Friday, January 27, 2006

Cameron Paul Tells All
Part 1


As far back as I remember I’ve always been into music. I was playing the piano by three years of age and probably making up little tunes just as young. I never took lessons or learned how to read music but I learned how to play by ear and could usually play anything after hearing it a couple of times. Not that I could play it all that well but you could recognize it.

Throughout my childhood and into high school I was very much into music, both playing and composing. I got into the guitar when I was a teenager and became known as the high school balladeer with a following of groupie girls all wanting to hear my latest love songs. Remember, this was in the early seventies (bell-bottoms and tie die). I learned very young what music did to women and I never forgot!

My love of music and my desire to be a DJ converged in my early childhood, about eight or nine years of age, when I would use my father’s reel-to-reel tape recorder and pretend to be a radio DJ. I had all my favorite top forty 7” singles (45s) and promotional records of product jingles that you could send away for or win with so many cereal box tops. The jingles you might hear in the popular commercials of the day. 7-Up, Coke, Chevy and whatever ads I could get my hands on.

I would start recording and I would be on the air with KCAM! First I’d play a song and then say a little something like, “Well, that was ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ by B.J. Thomas and now a word from 7-UP!” Cut me some slack, I was only ten years old. Then you would hear the needle drop on the record that had the 7-Up jingle on it and so it would go. No mixers back then. Hell, I don’t think we even had stereo. Well maybe just.

Of course, my parents would say I invented scratching because when I could barely walk I would waddle over to the family record player and grab the tone arm while one of my Mom’s favorite Jack Jones’ records was playing and slide the needle back and forth over the entire surface of the vinyl, ruining yet another of their precious albums. Before long there was a chain and padlock around the phonograph.

In January 1975 I graduated from Serramonte High School, in Daly City, California (just south of San Francisco), a semester early at the age of 17 and went immediately to San Francisco State University. Up to that point I thought my vocation would be filmmaking or television production because one of my hobbies as a child and into high school was super-8 filmmaking.

I was enthralled with the whole process of movie making. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area gave me a lot of opportunity to see a lot of location filmmaking and I really believed that is what I was going to do.

I was always involving my friends and family in my latest amateur project. I wrote the scripts, did all the editing and added music to dozens of little epics. One of which won me a Kodak Teenage Movie Award.

So off I went to college to pursue my Hollywood career. The only problem was I had to learn how to be a good student. I always felt like I had faked my way through high school. Doing just enough to get by with decent grades. The mental attitude that, unfortunately, most students have at that age, just get through it and graduate!

Since I graduated from high school early I literally started college one day before my graduation ceremony. I brought my high school mindset and abysmal study habits right into my higher education. My whole first semester I was doing just enough to get by. And I found out that you can’t take the real exciting courses, all the hands on stuff, until you get all those dreaded prerequisites out of the way. And there were a lot of prerequisites!

So after two years of playing games with myself I realized that I wasn’t learning anything even though I was getting decent grades. It really hit me when I took a television course that based the final grade on a midterm exam and a final exam. The instructor said there would be a review of what the tests would cover the week before the exams. The only classes I ever attended were the reviews and the exam days. I passed each exam with an A and that’s what I received in the course.

What was I doing? This is supposed to be preparation for my life and I’m just playing games to get through it? I dropped out of college after my sophomore year at the age of 19. Probably if I had taken some time off between high school and college I would have been mature enough to take it seriously. I guess I needed some time off from school to play.

I had been on the course set by my parents since the moment I entered kindergarten and I was on the same course when I entered college. I did it without even thinking. That’s what had been planned for me so that’s what I did.

I’m not saying my parents forced me into going straight into college, or going into college at all. I just didn’t even question it. It was another step in my life plan. Then I guess I became self aware as an adult and realized I was wasting my time at that moment.

The next year I had absolutely no direction in my life. And my parents never pressured me about getting on with my life or getting out of the house. As long as I was working everything seemed to be fine.

I went from one job to another in that year. I was a bus boy at everyone’s favorite local restaurant, Joe’s of Westlake. I delivered Mexican food in my old beat up Datsun and the longest job I held was in accounts services for Wells Fargo Bank at their headquarters in downtown San Francisco.

It was a “real job”. Nine to five, clock in, clock out. Sit at a desk. File checks, bounce checks, talk to branch managers and so on and so on. The same thing hour after hour, day after day, week after week. It was the kind of job that, if you aren’t careful, turns into a career without you even knowing it. Thirty years later you realize that you never wanted to do this, you hate it, and how did you ever get involved in such a horrific, mundane job. I lasted seven months.

