Ray Velazquez has been involved in dance music since 1973 by way of David Mancuso's Loft and Eddie Rivera's IDRC and later his tenure at Vanguard Records. Read DiscoMusic.com's exclusive interview for more.
Ray Velazquez interview written By Bernard Lopez of DiscoMusic.com
At one time or another we've all pulled out one of those Vanguard 12" singles with the logo of the knight on a horse with the slogan proudly proclaiming, "Recordings for the Connoisseur." The releases may have been "Savage Lover" by The Ring or "Over Like A Fat Rat" by Fonda Rae, but they all had one thing in common, the name Ray Velazquez or Ray "Pinky" Velazquez in the credits.
Ray Velazquez was the "A & R" man and Disco consultants for Vanguard from 1979 to 1984. Ray was hired by owners Seymour and Maynard Solomon who originally started the Vanguard Recording Society in the 1950s as an outlet for jazz, folk and classical music. Around 1977 Vanguard jumped on the Disco bandwagon and began releasing 12 inch Disco singles by The Player's Association, Poussez!, Frisky and others in large part through the efforts of Danny Weiss (producer) and Mark Berry (engineer). Despite being a small independent label Vanguard made an impact on the Disco and dance scenes right on up through the 1980's. In 1979 Ray was brought on board to help promote and scout for talent since he was a working Disco DJ and knew the New York club scene well.
Ray Velazquez's Musical Beginnings
Ray "Pinky" Velazquez was born on May 28, 1955 in Arecibo, Puerto Rico and raised in New York City. The nickname "Pinky" as in "little" came about to distinguish him from his dad with the same name. Ray was brought up in a musical family. His father (Ray Sr.), an accomplished guitarist, and his mother (Gloria), a vocalist, regularly performed on Puerto Rican radio during the 1950's. This along with his upbringing in Manhattan's "Spanish Harlem/El Barrio" during the 1960s and 1970s exposed him to many styles of music. Ray listened to everything from classical, which his dad played, to Top 40 hits like Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up." Ray says, "The piano line on "All Shook Up" – I've always loved the sound of the piano playing those low notes and I've incorporated that onto records that I've mixed. It's very R & B and very commanding." I asked Ray which records he worked on best demonstrate this and he replies, "Fonda Rae's "Over Like A Fat Rat" and Carol William's "Can't Get Away From Your Love" – there's always room for the piano." He ems early House music as a general example. Despite Ray's love for music and certain instruments he admits he can't play or read music and that it had made it a little harder for him to express what he would like done in the studio.
As Velazquez began his teenage years he was very much into the Motown sound which was dominating much of the music charts. He later moved from a soul pop sound to funkier tracks by James Brown. This culminated in Ray's becoming a music director for New York's City College radio (WCCR-FM) and also DJ'ing the parties for the Hispanic association known as "Boricuas Unidos" and then DJ'ing at The Court Street Discotheque at 8th and Second Avenue in The Village. Ray also was the winner of the best DJ at the '76 Fiesta Patronales Del Barrio.
Ray "Pinky" Velazquez as the DJ at the Ipanema Discotheque
Ray's father, who was now a top audio salesman at New York's Leonard Radio, was always showing New York Disco DJ's the newest audio gear which included amplifiers, turntables, mixers and reel to reel machines. Ray's dad got to know many popular Disco DJ's because of his position. One of those was a Brazilian DJ by the name of Ronald Soares who spun seven days a week(!) at The Ipanema Discotheque in midtown Manhattan. Ronnie asked Ray's father if he knew anyone who would be willing to take over one night a week for him. Ray's name was quickly brought up and soon a meeting was arranged. Ray showed up one Wednesday afternoon and after playing only fifteen minutes was hired to spin one night a week at The Ipanema. Wednesday nights were normally slow, but within six months Ray Velaquez had built up a nice following and was also given Thursday nights and within a year also given Fridays.
The Ipanema was a very popular Brazilian restaurant / nightclub / discotheque owned by Brazilians and catering to a Brazilian crowd. It featured a hearty dose of Disco and Brazilian carnival music and competed with another Brazilian club called Tropicalia. The Ipanema soon evolved to Disco music most nights, Brazilian on Sundays, R & B on Thursdays and Latin & Salsa on Tuesdays. Not only did Ray spin Disco, but he also did the all-Brazilian Sunday nights and the R & B nights. Ray also got to meet many radio personalities like Barry Mayo from New York's Kiss-FM who would frequently ask for Ray's playlists.
