Terry Noel, who failed to show up for work. Grasso approached his trial with fear and trembling; but when Noel appeared, the manager fired him and hired the novice. Francis soon demonstrated that he had a fresh slant on spinning. Unlike Terry, who was heavy into rock and kept a picture of Elvis Presley stuck up in the booth, Francis worked the soul track. When he got up on the altar at Sanctuary, he would preach that old-time religion with Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Booker T. and the MG's. Into this mix he would drop Chicago's and Cat Mother's Track In A. Once he had the crowd hooked, he'd dip into his African bag with Olatunji and the authentic Nigerian drums and chants of Drums of Passion. Francis was the first DJ to perfect the current technique for stitching records together in seamless sequences. He invented the trick of "slip-cuing"; Holding the disc with his thumb while the turntable whirled beneath insulated by a felt pad, he would locate with an earphone the best spot to make the splice, then release the next side precisely on the beat. When he got Thorens turntables with speed controls, he supplemented his cuing technique with speed changes that enabled him to match up the records perfectly in tempo. He also got into playing around with the equalization controls not only to boost the bass for ass-wagging but to compensate for the loss of highs that occurred when a record was slowed down for mixing. Eventually, Francis became a virtuoso. His tour de force was playing two records simultaneously for as long as two minutes at a stretch. He would super the drum break of I'm A Man over the orgasmic moans of Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love to make a powerfully erotic mix that anticipated by many years the formula of bass-drum beats and love cries that is now one of the clich»s of disco mix. What this pioneering jock was doing was composing a hitherto nonexistent disco music out of prefab parts. What's more, he was forging the new music right in the heart of the discotheque, with the dancers freaking out in front of him and sending back their waves to his soul, exactly as Lindy dancers used to turn on jazz musicians in the old swing bands. Not a high-powered show-biz jock like Terry Noel, who wanted to sweep up the audience and carry them off on his trip, Francis was instead like an energy mirror, catching the vibes off the floor and shooting them back again recharged by the powerful sounds of his big horns. Eventually, Francis taught other jocks his tricks and established his style of playing as the new standard."
"At the end of the 60's, as Berry Gordy as acting as the musical midwife for the birth of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson, as dj's in clubs were emulating their radio counterparts by talking after each record, a major change was about to take place: mixing was about to be invented. Francis Grasso was one of those figures who made the first contribution to the art of mixing. Like most pioneers, he went underpaid and, in his professional lifetime, unrecognised for his origination. Francis, who was of Italian origin, was born in Brooklyn in 1948 and began his career in show business as a dancer at a club in the Village (New York). One night in 1968, while visiting another club socially (the Salvation 2 in Central Park), the manager asked him to substitute for the resident DJ, Terry Noel, who was ill. Although he was not experienced, he had an immediate talent. Terry got fired and Francis got hired. Francis, who had started out some years earlier as a dancer, could actually understand what a crowd expected from a DJ. Because of a motorbike accident, he suffered from poor feet coordination and was urged by his doctor to take up dancing as therapy. Soon Francis found himself dancing in the best New York clubs. In addition to this, Francis had a musical background: when he was young he used to play guitar, drums and saxophone. There was something particular that characterised Grasso. He introduced soul music to the venue and suddenly people were dancing to Aretha Franklyn, Gladys Knight, Booker T. & the MG's etc. Although Francis didn't have vari-speed turntables at his disposal, his bpm selection married to his smooth performances sent the crowd crazy. For the first time ever the music flowed continuously with no DJ interrupting the dancefloor. While entertaining his crowd he had also experimented with the formula bassdrums and erotic moanings. In fact he would play the percussions of Chicago Transit Authority's "I'm a Man" with Robert Plant?s "Whole Lotta Love". Also, he would play classics by the likes of Olajunti (Drums Of Passion), Santana, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, earlier productions by Earth Wind & Fire, The Staple Singers, Ike and Tina Turner, James Brown, Four Tops, Supremes, Temptations, Sam and Dave, Booker T. & the MG's, Sly and the Family Stone, etc. B.P.M was an unknown word to Francis: it was a feel for the mood, a cut at the right bar, a cross-fade at the right moment, until he got his first Thorens vari-speed turntables and then a new horizon came into his view. Before the introduction of this turntable, dj's couldn't adjust the speeds, so they had to cut at the right moment. There was no room for mistakes.
Nobody actually mixed like Francis, who developed an incredible skill for coming in with the right record at the right time. Francis had a natural talent for mixing records. Because of his ability and reputation, in 1969 he was offered a job at The Sanctuary, a former Baptist church located on West 43rd St. transformed into a disco. From his turntables placed on the altar, Francis taught the disco commandments to his followers, who celebrated his mastery of slip-cueing and mixing. The Sanctuary is also shown in a movie - 1971's 'Klute' (starring Jane Fonda), where you can see Grasso in action for a couple of seconds. Also back in 1969 he was spinning at Haven as well. After a while Francis decided to quit the Sanctuary,but he got back to it after a very short time. The reason why is not clear. It seems that somebody opened a club for Francis, and named it Francis. He decided to open his own club, and not play there, after agreeing to do so. Because of this he was beaten up. Devoid of ambition, Francis - the man who had virtually created disco and mixing as a new DJ attitude, continued working at the Sanctuary until it closed in 1972. Francis gave up deejaying in 1981 and spent his years in Brooklyn, occasionally working in construction. He passed away on March 20, 2001. He was found dead in his flat by friends."
Scorpio - Denis Coffey
C'mon Children - Earth, Wind & Fire
I'm Coming - Bobby Bird