Mon. Nov. 29, 2021

Mel Cheren: My Life at The Paradise Garage!

I’ll never forget the first time I crossed Mel Cheren‘s path. This was in Miami back in 1996 during the Winter Music Conference. I was alongside Soundmen On Wax label head Shuji Hirose, pretty much on cloud nine. On the heels of an impressive live PA by the likes of Kenny Bobien. This prior to my introduction to Mel by NYC Village Voice writer Peter Reyes. From then on, I wouldn’t miss a single opportunity to meet him. Be it in Miami, in the Big Apple where he was livin’. Or whenever he went to Paris where the guy in charge of the assembling of his book – Brad Rumph – was livin’…

Barbara Tucker, Ultra Nate, Joe Claussell, Mel Cheren
Barbara Tucker, Ultra Nate, Joe Claussell, Mel Cheren

Mel was so devoted to the ones he loved and the causes he happened to embrace. I remember as if it was yesterday most of the moments we’ve managed to spend together. One night back in 2002, soon after the release of his book which I hadn’t had the chance to get because of living on the other side of the Pond, I happened to come with Kenny Bobien to one of his events in Miami. He was there, dancing on the floor with friends when I popped in. He then came straight to me and took me by the hand. Something which, to me, was quite unusual, I reckon.

He took me straight to the entry of the club. There, was a stand where you could find T-shirts and various other things to raise funds against AIDS via the 24 Hours For Life Inc. foundation. He then took 20 Bucks from his pocket in exchange of a copy of his book, which he gave me. Writing the following words for my attention… “Frederic, Thanks for all the years we have been friends. Music is the message + Love is the answer. Best wishes, Mel Cheren”. And I remember the tears comin’ to fall when he said to me: “I know where you’re comin’ from. We are family.” As many words which, to me, sounded like the most beautiful recognition. More than 20 years after havin’ bought my first West End Records 12″ in Paris!

I also coundn’t forget that day when I came to visit him at West End Records’ HQ The Colonial House Inn in NYC. Meanwhile Kevin Hedge and Josh Milan (Blaze) were havin’ an interview in the room next door.

I was surprised to see so many paintings standing on the wall in Mel‘s office. He said to me: “Yes, there are mine and I sell them to raise money for the foundation.” I then would spend a little moment with Kevin and Josh after their interview. And when I got back at Mel’ss, I found a little pack with one of his paintings inside. He said to me: “If ever you feel like lost in the middle of nowhere, just remember where you’re comin’ from.” I then would feel once more like wow! But wait a minute. This was just to be the part 1 of an anecdote that would last for a couple of years. Speakin’ of which we all had a big laugh at the end…

Back in France a couple of days later, I discovered when unpacking that I’d forgotten the painting at King Street Records exec Rob Wunderman‘ where I happened to stay for a few days. Rob said to me: “No worries, I’ll bring it for you at the next Conf!” We didn’t make it though. No more than I got the chance to see him during my other trip to NYC a few months after. And neither did we make it in 2004. So in order to make sure I would get it, Rob brought it back to… Mel. And this is how Mel gave it back to me (for the second time) in 2005!

It’s now standing close to my sound system. And each time I feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere, Mel‘s words get back to me as the souvenir of our meetings. Including the very last one we had. Although I didn’t know it would be, when he invited me to work on the second tone of his book. A project which, for the reasons you might imagine, never saw the light…

This was pretty much Mel. Never calculating, whenever comin’ to please the ones he loved. Like his contribution to Jeannie Hooper‘s Liquid Soud Lounge radio show when she needed to renew its syndication on the radio that was airing it. Or when he left the direction of West End Records to Kevin Hedge in an official statement in front of the crowd, soon after a live PA by the likes of Patti LaBelle at Timmy Regisford‘s Shelter Club! And the list goes on…

Cover image (from left to right): Peter Reyes, Mel Cheren, MFSB

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