Charlie Anzalone, the Buffalo, New York Disco DJ known as Captain Disco who spun at Fridays and Saturdays, speaks to DiscoMusic.com about the Disco era in Western New York state.
Charlie Anzalone interview written By Bernard Lopez of DiscoMusic.com
From Disco's roots in large cities like New York, Los Angeles and Miami it quickly spread to other areas not typically associated with the nightlife and music scene. One such place was Buffalo, New York, which besides being near Niagara Falls has the dubious distinction of having hosted the world's largest Disco event ever in 1979. One of the DJ's who participated in this massive event was Buffalo's own Charlie Anzalone a.k.a. "Captain Disco."
Charlie Anzalone's Early Years
Charlie was born in Buffalo in 1953 and was a big fan of 50's and 60's music till the Disco bug bit him in the early 1970's. He explains that during this era the music at clubs or bars was provided by a Jukebox and later by radio DJ's who would talk between songs while working with only one BSR turntable and playing Soul 45's. The concept of a Disco DJ with two turntables had not yet appeared. In fact some bars would have a drummer accompany the music. This was the era of "Uncle Sams" which was a chain of nightclubs akin to McDonald's fast food.
Charlie recalls that around 1973 he became friendly with the staff at a club called "Runners" which he frequented. One night they asked if he would like to play a record and he agreed. There was only one turntable so one had to talk between records. Charlie played a 45 of the Beach Boy's "Help Me Rhonda," but when it came time to do a voice-over he choked and he couldn't get any words out. Lucky for him most of the people there were drunk and hardly noticed.
About a year later in 1974 he stopped by a small place called "Melanie's" to visit his friend who tended bar there. Almost the exact same thing as before occurred although this time with life changing results. The person who had put together the sound system asked Charlie if he could spin some records for him while he took a break. Charlie obliged and started playing things like the Ohio Players and other funky tracks on the two turntables. A little later a man walks up and asks Charlie if he is the DJ to which Charlie says yes. It turns out that man was the owner and offered him a job to spin records at $25.00 a night plus free drinks and all the woman he could meet. A nice piece of change in 1974 and an experience that simply whetted his appetite for spinning at the big clubs that were just starting to open in town.
In 1975 a new club called The 5th National Banque (Fifth National Bank) opened, and he landed a spot there making $35.00 a night segueing between two turntables–no beat mixing yet. It was at this club that he starts to make a name for himself and within six months finds other club owners trying to woo him away.
Back in New York City one of Charlie's life-long friends named Marty Angelo was involved in this new trend called Disco. Marty had managed such groups as The Grass Roots (Midnight Confession) and later would host one of the earliest Disco television shows called Disco Step By Step TM. It was Marty that first told Charlie how DJs in the "Big Apple" were now mixing between records using two turntables to keep everyone dancing nonstop. So Charlie went to New York and visited such clubs as Adam's Apple and The Loft and listened to the early pioneer DJs. He was blown away by what he heard and wanted to be able to do the same so he went back to Buffalo and through trail and error figured it all out. To make things easier he would glue a 7 inch 45 rpm record to an unwanted LP so that it was easier to handle and mix with since the 12" single was not widely used yet. None of the other DJ's there had experienced "beat mixing" and this gave Charlie a distinct edge over them for the time being.
Initially, Charlie played mostly "Top 40" material such as the Bee Gee's, Nights On Broadway. However, he enjoyed the "black" sound that was being played on the radio and he started to incorporate it more and more into his playlists. Artists like BT Express, Fatback Band and others. Charlie was one of the few well known DJ's in Buffalo that had the freedom from the club owners to play a more black sound which can be rather difficult to do outside of the large cities. Other DJ's were not as lucky since some club owners did not want them to play too much of what "they" called "n*gger music" since it would attract a black crowd to the clubs. This is quite different from today's music scene that is, although not perfect, more tolerant and accepting of minorities and different cultures. (Please note that the above racial remark is not the opinion of Charlie or I, but simply the recounting of a sentiment by dance club owners of that time)
One of the first 12 inch singles that Charlie played was More by Carol Williams on Salsoul Records. Up until this point Charlie had been buying all his records so Marty told him to write the record companies and have them send him promos. Not only do they do that, but in turn he helps to break new product in his market and even distribute it to other area DJs. In fact Charlie calls the late Ray Caviano of TK and later RFC Records his mentor and a very special friend. On top of this, Marty gets Charlie into Eddie Rivera's IDRC (International Disco Record Center) record pool in New York City around 1977 giving him even greater access to new music before other area DJ's.