Ray stayed at the Ipanema up till around 1978, but felt he wanted to branch out to other styles of music and later moved to the Upper West Side to an after-hours rock club called Cartoon Alley. He stayed here till 1982 and played everything from the Clash to New Romantic tracks mixed with Disco. Ray also did guest spots at Studio 54 and Le Mouche to keep him busy.
The Sunshine Sound Edits
While at The Ipanema Ray would create his own reel to reel edits of his favourite tracks and head down to Sunshine Sound and have them pressed on acetate discs for him to play in the clubs. He made a number of these plates at Sunshine and frequently ran into other Disco DJ's such as Jim Burgess who were also pressing their own special edits. Not only did Ray play these plates for himself, but he also made copies for other Disco DJ's like John "Jellybean" Benitez. His favourite edit was a three-song plate of Brazilian tracks called "B-2."
David Mancuso and Eddie Rivera
Ray was a member of New York's original record pool, The New York Record Pool, run by David Mancuso of "The Loft." While there he met fellow member Eddie Rivera who was DJ'ing at "The Cork and Bottle." Eddie went on to form his own record pool called "IDRC" or the International Disco Record Center to which Ray jumped ship to. Ray felt very comfortable with Eddie and knew he could meet more industry contacts there. Eddie helped expose the DJ's through the pool and his publication called "Spinner." Eddie opened up the Hispanic DJ market and it was all a very positive experience for Ray.
All of this record pool experience and playing in New York clubs would prove useful to Ray in order to find work at a record label. He now knew what it took to make a record sell, how to attract a particular audience to a new song be it club or radio-wise. Ray got his first chance in 1976-77 when he went to the offices of a small New York label called Dynamo Records to pick up promos. While there he began conversing with the owner who wanted more insight into the Disco phenomena and invariably got himself hired. His first edit/mix was a newly acquired Canadian single called "Childhood Forever" by Recreation-Harmony. His work on this track garnered him a Billboard nomination for best mix/edit of the year.
Dynamo Records was a start, but not the place to continue a music career. The label did not have the resources to commit to signing artists or pressing albums in quantity and passed on many releases. In fact Ray explains how he wanted Dynamo to sign up a new French import by MBT Soul and later a Love and Kisses (Alec R. Costandinos) track called "I've Found Love." Ray knew this would be an awesome acquisition, but Dynamo's owner didn't or couldn't commit and they lost it to Casablanca Records who paid upwards of $60,000 (US) for the rights. It went on to be huge and a quintessential Disco classic.
Ray Velazquez at Vanguard Records
Going back to Eddie Rivera and IDRC, it is here that Ray "Pinky" Velazquez is introduced to Danny Weiss of Vanguard Records. Danny was Vanguard's in-house jazz producer and looking for ways to promote new tracks to the Disco DJs. Danny wanted to tap Ray's club and DJ experience as a "Disco consultant" and get his input as to how-to tailor songs and mixes for club play. He later would make Ray head of A & R for Vanguard.
It is Danny Weiss who first played an acapella and rough piano mix of Fonda Rae's Over Like A Fat Rat for Ray. Legendary writer Leroy Burgess who is best known for Black Ivory's Mainline penned the song. Ray knew instantly that he wanted a strong R & B bassline to match and eventually assisted in the production and did the club mix which appears on Vanguard SPV-55. Ray recalls, "It took about ten sessions to really put the record together... going back and forth from vocals, from scratch and eventually the club mix. That was my second attempt at doing a record besides my Dynamo track." Ray says that he did other tracks before Fonda's like Player's Association, The Ring and Frisky, but it is Fonda's that he considers his most memorable. Ray tells the story how he was awakened one Sunday morning in 1982 to the sounds of "Over Like A Fat Rat" on WBLS-FM. Station PD Frankie Crocker put it into rotation and the rest is history. The original 12 inch is a highly prized collecible and actively sought out by vinyl collectors.
