Tom Moulton, the inventor of the 12 inch disco single and mix, speaks with Dayna Newman for DiscoMusic.com about his role in the birth of the most basic DJ tool.
Tom, thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions my fellow DiscoMusic.com members and myself have for you. It's wonderful to be able to get the information straight from the man himself.
Let me start with something that there has been some disagreement about or should I say difference of opinions on the DiscoMusic.com forum: What do you consider to be the very first Disco Song?
Tom Moulton: The interview I did for the BBC about disco when I was asked that same question. They pointed out to me that the first 12 inch was the A-side of Gloria Gaynor's Never Can Say Goodbye album. I never looked at it that way until they pointed it out. As I think about it now they are right.
Around what year did you sense a new style of music was coming into play and did you ever dream it would be such a phenomenon?
Tom Moulton: I never looked at it as a new style of music. It was still Pop / R & B and white people were accepting it. How bad can that be.
Did you have a Muse or any one person that really got your creative energy flowing?
Tom Moulton: To answer that fairly Mel Cheren and then Harry Chipetz and Studio A along with Earl, Norman, Baker, Eli, Kersey. Larry, TJ, Vince and of course the GREAT Joe Tarsia. I don't think I will ever come down from having the opportunity of working with such great musicians and artists. It was an honor and thrilling time in my life.
Was More by Carol Williams the first commercial 12 inch and Salsoul chose to promote Ten Percent as the first, or was Ten percent really the first commercial 12 inch?
Tom Moulton: Ten Percent was the first commercial 12 inch single.
You were a model while starting in the music business, did you have a passion for both," your modeling photo's are gorgeous" or did you always know music was your real passion?
Tom Moulton: I started in the music business working in a record store when I was 16. I was always in the music business because I love music more then anything. I can't think of anything that will give you such an emotional high as a song that gives you goose bumps and makes you feel tinglely inside.
What are your feelings regarding Scepter records?
Tom Moulton: I will always have fond memories of Scepter Records because I got the chance to express what I was feeling into mixing music. I have to thank Maye Hampton James for introducing me to Mel Cheren.
When I say Grace Jones what pops in your head? And what is your opinion of her early LPs?
Tom Moulton: I didn't want to become a record producer. Sy and Ilene Berlin pushed me into it. They were Grace Jones' managers and they believed in her and they stopped at nothing to make her a star. She couldn't sing well in the beginning and she took singing lessons and was DETERMINED to make it.
Who would you have liked to work with that you didn't get the chance to do so?
Tom Moulton: I was asked to mix Abba's Dancing Queen by the president of Atlantic Records' Jerry Greenberg, and I said (MUCH TO MY REGRET) the record would be a hit without me. I assumed there would be a longer version. I never assumed after that.
Do you know how the Billboard charts were calculated, who actually did this? And which city's charts were given more weight in the calculation besides the obvious New York and L.A.?
Tom Moulton: The Disco charts when I was doing them was compiled from DJs playlist and sales. I was doing them in the beginning and like everything else that becomes successful people will always try to corrupt it and ruin it. I went to all the stores and knew what they were asking for and buying. I knew what the clubs were playing. That was in the beginning. I can't say what happened after I left. Honest people and the music business are always at odds. People seem to like the sugar-coated bullsh*t more than the truth where as the truth a lot of the time is just boring.
Mel Cheren recently passed away which was such a shame. Do you have a lot of fond memories of Mel and what did you think of his business sense?
Tom Moulton: Mel Cheren was a complicated person. I always called him Mr. Cause. He was very passionate about what he believed in. Our relationship was best described as a Rocky Road. He seemed to have that kind of relationship with most people. I knew Mel for 35 years and 28 of them I would say we were close. The one thing we both are passionate about was the music and that is what ultimately got us back together at the end. I am very grateful for that and Del-G would made it possible.
Tom Moulton, can you tell the readers of DiscoMusic.com what was the very first 12 inch single that you mixed? Did you love it or were you like most of us when we do something for the first time thinking I can do better?
Tom Moulton: I have always felt when you mix a song and you print it (to tape) you are satisfied with it. The next day or when you play it again there will always be some thing you missed and want to correct it. This can drive you crazy after a while. I have the luxury now of polishing and tweaking a mix before it is released. You have to remember your head will always be in a different place the next time you hear something you have done.
If it was good enough then, it's good enough now. As for something I wanted to see if I could attempt to make a Perfect mix. I got the Parts to "Keep On Truckin" and worked at that song everyday for about 5 months. Everyday I would correct something that was wrong until there were no mistakes every note was correct, timing was perfect. To this day when I hear it there is nothing I would change so it is possible if you want to spend the time on it.
I heard something about some new Tom Moulton mixes coming out, Is this true?, something you can talk about?
Tom Moulton: The fellows who were responsible for talking me into doing the first album with my name on it are feeling me out for the second one. They want to know what I have that's new or was never issued. I do have a few surprises there. I was asked to remix the entire Brand New Heavies album and I am working on the 5 songs I didn't remix. Bobby Martin's album will come out this Spring and a new John Ellison album.
Tom, if you had to pick the best Soul/R&B/Disco voice of any singer in the business, in your opinion whom would it be?
