by Rebecca Ortiz
You thought it was dead. You even mourned its absence. But whoever told you disco died was lying. Well they weren't necessarily lying - they were just misinformed. You see disco never died; it just descended. Now you might be asking yourself what could the bellbottom wearing, afro-fabulous, Saturday Night Fever-living-times have "descended" in to? In one sentence? One of the greatest elements of Chicago's history--house music.
Although it has been rumored that house music was to have been co-invented in our sister city New York, make no mistake, Chicago's style and sound combination took people on the wildest rides of their lives and claimed an identity all its own. And although several artists contributed to this advanced genre of dance music, there were five individuals that laid some serious groundwork. Despite confusion of the original team, the names of replacements and the vendettas that surrounded the industry as a whole, these five remained strong - strong enough to leave a severe dent in the city of Chicago. They may not have parted "best friends" - or have even passed as business associates-- but they made Chicago, house music, and the world that surrounds that lifestyle what it is, as we know it today. These five individuals were the premier DJ team in the world. Ladies and gentlemen it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you the Hot Mix 5.
Farley "Jackmaster" Funk, Mickey "Mixin" Oliver, Scott "Smokin" Silz, Ralphi Rosario and Kenny "Jammin" Jason, all arrived for a meeting planned by Michaels to discuss his idea for a house mix show. The sixth interviewee, Jeff Davis, failed to show. During this meeting they talked of this "team/corporation" they were forming. They were the Hot Mix guys which was the generic term given to the group before members were chosen by Michaels and after hours of struggling with names they decided on the Hot Mix 5.
Chosen to host the show was part-time WBMX radio personality Armando Rivera. It wasn't long after the 5 were formed that the show developed a personality all it's own. "It's the Saturday Night Live Ain't no Jive mix show hosted by Armando." Each week the switchboard would light up with requests and comments about their favorite of the 5. Playing the latest in house sounds, Farley appealed to the African-American audience, Ralphi to the Hispanic audience, Mickey and Kenny represented the streets of Chicago and Scott the suburbs. For scheduled guest appearances they would pack venues with thousands of people, sweat would be dripping from the ceiling and sometimes the cops would come and close the place down for violating fire codes with hundreds of people over-populating these events.
"Driving down Rush and Division [in downtown Chicago] on the weekend was like listening to a giant ghetto blaster," recalls Michaels, "It didn't matter what creed you were or what kind of car you had-- everyone had the Saturday Night Live Ain't No Jive show on - it gave me chills."
Their success seemed to be larger than life. They were in demand around the city getting paid unprecedented amounts of money to play an hour-long set. If they played a record on Saturday night, come Sunday morning kids would be at the record store eagerly waiting to buy it. But with all this good fame and fortune came trying times.
By popular demand, after only three months of on airtime as the Hot Mix 5, a Friday night mix show was added. Now it was no longer the Saturday Night Live Ain't No Jive show but also the Friday Night Jam. The months to follow would add the Hot Lunch Mix and also 15 minute Mini-mixes throughout the day. The demand for the men was getting stressful. Aside from turning in two weekly mix tapes for radio play they were playing events/parties on Friday and Saturday nights per their contracts with WBMX. Plus they were expected to live their own lives. At the time Ralphi was only a freshman in high school. Although the stresses were inevitable after four years on WBMX (1981-1984) the show was about to reach a turning point.
Through the years, Michaels served as the "unofficial manager" of the group. Helping the guys understand the technical side of their contracts and their popularity, he also encouraged them to pursue their own musical careers as well. Making up to thousands of dollars an hour they would agree to play clubs, and throw their own parties for the 5 to play at. Record deals were offered to the men, even offers from other radio stations to lure the 5 away from WBMX. After seeing fellow members' egos grow along with their wallets it was obvious that animosity was growing and in 1984 reached it's high point.
After claiming that he couldn't take the attitudes and egos Scott "Smokin" Silz left the group. Although other stories for his leaving have circulated through the group Scott says, "We were 5 different guys from 5 different backgrounds who wanted different things. We were never really friends - just business partners. It was bound to happen over time. I just felt my time had come so I moved on to bigger and better things." Scott's leaving marked the beginning of the end for the 5.