Ray Velazquez and His Brush with Born To Be Alive
Now just as with Dynamo, Vanguard was a small independent label and sometimes not able to compete for new talent. According to Ray Velazquez, Vanguard's biggest missed opportunity came when they let Patrick Hernandez's "Born To Be Alive" pass them by. Ray had gotten an early promo import of "Born To Be Alive" and was playing it at The Ipanema. It was another hot French Disco record that was burning up the clubs over in Europe, and Vanguard passed on Ray's recommendation because they felt the price was too high.
Seeing as Vanguard passed on the track Ray decided to offer it to his friend Ray Caviano of RFC/Warner. Caviano also liked the song and thought he would pick up the rights to the record no matter what the cost. After a lot of research and playing it to a lot of radio people across the U. S. Caviano became skeptical about it's potential for radio airplay. He knew it would work well in the clubs, but he thought radio wouldn't bite and so passed on the record as well. However, Velazquez had also given a copy to Vince Pellegrino of CBS Records and they ended up acquiring the US rights to the song and ran with it. As a consolation Ray Pinky Velazquez was asked to do an edit and extend "Born To Be Alive" for Columbia's 12 inch release. Although Ray received a gold record and a congratulation letter for his edit, he was never given credit on the label. Another edit that was not credited to him was Eddie Grant's "Walking On Sunshine" on Portrait Records.
Bobby Orlando and Public Enemy
Ray and Vanguard also associated with producers such as Bobby Orlando who had brought in Ronnie Griffith with "(The Best Part of) Breakin' Up" (SPV-54) and The Flirts "Jukebox (Don't Put Another Dime)" (OR-719 & OR-724) to Vanguard through the "O" Records subsidiary. Ray recalls, "Bobby had the Euro sound going into a more pop New Wave sound..."
Vanguard Records also flirted with a dance rock label called Flip Records and released material from Lex and Endgames ("First, Last, for Everything" on FL-801) to very limited success. Besides Bobby's Euro-wave sound and Flip, Vanguard also tried their hand at the street sounds (Electro and Rap) with a release by Twilight 22's "Electric Kingdom" and Ray even signed Public Enemy when they were known as Spectrum City with "Lies." In fact Spectrum City's "Check Out the Radio" which was produced by Ray was used in the soundtrack of the Oliver Stone movie, "South Central." Unfortunately, even though Ray saw potential with Spectrum City, Vanguard was not well versed on the new and upcoming Rap sounds and didn't commit to an album and so Spectrum City moved to CBS where they later became known as Public Enemy. Ray explains that the only reason Vanguard even let him sign Spectrum City was because of his success with Twilight 22–a name that Ray dreamed up for the group.
Saved By Alisha: All Night Passion
Vanguard Records would continue along, but never really hitting any pay dirt until 15-year old Alisha from Brooklyn walked through the doors with her first hit "All Night Passion" on SPV-72. Ray recalls that Alisha came with her mother and when he heard the demo of "All Night Passion" he ran to Maynard Solomon's office. Now Maynard always told the staff not to disturb him if his door was closed since it meant that he was working on a book about the life history of Beethoven. Regardless, Ray Velazquez knocked and told him to sign up Alisha without delay and fortunately they did because she didn't require much money. "All Night Passion" went on to become a monster, hit especially with the Freestyle crowd.
Larry Levan and the Paradise Garage
An odd release was the Larry Levan & Brode Williams production of "Electric Automan" by Tony Paris on SPV-81. This was something that Ray says Larry lost interest in and pretty much gave to Vanguard. Ray knew Larry and would pay him regular visits at the Garage and Larry would even let him spin a few records so there was a relationship between the two. The two go way back to the days of The Loft with David Mancuso and Ray credits Larry with steering him in a more R & B direction. He says, "Larry opened me up to a new-world of R & B music and R & B dance that I wanted to use in my club (Ipanema)."
I posed the simple question as to why Ray left Vanguard and he tells DiscoMusic.com:
The honest answer… I did not believe that Vanguard was taking the avenue to become a serious dance label. In other words the videos were not there, the commitment to do albums for some of our groups was not sincerely there… I became frustrated because a lot of the records that I did want for the label, a lot of the groups I did want-we were not planning because of money issues and a lot of these groups went to other labels and became noteworthy.
