A Conversation with Jamie 3:26!!!

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Hailing from the Beverly area on the South Side of Chicago, Jamie 3:26 has garnered recognition in his own right as a master selector capable of lighting any dance floor on fire. Driven by the deep desire to make people to lose themselves in the dance and forget their problems, Jamie keeps his irons burning hot. He always seeks out new and fresh sounds. It could be an overlooked gem from 30 years ago or a new jam and as long as it has a great groove, he’s interested. Anyone who has seen Jamie 3:26 play, can testify to the effect he has on a dance floor – he is a true force of nature.  

There is a reason they call him “The Beast”. 

2018 has seen Jamie 3:26 take his career to a new a level, touring globally with a consistency matched by few others on the circuit and is revered by clubs and festivals all over. Recent remixes on ‘Heist’ have gathered huge support and his classic ‘Hit It N Quit It’ was released on the revered ‘Salsoul’ records. Jamie recently had the honor of headlining Boiler Room’s ‘Final Night in Paradise’ extravaganza – a unique homage to Larry Levan and the scene he created. This truly demonstrates to the world how highly he is regarded and his current status in the scene. He not only captures the past of those eras gone by but he is also the future of Chicago House music. (Courtesy of www.bbemusic.com)

I caught up with Jamie during a recent return to Chicago and chatted with him about his career, his future and his love of music and world experiences.

Black Widow:  You’ve been doing this for quite a while.  How were you introduced to House Music?

Jamie 3:26:  I was introduced to this from my family. My uncle was really into disco, my cousin loved funk and my mom loved disco, funk and soul.   We would have a lot of parties at our house.  I would play a lot of music at those parties. It was at one of my mom’s parties that I actually saw a DJ mix. I was exposed to this in the 70s. Then in the early 80s, I was listening to the radio mixes on WBMX, WKKC, and other college radio stations.  I remember seeing John Mason, who was a DJ from my neighborhood mix, Disco Don and Clever Clear from High Fidelity Productions. They were the first guys I saw mixing and they would DJ a lot of the house parties in the neighborhood.  Eventually, I began sneaking out to some of those basement parties. That’s when I started really getting into going to the parties and dancing. That was around 1985.

Black Widow:  What made you decide you wanted to DJ/Mix?

Jamie 3:26:  I was taught how to operate and use DJ equipment at a young age by watching those DJs I mentioned before. I’m self-taught. No one sat me down and taught me how to mix.   I learned from studying mixes on radio and watching DJs mix and seeing what they were doing. I was able to just soak it up.  I started mixing in 1985, but I took it very seriously around 1988. That’s when I began really studying this craft.  I would always try to get as close to the booth wherever I was at.  I would hang out at the Music Box/Powerhouse on 22nd and Michigan. When they would DJ downstairs, Ron (Hardy) would let me get in the back and check him out.  I would want to check out as many DJs as I could.  Around 1988/1989 I would go out and study Andre Hatchett, Lil Louis, Disco Don, Ron Hardy, Pharris, Gene Hunt, Terry Hunter and Mike Williams. Those DJs were the ones I was following and studying. I learned a lot of things from them individually. It took me a while to get it all together but learned so much from studying and watching them.

Black Widow:   During the time when you are learning, what were you doing to expose yourself and get your name out there?

Jamie 3:26:  Our crew (The Lust Corp) started throwing our own events, picnics, parties.  We went from doing that to doing our own event at AKA’s in 1990.  I remember it was John Hunt (Gucci Promotions), Galaxy Promotions, and CSP Productions doing college nights at AKA’s.    We would hire Chris Underwood, Terry Hunter, Ron Hardy, and Pharris and others. It was a 21 and up club but we were all under 21 putting on these events.

Black Widow:  Did word just spread about who you were?

Jamie 3:26:  Yea we were a pretty deep crew. We had the gift of gab and would talk our way in.  That’s where those relationships started with some of those DJs. We ended up doing a lot on the college party circuit, especially at Northern IL University. Even if we weren’t actually playing at the event, we would set up the sound system and one of us might DJ as well.

Black Widow:  When did you decide that this was more than a hobby? When did you decide this was something you wanted to do as a career?

Jamie 3:26: It started in 1989 and came from doing a lot of house parties for people from my old HS, Morgan Park. I started my own mobile DJ Company and I was DJ'ing homecomings, sock hops and such.   It kept growing from there and I knew I wanted to do this. I got my own full setup and sound system in 1991.  My grandmother helped me get it. If it wasn’t’ for her, I wouldn’t’ be where I am today. She believed in me.

Black Widow:  Back then people were digging in crates, looking for music. It’s not the same now.  Your musical style is so varied.  What was your process for choosing music and has it changed now that so much of it is digital?

Jamie 3:26:  You didn’t have the power of the internet so everything wasn’t at your fingertips.  There are a lot of records that I initially thought may have been one title and I would buy it and discover it wasn’t the one I wanted. That was before they had listening stations and the people who worked at the record store didn’t want to open the record and play it.  I have a lot of records that I bought that ended up being something I didn’t want or something I thought I didn’t want.  That’s just how digging was back then.  We would listen to music and be like, “Aww that sounds like something Frankie would play or Ronnie may play”.   We were looking for that gem, something to set you apart that no one had.   I also learned this music from listening to mix shows on the radio, especially the Sunday show with Bobby Q Bobby on WKKC.  You also had to go out.  If it was a certain sound that you were into or wanted to get turned on to, then you checked out certain DJs.  Back then, everyone mixed and DJ’d what they could. A lot of DJs got their start off their parent’s record collection. That’s how it was with me. I would find records and go through them and find my own groove. We would dig and discover music.  Nowadays, with technology, you don’t really have to go out to hear and discover new sounds if you don’t want to, but I’m still a student and a fan of new sounds and music. 

“I still get excited looking for music and finding new music.  No one person is going to know all the jams…they may act like it but no one knows every record known to man”.

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Black Widow:  There are certain DJs that really know music. I’m not just talking house music, they know music, the history…you know they are the ones who would actually read the album covers…

Jamie 3:26:  Yes…that’s exactly what I did!

Black Widow:  I think that’s reflected in your musical style. When you are starting out you are obviously influenced by other DJs, but when did you get to the point where you knew who you were as a DJ and identified your personal style?

Jamie 3:26:  It boils down to having musical balls.  Back in the day, if you were an opening DJ you were limited to a certain degree, especially if you were playing with certain DJs. It was almost an unwritten code. You weren’t supposed to play all the hits or the hot shit.  You were supposed to keep it at a certain tempo, etc.  The opening DJ was supposed to keep it mellow and they didn’t really build it up. Back then, it may have been 2-3 DJs max for a certain event. Now it may be 5 or 6 DJs for a 6 hour party and you have every DJ trying to out bang each other because they want a chance to play.  They want to make the most out of the moment.  The problem is it becomes a pissing contest because everyone is trying to outdo each other.  The result of that is the party suffers. What I learned and what I was schooled on from my elders like Robert Williams is that it’s about the party first.

“That’s the most important thing…it’s about the party first”!

The most important part of a night is the opening. The opening DJ sets the vibe, atmosphere and environment.  Everyone cannot play that position correctly. You have to be flexible and have musical knowledge.  If you only know and play bangin ass house music and you don’t have that knowledge, you can’t play anything mid-tempo and build up.  Sometimes it’s all they know or all that they think is what makes shit hot and hype.  Speed doesn’t always equal energy.  I’ve been at parties where it’s mid-tempo all night and people are losing. You don’t always have to bang it out. I remember feeling like I had to play like this or I have to play around the DJ and things like that. I realized I wasn’t doing me. I had to find a way to do me but still be respectful and play my position. There are rules to this shit. That’s hard because I’m human. We all are and we all have an ego. If people say they don’t have an ego, that’s bullshit.  You have to find a way to play your position and know how to do it correctly and respectfully.   I had to work my way up from doing some opening spots to doing some prime spots. When I got those opportunities, I took advantage of it and made the most of it. 

“Even in those moments, it wasn’t about “I’m gonna shit on everybody” or “I’m gonna make him work tonight” or any of that bullshit…NO...that’s not what it was about. It was about turning the party out and making people know who the fuck I am in the process”. 

