Born into a family that included a sax playing father, a legendary Salsa singing uncle and two club-going sisters, Louie Vega had cross-cultural music lingering deep in his Nuyorican roots. He skated through the roller disco era and spent endless nights in the Paradise Garage. He’s also got a raggedy cassette copy of Todd Terry’s “Party People” somewhere in his bottomless goldmine of an archive. As one half of the highly influential Masters At Work, Vega has remixed everyone from Tito Puente to Bjork, and sits on a fatter collection on dubs than Snoop Dogg. His album, Elements Of Life, is available now through his Vega Recordings imprint. Good luck collecting the rest of his catalog.
The teacher will now speak…
Our roots are so important. That’s what makes us what we are today.
I remember my father jamming in the living room, practicing and playing jazz tunes. He loves John Coltrane. I still remember him going to rehearsals. I’ve learned a lot watching him work with bands, and it definitely rubbed off on me. I’ve tied a lot of the live aspects of music into what I produce.
There’s a realness to the Bronx, a warmness. It was a great time to grow up in the streets. You grew up in that neighborhood and you knew everybody there. It wasn’t that bad.
I always think of that War album with the apartment building, I think it’s called The World Is A Ghetto. You look at this apartment building and you imagine yourself walking through parts of the Bronx or Spanish Harlem. In this building, you hear jazz in one room, in another room African music. You’re hearing all kinda of flavors. To me, that’s Nuyorican.
Lo que no mata engorda. What doesn’t kill you gets you fat.
My uncle gave me a lot of great advice. How important your image is, your style. Always have variation in what you do. Study your roots. Study your music. Watch the sharks in the business.
Tom Moulton and Walter Gibbons. Those are the pioneers of remixing.
The gangsta hat. I wore it one day and all of a sudden everybody was feelin’ it. I’ve been wearing that fedora for so many years.
Working with vocalists, that’s my thing. I love to work in the studio with singers. You have to make ’em feel really comfortable. When they walk into that studio it’s gotta feel good, because what’s going to come out of them is their soul. I think that’s what I’m really good at.
This artist named Cab just captured us 14 year ago with our logo. We were always like, Let’s update it. Let’s do something to it. And everybody said no. Fourteen years later people want to see it that way. It’s a timeless logo.
Never underestimate the power of the b-side. That’s what brought us to where we are now. Everybody wanted one of those Masters At Work dubs because they were so big in the clubs.
I didn’t even know my wife could sing until four or five years into our relationship. One day she says, I can write songs, and one of my dreams is to sing. I said, You can write? As soon as I heard that, I put her in the studio. We have a respect for each other, and it just works in the studio, man.
Michael Jackson is an amazing talent. He’s taken our music where nobody has. You cannot touch that. I don’t believe any of that stuff. I really believe he has that goodness in his heart and everybody’s just twisting things around. Him and Quincy Jones have been the most amazing producer/artist team that I’ve ever experienced in my whole life. Michael’s music, whatever he does and whoever he does it with, it’s always special, and I will always respect that.
I think the last time I danced was about a week ago in Greece with my wife. I was listening to a DJ named Akelis and he was tearing it up out there. He played before me and he played after me. I hadn’t danced in a long time.
House music did get watered down, and a lot of people are doing the same thing. If somebody sampled a disco record, boom! There was a million disco record samples with that same kinda vibe. I think the creative aspect is what hurt it. It’s not dead or nothing. It’s just back underground. A lot of people are doing things to make the best possible money you can instead of being creative.
It was crazy before in New York City. There was so much going on; so many great clubs and sound systems. Getting people back into going out, that’s what’s gotta happen. It’s trying to get that new generation to go clubbing, and start feeling what’s going on out there with the music. People gotta get back out.
Man, I love some rice and beans and some steak with onions. I love Creole food and Cape Verdean food. I love my pork chops.
Elements of Life had been in my head for four years already. It was really my son and my wife that inspired that record. It would have never happened at another time. A lot of it also has to do with me growing up. Record that I redid like Jungle Fever or Okim Bombo, the one I dedicated to my uncle…that had a lot to do with growing up in the Bronx and in New York. Those songs were really powerful back in those days, and I just felt they needed to be heard.
Keb Darge was at a gig in Miami talking to my assistant Ralphie, and he has these 45s in these cases. He goes, Tell Louie this is man’s music right here.
Sometimes you have those purists that are like, This is bubble gum to me. This don’t feel good. I think we’re one of the few that make dance music that’s a little more sophisticated.
I’ve never read so many contracts in my life.