Get the party thumping
Questlove spins the vinyl for Maui
Questlove has some sage advice for budding DJs stumped about how to get a party totally thumping.
“Michael Jackson is absolutely foolproof,” he told Fast Company magazine. “I’ve done sets for Oprah Winfrey and for conservative statesmen, and for my own nightclub audience, and I’ve never seen Michael Jackson lose.”
Acclaimed as a musical genius, Questlove (born Ahmir Thompson) is the Grammy-winning co-founder and drummer of The Roots, the music director of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” a celebrated producer and DJ, a college professor and insightful social commentator, a best-selling author and host of his own weekly Pandora radio show.
On a vacation to Maui last year, he decided he wanted to DJ somewhere. Looking for a cool spot with a good vibe and nothing too large he picked Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon in Paia. Those lucky to find out about the surprise gig were treated to a unique night where he played everything from New Orleans brass and electronica, to Britney Spears and some rare Prince alternative versions.
He’s back on Maui again, this time for a four-night residency at Charley’s starting this evening, where he will DJ from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
As a DJ, Questlove is unique in that he shows up with a vast music library and encyclopedic knowledge. His vinyl collection reportedly contains more than 50,000 records giving him the ability to tear up the dance floor with the most eclectic sets of hip-hop, house, rare grooves, obscure pop and a mix of everything in between.
Reviewing a recent Questlove gig, a St. Louis’ River Front Times review marveled: “The goal of Questlove’s mix was to explore 85 years of music, he told the crowd. The set list rarely spent more than a minute on any of its songs, which included Kanye and Jay-Z, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, Jet, Toto, the Jackson 5, the Supremes, J Dilla, Beyonce, Katrina and the Waves and — we kid you not — Kermit the Frog.”
A passion for music, all kinds of music, began early. So the story goes, on his first day of school, Questlove’s teacher assigned his class homework, to bring in their favorite 45 rpm record. While his classmates brought in popular contemporary songs like the Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive,” he brought in Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers’ 1956 hit “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”
At 16 he came across a Public Enemy song that would change his life.
“I stayed up and decided to record some songs off the radio,” he wrote in a Rolling Stone article on his Top 50 Hip-Hop Songs of All Time. “What I wasn’t ready for was the song that saved my life. What the hell is this?!?!? It was the sound of your brain in a vice grip. The sound of a tea kettle screaming for its life? I wanted to blast this song to smithereens, but it was 1:30 a.m. and my parents were asleep. That did not stop me. I played and played this song, over and over, until it was 6 a.m. and I’d been listening to ‘Rebel Without a Pause’ for four and a half hours. I made a 60-minute cassette with that song and only that song.”
The house DJ for the Golden Globes this year, in the past he’s rocked parties for Prince, Oprah Winfrey and Janet Jackson.
“I DJ because my mark is that I want to educate people,” he reported in Fast Company. “I love it when people Shazam my stuff. I encourage it, because that’s how people learn. Records were always my first love, but I had to kind of make it a hobby over what was paying my rent at the time. But I took a cue from Mike D, who used to come out and DJ in disguise before Beastie shows. He was the one who showed me the value of setting the soundtrack of your night. At first I did it for free a lot at Roots shows, and after show parties. Nowadays, DJ-ing is where I make the majority of my income. What was once a hobby is now like my lifeline.”
Born to music, his father, Lee Andrews, fronted the 1950s doo-wop group, Lee Andrews & the Hearts, and he often accompanied them on tour as a young kid. He later attended the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, where classmates included members of Boyz II Men.
“I was about two when I started playing the drums, but people sensed that I was headed in that direction even before that,” he writes in his best-selling book “Mo’ Meta Blues.” “My mom and dad said that I had a natural sense of rhythm from six months or so, and by eight months if you tapped out a pattern, I could tap it right back.”
“My parents didn’t trust babysitters back in the early ’70s, so I had to play bongos on stage with them,” he told Mother Jones. “I traveled with them from five to seven on the road, playing percussion. Between 8 and 12, my dad sort of prepared me by teaching me every aspect of road life. One night the drummer didn’t make it, and then I was his drummer. My first gig was at Radio City Music Hall when I was 13.”
Forming the influential hip-hop band The Roots in 1993 with his friend Tariq Trotter (Black Thought), by 2000 they had won their first Grammy for “You Got Me.” The Roots with Questlove perform five nights a week on NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
As a producer and drummer he’s worked with a variety of artists from Kanye West, Elvis Costello and Al Green, to Jay-Z and Erykah Badyu. And in 2015, he co-produced the Grammy-winning soundtrack for the acclaimed Broadway musical “Hamilton,” as well as a “Hamilton” mixtape.
In his latest music venture he pays homage to Motown with the stunning song “It Ain’t Fair” by The Roots and Bilal, featured on the soundtrack of “Detroit,” the latest movie by Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow, about the 1967 riot in the city.
“This song is the slow burning fire inside all of our souls,” Questlove told Rolling Stone. “Watching the movie clearly shows that life in 1967 isn’t that much different in 2017 or 1897 for that matter. We wanted to hit many a bird with one stone: Humanize the pain, confusion and sadness, but also express the overdue anger.”
He said he wants the song to have an impact similar to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion” and Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City.”
Praised by Forbes as “one of our great cultural commentators,” his latest book, “Something to Food About: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs,” features a series of conversations with 10 chefs. Anthony Bourdain in the intro notes: “Basically, all cool reverts to him.”
An avid daily (often humorous) tweeter, he also used to blog about his celebrity encounters — as in roller skating late one night with Prince and Eddie Murphy.
“Then he (Prince) opens the briefcase . . . pulls out the most unique skates i ever seen in my life. they were clear skates that not only lights up but when you skate the friction of the wheels to the ground causes sparks to come into your trail . . . sorta like the billie jean video for the skating generation. he did a lap around the rink leaving a rainbow trail of light and sparks in his trail.”
Fleetwood’s on Front St. in Lahaina celebrates its fifth anniversary with a special show beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday featuring Mick Fleetwood, guitarist/vocalist Rick Vito and singer Gretchen Rhodes. The show also marks an early release of Fleetwood’s new book, “Love That Burns.”
Chronicling the early history of Fleetwood Mac, the book includes text commentaries by Peter Green, Christine McVie, John McVie, Jeremy Spencer and John Mayall.
Fleetwood explains: “The book is called ‘Love That Burns’ for a reason, it’s a song that Peter sung and it’s a beautiful, poignant, sad blues song. I think the real reveal of the story of Fleetwood Mac was we were a blues band. We were a bunch of kids playing blues and loving it.”
* Tickets range from $670 for a VIP couple’s booth (which includes the book and meet and greet with the drummer) to $95 for standing room (no book). More details are available online at www.fleetwoodsonfrontst.com.
On Friday before the Fleetwood’s big bash, Rick Vito will make a rare appearance at Casanova Italian Restaurant & Deli in Makawao with Lenny Castellanos and Mark Johnstone of the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band. Over the years this very gifted musician has recorded and toured with the likes of Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Bob Seger (that’s him soloing on “Like a Rock”). Steve Miller has called him, “my favorite blues guitarist.”
* Show is at 9:45 p.m. Friday. There is a $10 cover at the door. For more information, call 572-0220.