After leaving Vanguard, Ray Velazquez continued spinning at Car-Tunes and later Backstage in Westport, Connecticut where he really got into dance rock, reggae and alternative tracks. He finally put the turntables to rest around 1985 and decided to concentrate on doing A & R and cultivating R & B and Hip-Hop artists which he is doing to this very day. Ray recently helped Vanguard put together a hot compilation featuring the very best of Vanguard's dance artists called "Vanguard Dance Classics Volume 1." It contains twelve tracks including Fonda Rae's "Over Like A Fat Rat" segued together for that non-stop energy feel.
A big thank you to Ray Velazquez for taking time to speak with DiscoMusic.com and share his experiences.
The Pinky List
Below is a list of material that Ray Velazquez was involved with. Ray's involvement was the signing of the group at minimum. Additional work depending on the project, was mixing, additional production, extended club mixes, radio editing…
- Come On and Do It - Poussez
- Over Like A Far Rat - Fonda Rae
- Till You Surrender - Rainbow Brown (featuring Fonda Rae on vocals)
- Dance To the Music - Junior Byron
- Cold Fire - Gypsy Lane
- Can't Get away From your Love - Carol Williams (Original remix and Special 10 inch Dub ReMix)
- Lies - Spectrum City (a. k. a. Public Enemy: Their first ever release)
- Check Out The Radio - Spectrum City (Public Enemy: featured in the movie South Central and on the Warner Bros. South Central Soundtrack) Note: Our Vanguard next release with Spectrum City (Public Enemy would have been a track with James Brown featured LIVE) Unfortunately, Spectrum City was not released due to lack of significant sales despite my ongoing plea for one or two more releases.
- The Get Down Mellow Sound - The Player's Association
- We Got The Groove - Player's Association
- Electric Kingdom - Twilight 22
- Siberian Nights - Twilight 22
- All Night Passion - Alisha
- Baby Talk - Alisha
- Too Turned On - Alisha
- The Best Part Of Breaking Up - Ronnie Griffith
- Jukebox - The Flirts
- Savage Lover - The Ring
- Jump - The Ring
- You've Got Me Dancing In My Sleep - Frisky
- Burn Me Up - Frisky
- Tutty Frutty Booty - Frisky
- Love At First Site - Frisky
- Electric Automan - Tony Paris
- I Love Music-J.T.
Flip Records (Vanguard's Dance Rock Label):
- You're First You're Last You're Everything- Endgames (produced by Martin Rushent (Human League producer)
- 14 Games-Lex (produced and mixed/remixed by Ray "Pinky" Velazquez; This was a big record with the rock clubs nationally and "Screamer of the Week" on WLIR Radio, Garden City New York)
- In Memory Of Your Name - Private Lives (Never Released-Licensed from Chrysalis Records England, produced by Tony Visconti)
Our initial intentions were to go after and license the following projects for the Flip Label, but were prohibitive due to our budgeting limitations: Der Komissar-Falco, Machine Brent-Falco, Pass The Dutchie-Musical Youth
Other outside Vanguard mentions:
- Big Noise-Base (1985 Prism Records)
- Too Much Too Soon- Denroy Morgan (1986 Buddha/Sutra Records
- Boogie Down-Double Feature (1979 Makossa Records; First club mix ever on an African record)
- The King on Long Play- The Gregg Peters Band (Elvis Presley type vocals)
- Cloud Nine-Mystery Assignment (1985 Metropolis Records)
- Only Live is Left Alive- Ian North
- Romance-Ian North
- Sex, Lust, You-Ian North
- White Gardens-Ian North
- Riker's Island- El Futuro (1985 Peter Hay Records)(progressive new wave/reggae band; The group were derived of actual inmates from Riker's Island-a New York City prison)
- Ghosts- The Comateens (1981 Cachalot Records: "Screamer of the Week" on WLIR Radio, Garden City, NY)
- Late Night City- The Comateens (1981 Cachalot records)
Written by Bernard F. Lopez (2002)
Copyright © 2002 by Bernard F.Lopez
All rights reserved
- Vanguard Dance Classics Volume 1 CD
- Alsiha - Best of CD
- Dare To Be Disco (includes Frisky, Fonda Rae and Player's Association)