Eventually, I started to come into my own. I had to learn from experience.

Black Widow:  Do you think that protocol is missing nowadays? 

Jamie 3:26:  You have people who aren’t experienced with playing in public. They can make a dope mix at home in their own environment but when you are in different club environments, you aren’t prepared for a mishap with the equipment or you may not know how to play on a dope sound system.  Things like that can throw you off and then you may sound horrible.   Honestly, there are a lot of DJs who should just practice more at home and get their craft up before they come out in public. There are lot of people practicing in public.  That’s no diss… but it’s the truth.  There are people anxious to get out and play and I totally understand that because I was that way.

I didn’t come out the gate with guns blazing and playing as the sickest fuckin DJ. There were times when I’d get out there and fuck up! I’d crash and burn and they’d tell my ass to get off and go dance.  {Laughter}  I had to get over the nerves, develop my craft and get experience under my belt.  You gotta have experience to learn how to read a room. You also have to have that musical knowledge so you know when to change the music, or build and change the vibe.  If you are only used to playing a certain set or program and the DJ before you plays a song that you had in the set you’ve been planning for weeks, you’ll be messed up because you haven’t built up your skills on how to improvise.

Black Widow:  Would you say the club was your training ground? It seems like you can only learn those things when you are actually in the environment.

Jamie 3:26:  Yeah it was but now it’s harder.   You have such an over saturated market of DJs because of technology and you have places that don’t give you a chance to build a night.  If you don’t have your shit poppin within a week or two, they are movin on to the next DJ.  It’s hard to develop some of these skills because nightlife is a business and folks want to make money.   I was able to develop those skills when I was younger because of the number of house parties, basement parties and such that I did.   Also, I had to DJ and play various types of music, when I had my mobile DJ business. It wasn’t just house music. I was playing house, disco, hip hop, reggae, slow jams…I did parties for gang bangers, wedding receptions…all of that.  It taught me how to be diverse and I feel like it gave me an advantage. I learned how to be versatile.  It’s hard these days to develop yourself because everyone has a microwave mentality.  People think they are good because they have a hard drive full of music.

If you aren’t studying the music;  knowing who the producers are, knowing the remixes, studying the history of this genre…if you don’t know about these legendary DJs, clubs and sounds from all around the world… you can have all the music in the world but you may not know what version to play. You haven’t studied and done your research. It’s a lot different playing a digital file vs a record. If someone was DJing a record and playing the wrong version, you’d tell them to turn that shit over.  You can’t do that to someone playing digital. You still have to learn…you really have to learn all aspects of this.  It’s just like anything else. You have to learn the fundamentals.

Black Widow:  I agree. I think it’s like anything you really want to excel at. That’s what makes the greats…so great!  I think those are the ones who remain students. They are always studying. They never get to the point where they think they know everything. I see you on social media still looking and digging for new music in record stores all around the world. You are always looking for something new to play.  That’s why your sets never sound the same.

Jamie 3:26:  Yup…I’m always digging and studying. I love music…every aspect of it. There’s always something new to learn.

Black Widow:  Let’s talk about your evolution as a DJ.  What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in your career?

Jamie 3:26:  Oh wow… I’d have to say first I had to realize that although this culture and music started in Chicago, its way beyond Chicago.  I always knew that because I was into certain sounds but I had to experience it. I remember being humbled during my first trip to NYC around 2000/2001.  I went to my first Shelter party.  Of course, I was familiar with the place, the sound and the parties that happened there but when I got there it was such an eye opening experience. At the time, it was one of the biggest clubs I’d ever been in with one of the most amazing sound systems.  I was there just watching all these people from different backgrounds getting down. They were breakdancing to house music. I mean it was a dude spinning on his head to house music!!! I remember just looking at all of this and had to sit down. I was overwhelmed. I was like well DAMN!  It was so much more than what I thought it was.

You know coming from Chicago, we can be a little cocky because this genre started here but that entire experience changed me in a lot of ways. I realized the music was global and I finally experienced it on that level outside of Chicago for the first time. That was some powerful shit. It made me want to see it and experience it from everywhere else and that’s exactly what I did.  I heard about the festivals and WMC and things like that but it was important that I experienced it as a patron, not a DJ. It wasn’t about going to these places so I could DJ. I mean, of course that was part of it, but it wasn’t the main objective. I was going to check this shit out. It sparked something in me and it shaped me and made me start playing differently.  I got it. This shit was worldwide.

“…2nd thing I’ve learned over the years is don’t be an Asshole”…

Black widow:  [Laughter] Can you elaborate please? [Laughter]

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Jamie 3:26:  [Laughter] One line! That’s it! [Laughter] No seriously, I’ve said this to people quite a bit but what has helped me throughout my entire career has been who I am as person vs my musical talent. How you treat people and how you are to people. Some people lack social skills. You have to know how to interact with people, have good people skills and know how to network with your peers.  Being a decent person has allowed me to form and develop relationships that have carried me throughout my entire career. I mean…be cool! Don’t be an asshole!   I’m a very observant person and over the years, I’ve learned from many about what to do and what not to do.  Some people think if you are someone with manners, talk with people professionally and such you are “kissing ass” but just like in any profession, there’s a standard and way you go about things. You got to find your own way and not be a fake.  It’s about how you are as a person, your personality.

Most people who are creative are introverts. We spend more time in dark rooms in front of computers, books, instruments and such. We are self-professed nerds. I’m definitely one of them but I’m also a people person. I know if I’m out and at a gig, I can’t be an asshole to people, even when I may feel like shit. 

“After a while, you realize you belong to the people.   You can’t come out and say stuff like; I want my privacy or I want to be left alone…if that’s the case, stay your ass at home”.

Black Widow:  From one fellow introvert to another, I couldn’t’ agree more. I’m much more comfortable with my journal then in public sometimes.   They say writing is show business for introverts! [LAUGHTER] It’s so true but I’m also a performer so I’m learning how to navigate those public spaces more.  Don’t be an asshole! A simple gem from Jamie 3:26! [LAUGHTER]

Jamie 3:26:  Exactly! Be cool and don’t be an asshole and you’ll be alright!

Black Widow:   When did you decide you didn’t just want to play music but you wanted to make music? 

Jamie 3:26:  I’ve always kinda fooled around with tracks and productions when I was younger and in high school. That’s how house music started; DJs started making their own stuff to separate themselves and to be different.  I actually had a hip-hop group in the early 90s and I first learned about sampling and stuff like that from my man, Coolie Mac. I started learning more about production hanging out with Glen Underground.  He used to live around the corner from me. I was there when some of his early hits were created. I was doing stuff with Paul Johnson when he was making tracks in the kitchen. Those who know remember the kitchen. [Laughter] I actually did stuff here and there but in early 2000s, Chip E really turned me on to doing things digitally; digital music production and digital editing.  Chip E and Leonard Remix Roy really got me into that. Chip E especially got me into learning how to create and make music on a computer.  I did a lot of tracks and made things at home but it wasn’t until around 2008/2009, I sent a track I made to a label in the UK just to see what the response would be.  They loved it and they wanted to put it out. That got my confidence up with production. Since then, I’ve had a nice amount of remixes and releases with my own production. I’m glad I was able to get out of that mode that I needed all this equipment in order to make my own music. Chip E showed me another way.

Black Widow:  Is your creative process different as a producer vs a DJ?

Jamie 3:26:  When I’m producing, I’m definitely approaching it as if I’m DJ’ing.  Sometimes it can start with some drums and I build around it. Sometimes I have to stop it and go back to it and something will come back to me. I don’t have a set formula for doing things.  It can be a loop and I may listen to it for some time before it comes to me.  I think that’s why they say most musicians are crazy because we’ll listen to the same thing over and over again. Sometimes an entire idea will hit me and I’ll lay it out in one rip, then other times, it may be completely different from what I envisioned it.  There are plenty of tracks that I’ve created where the original format is totally different than what was released. I’ve done 10 different versions of some things I’ve made.  There’s no formula.  I build around it. It’s like a puzzle.

Black Widow:  I think writing is similar in ways. Sometimes it comes out all at once and other times it’s just a word or a phrase that I stare at for the longest until I’m able to put it together. I totally get it.

Jamie 3:26:  Right! That’s exactly how it goes sometimes. It’s not a recipe.

Black Widow:   Is it about creating your own music or are you doing more collaboration with other artists?

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Jamie 3:26:  Actually I’ve noticed as of recent, some of the things I’ve done where I’ve collaborated has been a much more fun process.  I feed off of their energy love bouncing ideas off of one another. Even if we aren’t in the same room, we can bounce those ideas off one another. That’s what I’ve done with my partner Bobby from Amsterdam. We’ve made a few things and those ideas have started from us bouncing ideas back and forth. Once we get together we lay it all down and knock it out.   I prefer working with others right now. I really love co-creating with certain people because it’s a different challenge and its fun.

Black Widow:  What inspires you to create? And how to you stay creative? I say this because creative people are constantly pouring themselves out into the world through their art. How do you stay full and inspired?

Jamie 3:26:  It’s not easy.  Some people are just so naturally creative.  They just get inspired, knock things out and spill out an album or two. With me I don’t want to rush it. It’s a piece of me and a representative of me.  I get inspired by so many different things.  It can be hearing something interesting, watching a movie, walking down the street or seeing folks interact.  It can be a memory of a party I was at or an event I’ve played. Sometimes I think about that and want to recreate that same energy or vibe.  I just can’t turn on my creativity like a light switch. Sometimes I wish I could but that’s not how I am. I prefer to let it flow and see what happens.  The best forms of inspiration for me sometimes involve me just going out.  Sometimes it can even be hearing a bad DJ or going to a party that sucks.  It makes me want to create something that would make people go crazy!

Black Widow:  I’ve told people that whenever I have a creative rut or some writer’s block, I have to get out and live.    The best inspiration comes to me from just living my life authentically and fully. I have to experience new things or it can be the complete opposite. Sometimes I just need to be still because I’ve become too busy.  Does that make sense?  

Jamie 3:26:  Right…that’s it.  Sometimes you just have to take a break and step away and not force it. Get out and take a walk, or be in silence and boom…something may come.  You just can’t force it either way.

Black Widow:  You’ve been fortunate to travel the world.   How does that influence how you play?

Jamie 3:26:  It goes back to always being a student. I’ve actually learned a lot not just about music but traveling has broadened my views of the world and people. It’s been a huge blessing and I understand so much more about people. I’ve met so many beautiful and amazing people and the connection is all through music. I know it sounds cliché but it’s so true.   It made me see how universal this language music is. I’ve been around people who can’t speak English but can sing every word to the song and that’ amazing to experience. I’ve also been able to hear many DJs from around the world who have some serious stank and soul.  Once again, I see how global this music is.   It’s way beyond Chicago.  Now don’t’ get me wrong,

“I can’t forget the roots and I’m going to represent the culture and make sure people know that Chicago is the birthplace, but I also cannot deny how far reaching this music is. I’ve been turned on to so many different sounds in my travels”. 

It’s such a blessing.   I’m thankful for it all.

Being open minded helps a lot because there are things that work here that may not work somewhere else.  Again, I do my research.  I check out what’s happening and what people are into. I’m still going to put my own spin on it.   I can’t just cater to them and play a certain sound.  I have to remember that I’ve been hired to bring the sound that I’m known for, not just the sound that they are used to. I had to learn this in my very first trip to Europe the hard way. If anyone brings you anywhere, you play how you play.  That’s why they brought you there. That’s how they heard you and that’s what they want.  They want your sound.

Black Widow:  Being a DJ, producer, etc., isn’t just about being creative anymore. You have to learn this business. What lessons did you learn along the way about the business of making music?

Jamie 3:26:  Own your publishing!!!!!  Have your business set up, have an attorney to overlook documents. Don’t sign anything without looking at it.   If someone offers you an advance, that’s usually all you are going to get. 

“Value your art...don’t sacrifice your art for being able to get out there because that’s your intellectual property”.

