Barry Lederer was a Disco DJ, Billboard Disco Mix writer, and co-owner of Graebar Sound. He is interviewed by Bernard Lopez of DiscoMusic.com. (b. 1944 - d. 2008)
Written by Bernard F. Lopez of DiscoMusic.com
Barry Lederer was involved in many facets of Disco. Barry began by DJing at several New York area clubs and later taking over Tom Moulton's Disco Mix Billboard column and being one of the principals of Graebar Sound. The team at Graebar designed and installed the sound systems for the Saint, 12 West, Trocadero Transfer, Probe and several other world class night clubs in the 1970s.
New York's On Fire
Barry Lederer is a New York native and was born in Far Rockaway, Queens. After attending college Barry became a social worker for the City of New York for about six years. Around 1970-1971 Barry started going out to Fire Island, which was and still is a summer beach retreat for New York City area residents. It was at one of the clubs on Fire Island called the Sandpiper (now the Pavilion) that Barry heard DJ Don Finlay play music he had never heard before. Tracks like "Harlem" by Bill Withers or the Detroit Emeralds-stuff that wasn't normally played at the clubs in the city. It was this introduction to music at the Sandpiper that got Barry Lederer hooked on buying records upon his return to New York. One of his favorite record shops was the one in a subway station at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue where the clerks turned him on to even more underground sounds like the releases on the Invictus label.
Having gotten his feet wet to this new sound and now owning a respectable amount of records Barry Lederer first spun records at Le Club, which was a very upscale straight New York nightspot for celebrities similar to Studio 54. It was a good experience, but they only wanted to hear the Top 40 material on the radio. He would soon make his way to a place called the Firehouse, which was part of a gay activist alliance. The Firehouse had dances on Fridays and Saturdays, but Barry wasn't thrilled with the overly pop sounds the DJ was playing and complained to the owner who in turn asked Barry if he could do better. Barry ended up bringing over two turntables along with a mixer and started playing the new sounds he had just been introduced to. Barry explains, "Although I was not the greatest mixer at all at the Firehouse, the music I played really did the trick. In the beginning they would have 200 people, by the time I left six months later for the summer there was like 1500 people showing up at the door. At the time people were into doing their Saturday night thing and it was all in good fun, but it really increased the attendance. In 1972 I passed the baton on to someone who went on to become a real popular Disco DJ and his name was Richie Rivera. " The late Richie Rivera played at the Firehouse and would later go on to play at the Sandpiper, Flamingo and also do his famous "Midnight Mix" remixes on several Disco 12-inch records of the late 1970s.
The Botel, Sandpiper and the Tom Moulton Tapes
After Barry Lederer left the Firehouse in early 1972 he made his way back to Fire Island and met up with the owner of the Botel, which was another popular club on the beach. The Botel is considered to be where the term "tea dance" originated from as they offered dancing on Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 4-7PM. Barry was hired from 1972-1976 to provide the music, but even though they had a turntable system he found it easier to provide the music on reel to reel tapes that he made during the week at his home.
During roughly the same period Tom Moulton was providing specially sequenced tapes to the neighboring Sandpiper. It was here that Barry would later provide tapes after Moulton's departure to concentrate on remixing some of the greatest Disco records ever released. His sets would usually be around six hours. Barry would break it up from 10:30-12 midnight (warm-up), 12-1:30 am (really get them going), 1:30-3:00 am (peak music) and then 3-4:30 am (bringing the crowd down where he collaborated with Richie Rivera for ideas-a little on the sleazy side, but good feeling).
Barry recalls Tom Moulton spending as much as 20-30 hours creating a 3-hour reel to reel tape. "Moulton would make the tapes on a tape recorder, but they were the most perfectly structured tapes. I would go to his house many times and watch him count the beats; 1-2-3-4-change the song" and he would catch it on the exact beat so the dance floor would never miss a beat." These tapes were not mixed, but lovingly constructed using simply STOP and PAUSE on a Revox reel to reel tape deck.