Tom Moulton: There are so many singers I truly love. It's always the honesty in there words that win me over. Jimmy Ellis is one of those singers. He always makes me feel glad to be alive and there is such JOY in his voice. If they were the only group I had the chance to work on (The Trammps) I would still feel I accomplished a lot in life.
Listen to Where Do We Go From Here by The Trammps:
What do you think of today's DJs and remixers? It has to be something you think of seeing as you were so instrumental in paving the way for them. And do you have a favorite DJ?
Tom Moulton: I honestly don't understand a lot of the things the remixers do. I am from the old school where the artist and the song were the star. I REMIX... they re-produce. A lot of these Re-producers have a style and have effects that work for them and they seem to stay in that rut. I always try to make something sound like it cost a million dollars and it was well produced, You can never have to much "Class" in a mix. In all honesty I like what Dimitri from Paris does in his productions another good friend of mine John Morales always adds the soulful tinge to everything he touches.
Tom Moulton: What is your all time favorite song and why?
Tom Moulton: I guess my favorite has to be Love Is The Message. I had to really fight to get that song on the Philadelphia Classics album. I heard it the other day when I was out and it always sends chills up my spine. I am amazed at the power that song has. It still bothers me I tricked Huff into playing that Rhodes part. When the breakdown with the Rhodes happens I get over it real quick.
Listen to Love is the Message by M.F.S.B.
What pops into your head when I say Gamble and Huff?
Tom Moulton: I have great respect for Gamble and Huff. It was Harry Chipetz who felt we would be good for each other and he was responsible for getting us together. Harry was also the man who made my dream to work with The Trammps a reality. In fact now that I think of it, Harry was the man who would bring people together and he was responsible for a lot of groups and writing partners getting together. He was one of the nicest people I have ever met.
Tom, What would you say your greatest achievement in life would be?
Tom Moulton: My greatest achievement is I still care about the music and the passion is still there. Without that I am dead.
Is there any significance in the magic numbers 5:35? Because many of your mixes are that exact amount of time. Also, the specific clubs that were chosen for reporting for the chart compilation... did they perhaps have a gay bias?
Tom Moulton: It was an accident on the 5:35 time. It happened a couple times and the songs were successful so I did it deliberately a few times. As for the charts, The black and gay clubs were the most progressive in playing new music. I didn't write an oldies column it was about the "now" hot music. Straight clubs played more of the familiar hits and songs they knew. That is the way it was back in the early 1970s.
Thank you again Tom. It has been an honor to have been able to hear your thoughts and see your undying love for music.
More Tom Moulton to Explore
Never Can Say Goodbye:
Listen to Do Or Die by Grace Jones:
Top Disco Mixes by Tom Moulton 1974-1975n
These are the Tom Moulton Disco mixes that achieved rankings on the Top 100 Songs for 1974 - 1975 as compiled by DiscoMusic.com member, Markeydefad:
8. EXPRESS - B.T. Express
(Scepter/ 1974) P: Jeff Lane; W: B.T. Express; "A Tom Moulton Mix"
9) CASANOVA BROWN/ (If You Want It) DO IT YOURSELF/ HOW HIGH THE MOON (Medley) - Gloria Gaynor
(MGM/1975) P: Meco Monardo/ Tony Bongiovi/ Jay Ellis W: 1) Jimmy Roach; 2) James Bolden/Jack Robinson; 3) Morgan Lewis/ Nancy Hamilton "A Tom Moulton Mix"
11) PEACE PIPE/ "NON-STOP" LP - B.T. Express
(Roadshow/ 1975) P: Jeff Lane; W: S. Taylor/M. Barkan; "A Tom Moulton Mix"
12) I'LL BE HOLDING ON - Al Downing
(Chess Disco Mix/1974) P: Meco Monardo/ Tony Bongiovi/ Jay Ellis; "A Tom Moulton Mix"
17) WHEN YOU'RE YOUNG AND IN LOVE - Ralph Carter
(Mercury/ 1975) P: Reid Whitelaw/Norman Bergen; W: Van McCoy; "A Tom Moulton Mix"
26) HELPLESSLY - Moment Of Truth
(Roulette/ 1975) P/W: Reid Whitelaw/ Norman Bergen; "A Tom Moulton Mix"
27) HONEY BEE/ NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE/ REACH OUT-I'LL BE THERE (Medley) + "NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE" LP - Gloria Gaynor
(MGM LP/ 1975) P: #1: Paul Leka/ #2 & #3: Meco Monardo/ Tony Bongiovi/ Jay Ellis; "A Tom Moulton Mix"
28. EL BIMBO - Bimbo Jet
(Scepter/ 1975) P: Laurent Rossi; W: C. Morgan; "A Tom Moulton Mix"
52) CHINESE KUNG FU - Banzaii
(Scepter/1975) P: S.A. Creations Artistiques; W: Subway ; "A Tom Moulton Mix"
55) LET'S DO THE LATIN HUSTLE - Eddie Drennon & B.B.S. Unlimited
(Friends & Co./ 1975) P/W: Eddie Drennon ;"A Tom Moulton Mix"
61) UNDECIDED LOVE - The Chequers
(Scepter/1975) P: John Mathias; W: R. Mathias/ J. Mathias "A Tom Moulton Mix"
The above list as researched by DiscoMusic.com member Markydefad.