TEN CITY & BYRON STINGILY
Byron Stingily’s falsetto voice has graced some of house music’s most spiritual moments. He’s back with a new Ten City LP with his old friend and production partner Marshall Jefferson. Ian Snowball meets him.
Byron, it has been a while coming but tell us about the new Ten City music?
Marshall and me have signed a deal with Ultra Music who asked us to do new versions of ‘That’s The Way Love’ Is and ‘Devotion’. DJ Spen did a remix for us, and we also have Maurice Joshua included. Marshall is on top form and he’s written some really good songs, and I don’t think I did too bad myself on a couple of songs. The new album is called Judgement. It was a title I came up with when I was thinking of all the things going on in the world right now. I thought the title was both simple and powerful. Marshall and I talk a lot about names and track titles.
How did you come up with the name Ten City?
When we were putting Ten City together Marshall wanted to call it Intensity, but I said I thought it sounded a little too cheesy. We eventually compromised after I suggested taking away the I and the N, and we were left with Ten City. I said when a person gets a perfect score in the Olympics they get a ten, so calling our group Ten City will stand to represent the perfect place where everyone is welcome-it’ll be Utopia. Ten City was meant to be the perfect place where people are not judged. So calling the new album Judgement is like coming a full circle.
Can I take you back to the ‘80s and meeting Vince Lawrence and Marshall Jefferson?
I was a Chicago club kid. I hung out in places like The Playground, The Music Box, The Candy Store. I was a bit too young to hang out in Frankie Knuckles original Warehouse, but Sauers was another place I would go. I met a lot of guys because of going to the clubs and I met Marshall in 1985. I was in a group at the time, but they didn’t like House music. I did like House and had done some demos with a buddy of mine that was Vince Lawrence. Vince knew I was a singer and a musician, and club kid, and he wanted me to do some House music with him.
Was House a term you were using back then?
I didn’t really know what House music was, I knew what club music was but not House, so Vince explained it to me, telling me it was underground and faceless, and nobody really knew who was making the music. He told me that we’d make some House music and be part of a movement, and it would go worldwide. I instantly liked the idea of being part of that and was fired up with idea of making music of our own sound rather than chasing someone else’s sound.
When did you first hear Marshall’s music?
It was the Virgo tracks and I thought he was a genius. I went into the studio and made some music but the guys playing on the songs kinda messed it all up, but then Marshall walked into the studio, and he asked who did the melody and the lyrics on that song. I told him it was me, and he said it was some of the best melody and lyrics he’d ever heard. But then he told me that the production on the song sucked.
But you started working together shorty after?
We got talking and after that I became Marshall’s song writing partner. I had actually been playing the Virgo tracks the day before Marshall walked into the studio, and then I got to meet him, and we were partners on the spot. Chicago is like a big city but a small town, and I had seen Marshall around but I had never met him. We did have a mutual friend, a guy called Sleazy D who Marshall thought of as his little brother. Sleazy D and me would party together in the clubs.
I understand you came to the UK at the height of Ten City’s success.
Oh yes I remember my first trip to London well. I performed at venues like the Brixton Academy, the Hippodrome, and travelled to Brighton too. This was my first taste in Ten City of being in the U.K. On my next visit to the U.K I went to places like Shoom and the Hacienda, and I also performed at High on Hope. It was all pretty crazy.
How does it feel to be releasing new music now?
Having Ultra Music backing the new Ten City material is exciting. It’s good to have a major machine behind us. The head of Ultra called me up back in March and told me that he wanted to come to Chicago and talk to me. We went out to dinner and he told me that he had been a huge fan of Ten City, and he shared his ideas and vision of how he saw the new music being released. I was like wow! What he was saying was how I always envisaged things too.
What is it like to be working with Marshall again?
‘Foundation’ came out 31 years ago, but since then both me and Marshall have still been making music. I made ‘They Can’t Understand’ with Bobby and Steve and ‘Celebrate Me’ with DJ Pope which also did very well. But the Ten City music is the first time Marshall and me have worked together since the Foundation days. We have always talked often, at least once a month, cracking jokes on each other and that kinda of stuff. But getting the chance to work with Marshall again excited me, at first it felt a little awkward though.
In what way?
Because since Marshall and me had first worked together I had developed my own way, and like to work a certain way. I was aware that Marshall also likes to approach things a certain way, and I was questioning how it might work. Marshall is a really humble person but he’s also very much an Alpha male, and I’m like that too. I wasn’t sure if it would work out okay. I was like the little brother who had grown up. But we have such a great friendship and we know we can say things to each other in ways that nobody else can, so it works out OK. We push each other in the right way, and it sometimes can get a little tense.
Looking back what do you think is your legacy?