Barry Lederer originally met Tom Moulton through his working relationship with Mel Cheren of Scepter Records. As an early Disco DJ Barry Lederer got to know Mel from his weekly trips to get promo records from the different record labels, which included Scepter. This close relationship with Moulton and Cheren allowed Lederer to get acetates of newly released mixes and promos well in advance. One of the interesting things Barry still remembers about Tom Moulton's early mixes was the fact that Moulton had a magic number: 5:35. This was the total time on many of his remixes. Barry continued to provide tapes and even spin live for the Sandpiper till around 1976-77. "I was never a true DJ. Never quite got the knack of it. The advantage I had was being able to pick out what people liked. Because I liked music so much I was able to bring that to the dance floor." Barry was also one of the original members of the New York Record Pool first with David Mancuso and later with Judy Weinstein and For the Record.
Billboard Discovers Disco Music
The years of 1972-1974 saw Disco and clubs becoming a formidable trend and one that begged more attention. It was Mel Cheren along with Tom Moulton who invited Billboard publisher Bill Wardlow to see the impact the gay community and Disco in particular were having on the music scene. They along with Barry Lederer took Wardlow to various clubs on Fire Island such as the Botel and Sandpiper. Bill Wardlow saw first hand the massive popularity of Disco and soon had Tom Moulton writing the first Billboard column on Disco music called "Disco Mix." Moulton would review new Disco releases, compile sales charts from key New York retailers and club play from key DJs around the United States. Disco music and the culture surrounding it whether it was gay, Black or Hispanic was now out in the open for all to read in the pages of Billboard. It is no surprise that it spread quickly nationwide. Billboard acceptance and influential industry position gave Disco music the respect and notoriety it deserved. Billboard had the power because the radio industry looked at it. Billboard took it a step further by sponsoring annual Disco conventions / forums to highlight industry trends and showcase new music.
As Tom Moulton's reputation as one of the best Disco remixers grew so did the workload. Moulton decided to focus his time and energy in the studio and Barry eventually took over the writing responsibilities well into the late 1970s. "Tom Moulton told me, 'I want you to write.' To which I replied, I'm the worst writer in the world. I used to have adjectives to describe records. How many ways can you describe a record as being sassy, uplifting" There are a limited number of ways to describe a record, however I managed for about four years." Barry continued the tradition of reviewing new releases, compiling sales charts and DJ playlists, but now Disco was becoming more mainstream and more and more record labels were asking to be mentioned in the weekly articles. "As a Billboard reporter most of the people that were part of promotions for the various labels knew each other. It was a very small community and it wouldn't be uncommon for the PR people to ask, 'I need a little help on this record' and you knew what they were asking-they wanted you to report the record."
Disco's Gay Roots
During his conversation with DiscoMusic.com, Barry Lederer voiced his displeasure with some books chronicling Disco: "I was sort of disappointed that it (Love Saves the Day) neglected a whole facet of the Disco industry and concentrated too much on Larry Levan (Paradise Garage), Nicky Siano (Gallery) and David Mancuso (The Loft)" There were so many other things happening around New York." Lederer goes on to explain how the gay scene especially around Fire Island was so important to Disco's early days because it was here that the movers and shakers of the music industry-many of them gay-came to party, make business connections and forge friendships. DJ Robbie Leslie who began at the Sandpiper echoed the same sentiments when I interviewed him a while back.
Lederer continues, "During 1972-1976: Billboard, its Disco conventions and the Disco music industry was pretty much controlled by the gay community and this is what is left out of Love Saves the Day. They talk about the Sandpiper as merely a restaurant turned Disco at night so how could it be a real Disco club. Well, if anyone knows New York City they'll know that some of the hottest places to go are like cafeterias in the daytime and then they move some tables out of the way and it becomes the hottest place at night-that's New York. This is not meant to push anything or gay pride, it was just the way it was. Not only did the gay community have the clubs, the reporters, but they also had the A & R and PR people." Many of the early Disco artists such as Gloria Gaynor and Donna Summer got their break in this environment.
Graebar Sound Systems
At around the same time Barry Lederer was spinning records and writing, Barry along with Graham Smith and later Peter Spar formed a company called Graebar Productions to market and install high end audio sound systems in clubs. They first began by bringing their custom-made coffin speakers out to Fire Island parties as early as 1971. This in turn led to Peter Spar designing a small bookshelf speaker system that they sold mainly to friends. Barry recalls, "We decided to call the company Graebar Productions (Graham + Barry). We used an 'e' instead of 'y' due to the Graybar Building in New York. The date was 1973."
After getting a good buzz from setting up the sound at a fashion show along with word of mouth advertising, Barry Lederer and Graebar installed their first large-scale club sound systems at New York's Anvil and 12 West after having installed another system at the smaller Sandpiper. These clubs were very popular New York nightspots and it is here that the Graebar system was put to the test and subsequently became legendary.
Graebar became synonymous with smooth, rich and fuller sound lacking from many other P.A. (public address) style systems offered by Altec Lansing and Electro-Voice. While Barry Lederer handled the business and marketing end of Graebar Sound he did tell me that the custom made loudspeakers (bass modules and tweeter arrays) were paired to an array of high wattage / high current Phase Linear power amplifiers each capable of around 200 watts per channel. Phase Linear was the company started by Bob Carver of Sunfire fame. An RG Sound Expander was also utilized to enhance the audio. Each tweeter array consisted of four tweeters and these arrays were spread across the dance flour for maximum coverage. The Graebar approach was a blend of the right speaker components and crossovers along with a design that worked with the interior space and not against it.
Robbie Leslie who played at Sandpiper, 12 West, and the Saint had this to say in a previous interview: "They (Sandpiper) had a true setup. We had one of the first setups built by Graebar Sound. They were the company that later did the Saint, 12 West, Trocadero Transfer, Dreamland and Salvation. We had two Technics turntables with a Bozak mixer and an actual light show-a true DJ booth. The booth was on the dance floor against the back wall. The system was tonally balanced which gave it a very smooth sound and it never was harsh or fatiguing even at high volumes."
Besides the New York clubs, Graebar did the sound systems for Trocadero Transfer in San Francisco, Salvation in Miami and Probe in Los Angeles. Their last system installed was for the infamous Saint in New York City where the speakers were placed in a circular formation. None of these systems exist today save for maybe a few friends who may have some of the original smaller speakers. Nonetheless many DJs and club-goers of the era fondly remember the Graebar sound.
Lederer goes on by saying, "Peter Spar was part of the genius behind the Graebar sound" We would actually practice in my apartment in downtown at 2nd Avenue and 12th Street. We would listen to things and I would give him the perspective of the dancer. It was practice and make perfect. We used Fire Island as a proving ground to try these speakers out." Peter Spar has since passed on.
1980 and the Changing Scene
By around 1979 through the early 1980s Barry Lederer felt the Disco and club scene changing and was concentrating more and more on providing music and sound systems for upscale fashion shows. The fashion shows were nothing new for Barry as he first began doing them back in the 1970s for Bill Blass and others. Barry Lederer continues to work on fashion shows and music for several boutiques around the US.
A big thank you to Barry Lederer for taking time out to talk with DiscoMusic.com and also to Greg Wilson of electrofunkroots.co.uk for his assistance.
Barry Lederer Update: May 31, 2008
It is with the deepest of regret that we must inform the readers of DiscoMusic.om that Barry Lederer passed away over the weekend.
More information about Barry's passing can be found on the DiscoMusic.com forums: Disco Pioneer, DJ Barry Lederer Passed Away
Brooklyn DJ and former director of For the Record, Danny Pucciarielli, had this to say about his friend, Barry Lederer:
Cielo, September 18, 2008:
It was a night to remember, reflect upon and to celebrate the life of Barry Lederer. An icon of his time. A man who like some of us, had a passion for music that superseeded all other needs of the day. There were many reflections of his life in conversation that night, mostly about the clubs Barry Lederer played at in the 1970s. It was Tom Moulton that had more recollection than anyone. In 1976, Barry took over the Billboard Disco Mix column that Tom Moulton no longer had time for. Barry wrote the column from 1976 to 1982. This was just about the peak of our era. Barry along with his friend Graham Smith, formed Graebar Productions. Primarily sound design and installation. Graebar designed and installed outstanding systems in such clubs as Trocadero Transfer/San Francisco, The Saint, 12 West, The Anvil and Les Mouche in New Your City.
I knew Barry since 1978, although we did not become close friends until years later. I was flattered that he would come to hear me whenever I played in the city. Especially since he has been amongst the "best" known DJs of our time. It was an honor to play at his Memorial Party along with DJ Ozkar Fuller, another of Barry's friends.
Written by Bernard F. Lopez (May 13, 2004)
Copyright © 2004 by Bernard F. Lopez
All rights reserved