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Nicky Siano (1955 - )
Related: DJ - New York music - dance music
Nicky Siano is a New York DJ who set up the Gallery in the early seventies. This is the club where both Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles learned their basic beat mixing skills.
Nicky on Walter Gibbons: "He was quiet and sad...I always felt like he needed to laugh more, he was a remarkable talent."
Soul Jazz Presents Nicky Siano's Gallery (2004) - Various Artists [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
The Gallery, The Loft and The Paradise Garage were the three most important clubs in New York's underground disco scene. DJ Nicky Siano, whose club The Gallery ran from 1972-77, had the distinction of being connected to all three. He was also the DJ when the most celebrated of all clubs, Studio 54, opened it's doors playing as Bianca Jagger entered on a white horse. Artists featured on this disc include Jeanie Brown, Undisputed Truth, The Temptations, Dinosaur, Vernon Birch, Bill Withers, Bobby Womack, The Tramps and more. Soul Jazz. 2004.
1. Can't Stop Talking by Jeanie Browne 2. Big John by Undisputed Truth 3. Law Of The Land by The Temptations 4. Exuma by Exuma 5. And They Call That Love by Vernon Birch 6. We're Getting Stronger by Loleatta Holloway 7. Get Into Something by The Isley Brothers 8. Yes We Can Can by the Pointer Sisters 9. I Can Understand It by Bobby Womack 10. I Got It by Gloria Spencer 11. Sang and Dance by The Bar-kays 12. Love Epidemic by The Tramps 13. I'm Gonna Let My Heart by the Supremes 14. Harlem by Bill Withers 15. Crazy Bout My Baby by Bonnie Bramlett
Kiss me Again
Of all the records that I've done, I'm still proud of my first record, 'Kiss Me Again'. Cause I really think that its an all time classic. Timmy Regisford said to me, "I have this record with me at all times," that really meant something to me. And it is an all time for people who were into that underground scene. It was the first Dinosaur record, and they went on to do 'Go Bang', and it was with Arthur Russell and it was just a wonderful, wonderful record. --Nicky Siano
excerpts of e-mail conversation with Nicky on 20 August 1998
Nicky was born on 3/18/55 in Brooklyn, NY
Nicky Siano has been a DJ for a very long time. There were just a handful of DJs in the early seventies and they all knew each other. He knew Francis Grasso although he was only 14 when the Sanctuary opened.
He met Arthur Russell through his best friend Louis who was seeing him at the time...he brought him to The Gallery and Arthur fell in love with the music. They were a mutual influence on each other's music henceforth. For Arthur he recorded 'Kiss Me Again' and 'Waiting Till The Time Is Right', and 'Move',and 'Tigerstripes'. [What label was that?]
Nicky has produced, mixed and written over 30 records among which top ten Billboard dance records. 'Pick it Up', by Sofonda C, was written and produced by him.
Nicky: "Frankie Knuckles came to The Gallery opening night and became friends with Robin, the woman I was seeing at the time who worked the door, she introduced him to me, and we hired him to work at the club. Frankie asked me to hire a good friend of his who was "wild but very talented", that friend was Larry Levan, who became my best friend, among other things."
"Loleatta's first performance as a club artist was at The Gallery, shortly after her first album came out on Salsoul"
Grace Jones' first performance in NY and on the club scene was at The Gallery, at the time she had a small independent label record called 'That's The Trouble' and 'Sorry', when Nicky met her at her agents (Sy Berlin) she sang the song to him and he invited her to the gallery, no one knew who she was when she performed, and although people liked her, it wasn't the reception that Loleatta got. Grace shortly after was signed to a label [Island?] and had her first big hit.
Nicky on Tee Scott:
"Tee Scott was one of the most loving, genuinely nice people I ever met, he was loving and open, and never had a bad word to say about anybody, he was a very special spirit, I really loved him."
Nicky on his musical eclectisism:
"I was the first person to play 'Rock Lobster' in a club, and 'Cherchez La Femme', and 'Call Me'...I grew up in the era when you had to play dance rock as well as R&B to fill the night...I like any record that moves my soul, have also played alot of jazz during my nights, and really like world beat music."
Nicky on Alex Rosner:
"Tee was mistaken, [Alex] Rosner did systems at the Limelight (the original one in the Village, not the latter version) and worked for David Mancuso before I hired him...Gallery opened in 1972, I was seventeen, and had worked at the Round Table prior to that."
Was there a difference with Better Days and the "after hour" clubs like Loft, Gallery?
Nicky: "of course, Better Days was a bar, with that type of atmosphere, Gallery was more of underground, homey kind of feel, then we moved and we still had a homey feel, but with greater technical stuff...also the bars close at 4am, we closed at 7 or 8 in the morning, no liquor, and the bars were a lot more cruisy, this was a place to dance, and lose yourself on the dancefloor, letting the rhythm take your soul to heaven and back.
What were your earliest musical influences?
David Mancuso, Michael Cappella, and David Rodriguez.
How did you get into DJing?
Nicky: "My girlfriend sucked a club owner off to get me my first gig, unbeknownst tome, she knew I was obsessed with playing, and wanted it more than anything"What were the first records you bought?
Nicky: "'Rain' by Dorothy Morrison, 'I Got It', by Gloria Spencer, 'You're the One' by Little Sister, Kendricks' album 'People Hold On'...those are a few.
Nicky Siano and the art of extreme DJ-ing - Tim Lawrence
Nicky Siano was an extreme DJ, perhaps the most extreme DJ of the 1970s. More than any other spinner of the era, he stretched the nascent practice of turntablism to points where nobody dreamt it could go, and he did this not just in terms of technical skills but also emotional expressivity. If you danced to Nicky Siano, it was almost inevitable you would have an attack of the heart.
