But according to Rachael, Sherman has been unfairly labelled a crook. “Like, I saw the contract for ‘Can U Feel It’. And what happened with that was that Larry Heard wanted to write his own contract, and wanted a bigger advance than Larry would normally give. So he gave away all of his rights!” Rachael also states that Sherman isn’t as well off as some would have it.
“See, in the beginning we were all these young kids, and there weren’t many other house labels, it was a very closed market. So what happened was you made these tracks and you sold them, you got your advance. And I think that some people thought that records were bigger than they actually were. ‘Cause I know that though the numbers were there they were not as great as people think. That’s a fact. People think Larry is loaded but he’s not, he’s practically broke. Also, I think that what happened in a lot of cases was that people gave us their best music. Now they look back and they’re disappointed, because they haven’t made a better one since. They’re riding on that record and they’re not getting the money they would like.”
This contrasts sharply with Marshall Jefferson’s version, however.
“Larry just… took shit, man! [laughs] Just took it. And Larry’s got the pressing plant right there, man, and he just keeps pressing it up, pressing it up, year after year. And people would phone up saying, ‘We were looking for some of those old Trax Records classics, like Mr Fingers and ‘Move Your Body’ and he’d be like [adopts Sherman voice] ‘Well, you know what, luckily we still have some left..’ [more laughs]”
Yet as Jefferson also points out, at the time, money wasn’t the priority.
“It wasn’t really important to actually make money off of it. It’s like, we were making records, man. Nobody really cared about making money, that’s why we kept on doing it. Nobody really brought money up unless bills had to be paid or something like that. I had a good job, right, so money was really secondary. We just wanted to put out records, man. We were putting out records that were different from anything else in the world. And then once we got into it, we kinda realised we were like, startin’ something, y’know? I’m really fond of that.”
As the nineties arrived, acid house blossomed and Europe began to create its own version of the house sound. Some Trax artists moved away from Chicago to further their careers, or moved into other areas of production. Others simply gave up and disappeared from view. Larry Sherman had personal problems, but maintained Trax on and off, mainly through its Saber subsidiary. Ron Hardy had left the Music Box around 1987 and died in 1991.
Some Trax artists have successfully progressed into the wider dance scene of the nineties: Farley Jackmaster Funk and Marshall Jefferson are regulars on the DJ circuit. Jesse Saunders thinks he knows why:
“Marshall told me that when he went over there [the UK] people started asking him to DJ, and he said, ‘I ain’t no DJ’. And they said, ‘We’ll pay you $1500, $2000’, so he said, ‘Alright, I’m a DJ!'” [laughs]
But there is no doubt that plenty more artists who, despite (unwittingly) making valuable contributions to the development of house, now live in obscurity, unrecognised by the millions who now live their lives to the soundtrack these people helped create. And that is a great shame.
The latest chapter in the Trax saga is the recent spate of crackle-free re-releases from the Trax back catalogue thanks to a licensing deal with a London company. Whether or not any of the artists were consulted about this is unclear, but those concerns aside the re-releases provide a great opportunity for today’s spoon-fed dance music generation raised on the myriad of styles that house music has spawned (including, to a large extent, techno) to listen to the records which started it all. Timeless records created on the barest of equipment in an era where there were no rules or expectations about how a certain record should sound. It was genuine, it was fresh and but it’s gone forever. Only the music remains. Rachael Cain:
“I think the spirit was what was so important about the house music scene. When you think about a whole bunch of young kids who had no money, all knew each other, that whole group of people made a legendary style of music. Maybe other people made more money than us by taking over our sound, and maybe people in our own town might think that this is from England, but the people who really know, know.”
Frankie Bones, too, is not bitter.
“In the end, although I didn’t get paid, I do still hold that label in regard. I think the whole entire movement wouldn’t be where it is without Trax, y’know?”
But the last word goes to Jesse Saunders, a true unsung hero of house.
“When I did my first record, I just did it because I was bored and needed something to do, to be honest. I didn’t think that anything would come out of it…
Ten classic Trax
- Marshall Jefferson: Move Your Body (The House Music Anthem)
- Jungle Wonz: Bird In a Gilded Cage
- Adonis: No Way Back
- Mr Fingers: Can U Feel It
- Fingers Inc: Washing Machine
- Phuture: Acid Trax
- Phuture: We Are Phuture
- Frankie Knuckles: Your Love
- House Master Boyz: House Nation
- Ralphie Rosario: U Used To Hold Me
- Ron Hardy: Liquid Love
- Sleazy D: I’ve Lost Control
- Steve Poindexter: Work That Motherfucker
- Beltram: Flash Cube
- Mr Lee: Pump Up Chicago
- Maurice: I Got A Big Dick/This Is Acid
- Jackmaster D: Sensual Woman
- Adonis: Rocking Down The House
- Marshall Jefferson: Virgo EP
- Farley Keith: Funkin With The Drummer
Five not-so-classic Trax
- Fat Albert: Beat Me Til I Jack
- Willi Wanka: What Is House
- Bart Starr: Way To Go Homer
- Gotham City: Bat Trax
- Farm Boy: Jackin Me Around
Tom Robbins aka Max Renn is author of the above article.
He was publisher and editor of Magic Feet magazine from which the article is lifted.