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Classic album: Marshall Jefferson on Ten City - Foundation

Ten City
(Image credit: Ten City)

After dropping his groundbreaking single, Move Your Body in 1986, Marshall Jefferson was “hotter than fish grease”. Sensing the heat, chum and vocal powerhouse, Byron Stingily picked up the phone and got his hustle on, calling every major label, dangling the hottest name in house music in front of them.

Atlantic signed them up without even hearing a note from Byron, himself. “Imagine signing someone without hearing their voice,” says Jefferson. “And then getting Byron – jackpot!” After that, the pair assembled a supergroup of vocalists and musicians, and would produce an album rightly celebrated as one of the most seminal in dance music history. 

“For the Foundation album we had the legendary Earl Young on drums,” says Jefferson. “The Grand Staff’s horn section with Orbert Davis. My cousin Bill Dickens, who played with Ramsey Lewis. Herb Lawson on guitars. David Josias on percussion. Byron Burke, who would do musical bits. And, of course, Byron Stingily, who did lead vocals and most of the lyrics.”

Back then, everybody else was going more technical and digital, while we wanted to sound more natural

This was a group of talented individuals, at the peak of their powers. There was no fumbling around in the studio. They had a job to do – make hits. “All of us were in automatic songwriting mode,” says Jefferson. “And we got things done pretty quickly.

“Everything we wrote went on the album, too. That’s why we finished it so quickly. We didn’t have any songs that got turned down. And we finished the whole thing in two weeks.”

The LP still sounds fresh today, unusually for work from the early days of house music. Perhaps in part to Jefferson and crew’s unwillingness to rely on now-dated production gimmicks of the era.

“We were trying to be trendsetters… consciously,” he says. “Back then, everybody else was going more technical and digital, while we wanted to sound more natural. We had a different vibe to a lot of other house music. They were heavy on the digital edits – ‘Jack! Jack! Jack! Jack!’. We didn’t do that. 

“And we’re still getting royalties from that stuff, so I guess somebody still likes us.”

That’s The Way Love Is (Underground Mix/Edited Version)

“As soon as our drummer, the legendary Earl Young, heard it he said, ‘That’s a hit record. Let’s put some gold on the walls!’

“But I hate every single remake ever done of any of my music, right? So when I heard the remix that Merlin Bobb and Timmy Regisford did, I was so pissed off. 

“It was the version with a big piano, [hums the thudding chords]. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it because I felt some elements in there were too dry. I wanted the more kind of lush production in there. I’d made a lush production, and they took off Earl Young’s drums! And Boyd Jarvis replayed the snare. I was so pissed off for that because I thought Earl jammed his ass off! 

“I told them to take my name off the record, and I removed my name from the songwriting, which was a big mistake. Huge… you know? I don’t know too many people that have ever done something that fuckin’ stupid [laughs]

“I could have easily chopped up the live drums. And I could have easily had them dead solid in the pocket, like I did on Satisfaction. But I didn’t get a chance to do that.”

Where Do We Go?

“This was written and produced by Guy Vaughn. Guy was a good friend of ours. And, yeah, that was his song. He came to Chicago and produced it.

“Guy was part of my crew on the East Coast. There was a bunch of us producers, you know? It was me and Guy, Shedrick Guy, and CeCe Rogers. We would all hang out and stuff. We hung out real close, and we chased women together, and all that stuff.

“We had nicknames for each other. Like, I was ‘Sloppy’ and CeCe was ‘Hefty’. Shedrick had Jheri curls, so we called him ‘Greasy’. Guy had dreadlocks, we called him ‘Raggedy’. 

“We just all hung out in the clubs together and stuff, you know? So, when Guy said he had a song for Ten City, I just said, ‘Hey. Have at it…'”

Suspicious

“I did the bassline on this track. Yeah, I think I did all the instruments on Suspicious, actually. And it just became just a song that I did.

“I wrote the words with Byron Stingily. And, you know, [creases up] he came up with the most famous line – ‘You’ve been out with your girlfriends. You come back in and your hairdo is a thing of the past...’ Something along those lines. 

“Byron wrote some words. I wrote some words, and did the music. For a lot of people, that’s their favourite song on the album.

“This was recorded at Chicago Recording Company. R. Kelly was recording in the same studio. He was an unknown artist, but beautiful women would come to our studio every day asking after him.”

Foundation

“The title track – Foundation. That was me and Byron Burke. I think I wrote the words for that one, and me and Byron did the music. 

“We just wanted a slow song for the album. We wanted to switch things up. That was something you’re able to do on an artist album. Everything doesn’t have to be dance music. When you just doing singles they obviously have to be house music. But, if you do an album, you get to spread your wings a little bit. So that was our attempt at doing a slow song.

Foundation is just the song title. Byron Stingily connected the dots and said we should call the album that, too. He’d say, ‘It’s the foundation of the city, man. The Ten City.’ He’d say heavy shit like that all the time. Sometimes he goes over my head a little bit with this heaviness.”