I asked Charlie if there was a lot of competition between DJ's and he said that their common goal was the music and to get paid more by the club owners who seemed to try and keep them down. He makes an interesting observation saying that early club owners were simply saloon owners not nightclub owners and that Djing was the only job they couldn't do. In other words they could tend bar or wait on tables if they fired the bartender or waitress, but couldn't play the music if they fired the DJ. It seemed as if the DJ was always being pushed around even though he was the star of the show along with the music and that some owners always resented that fact. Charlie is quick to point out that he had a big ego and didn't mind having it stroked. He would often walk in late through a crowded dance floor while they cheered him on much to the chagrin of the owner.
Friday's and Saturday's Disco Café
After his stint with The Fifth National Bank Charlie set his sites on a new mega Disco that was opening up called "747" since it was fashioned after the inside of a 747 airplane. After about a year there he had a battle with the owner in the sound booth one night and quit. He later moved on to one of the first clubs to feature mainly funk, and R & B music called "Friday's and Saturday's Disco Café" run by Ron and Nick Paolini who unlike many owners knew the music well and were heavily into black music. He made $50.00 a night, which was at a time when a new car cost only $3,000. He stayed there till about 1979 and then moved on to "Sgt. Pepper's" and then later to "Mulligan's" which was a small place located in downtown Buffalo as opposed to the others, which were in the suburbs. Mulligan's was the hangout for such celebrities as Rick James and O. J. Simpson.
At around the same time in 1979 Charlie went to a Billboard Disco Convention in New York with Marty Angelo. This was when Disco was at its peak and really jumping. While there they met with the person who ran the Buffalo Convention Center named Glenn Arnette who told them of his idea of creating the world's largest one day Disco event. All the proceeds were to go to The United Way. Apparently they were having difficulty getting things off the ground so when Charlie and Marty came back to Buffalo a week later they sat down with the promoters and started getting talent from all the Disco labels since they knew all the contact and promotions people. In short time they were able to get such names as Gloria Gaynor, Edwin Starr, The Trammps, Musique, Fern Kinney, Ednah Holt, The Raes and others. Now they needed DJs and they were able to line up such legendary names as Bobby "DJ" Guttadaro from New York, the late Mike Lewis from L. A., Wally MacDonald from Toronto, John Ceglia and finally Charlie Anzalone of Buffalo, New York. Between live acts, each DJ performed a forty-five minute set while perched on scaffolds thirty feet above the crowds.
The show proved to be a success having sold seven thousand tickets in advance and another seven thousand the day of the show. All told more than 14,000 Disco fans from around the world jammed the Buffalo Convention Center to dance their asses off. It went down in Disco music history as the largest one day Disco event and called the "Woodstock" of Disco by Bobby "DJ" Guttadaro. Both he and Mike Lewis couldn't believe the huge turnout especially considering that it wasn't held in a large city like New York or Los Angeles.
An interesting sidenote is that the Wall Street Journal in 1978 reported that Bobby "DJ" Guttadaro was one of the first Disco DJ's to make a then unheard of $50,000.00 a year.
During the late seventies Charlie would make frequent pilgrimages to New York City to buy records, but more importantly to hear his favourite DJ's like Larry Levan and others. He recalls visiting clubs like Infinity and then The Paradise Garage in 1978 for the very first time to attend a Disco Convention and hearing Larry play. Larry's first song over the Richard Long sound system was Instant Funk's I Got My Mind Up. This was Charlie's first time in a gay club and he had never witnessed anything like it. He recalls people just making out everywhere and even seeing a person "shooting up" inside one of the bass bins while the music was pounding away. It was a culture shock for a straight guy from Buffalo for sure. Besides visiting the clubs he would frequent places like Colony Records for the newest sounds to take back home with him.
I asked what was his most embarrassing moment while spinning and he told me of a time a well known recording artist came into the DJ booth with a bag of coke and spilled it on one of the records. After indulging he then mixes into that record which was "Let It Whip" by The Dazz Band and sure enough the record starts skipping because a rock of cocaine is stuck in the grooves!
Charlie now resides in Las Vegas and was actively spinning up until around 1996 and still has his eyes on opening a club of his own in the near future. One last note is that Charlie did a remix of Van McCoy's "The Hustle" which was never released. Thanks to Charlie for taking the time to speak with me and share his experiences.
Photos of DJ "Captain Disco" Charlie Anzalone at The BBC Nightclub on Bailey Avenue near the University of Buffalo, early 1980s sent in by DJ "Dr. John" Bisci.
We'll leave you with a Top 30 Disco chart that Charlie Anzalone published for Capt. Disco Enterprises back on May 1st, 1976 while at the 5th National Banque:
Written by Bernard F. Lopez (Oct. 12, 2000)
Copyright © 2000 by Bernard F. Lopez
All rights reserved