My interest in disco music, and yes it was called disco music back then, began when I was in my late teens, around 1976. My friends and I would set off to the hot San Francisco clubs with our precious fake Ids and party all weekend, every weekend. It was the mid seventies and classic dance music was being made and played in early City discos like The City and Oil Can Harry’s.

From the moment I heard and saw Johnny “Disco” Hedges spinning at Oil Can Harry’s I was entranced with what he was doing. It was absolutely hypnotic. I couldn’t tell when one song ended and a new one began. There was a door to the DJ booth that he kept open all night long and I would stand there in awe.

Hedges’ booth was a completely soundproofed room with huge windows that allowed him a complete panoramic view of the entire dance floor. He had two huge monitor speakers that hung over the turntables just over his head. As I stood watching and listening, he would lower the volume of the music on his monitors and I would hear him cueing up the next record. I figured out that he was using the booth speakers as his cue and monitor speakers. I didn’t know back then how difficult that kind of mixing was. I would later learn that most DJs used a headphone for cueing. I never saw Hedges use a headphone.

Johnny “Disco” Hedges was arguably one of the first superstar mixers in the country at a time when there weren’t too many people who knew what a mix was let alone had ever heard one. He would go on to remix some of the classic disco music of that era.
In the mid seventies mixing, along with rapping and break dancing, was primarily a New York art that had just started to make inroads to the West Coast. There were very few places in San Francisco where you could hear the kind of dead on mixing that was already popular on the East Coast. Of course I didn’t have the perspective of history at the time so I had no way of knowing how lucky I was to have one of the best DJs in the country right in my own back yard. And little did I know the influence Johnny “Disco” Hedges’ talent would have on my career. I wanted to do what he did and I wanted to do it as well.

The music was incredible. The first thing I had to do was find it. I started going to the Tower Records store on Columbus in San Francisco where they had this tiny little section for twelve-inch singles. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw an LP sized record with only one song on each side! But they were only priced at $1.99 each.

When I say it was a tiny little section I really mean it. The bin was probably two or three records in width and maybe fifteen inches deep. Tower would post the Billboard Disco Top Twenty and I would buy the first few records at the top of the list on each visit. I had no idea if any of them were the ones I had heard the previous weekend, because I didn’t dare disturb the master with a foolish question like, “What’s the title of that song?” I’m sure he would have been happy to answer because when I finally did meet him he had no ego problem at all. But I was and still am painfully shy so I could never bring myself to talk to someone like that who I had begun to idolize.

So I would blindly buy these twelve-inch records in the hopes of finding a jewel among them. One of the jewels I did find was a song called “Lovin’ Is Really My Game” by Brainstorm. It was probably the perfect disco song of the mid seventies. I can still remember the opening stabs at the beginning of that record and how it would pack the floor in a split second. That and T-Connection’s “On Fire” are songs that still give me goose bumps just at the thought of them. I just wish I still had them so I could hear them again.

Slowly I compiled my library of disco hits. My friends and I would throw parties and it was up to me to provide the music we all heard at the clubs. I would make cassettes. I had no way of mixing records together at the time so I would just stop the tape on a beat and press record right when I wanted the next song to come in. It was very crude but it kept people dancing. Wow, what a sense of power that was! My tapes soon became required at everyone’s parties.

After the Wells Fargo job I really had no idea what I was going to do with my life and I was still living at home with my parents. I knew that wasn’t going to fly for long and I had better find something to bring in some income. I was still young enough to not feel any kind of panic about my future or career but I wanted to keep my parents off my back. I didn’t mind living at home at all and my parents didn’t seem to mind either, as long as I was working.

In late 1977, after a few months of partying and stalling I decided to pick up the classifieds and look at the “Help Wanted” ads. After searching different headings I came across the “Nightclubs” heading and I saw, “Disc Jockey Wanted. Experience Necessary. Broadway Power & Light Co. Broadway, San Francisco” and the phone number. Without thinking I called and arranged an audition.

I was ecstatic! I ran to tell my Mother that I had an audition to be a real disc jockey! I couldn’t wait till my Dad got home from work so I had to call him and tell him. I had no doubt that I would get the job. I had observed Johnny “Disco” Hedges very closely and I had all the records. I was ready!