Between 1970 and 1973 Nicky Siano - along with Michael Cappello, Steve D'Acquisto, Don Fendley, Francis Grasso, Bobby "DJ" Guttadaro, Richie Kaczor, David Mancuso, David Rodriguez and Ray Yeates - pioneered the art of DJing. This group of insomniac music fanatics gave birth to disco and Siano, who took both the art of DJing and the being of DJing to a new level of intensity, was its standout spinner. Other jocks went on to accumulate more gold records and Billboard awards, but everyone knew that Siano was the DJ's DJ, and he held onto this unofficial title from 1973 to 1977.
A pencil-thin high school senior who wore nutty professor big glasses and parted his floppy brown hair at the centre, Siano first sampled the embryonic culture of disco at the Firehouse, where the Gay Activist Alliance was putting on bustling parties for New York's newly liberated gay men. Next he visited Tamburlaine, a Chinese-restaurant-cum-disco situated on 148 East Forty-eighth Street that attracted the most colourful crowd in Manhattan. Then he tried out Tambourine, where a heavily drugged up crowd was stressing out the neighbourhood community. And after that he went to David Mancuso's Loft, which changed his life.
Less disco-not-disco than disco-pre-disco, Siano made his debut behind the turntables at the Round Table around the middle of 1972 after his companion Robin Lord proposed an "exchange of favours" with the club's mobster manager. Then, in February 1973, he teamed up with Lord and his brother Joe to open the Gallery in an old warehouse on West Twenty-second Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. "We didn't look into licensing or anything like that," says Siano. "We just wanted to dance. It was as simple as that."
Club kids Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan helped decorate the room with balloons and the party burst into life in the summer of 1973. When the Fire Department closed the Twenty-second Street venue down a year later, the Gallery relocated to Mercer and Houston, where it reopened in November 1974. Recognising that Siano was an exceptional talent and that the Gallery dance floor was a place of communal gathering, physical expressiveness and spiritual release, downtown aficionados were collectively delighted.
Throughout this period Siano DJed with a combination of intensity, flamboyance and assurance. He cut up songs to build new records and generate new flows. He sustained his party peaks for longer than anyone else dared. He deployed a third turntable in order to overlay sound effects while he mixed. He played with the EQs like no other jock. He put on shows - the Statue of Liberty, Sweet Transvestite, Judy Garland, Diana Ross, Barbara Streisand - in mid-set. He played songs that, in the words of one contemporary, "made you want to put on a skirt and spin." And as the night drew to a close he occasionally sat down, took off his shoes and socks, and started to mix with his feet.
As an extrovert personality with evangelical tendencies, Siano was always going to stretch out beyond the cosy confines of the dance underground. He did this by breaking hit after hit after hit as well as by playing larger, more commercial venues such as Le Jardin and Studio 54, where he worked as the alternate DJ for the first four months of the club's existence. "At that time we needed to expand," says Siano. "Bigger clubs were opening and Studio encapsulated the whole thing." Nobody at the Gallery objected to the uptown residency. "It was the culmination of seven years of nightclubs."
The dream began to fracture in the second half of 1977. Studio turned sour when it became clear that the visual was being prioritised at the expense of the aural, and in the summer co-owner Steve Rubell, who was uncomfortable with the Gallery DJ's alternative style and excessive drug use, gave him the sack. In the autumn, Joe Siano begged him to ease up on the drugs and not "kill himself", or else he would shut down the Gallery. Siano refused to ease up and his brother shut down the Gallery.
Siano went on to play at Buttermilk Bottom, which he converted into an underground haven for the Gallery faithful, and in November 1978 Sire released his first single, "Kiss Me Again" by Dinosaur, which he co-produced with the classical-cellist-turned-disco-fan Arthur Russell, whose conversion to dance culture took place at the Gallery. The first disco twelve-inch released on the new-wave-oriented Sire, "Kiss Me Again" was ridiculously successful, but by now Siano's drug addiction was out of control and, following a couple of aborted attempts to reopen the Gallery, he went into rehab and said his final farewell to Nightworld. Or so it seemed.
When I started searching for Siano in 1997, everyone assumed he had disappeared or, thanks to his uncompromising lifestyle, passed away. But then Steve D'Acquisto had a chance meeting with the ex-Gallery spinner in an AOL chat room and put the two of us in touch, after which we began a series of fervent interviews (the results of which can be found in Love Saves the Day). When Fran┴ois Kevorkian, preparing for Larry Levan's anniversary birthday party, started to put out feelers for Siano, I gave him his number and Siano went on to tear down the roof at Body & Soul.
Siano has subsequently held down the celebrated Twelve West residency at Cheetah, toured the world and released a string of floor-blazing productions, including "Smoking It" by Automagic. Whether he is playing in New York or performing abroad, Siano performs with a rare energy, feeling the music like no other DJ and channelling this concentrated emotion into his playing. When he plays classics (which he mixes with contemporary dance releases) they don't sound like classics. They sound like the revelatory future.
Yet for all of the revivalist interest in seventies dance culture, Siano has not received the recognition he warrants. For four-and-a-half years the Gallery was every bit as influential as the Loft, and for much of the 1970s Siano stretched the art of DJing to its very limit. For Siano's quasi-religious devotees, this compilation will bring blissful memories of shimmering nights. As for the rest of us, we can now sneak into an imaginary Gallery and listen to Siano's message of love, hope and passion. Don't forget to put on your skirt and spin. --Tim Lawrence , liner notes to Nicky Siano compilation on Soul Jazz records
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