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DJ "DR. JOHN" BISCI


"Right place at the right time" was the prescription for this disco spinner

John Bisci Jr. - a.k.a. "Dr. John" - was born in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1956.  As a child, he had but two interests: music and auto racing.  Buffalo's Top-40 disc jockeys of the '60s and early '70s - including Jackson Armstrong, Dan Neaverth and Sandy Beach -

were his heroes, and he hoped to someday land a job at WKBW, a powerful 50,000-watt AM powerhouse whose signal was heard in many states and Canada.

"When my parents brought me home from the hospital, they placed a radio next to my crib and turned on KB," said Bisci.  "When I was six months old, they took me to my first stock car race, at Civic Stadium.  That pretty much set the tone for the rest of my life."

Bisci attended Erie Community College in Hamburg, N.Y., in 1974, and joined the radio club.  His hands-on experience at the school's tiny broadcast facility launched an 18-year career as a nightclub DJ.

"I was playing R&B records to a primarily-rural audience," Bisci recalled.  "The city kids who attended the school liked it, but I wondered if anybody was listening.  Sitting in that little studio, I had no idea how my choice of music was being received.

"I was 17 and hanging out at the Executive Inn in Cheektowaga and this other place called the Crossbow (formerly the Sizzle Steakhouse near Boulevard Mall) and enjoyed going to see groups like Junction West, Isaac (with Lance Diamond) and Talas.  I had heard about this concept where a DJ played records in a club and wondered why people would be interested in that.  The Club 747 had just opened inside the Executive, so I checked it out one evening.  The music was loud, and I recognized some of it as what I was playing at school.  There were lots of flashing lights, not to mention well-dressed girls socializing with well-dressed guys.  And I thought, 'Hmmnnn...they just might have something here.'

"A place called Frisco's had just opened up near my house, on Union Rd. in the Garden Village Plaza.  A buddy and I stopped there one night, and the DJ was Tony Dragotta, a.k.a. Tony  Dee.  I told my friend, 'I'd like to try that - I wonder if they need someone.'  My friend replied, 'Forget it - you'll never cut it as a DJ.'  That was my challenge.  I spoke with Tony for about an hour, and he offered me one night a week.  Tony Dee gave me my first break as a disco DJ in 1976.

"The pay for my first disco DJ gig was $15, an order of chicken wings and all the

vodka and iced tea I could drink.  I never told them, but I would have done it for free.

"Everything in the soundbooth was painted flat brown.  They had two A-R turntables (you had to remove the platter and shift the drive belt to go from 45 rpm to 33 rpm -- and the motor took a full revolution to get up to speed), a Seneca Sound mixer and six colored spotlights hooked up to a color organ - that was it.  But the place was packed at least four nights a week.

"Eventually, Tony left for the Charter House, and I inherited Frisco's - seven nights a week.  I started reading Billboard Magazine's disco charts.  I went to Record Theatre and bought every new disco record I could find.  Many of the dancers at Frisco's also went to Buffalo's two hottest clubs -- Fridays & Saturdays and the Club 747 - and they would tip me off to the new stuff Charlie Cimino and Charlie Anzalone were playing.  Charlie Cimino visited Frisco's one night - at his sister Helena's urging - and said, 'You're on the right track.'  Later, the Buffalo Courier Express rated us as the No. 3 nightclub in Buffalo and I was walking on air.

"By this time, staying up 'til 4:00 a.m. did not mix well with going to school.  I never cared for the school - except for the radio station - so I figured I'd do this for about two years and then return to school when I knew what I really wanted to be.

"Before Tony Dee left Frisco's, I got a gig downtown at the Stage Door Disco - a converted strip club.  This was when Chippewa Street was not a very nice place.  Sam, the owner said, 'Ya gotta have a name.  What do you call yourself?'  Well, Charlie Anzalone was 'Capt. Disco,' and this other DJ, John Mills, called himself "General" Mills.  I remembered back to when I was a little kid.  I had to wear glasses when I was in kindergarten.  My dad used to call me the doctor or the professor.  The first night I announced myself as "Dr. John," I had to turn off the microphone - I was laughing too hard.  But it stuck.  That's where the 'Dr. John' came from."

Bisci left Frisco's in the spring of '77 and honed his skills at a variety of clubs as journeyman DJ.

"I was working at as many as four clubs each week during the summer of '77.  I spun at the Electric Company (on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo, Ali Baba's (East Aurora), Port Shark (Cheektowaga), and briefly at the Club 747 on Friday nights.  I learned how to tailor my music to each audience.  A hit record at one club in the city may not necessarily be as popular in another.  But I always tried to arrange to have Wednesdays off so I could catch Charlie Anzalone at Fridays & Saturdays for Drink 'n' Drown night.  If Charlie made a mix between two records that I really liked, I'd unashamedly write it down.

"I met Marty Angelo at the Club 747, and wound up spinning on his TV show.  It was ironic: I was on TV, but couldn't watch the show.  The show aired on cable, and the development where my parents lived in Depew could not get cable.  The whole street was forced to go the rabbit-ear route until '88.

"I learned so much about the business in the brief time I worked on that show.  Part of that education included the ugly  side of the business.  A DJ, who I thought was my friend, talked his way into taking my Friday nights at the Club 747.  Then a sound-company owner - who I also thought was a friend - weaseled his way onto the TV show and replaced me as the DJ.  I learned - the hard way - to always protect my turf.

