Black History Month: Basement Boys

By justin jack

Baltimore’s Basement Boys [a] came up before house music had fractured into a dozen insular subgenres, when house still maintained open communications with pop and R&B. Producing for the likes of Ultra Nate [a] and Crystal Waters [a], they had a knack for genuine songcraft—as well as the club-ready grooves they produced for Nu Groove, King Street, and Nervous. Since 1995, they’ve kept their vision of melodic house alive via their own Basement Boys Records [l] label, as well as remixing everyone from Bob Sinclar and the Shamen to Erykah Badu and Michael Jackson.

With pop and dance music finally making nice again, we caught up with the Basement Boys’ Teddy Douglas to talk about their journey so far.

House was just developing in the ‘80s and you moved it into a new direction in the early ‘90s. What were your backgrounds before that?

Our backgrounds are similar. We both started as club DJs in the early ‘80s. We have extensive record collections, everything from rock to disco. Jay was a graphic designer by day and I managed several record stores from 1981 till 1990.

In recognition of Black History Month, who are your mentors or heroes within black culture, and how have they impacted your own music and career?

Quincy Jones, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff (Philadelphia International). Barry Gordy of Motown Records has to be the single biggest influence on our careers. We adapted, like so many others, his philosophy for developing artists and songs with strong hooks and melody.

For you, what are the important links between house music and African-American culture?

The main links are ‘70s soul, gospel, blues and jazz along with African rhythms—all are the basis of African-American culture. Without these influences, there would be no genre called house or hip-hop.

As house music has become more global, do you ever worry that it has lost contact with its roots?

Yes, for sure. It’s ownership. Everyone today has their own brand of house music—Swedish house, Italian house, South African house, etc. I wish more artists like Kelly Rowland or Kelly Clarkson would do real house records… Call us, Kelly! But, the good thing is dance music is pop music again. We have to thank David Guetta [a] and the Black Eyed Peas for that!

What kept you in Baltimore, when so many artists moved abroad to further their careers?

Honestly, all of our inspiration comes from our surroundings. So we’re constantly inspired by our city, Baltimore, our friends and family. It’s what keeps me inspired, actually.

You are prolific producers and DJs; what keeps you inspired to continue producing such great music?

My inspiration comes from the love I have for music. I still enjoy what I do. Until it’s no fun anymore, I’ll continue to make records and DJ.

Basement Boys Records is your label & production name; can you discuss how it came about, and what’s happening now as you go digital with the back catalog?

It all came together in 1985 when Jay Steinhour and original third member Thommy Davis [a] were making DJ tools (tracks), and I came on board with my love for a song. We all knew each other through working in local record shops and DJ booths around town. So we decided to record some tracks we could each play in our clubs. It was the mid ‘80s; much of the music was very electronic and seemed to us a bit lacking in soul. We weren’t really shopping the tracks we were making, but through a friend one track found its way to Cynthia Cherry, who was A&R at Jump Street Records in NYC. She signed us right away.

The first record, “Love Don’t Live Here No More” (Basement Boys, Jump Street Records, 1988), came from many nights in Jay’s basement studio—hence the name Basement Boys.  Soon after, we built a team of musicians and artists. Our first major-label artists was Ultra Nate [a] (WEA), Mass Order [a] (Columbia), Crystal Waters [a] (Mercury), etc.

The record label developed after many major-label dance department heads lost their jobs in the mid ‘90s. The only option to keep doing what we were doing was to start our own independent label.

Moving forward, we are celebrating the 20th anniversary with Crystal Waters at WMC 2011. The back catalog will still be available (perhaps some catalog remixes), along with new music coming this spring.

You have always remained true to your style as innovators, not imitators. What are your thoughts on the current developments in house music?

You should be yourself. Do what you do, in spite of what everyone else is doing. Let the mainstream come to you. This way you’re authentic. As far as current developments, it just goes on and on… Dance music is pop music again. David Guetta and the Black Eyed-Peas have been instrumental for that! But artists should utilize more of the house originators and US producers, who are still around producing music. Call us for some authentic Basement Boys [a] style house!

What’s happening with your productions and your label?

New productions are coming this spring, with new material on Basement Boys Records [l]. Check out Teddy’s collaboration with Raheem DeVaughn and the Floacist (formerly of Floetry) entitled “Keep It Going”, written and co-produced by Teddy Douglas. Look for new music from Teddy Douglas’ label Save Your Soul. New music this spring from Margaret Grace, Marcell Russell and Maysa Leak from Incognito.