Frequent guest mixer Julian "Jumpin" Perez filled the fifth slot after winning a city-wide DJ Battle. And after only a few months of Julian's arrival Farley decided to leave the group to go to their competing station WGCI in hopes of finding more money and success. "I wanted to get away from the other guys," says Farley, "and just being a big-headed DJ at the time it was all about me." No formal replacement procedure was made after his departure - the fifth slot was left open for guest mixers and the name "Hot Mix 5" stayed the same. Sharing time in the fifth slot were guest mixers Steve "Silk" Hurley, Frankie Knuckles and Frankie "Hollywood" Rodriguez. Farley began mixing as part of the "Jackmasters on WGCI along with Mario "Smokin" Diaz, Mario Reyes, Mike "Hitman" Wilson, Fast Eddie and Bad Boy Bill. Looking to follow WBMX's successful universal mix show mix show formula WGCI began beating them in ratings and in October 1985 lured father figure and creator of the 5 - Lee Michaels to the program irector position at the competing station.
Soon after Michael's departure the group felt the effects of his absence. BMX was loosing listeners to 'GCI and conflicts between the Hot Mix 5 and executives at the station began to develop. In an effort to make a statement in July of 1986, the three remaining original members of the Hot Mix 5 (Kenny Jason, Ralphi Rosario and Mickey Oliver) walked out on 'BMX leaving behind only guest mixers and new Hot Mix 5 member Julian "Jumpin" Perez. Leaving the station without a mix show and relocating to WGCI new home of Lee Michaels - the family would be reunited. Unfortunately it wasn't that simple. According to Ralphi Rosario WGCI didn't pay what was discussed and didn't give the airplay desired or promised- except on the a.m. show. WBMX also filed a lawsuit against the 3 for breach of contract. Although no monetary values were collected, the end result for them leaving before their contract was up was they were not allowed to play on any other radio station except for WBMX until their contracts had expired (one month remained).
Without the Hot Mix 5 the air time at BMX was filled by Julian Perez and several of the guest mixers such as Bad Boy Bill, Frankie "Hollywood" Rodriguez and Mike "Hitman" Wilson.
Farley, Kenny, Scott, Mickey, Ralphi and Mario Diaz mixed as the Hot Mix 5 at GCI. For the month remaining on their contracts per BMX Mario carried the show himself. Shortly following the groups relocation to the new station Farley returned back to BMX. But Farley's return was short-lived. In 1988 BMX was sold and due to internal stockholder conflicts, closed its doors forever. Looking back on the situation Farley explains,"What they [BMX] did really upset me because they paid me big bucks to come back and all they wanted to do was get the ratings back up and once they did they sold it and then I was out of a job."
Farley eventually returned to WGCI a few years later where Ralphi, Kenny, Scott and Mario mixed as the Hot Mix 5. Farley quit in early 1999. The remaining members were Scott and Kenny. A few months after Farley's depature the Club 1075 mix show was canceled.
Since that time four of the original members have pursued successful musical careers. Farley pursued a career in music production and is recognized as one of the pioneers and creators of house music (Godfather of House). Ralphi also pursued a career in music production after attending Columbia College Chicago for three years in communications. Scott pursued a career in radio production and is currently the production manager for the V103 (former home of BMX) morning show the Mond Squad and also the Mini concert. He also started his own Mobile DJ company Hot Mix Productions. Kenny became a police officer and has been a lieutenant for the past 15 years. His part-time job is as a volunteer fireman and hosting a syndicated radio station that plays at hits and dusties in 30 cities across the United States, including Mexico. Shortly after the breakup of the Hot Mix 5 Mickey moved to Arizona with his family and pursued a career in contracting million dollar homes. He is currently running a phone company in Phoenix.
Although the 5 have a great amount of respect for each other and still talk, they wouldn't all consider each other close friends. Just 5 individuals who shared a life changing experience - that changed not only themselves but the city of Chicago and music as well.
What started out as a small idea by a man name Lee Michaels, the Hot Mix 5 still lives as the name of Pioneers amongst the House Music nation. Memories from that time period will forever linger as the times that made dance music what it is today. This was the premier DJ team in the world - playing music that transcended all barriers to appeal and influence everyone. Despite animosity, egos and money, the 5 laid the groundwork that developed the Chicago street flava that draws individuals in from around the world. They were the infamous Hot Mix 5. And although you might not be able to name the original 5 if you aren't a native to our windy city, their sound is unmistakable and once you hear it you won't ever be the same.
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