The enigmatic 12-inch “Love Money” by Funk Masters was often but erroneously attributed to Miles Davis drummer Tony Williams
The untold tale of an underground cult classic.
by Andrew Mason with Greg Wilson
The article you read here came about by mistake. In “12 x 12” in Wax Poetics Issue 4, Louie Vega chose twelve of his favorite dance classics. One record was Funk Masters’ “Love Money,” acknowledged to be the work of one Tony Williams. In my research for the article, I encountered a widespread belief that the record was a side project of the famous Miles Davis sideman of that name, a notion strengthened by seminal New York club fixture Francois Kevorkian having studied with the master drummer shortly before the enigmatic 12-inch was released in the early ’80s. In the article, I duly noted that assumption, one that I was to discover (too late) was entirely incorrect. Though the jazz drummer passed away in 1997, the creator of “Love Money” is alive and well.
Doing tremendous work to help excavate this long-buried story was veteran DJ Greg Wilson. A fixture on the British jazz-funk scene (where the record would first gain cult status in 1980/’81) and a key figure in the birth of hip-hop and house in the U.K., Greg brought to my attention the true origins of “Love Money” and was able to track down many of the missing pieces in this story, including Mr. Williams himself.
As it transpires, the Tony Williams we are concerned with is a South London producer who began DJing three decades ago, spinning soul and funk during the ’70s in various London clubs. Best known as the reggae presenter with BBC Radio London from 1978 until the station closed a decade later, he was never a prolific composer, scoring his only chart success in 1983 with a tune called “It’s Over.” “Love Money” was his very first project.
The record is a fascinating mixture of rap, funk, and dub reggae mixing techniques. Its dub mix uncannily predates and predicts developments in house music, while its vocal version is probably the very first rap record in the U.K. “Love Money” went on to heavily influence the New York City dance underground, with homages coming in the form of subtle tributes (Mateo & Matos’s “Love Style”) to a virtual remake from Larry Levan (Man Friday’s “Love Honey, Love Heartache”) to untold records that have sampled or been influenced by the unique spacey dub sound crossed with a heavy funk groove.
Below is the story of this groundbreaking record, one that is placed among the top classics of dance music by a wide range of influential and veteran DJs, from Vega to Levan to David Mancuso, but one whose origins even these gurus know next to nothing about.
Our story begins in the late ’70s. Tony Williams explains:
I was working in a club called Fouberts on Carnaby Street and a good friend of mine, Bo Kool, used to come down. “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang was out about that time and we used to kind of rap to the music and just have fun. One day I just said to him, “Let’s go in the studio and make a record.”
At the time I was working for BBC Radio London, presenting a Sunday afternoon show called Reggae Time. Because I was working for the BBC and playing reggae, I couldn’t really make reggae music because the only outlet would be on my own show and I felt that would be unfair. [Unlike the U.S., Britain had only one official radio outlet, the BBC.] So, I turned my hands to soul music, ’cause I was playing that in the clubs a long time before I came on radio.
Anyway, we had this idea, Bo and myself. Dennis Brown’s “Money in My Pocket” was pretty popular at that time, being picked up nationally and everything; so, because of Sugarhill Gang, we said let’s write a rap around “Money in My Pocket.”
Having never been into a recording studio before, I found some musicians that I felt I’d be comfortable with. Ninety percent of them were capable musicians but they mainly played reggae. I remember getting this Yamaha synthesizer that no one could actually program or even play, so that was a waste. All we could get out of it was one or two notes. [laughs]
We were sitting there and no one had a clue what I had in mind [musically] and neither did I. I remember distinctly [saying to] the bass player, “Errol, I need you to put two bass lines on this track for me.” He looked at me and said, [in a strong Jamaican accent] “Mr. Williams, you can’t put two bass lines on a record.” I said “Why not?” and he said, “It’s not done, man.” I said, “Okay, I want you to put this [makes bass sound], all right? I want you to put that.” You know?
We recorded everything at Hillside Studio in London, with the engineer, Mark Angelo Lusardi, mixing.
Mark Angelo Lusardi, brother of the famous British model Linda Lusardi, is a pioneer of U.K. dub who honed his skills in London’s Gooseberry Studio in the late ’70s, recording with reggae heavyweights Dennis Bovell, Creation Rebel, and Prince Far I. He would later set up his own Mark Angelo Studio, which included among its clients the leading reggae label Greensleeves, with Lusardi working most notably on Clint Eastwood & General Saint’s Two Bad DJ (1983).
Regarding his work on “Love Money,” Lusardi observed that “in large parts, fifty percent of the drum sound is actually an echo of the original drums. I set up a triplet feedback echo on a channel on the desk to get some dubby bits going. Then I fed the drums in and liked it that way, and so just left it sitting there. You see, in order to get the timing of the delay just right I always tested it with the drums first, as this was the most accurate method.”
In an uncanny echoing of the sensations produced by his dub mix of “Love Money,” Lusardi comments on his website, “True stereo filtering seems to alter spatial perceptions in a bizarre and unexpected way. I first came to this conclusion many years ago whilst slaving away on reggae sessions trying to create the ultimate dub… Several years later I was re-creating this effect on the majority of my sessions and was beginning to feel slightly miffed at the dull, nagging ache I was developing in my back from bending over the desk like a bloody contortionist to get to all those darned EQ pots.” In response, he developed an outboard EQ/filtering device called the Mutator, which has since been used by numerous recording artists, including Massive Attack, Radiohead, Beck, and Daft Punk, underlining again the prescient nature of “Love Money”’s dub-plus-disco sound.
This was my very first session. So, obviously not knowing too much, and taking into account that technology wasn’t really as it is now with drum machines to keep time, everything was kind of not quite right. But we captured the sound I wanted.
There was an extensive mixing down process. We took so many different versions, so many different tracks of the instrumental. We mixed some jazz tracks, we mixed some dub tracks, we mixed some tracks that you guys have never even heard.
The original 12-inch release appeared in 1980 on Tania Records, named after Tony’s daughter. The Tania pressing had the rap vocal on one side, titled “Money (No Love),” backed by a straight instrumental, the original version of “Love Money.”
When copies eventually trickled over to New York, the primary source was a little record store on Carmine Street known as Vinylmania. A short walk from the Paradise Garage, it was the primary destination for those seeking the sounds they had danced the night away to just a few blocks south. Manny Lehman, an employee at the time, remembers the record and the buzz it created. “It was made popular by Larry Levan, who would pump it for hours and hours, as well as David Mancuso at the Loft, Tee Scott and Larry Patterson at Better Days and Zanzibar, and every other progressive DJ at that time, whether it was Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, or Kenny Carpenter.” Lehman recalls that “it was so sought after that for a time they were selling at fifty dollars per copy,” a measure of both its scarcity and popularity. How exactly Larry Levan got hold of it is anyone’s guess, and David Mancuso’s memory reveals only that a Loft regular gave it to him.
Living legend Danny Krivit remembers, “It was a strange record, it would often get played at the beginning or end of nights, when people were clearing out or when you wanted to clear people out! When it came out, there was no formal definition of rap music. Musically, it could be rock, funk—anything. Fast or slow, if it had a rap on it, people considered it a rap record. The original track was quirky and worked at the Garage, but when the Champagne dub came out, it really blew up everywhere. After that very few people played the vocal.”
It is this 1981 pressing of “Love Money” on the U.K. Champagne label that is now regarded as the classic version of the track. “Champagne wanted a version that hadn’t been released,” Williams recalls, “so I went into the studio and edited a version for them.” This heavy dub mix was composed “from rejected edit bits [from the original session] that we compiled together.”
Champagne was a short-lived dance label headed by Dave McAleer, an R&B enthusiast/DJ who was responsible for one of the U.K.’s earliest soul fanzines, Fame-Goldwax Survey, before eventually working in an A&R capacity for record companies including Pye, where he’s probably best remembered for setting up the northern soul label, Pye Disco Demand. The Champagne release was a part of a five-track EP called Re-Mixture – The Best of U.K. Jazz-Funk (which also included tracks by Powerline, the Inversions, the Rah Band, and Not James Player).
Krivit went on to make the point that at this time, immediately after the “disco sucks” era, people were looking for alternative directions. Places like the Garage and Danceteria that played quirky things were thriving. “You could play ‘Love Money’ with anything,” Krivit recalls, “it fit the mix, but it was different.”
Around this time even Billboard magazine noted the popularity of “Love Money” and it was inevitable that other labels would take notice as well. One was Florida’s TK Records, whose biggest act was KC & the Sunshine Band. According to Tony Williams, “TK wanted to buy the record outright as their product. They wanted me to sign contracts with them to pass it over.” Williams refused the deal, because, in his words, “they were offering chicken feed.” Another label, Siamese, was not so scrupulous. Tony has no recollection of ever licensing his track for distribution in the U.S. but the label (a sly reference to Siamese twins?), is the pressing on which many New York DJs, including Vega, have the song. The song has continued to be bootlegged (one illicit pressing coming as recently as 2003), with Mancuso’s Loft compilation the sole legitimate licensee.
The song’s creator actually made a trip to New York in 1985, where he gained access to Studio 54. “I was there at the weekend and I asked one of the DJs if they’d heard of a record by the Funk Masters. He said, “Hey man, if you come back here on a Tuesday you will see what that record does. When we want our dance floor full, this is our record.”
In spite of this experience, Tony had little idea of the massive impact his record made. “I’ve been DJing now for the best part of my life. I’ve always been involved in music in some way or another. I never ever thought I was going to be a producer. I never ever thought I was going to make a record. And what you’re telling me is that the first record that I ever made in my entire life is a phenomenal, legendary record.” It is indeed, Mr. Williams.
Tony Williams is still busy working away in the studio while running his own online radio station, Rhythm365.
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