"I met Tony Spencer that year.  He was also spinning at the Electric Company and Ali Baba's.  He too wanted to improve his skills and advance his career.  We became good friends.  Gary Larkin, a DJ in Pennsylvania, published a disco playlist called The G&B Report.  I started reporting to his disco chart.  One day, he called me with this concept, called 'beats-per-minute.'  Before 'BPM,' DJs were really guessing as to how fast a record was.  Some records had a fast tempo but sounded slower than they really were.  Other records were slow but sounded faster.  Some DJs were really distorting the speeds of the records to try to get them to blend.  With this beats-per-minute system, you would know (by counting how many times the drum beat in a minute) how fast the record was, and you could mix records that were similar in speed.  Knowing how to do that, you could start out slow (the Commodores' "Brick House" was 111 or 112  bpm, for example), and build up a set that ended somewhere in the 130s (Disco Inferno, MacArthur Park, etc.).  Then you let all these sweating dancers take a break with a few slow songs and started the process all over again.  I introduced the beats-per-minute system to Buffalo.  A lot of the DJs made fun of it at first, but now everyone uses it.

"Spencer and I practiced every chance we got, usually on the clubs' slow nights.  There were many weeks where we actually spent more than we earned on records.  Tony later got hired at the Club 747 and got me hired back there too.  Suddenly, I was on the radio!  The club had cut a deal with WYSL - a once-strong AM station that had plummeted in the ratings - and we were broadcasting live from 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. every night.  It was our music -- and our spinning -- but the station refused to acknowledge us as the talent!  The studio DJ - 'Truckin' Tom... whoever - hated us because we had taken over his show.  All he did were the announcements leading up to or coming out of commercial breaks.  The station's one 'mistake' was to install an ambient microphone over the dance floor to pick up crowd noise for atmosphere.  When I played slow songs, I would announce who the real DJ was and the ambient mike would pick it up and send it out over the airwaves.  No one told us how long this arrangement was supposed to last.  About six months into the gig, a friend came in and told me WYSL was playing rock music.  I called the studio and hollered, 'Where the hell is our show?'  Truckin' Tom chuckled, 'We don't do that anymore.'  There always seemed to be a running battle with radio.  A station would add a disco record, but refused to call it disco.  I remember when WGR added Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love' to their rotation in '78.  They called it a 'boogie tune.'  We'd play a record for a solid month in the clubs, and then a station would add it and announce it as 'brand new!'  Girls would come up to the soundbooth and say, 'Would you play that brand-new record from so-and-so?'  And I'd say, 'You mean that record that I've been playing for four weeks now?'  The one exception was WBLK.  I 'discovered' WBLK in '74 after Jackson Armstrong quit WKBW.  I was bored with Buffalo's stagnant AM radio scene and had just installed one of those $19 FM converters from Brand Names in my '69 Impala.  WBLK was playing all this great, funky, soulful music that I'd never heard before.  I recognized about 10 percent of what they were playing.  Then came the 'BLK Pic-of-the-Week,' where they would take a brand-new record and absolutely pound it into the airwaves for the next six days.  Many times, the 'blik pick' (as it was called) was a danceable record.  You got so used to hearing it 30 times a day that when you got to the club and the DJ played it, it was already familiar.  Peter Brown's 'Do Ya Wanna Get Funky' bombed in Buffalo when TK Records first released it.  But 'BLK later chose it as the 'BLK Pic-of the-Week,' and it became a monster."

Over the next decade, Bisci spun at a number of dance clubs, including Brandy's ("The most fun I ever had!"), Sgt. Pepper's ("Lenny Casola turned his mother's house into a disco - my soundbooth was located in his childhood bedroom and the bar was in the kitchen."), Cirillo's ("An Italian restaurant in Ft. Erie that had suspended its speakers from the ceiling with Chevrolet seat belts."), The Late Show, Mean Alice's, Me & My Arrow, Le Club and The Stuffed Mushroom.  As the '80s came to a close, he felt the urge to reinvent himself.

"By 1988, I had grown disenchanted with the bar business in Buffalo.  The music had changed, and I didn't like it.  The customers had changed.  Dress codes went away. 

"Society had lost its manners and spinning just wasn't as much fun anymore.  I had just graduated from college with a marketing degree, and answered an ad for a co-announcer job at Lancaster Speedway.  To me, it had always been a sacrilege to take Saturday nights off, but it was time for a change."

Bisci later became the track's Public Relations Director and his motorsports career took off.

"I'd spin at night and work for the tracks during the day.  From '88 to '94, Saturday nights during the summer were reserved for auto racing."

Bisci moved to North Carolina in 1994 to work in NASCAR public relations for a number of sponsors, then moved to Las Vegas (for the second time) in 2000.  He is currently the Public Relations Manager for Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"I think I was at the right place at the right time, as far as disco was concerned," Bisci admits.  "I started as a DJ when discos were beginning to boom and good spinners were in demand.  It was nice to be appreciated.  I am the luckiest kid in the world.  I wanted to be a DJ, and work in auto racing, and I've been able to do both.  And yes, I did finally get to work at WKBW.  It was in 1993, and I co-hosted a weekly auto racing show with Paul Mecca.  By then of course, 'KB' wasn't the good old WKBW that we grew up with, but it was still KB."

"I think it's great that Marty Angelo, