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Issue 1084

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Tom Moulton: Moulton's Magic

Tom Moulton @bluesandsoul.com
Tom Moulton @bluesandsoul.com Tom Moulton @bluesandsoul.com Tom Moulton and Bette Midler @bluesandsoul.com

âIâve never taken drugs but I doubt if the club goers that do take them get half as high as I do when Iâm listening to musicâ opens Tom Moulton, one of clublandâs greater ever remixers.

It was with his unquestionable passion, talent and status in mind that Harmless Records head boy Ian Dewhirst approached the 71-year-old veteran last year and invited him to remix classic moments from the Philly Groove label catalogue â subsequent compilation release Philly Re-Grooved: The Tom Moulton Remixes earned plaudits from critics and soulful dance fans alike; and now, this month, an intrepid sequel, Philly Re-grooved 2, with punchy sub-title The Master Returns.

Does Tom really feel like a master? âI donât see it like that; I donât see my success or popularity so much as I see the success and popularity of good musicâ he answers. âI remain shocked⦠scared even by the fact my remixes have become so big around the world but itâs great that people are now so accepting of this wonderful music and are probably feeling the same spine-tingles I did when I heard and then remixed it.â

Harmless, of course, took quite a punt in kick-starting the Philly Re-Grooved project. Volume one came at a time when clubland was heavily focussed on the electronic â on digital minimalism, on glacial house beats and sharp tech crunch. It still is. Did Tom have his reservations about getting involved?

âNot reallyâ he laughs. âI was never worried about the first recordâs appeal. It featured some of my favourite songs, all of which were hugely successful, so how could we go wrong? I basically needed to please myself. Iâm my own worst critic and I knew the artists and songs so well, so I just needed to get the track selection right to feel comfortable with things.â

But even with tracks chosen there was still some restlessness: âThere was a real melancholy going back to those songs, knowing that many of the people that worked on them â people I knew â are now gone. They were great times in the studio back then; there was a real buzz that we were creating something fresh. It was a nice challenge to revisit the songs, and attempt to put that buzz into my versions. Iâm really happy with how both albums have turned out; theyâve made me feel totally alive.â

Philly Groove, founded by Stan Watson and Sam Bell in 1967 (and with revered produced Thom Bell handling A&R), enjoyed a number of smooth soul and R&B hits during the late sixties and early seventies. As its catalogue developed, it nodded increasingly so towards the emerging sound of disco.

Where Moulton selected major label cuts from the likes of First Choice (Armed And Extremely Dangerous) and The Delfonics (I Told You So) for his first Re-Grooved outing, he left himself fewer options â at least on first glance â for the new record.

âBoy, that was a real panic I can tell youâ he confesses. âWeâd not banked on getting the chance to do a second album. The first one had been planned over quite some time but the demand and rush for a second made me ask myself âhow are we going to find the big songs?â At first I thought itâd be too difficult, but then I realised Iâd forgotten about Incompatible by Ultra High Frequency, a beautiful if more obscure Philly dance record, and then First Choiceâs B-side Smarty Pants with that timeless shuffle. Everything came together after that.â

Philly Re-Grooved 2, also featuring gems from Terry Collins and Loose Change, will precede the Dutch release of a Philly International Records boxset which Tom has spent a considerable length of time helping package. There are other proposals â some retro, some new â on the table and under consideration but Mr Moulton will not be rushed.

âI always tell young remixers not to rush. How do you polish a diamond? You need to take time when working on somethingâ he stresses. âIâve disappointed a few people over the years when Iâve told them that if they want my name on the record then they have to follow my pace. The accusation that I do what I do for money would absolutely kill me; remix work has always been an emotional attachment⦠itâs like painting a masterpiece in audio.â

Tom Jerome Moultonâs career can be tracked back to high-profile Fire Island club The Sandpiper where, during the late sixties, he provided DIY tapes of disco tracks heâd extended and blended together. They promptly got him noticed by key figures within the music industry and hired to âmixâ some of their biggest artists â Gloria Gaynor, The Three Degrees and MFSB to name but a few.

âIn the early days I was mixing rather than remixing. I was often asked to rescue records to make them work fully for the dancefloor⦠create âthe mixââ he says. âIn actual fact I was making a short and long mix for everything so people had a choice when buying records; personally I often felt some of these great songs were too short in their original format.â

Tom did fully produce other artists â notably Grace Jones and her first three albums, between 1977 and 1979 â and even write a handful of songs but remixing remained his key focus. Looking back does he have any regrets about his balance of work?

âNot really; I did write a handful of songs but it took up so much time, great as it was, and I had so much else to do in the studio that something had to give. You canât do everythingâ he protests. âI found the production side of things difficult too. I felt I had to give it straight to artists and that sometimes caused friction; if they had an attitude I wasnât prepared to accept it. Iâd tell them we all had our jobs to do and that if they wanted to waste everyoneâs time challenging everything then itâd hit their pocket, not ours.

âWith production there was a lot of interference from people, full stop, and I didnât like that. It was easier to remix their finished record and then add what needed to be added - easier but still very creative.â

Tom estimates that heâs mixed over 4000 songs during his career to date â a figure, remarkably, that doesnât take into account the various mix versions he has edited per song. His is a career that also includes lofty titles as the inventor of the 12â single, disco âbreakâ and dance remix. His trademark studio credit âA Tom Moulton Mixâ really has become the stuff of legends.

Being so entwined in clublandâs earliest, most formative years and, today, with such depth of experience and wide-ranging knowledge of âdanceâ music what does Tom make of the current dancefloor landscape. He must have fairly strong views?

âTodayâs club music is largely based on three or four chords; the musicality is the least of itâ he comments. âThereâs too much onus on grooves and gimmicks, on putting a date-stamp or reference point on every record â âthat sounds eighties, this sounds retro-seventiesâ and so on â and looking for short-term novelties.

âA lot of todayâs artists are afraid of believing in their music; they think people donât want melodies and do want machine grooves. I tell artist friends of mine to believe in themselves and follow their own path; great songs are timeless and will never go out of fashion. I tell them that I was never influenced by anyone and that bandwagons are a bad thing but they often get really cross with me!â

Spreading âthe wordâ is clearly still on Tomâs mind; ploughing his own unique musical furrows because that is what âmakes me live.â Are there any specific ambitions left he still wants to fulfil?

âIâve had an amazing time; I still amâ he starts. âPeople often live their whole lifetimes with regrets but Iâm not one of them; they tell you they could have been the next Hendrix or Wonder but then they never did a thing about it. Music has been a passion all my life and Iâve never been away from it. I love my life.â

There is still, however, one tiny regret â ABBAâs Dancing Queen. âOh God, you had to bring that up!â he sighs. âI turned that song down; I told Atlantic at the time that it didnât need anything. Boy that decision kills me to this day; the song was perfect but, in hindsight, Iâd have loved to have made a longer version of it. I have people out there who will let me know if an opportunity comes up to do something with Dancing Queen; I just have to hope and pray.â

Philly Re-Grooved 2: The Tom Moulton Remixes (The Master Returns) is out now on Harmless Records (UK)
Words BEN LOVETT

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