The evening of the audition arrived. I drove up Broadway looking for the club. For people who aren’t familiar with Broadway in San Francisco let me just say it isn’t exactly family oriented. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Hardcore” with George C. Scott you’ve seen Broadway. It was a major location for the film. These days it’s not so bad but back in the late seventies it was strip joint after strip joint broken up by the occasional porno theater and adult bookstore. And of course outside all the adult clubs were the barkers. If you were walking along the sidewalk these guys would all but abduct you to get you into the club.

There was never a cover charge to any of these places but there was always a two-drink minimum. And the drinks were about fifteen dollars each and consisted of watered down booze and near beer. But you would get naked ladies…or so I’ve heard.
So here I am, a twenty-year-old young man in the middle of Sodom and Gomorrah thinking, “I could work here every night.”

I kept driving up Broadway looking for the address and as the strip joints began getting fewer and fewer I came across the big sign, which read, “Broadway Power & Light Co.” It was on the part of Broadway that was right on the border of the Italian North Beach and Chinatown. Well my Mom would be relieved that I wouldn’t be working right in the middle of The City’s sex industry. That is, when I got the job.

I found a parking space across the street from the club and saw a few guys waiting outside. It was about eight o’clock in the evening and it was obvious that nobody was in the club yet. The doors were closed and the neon sign was dark. Being the shy guy I was, I decided to wait in my car until everyone had gone in.

After about half an hour I saw this heavy older man with a head of gray hair trudging up to the club door. With him was a beautiful young woman with a killer body who looked like she could have just gotten off work down the street. “Who are these people?” I thought to myself. Then the fat man with the gray hair took out his keys, unlocked and opened the door. And In everyone went.

I waited a few more minutes until I saw a couple more guys enter the building and decided I better get my butt in there. As I got out of my car, records in hand, the bright neon “Broadway Power & Light” sign came to life and I almost got right back in my car and drove away. But I took a deep breath and ran across the street, almost hoping I would get hit, and entered the club.

It was so dark I could hardly see anything. There were white runner lights everywhere and stars flickering on the ceiling. As my eyes grew more accustomed to the light I could see that this was a very large room. As I walked in further I noticed a long curved bar to my left and tables and chairs as far back as I could see. Right in the center of the club was this large raised parquet dance floor barely illuminated by flashing colored lights. And on one corner of the dance floor was a booth, barely larger than a phone booth, enclosed in Plexiglas.

The old man was behind the bar and the young lady approached me and asked if I was there for the DJ position. I told her I was and she handed me an application. Under the part that asked for experience I wrote that I made professional party tapes for a fee.

After a few minutes she explained that we would each have about fifteen minutes to audition in the DJ booth and that there was someone who would help us with the equipment. She asked who would like to go first. I sure didn’t. I decided I would go last if I could.

So I sat there and listened to my competition. They all performed as if they were radio disc jockeys, each one talking before, during and after each song.
“My God”, I thought, “is that what I’m supposed to do?” I had my idol, Johnny Hedges, in mind and I was going to segue the songs and I wasn’t going to talk! Even if it meant I wouldn’t get the job.

Besides, I had always been self conscious about my voice because I had a speech impediment due to a cleft palate. I had been through years of surgeries and speech therapy but no matter how improved my speech had become I sure wasn’t confident enough to talk over a microphone to hundreds of people. And I wouldn’t know what to say anyway. No, I wasn’t going to talk. I would let the music speak for itself.

And so it was my turn and I was last. I stood up on two shaky legs and brought my records to the DJ booth. It was raised to the same level as the dance floor so I had to climb up into it. We each had several minutes to go over the equipment with this guy who introduced himself as Peter, the weekend DJ. It was very cut and dry. In that few minutes I learned how to cue up a record through the headphones, turn up the volume on each turntable and work the microphone (yeah, right).

The mixer looked quite old. It had round volume controls and two large VU meters. To the right of the mixer there was a light controller and to the left was where all the records were kept. I cleared out some of the club’s records and put my own in their place. Not only wasn’t I going to talk but my music was going to be different then all the other guys.

Since I had no idea how to mix the records beat to beat, I knew all I could do were cross fades. I had made a list of songs from one of my party tapes so the records I chose to play were similar in tempo. At least, I hoped, the cross fades wouldn’t be too jarring.

And so, with eagles flying around inside my stomach, I started the first record. Since the club was open, by the time I started, there were a few customers sitting at the tables. To my shock, as I started playing, they got up on the floor to dance!

“Oh my God”, I thought. “What the hell do I do now? Just follow my play list. It works at the parties, hopefully it’ll work here.”