Right Back To You (Edited Version)

“I fucked up the intro on this – I mean the drums. You know, the drums start in a weird way. It’s not like a perfect 4/4. It’s like 3/4, or something like that. It’s not in time, so that’s why most DJs never played it. But, it was really one of the best instrumentals I’d ever done. 

“I played the New York mix that I did most of the time. I still play it. It’s so emotional.

Steve Hurley is a bad motherfucker, man. He’s bad as hell, man. He could chop tape up real quick, and make about 30 edits in an hour and a half

“I believe all four of us were writing on this track, you know, with the piano and the bass. And we had a horn section on that. 

“And, yeah, I thought it was pretty nice. But, I don’t think we completed that song properly. Like, the intro that I blew – I regret that to this day, because I thought it was a really inspirational instrumental.”

Satisfaction

“Now, me and Byron wrote the words for that over the phone. And that was probably the funkiest thing that I’ve ever done. 

“But that was, you know, Earl Young on drums. I sampled him, and I looped it. So, that’s why the drums are so tight and funky. 

“And, you know, those drums going along with the bassline – I used a Roland JX-8P on that, instead of my cousin, Billy Dickens, who we used elsewhere. 

“Even the horns are funky on that! That’s the Grand Staff’s horns  – that’s Orbert Davis’ group. [Hums horns]. Yeah, those funky ass Grand Staff horns. And the thing is, they weren’t the tightest horns. But, I sampled them, and locked them into the pocket, right? So, it’s like the whole song is tight as hell and funky. And, you know, it sounds natural. I used a Casio FZ-1 for that. Made it real tight.” 

You Must Be The One

“There are some ‘stun sounds’ and stopping FX on this record – like a record deck might sound when you power it off real quick. Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley did all that. I didn’t like that, either [laughs]

“I’m not a fan of it. But, Steve Hurley is a bad motherfucker, man. He’s bad as hell, man. He could chop tape up real quick, and make about 30 edits in an hour and a half. 

We got that whole album done in like a couple of weeks

“And when we tried to redo Steve’s edits, it took us 14 and a half hours to do what he did in an hour and a half [laughs]. That’s how cool he was…

“Man, he was literally cutting, physically cutting tape. Yeah, that’s not this digital editing shit. He was cutting tape. 

“And, you know, them sounds on this track? That was all just Steve. I didn’t like it, you know? I just didn’t like… the tricks. I wanted our stuff to sound natural.”

For You

“This was Byron Stingily, I believe. And Byron Burke. They went off and worked on that. And that one was pretty slamming, I thought.

“I wasn’t working on too much at the same time. But, we pretty much did the whole Ten City album thing in about two weeks. 

“So, I didn’t have too many distractions. And the whole project pretty much came in way under budget. CRC studios were pretty cheap. We got that whole album done in like a couple of weeks.

“This track, For You, was recorded and mixed at The Sound Lab in Chicago. The engineer on it was Chris Cuben.”

Close and Slow

“This one was put together by me and Byron. It was just your basic slow record, I guess. We just wanted a ‘booty grabber’, you know? Like an ‘end of the night song’. That’s the thing in Chicago, there’s a whole history behind that kind of thing. 

“In the clubs, you’d have dance music, and then the last half hour you’d have all the slow records, and we would call them ‘booty grabbers’ because you’d be grinding and then wind up going back to the hotel.

“As a matter of fact, you had these hotels in Chicago – a whole bunch of them – where you could rent out a room for four hours. Amazing, right? 

“And there would be a queue of cars all waiting to get into these hotels. All because of these slow records that they played at the end of the night that had got everyone horny.

“And I’ve never seen that phenomenon in Europe. It probably happened, but I’ve never seen it.”

Devotion (Edited Version)

“This was our very first single. And, well, man, that song... OK. Here we go. We were on a double date – me and Byron Stingily – with these girls, Gigi and Cynthia. And, well, you know, I was pretty successful... and Byron wasn’t. 

“But, you know, Byron started singing and stuff to win his girl over, and I said, ‘That’s a great groove!’. 

“So, when I went home I just threw the music under it, and some more words, and then boom – we had made Devotion

“And, it was actually like a week after we’d met with Atlantic records, and Atlantic had wanted to give Byron the record deal without even hearing his voice! 

“So, we had to do a song for Atlantic and did Devotion. We did the song and everybody flipped over it, and Merlin Bobb played it on WBLS in New York. Everybody flipped over. Crazy times.” 

In the studio with Marshall Jefferson

“We recorded in a few different studios, but mainly used the Chicago Recording Company, because they were the cheapest and we liked the engineer, Tom Hanson. He would just enhance the songs.

“My drum machine of choice was a Roland 707. We used that for the whole of the album, except for the songs that Earl [Young] played on.

“I used a Casio FZ-1. I sampled backgrounds in that thing, drums, horns, everything. On the whole album. Tightened it right up. We had big Neve consoles, too.

“For keyboards, I used a Roland JX-8P. And for the piano I used a Sequential Circuits Prophet 2000, which got stolen. 

“For other keyboard parts we used a Korg EX-800, which was a Poly 800 module. And that was about it. For the rest I used live musicians. And it was all bounced down to tape. We didn’t have digital banks.”

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