Two Hundred Thirteen.
Mirage Productions sweatshirt design
hand-painted by my mother, Shirley Kelley, 1988.
One of my friends, a Sequoyah High School senior whom I had originally met during my days in the Cub Scouts, was a guy named Dave French. He was a fairly popular guy; even though he wasn't involved in sports and didn't bother with trying to "fit in," he had a personality that overflowed with charisma, charm, and humor.
On top of that, Dave was the youngest member of a family of musical prodigies, able to play practically any instrument that didn't involve strings. He loved music, and as I was soon due to learn, he knew a ton about not only the popular music of the day, but also the club tunes and tracks by the "progressive" artists whose work I followed.
Dave didn't come from a very privileged background; his mother was a wonderfully sweet lady who encouraged his creativity, but he had to work hard for the money to slowly develop his own mobile DJ company, Mirage Productions. By the time that I got involved with Mirage, I had already seen him DJ once before, at a homecoming dance in our high school's gymnasium. Dave worked with a pair of turntables and a tape deck, and his light effects consisted of a mirror ball, a spotlight for that ball, and two home-constructed wooden boxes with red and blue light bulbs which could be switched on and off with a pair of metal toggle switches on an also-home-built light control box. He had a limited budget, but luckily that was bundled with some really big dreams and a metric ton of determination.
On Saturday, February 13th of 1988, Dave had booked a Valentine's Day dance at St. Cecilia's Catholic Church in Claremore. Dave wanted to give some of his friends special guest passes to get into the event without having to pay the otherwise required entry fee. He was hoping for something very professional and "official" looking, and he didn't have the computer skills to design something that would look sufficient.
That's where I came into the picture.
Even as a sophomore, I had earned a reputation as one of the school's foremost computer gurus. On my aforementioned Apple IIe, I had not only built up a sizeable collection of games, but I had also picked up a good deal of graphic and layout software. I even owned my own KoalaPad - a digital drawing tablet commonly used by computer artists of the time.
I also had a reputation as a bit of a social leper, which meant that I would probably have (and indeed did have) plenty of spare time on my hands.
So, on one fateful day a couple of weeks before the big St. Cecilia's event, Dave approached me in one of the school hallways and asked if I might be able to design the free pass cards. I'd always looked up to Dave and, frankly, I felt thrilled that he would ask me to do something like this for him. So, I gladly took on the project.
One of the layout programs I used was Springboard Software's "The Newsroom," a rudimentary desktop publishing program made for simple newsletters and other such small documents that would combine graphics with text. With "The Newsroom," I was able to produce some very (by modern standards) chunky, low-res free pass designs, which I then printed off on my Epson dot matrix printer. I printed a front and back design, cut them out by hand, then glued them together.
Each pass card even included a "secret" purple mark inside (applied with a felt tip marker) that could only be seen when the card was held up to the light. This would protect Dave against any no-goodniks who might scheme to create counterfeit pass cards in order to weasel their way into the church party.
Yeah... I was that inspired and/or delusional.
I presented Dave with a couple of designs: One with the Mirage "cloud and lightning" logo that he had requested, and another which was a bit more artsy-fartsy with a "knight" chess piece on it. Of course, he chose the one with his company logo, and he seemed impressed by the finished product. It was then that I did something that I have since described countless times as being completely uncharacteristic of me at the time.
I asked if I could assist him with his dance party - a simple question that would ultimately change the course of my existence.
Gerard, Dave, I, and longtime mutual friend Kelly Busby.
Trip to Dallas to see Depeche Mode for the first time, 1990.
Part III: The First Parties.
Mirage Productions was owned and managed by Dave, but it also included a couple of our friends: Gerard Rosato and Dusty Brown. A week before the event, I joined Dave and Gerard on a trip to Tulsa to go record shopping. Not only was it extremely enjoyable just hanging out with them (both of them were hilarious), but it was my first experience really peering into the world of DJing from this standpoint, going from music store to music store to pick up new tracks for the event. (For you young ones out there: This was over five years before I would use the Internet for the first time, and practically a decade before Internet access became widely commercially available, so there was no such thing as going online to buy and download music.)
We cruised around Tulsa in Dave's big, rust-colored Monte Carlo, which smelled intensely of a wild cherry air freshener spray that Gerard had found fit to repeatedly spray all around the backseat during the journey... eventually howling with laughter as he did it because (a) it was really, REALLY strong and (b) it was Dave's car.
I specifically remember seeing that Dave already had vinyl copies of such classics as Salt 'n' Pepa's "Push It," M|A|R|R|S' "Pump Up the Volume," and Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)." During this trip, I remember him picking up the Bangles' "Hazy Shade of Winter" and taking back an unopened cassette single of Keith Sweat's "I Want Her" to exchange for the 12" vinyl single. None of us had a lot of money (I didn't even have enough to buy a single $4 record), so Dave had to be very picky. In fact, when it came time for lunch, we ended up going to Little Caesars Pizza (side gripe: why doesn't their brand name include an apostrophe?) and gorging on cheap Crazy Bread and Crazy Sauce. I will never be able to eat Crazy Bread without very vividly recalling that beautiful day in my brain, and I sometimes order Crazy Bread for that exact reason.
