Tue. Aug. 03, 2021

Larry Heard: Mr. Fingers & Fingers Inc.

“In the beginning, there was Jack (but also Larry Heard!), and Jack had a groove. N’ from this groove came the groove of all grooves. And while one day viciously throwing down on his box, Jack boldy declared: “Let there be House!” And House Music was born. I am, you see, I am The creator, and this is my house! N’ in my house, there is only House Music. But I am not so selfish because once you enter my house, it then becomes our house and our House Music…”
‘Can You feel it?’ Of course we do. Just as all the ones who keep on entering Larry Heard‘s house some 29 years after the release of this anthemic tune that would give birth to (Deep) House Music…

Larry Heard
© George Sully

So many things to tell about a man I’ve known for over 25 years even though we’ve never had the chance to meet… Stories related to London’s Black Market record store and label manager, Rene Galston (Larry Heard‘s manager) whom I would come to know when I was living in London. Things related to the defunct Parisian BPM record store’s owner, Sal Russo who couldn’t help havin’ tremolos in his voice whenever coming to evoke Larry Heard and Co.’s works. Not to mention that night when Larry played at some Detroit spot during the DEMF, with me, exhausted, sleeping in a car next door!

To be (yourself) or not to be… Here’s what looks the motto of a true genious who sadly failed to get the recognition as one of the biggest talents in the history of contemporary music. Deliberately away, Larry Heard would get the best out of his mind to provide us with a continuous flow of masterpieces. “I am machine”, said the late Andy Warhol. Then Larry would be nothing but himself prior becoming music itself, spending most of his time locked in his studio. Searching for what was to be nothing but the perfection.

All in all, Larry Heard found the best way to hide a chronic introversion that’d seen him totally aside since his earliest years. Literally obsessed by music, he would eventually spend his latest dimes buying singles when his schoolmates were into Lego and Dinky Toys! His family environment being for much in this. Seeing his dad and brothers making Doo-Wop at home while his mom was singing Gospel at church. Not to mention that piano that everyone would use in the house. “I’ve stayed for quite a while refusing having lessons”, he remembers. “I eventually started later. It came naturally. I guess it has been a sort of DNA thing. I don’t feel like having hard times when doing music. As it has always been a part of my environment.”

“I’ve never cared about what the others are doing, the path they may follow. The only things that count are my instinct and my inspiration. Needless to specify that I stay away from the standards which to me could be the work of anyone without distinction. I ain’t got the time to have a look at these trends. Simply because it’s already hard for me to deal with my creativity…”

Larry Heard started his carreer as a drummer alongside R&B jazz bands. This before developping ideas that would be misunderstood by his pals. He would then go further in his practise of the synths under the Mr Fingers or Loose Fingers guises. Some monikers that got given to him (because of the particular way he was playing) by all of those who happened to approach him at the time. Beginning with Ron Wilson and Robert Owens.

The threesome made their debut under the Fingers Inc. moniker in 1986 on DJ International. This bringing us back to the souvenir of ‘Mystery Of Love’. A single that soon got gold certified on the Billboard Chart. Alas not leaving them with the money they were supposed to get from it. They broke the deal with Rocky Jones‘s label leaving him in the obligation to release ‘A Path’ and the famous ‘It’s Over’. A cut that found its inspiration from First Choice‘s classic ‘Let No Man Put Asunder’.

They would then make a second mistake when signing with Trax (DJ International’s declared enemy!!!. A label where they released ‘Bring Down The Walls’ and the legendary ‘Can You Feel It?’ Once again with no other reward than some extra amount of consideration. This leading them to successively release ‘I’m Strong’ and ‘A Love Of My Own’ on Larry‘s Alleviated Records label…

The extreme fluidity of the group’s repertoire nevertheless allowed its members to colloaborate, together or seperately, with numerous names. From Diana Brown & Barrie K. Sharpe to Adamski and Kym Mazelle. But also Massive Attack (cf. Larry Heard‘s remixes on their “Any Love” EP) or Electribe 101. Not to mention the anthemic ‘Tears’ that marked Japanese new comer Satoshi Tomiie‘s debut alongside Frankie Knuckles and Robert Owens on FFRR.

Larry had no limit. His manager tellin’ me ome one day that he had more than 2,000 recorded pieces of music on his shelves!!! Suggesting by that that he had to go further. We then saw him under the Mr Fingers guise going more instrumental or synthetic. But also releasing ‘Gallimaufry Gallery’ alongside Harry Dennis before producing The It. A transient group whose first and only album, ‘On Top Of The World’ (featuring the outstanding ‘Rainforest Serenade’), stands as a timeless piece of art…

We eventually had the feeling that Larry Heard went finally out of trouble with MCA releasing his ‘Introduction’ album back in 1992. Leavin’ Robert Owens in charge of the vocals. But it happened to be a short term liaison. “Not too surprised hearing people saying that my music is soft and melancholic”, he said. “How could it be different considering my environment? Chicago has nothing of that sparkling city as many would like us to believe. Unemployment, misery, gangsterism… This is a depressive city. How do you want me to be enthusiastic in such conditions? Chicago is like a ghost city. Not a decent place to go out. With the police always on the run makin’ people rather stay home.”

Fairly discouraged by a local scene which had failed being organized due to a lack of structures (viable labels, clubs, radios with dedicated shows…). Hardly making himself a decent living, he would find a new oasis of peace setting up his studio outside the (Windy) City. Keepin’ on searching the aural heights as shown by his ‘Allien’ album which he thought to be his very last for some time…

“America will die under the format diktatorship. You have to be in and if not, there’s no chance to survive. Either you get in, either you’re left aside with the reputation of being underground.” A reality that led the House scene tenors to be fired by the major companies between 1992 and 1994. From Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley and Ten City to Lil’ Louis and Frankie Knuckles among others. Some of them eventually leaving the U.S. like Robert Owens and Marshall Jefferson going to England. Or Ce Ce Rogers spending most of his time with new Italian partners Jestofunk.

“One has got to survive”, said Larry hardly hiding his deception. “I’ve found my inner balance in House Music. Maybe too much for some people. I would say and I guess that I’ll stay with this reputation of being a House Music producer in regards to the music industry whatever I may do. House Music which brought me so much has ironically killed me from a day to another.”

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