And that’s what I did. I segued from one song to the next and the customers kept dancing! In fact a couple more came onto the dance floor. I was having a blast. I didn’t want to stop. But after about fifteen minutes Peter told me my time was up and said, “You should have done some talking. That’s what they’re looking for.” I felt like pointing out to him that nobody was dancing to the talk jocks but I bit my tongue.

Well as it turned out, the old man behind the bar was the owner, his name was Marvin, and the fine young lady was his girlfriend. After I was finished I climbed out of the booth and Peter took over immediately, losing the dancers. Marvin pointed his finger at me and motioned for me to come over.

“I really don’t know much about all this DJ shit”, he said. “But I know what I like and I didn’t hear it with you. Where was all the talking and what kind of music was that?”

My heart sank. Didn’t he see the people dancing?

He continued, “But my girlfriend, Rudy here, seems to think you’re it. She says you’re the best. So when can you start?”

I started at Broadway Power and Light in San Francisco in October of 1977.

...more to come

21 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thats a great story. I am a bit younger than you and remember the friday afternoon megamixes on kmel.I also remember you at city nights I think.

9:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

YO CAMERON YOUR MIXES ARE LEGENDARY YOUR MUSIC INSPIRED ME TO BECOME A DJ MYSELF YOUR THE BEST DUDE

ANTHONY " THE JAMBOY " MARTINEZ

7:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice to see Mixx-it back. I bought all the CD's and Vinyl releases when I was at UC Davis. KMEL was jammin' back in the day.

10:12 PM  
Anonymous Gene Quisine said...

Your mixes will forever remind us of our youth. Where can I buy original uncompressed mixes from you from back in the day?

10:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can we get in touch with you about playing a semi private show at a exclusive new venue in San Francisco. We just had Flash play for us and would LOVE to have you behind the decks for one epic night.

please contact me at bobby@sf-vibe.com

thanks!

Bobby

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard your mixes in Berlin, Germany radio SFB 2 - Studio 92,4. Look for complete tracklist of ´86 Powermix. Andy

4:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If anyone is looking for almost new / mostly good condition mixx it records...I came across a store in San Jose, Knight Sounds, off of Alum Rock. They carry used mixx it records for reasonable prices. Of course, I pick up new arrivals weekly so all of you get whatever is left. Looking for the infamous " Brass Monkey" remix. That is the bomb! Mixx So Slick..San Leandro.

5:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i remember when i lived in novato,ca back in 1988 i use to listen to cameron paul at 8p.m.and again at 10p.m.on 106 kmel and i remember two mixes that i have never forgoten to this day.one of the mixes was a megamix of diffrent commercials,and the best mix i have ever heard was your 1988 into 1989 new years megamix the one that has eric b and rakim as the bed played with over 100 diffrent songs that were big for 1988.the mix was appr.45min long.for the last 17 years i have looked for those mixes without success.myke in clinton,mo....

6:20 PM  
Anonymous alley al said...

>>..“Lovin’ Is Really My Game” by Brainstorm.
>>..I just wish I still had them so I could hear them again.

whuddyamean you don't have 'em anymore?
here's the brainstorm jam: http://www.sendspace.com/file/dv1ks3
i found other t-connection joints
in my messy files, but i couldn't locate "on fire". sorry.

brutal!
where are you. you haven't updated since february!!
we need more history lessons!!

7:11 AM  
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5:49 PM  
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8:59 AM  
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9:07 PM  
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1:34 PM  
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3:37 AM  
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Join me and my circle of friends at http://www.watiti.com, an online social networking community that connects people from all over the world.

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See you around! Bring all your friends too!

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1:05 AM  
Anonymous BBoy Graffiti said...

What Up Cameron,

I lived in Hercules CA area 87-88 timeframe and used to always listen to all your fri/sat mixes on 106.1 KMEL (man, hard to believe that was 20 years ago!!) and I have to say you kept the old school alive and integrated with the new school, and I always said you were one of my favorite mix DJ's. Thanks for your contribution to original hip hop culture that stood for something good and positive. My next post is about you and your music. Peace,

- Bboy Graffiti

11:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

are you going to talk about why you disappeared? and the truth behind all the rumors...?

You're the GODFATHER Cameron! What happened?

9:27 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Man, talk about MEMORIES!

I miss those mixes you rocked on KMEL and live at the old Palladium!

I danced my ass off to your mixes! I still consider you the best!

9:31 PM  
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9:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

kool i learned from u

6:03 PM  
Blogger Ethan Smith said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:11 AM  

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