During this trip and my subsequent visits to Dave's house, I learned a lot about dance music and remixes. The idea of taking a song and extending it with more effects, extra instrumentation, etc., really intrigued me. This sparked a fascination with remixes that has continued throughout my DJ career.
When Valentine's weekend finally arrived, I accompanied Dave, Gerard, and Dusty as they gathered up their sound and light gear and headed to St. Cecilia's. I worked as a "gopher" at that first event - you know, "gopher" these cables or "gopher" that case of stuff over there, that sort of thing. When the party started, it was one of the most enjoyable things with which I had ever been involved... and I was behind the scenes! I was part of a team of people doing something that I felt was really, really awesome, and I was tremendously honored to be a part of it.
I wasn't a DJ yet, but I quickly fell in love with this business of mobile DJing. Soon after, when Dave had another event booked at the Claremore VFW hall, I eagerly signed on to assist as well. I quickly started assisting with "running" the primitive light board, but an issue arose (and was quickly addressed) when I started stomping my foot to help keep myself in time with the beat... not horribly hard, but just hard enough that it occasionally made records skip on the nearby turntable. Ha!
I continued helping him with events for the rest of 1988 up to the middle of 1989. Some of my most cherished high school memories involve going out with him on record runs or hanging out together discussing the latest club tracks. We would both rush to buy the hottest dance music we could, and, of course, I gladly let him use my fledgling DJ music collection for his events.
My parents allowed me to continue to help with Dave's gigs as long as I kept my grades up, and I continued to make almost straight As for the remainder of high school, eventually graduating as the sole valedictorian of my class in 1990.
Part IV: Dave's Departure/EKG Mobile Music.
In the spring of 1989, Dave had a chat with me that I found understandable but, nevertheless, a little devastating. He was going to be moving to Norman to attend college at OU in the fall, and he was taking Mirage Productions with him. I would no longer be able to assist him with performances. My days of working as a DJ assistant were coming to an end.
My parents, having seen their only son "coming out of his shell" more and more as I kept going to Dave's gigs, made a very impactful decision. They told me that if I wanted to continue with DJing, they would be willing to use part of their savings to purchase the gear and start a DJ company of my own. My parents were not extremely wealthy people; my mother was a stay-at-home homemaker, and my father worked as an airline mechanic at McDonnell Douglas. While we weren't "rich," we still had a much more comfortable life than most, a life that I unfortunately took for granted at the time. When I approached Dave with the news that I would soon start DJing on my own, he was very supportive.
My first DJ audio setup included a pair of Peavey SP3 speakers (the same type that Dave used, and the exact same pair that I still use), a heavy-ass Peavey CS800 amp, two flimsy, belt-drive Vector Research turntables, a consumer-grade CD player, a cassette deck, headphones, and a microphone.
For my first light show, we ordered an assortment of cheap-but-nice light effects from a local American DJ representative. I got two rotating blue beacons (like the spinning lights on police cars at the time), four strobe lights, a mirrored ball with two spotlights to shine on it, and - the secret weapon that nobody else had - an American DJ Dual Rotating Sunlight, a fairly massive "centerpiece" effect that sat on the floor and projected huge lines of light through two big metal cylinders that spun in opposite directions. All of these lights shone brilliantly through the fog from my new fog machine - fog that was specially scented to smell like coconut. (Since then, I have always preferred to use coconut-scented fog juice in my machines, and the smell of coconut in and of itself always reminds me of those days gone by.)
Sure enough, Dave departed for Norman just before the fall of 1989, but before that, he did everything he could to further train me about mixing, song selections, etc. I was sometimes a bit spoiled, unfortunately, getting upset about little things like how certain records would skip on my light plastic Vector Research decks, but Dave was kind enough to bring me down to earth, reminding me about how lucky I was to have parents who would make an investment like they did just to help me start a company. (Although I was intellectually advanced, I know that I was emotionally immature, and he was very patient to put up with me at the time. I've done a lot of growing up since then, and I've taken the opportunity to apologize to him for how exasperating I could be back in the day, plus to thank him for essentially changing my life.)
I recruited two school friends, Kevin "Wink" Winkler and his then-girlfriend, Janet Shelton, to help me with the first gigs. I gave the company the name "EKG Mobile Music," with the EKG being an acronym for "Electro Kinetic Group." Over the course of the summer, we got everything ready, and on September 29th, 1989, I gave my first ever performance, Sequoyah High School's homecoming dance.
Kevin and I at a very early EKG performance, probably in early 1990.
Part V: Epilogue.
It astounds me that thirty years have passed since I helped at that very first DJ event at St. Cecilia's Church. It just doesn't feel like that much time has passed; I mean, sure, maybe ten or fifteen years... but THIRTY? No way.
I've certainly changed a lot over the course of the last three decades, but I still have an enormous amount of passion for DJing, and I have no plans to stop anytime soon.
Reunited after a long, long time: Dave (Right) and I in 2010.
Thank you to Dave, my parents, and all of my friends, family, and fans who have supported me over the last thirty years. Words cannot properly describe how grateful I am for it.