Black Widow:  It seems you spend more time learning the business and trying to protect yourself instead of creating.  Isn’t that frustrating sometimes as an artist?

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Jamie 3:26:  Oh yeah!!! But these are the steps you have to do and it does can be hard to find that balance. That’s why it’s best if you can hire someone and get help. If you are trying to wear so many hats, it’s easy to overlook one little thing and that thing could be detrimental to you.  You have to figure it all out…the music, the art and the business.

Black Widow:  What do you say to those who say you left Chicago because you hated it?  What would you say to them?

Jamie 3:26:  [Laughter] OHHHH WEE!!! That’s what the streets are saying huh?  To a lot of people, they may think I left out of frustration but that’s not true.  People don’t realize but I was living between Chicago and the Netherlands for 3 years.  I would spin 3-5 months of the year overseas and come back and forth. I left because I outgrew it.  It wasn’t’ an easy decision either.   I was going to leave 5 years ago and now I know it would have been a disaster and I wasn’t ready. 

“It’s not that I’m over Chicago at all… I’m just looking at the world as my residency”

Black Widow:  What do you love about being a DJ from Chicago?

Jamie 3:26: We got funk! We are the originators.  Our sound is Midwest fresh.  The dopest DJs come from the Midwest, especially from Chicago and Detroit. We’ve always stressed technical skills, being tight and being musically diverse. We can come from this area and come many different ways, especially if they are seasoned.  The dopest thing about being a Chicago DJ is being from Chicago!  This is mecca and the world looks at Chicago as such. We need to realize the power we hold being from this place and how people look up to us and our city.  It’s way beyond Chicago and we have a powerful gift we take for granted. Some don’t even understand the power we hold and how we are looked at across the world because no one goes outside of Chicago to see it and experience it.

Black Widow:  What does the future hold for Jamie 3:26?  What dreams do you still want to accomplish?

Jamie 3:26:  I want to release an album of original music and continue mentoring younger DJs of color abroad.

Black Widow: Mentoring? Oh I had no idea…

Jamie 3:26:  Oh yeah… I have been showing some of the younger DJs, sharing experiences, wisdom and knowledge with them. No one really did that with me and I have a lot of knots upside my head because I had to learn that stuff on my own. In this game, women and people of color are the minorities. This is a male dominated industry. We have to make some changes and stick together and work together. Especially with women.  Women Promoters, Marketing and PR professionals, label owners, etc. This is a boy’s game and we need that feminine energy. 

Black Widow:  Yes we do!!!  It’s all about diversity and inclusion! I couldn’t agree with you more.   I’ve enjoyed speaking with you so much! I know you are only home for a short time so I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me!

Jamie 3:26:  Not a problem!  I enjoyed it!

Black Widow: Safe Travels and Good luck to you with your future endeavors!

Jamie 3:26: I appreciate that!

You can find Jamie 3:26 at the following:

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Black Widow

D.Sanders, a Chicago native, is a devoted mother, blogger and writer who is passionate about her family, friends, women's rights, living authentically and telling her story.   She is also a spoken word recording artist under the name, Black Widow. She has been writing and blogging for over 15 years providing commentary and expressing thought on life, love and relationships. Her artistry can be heard on two house music singles, “Rough”, and “Gruv Me” released by Grammy Nominated Producer and CEO of T’s Box Records & T’s Crates, Terry Hunter under the production of Mike Dunn and Dee Jay Alicia. . Both singles reached #1 on Traxsource’s Afrohouse and charted top ten overall as well reaching the top ten in their year of release.  She splits her time blogging about the Chicago Dance Music Scene on www.blkwidowmusic.com and on her book’s website, www.thesumofmanythings.com.  She is excited about her debut book, The Sum of Many Things, scheduled for release in June 2017.   She wears many hats but refuses to be placed in a box.  She believes that women are "The Sum of Many Things".  Embracing all of her roles as a woman, she firmly believes in breaking free of preconceived notions of womanhood.   She believes it is her mission to define her own life experience, femininity and sexuality and not have it defined by society.  She openly shares her story with hopes that women understand their worth, power and place in this world.