Marshall and me have been making House music since the beginning. Even since the days when Chicago killed disco. House is just a child of disco, and people are always going to want to dance, and that’s what House music was, it was the best of dance music. House music was music that was good enough to be played at the Warehouse, and it was not just black or disco or gay music, it was everything, it was British acts too like the Human League, ABC, Imagination and Yazoo. Their music was played alongside Loleatta Holloway and the B52’s. It was all in the mix. Once House music was born it was never going to go away. That much was clear to me!
And finally you must be very happy to have this new music out there?
We think our new music will expose us to a whole new, younger audience, and maybe our songs will be even bigger than the first time around. I’m still very driven and want more, but I also look at what has been done and appreciate it, which means a lot for someone who has grown up in poverty in Chicago, who went on to perform in places I had never heard of like Ibiza and Dubai. As a kid in Chicago I never dreamed of those things.
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Byron and I went to college together. I called him and said ‘look man, you need to get your butt home so we can make some of these records’. I co-produced the first record with Byron signing on it. That song was called ‘Funny Love’ by Dezz 7. Those guys wore paisley and looked like Prince, and there’s a photograph of them dressed like that. Vince Lawrence
I remember recording at Chicago Trax in the ‘80s. I was in Studio A recording “If You Only Knew”, and got called into the Ten City recording session for “Devotion” in Studio B. I helped with some drum programming and Byron and I hit it off right away. So happy to see all their success, and that they’re still bringing the heat. When Ten City entered the game, Byron brought amazing range and real vocals to House Music. It wasn’t just samples anymore.’ Chip E
Ten City is iconic to Chicago and quality music. I have had a love for the creative energy and musical passion that Ten City share with their music from the first time I heard Devotion a single and the exceptional follow up album Foundations. Incredibly talented!’ Joe Smooth
‘That’s The Way Love’ Is and all the Ten City tracks were anthems at Shoom. Spiritually uplifting production celebrating the message of love and happiness, which was perfectly aligned to the Summer of Love. We were all feeling so much love and unity in those unique special times. Danny Rampling
I recall back in ‘87 a record collector friend was raving about a new release on Atlantic that "sounds like classic Sylvester”. That record turned out to be ‘Devotion’ by Ten City. Up until that point most house records had been the stripped back, made on a 4 track, jack trax type, ‘Devotion’ was another level of production and really cemented the connection between house and disco. I love lots of Ten City songs, not sure this is my favourite but it was the first one to blew me away and I’ll always remember that. Dave Lee
First time I heard Ten City was on during a Shock Sound system set at the Clink at the infamous RIP parties. When music like that hits you in the head for the first time, the combination of Byron’s voice and party favours took me to another level. The party favours have long gone but Ten City still have that effect on me - 'Whatever makes you happy' [David Morales Remix] remains a go-to track. Ashley Beedle
What Ten City did was mark the maturing of making records, that us club kids had been doing in the underground parties. With Marshall they worked with the best string and horn arrangers around, drummer Earl Young, and they made a thing of beauty even though they were making records produced by kids who hadn’t come into the music business through the traditional path. What we, and Ten City were doing was so experimental that the major record labels didn’t even see it as music. Vince Lawrence
When I first heard ‘That’s The Way Love Is’ Timmy Regisford played it on WBLS 107.5 FM NYC....that horn intro and Byron’s phenomenal voice along with the foot stomping melodies and keys immediately grabbed my Soul & Emotions..it blew me away. Went the next day and bought two copies from Vinyl Mania Record Store! I knew it would be an instant dance hit in every club, at every BBQ & wedding around the world...absolute Masterpiece! DJ Donna Edwards
I was 9 when ‘That’s The Way Love Is’ was released. It’s one of those tracks that really landed with me when I was old enough to go clubbing and partying myself.
Its like you've known this thing for most of your young life, and then all of a sudden you hear it in its own environment and you go from thinking you love it, to REALLY loving it and understanding it. There's a lot of "classics" out there I could leave without hearing ever again, but I'll always be excited when I hear this in a club. Man Power
Digging through my records at home a while back whilst digitizing I flipped ‘Right Back to You’ over and played the B side ‘One Kiss Will Make it Better’ and was filled with emotion. I remember hearing ‘One Kiss’ played in a cassette from back in the day but never really attempted to hunt it down and bingo there it was. I love everything about it - the tempo - the baseline and the simplicity and playfulness of the lyrics - a stone cold classic. But more importantly- I love Ten City - truly one of a kind. Luke Solomon
When I first heard of Ten City my dad was playing many of their records at home, I think I was about 7/8 and I’ll never forget Whatever Makes You Happy. The piano riff is so good, it’s slightly out of time but where the record has much swing it fits the track perfectly. Martin Ikin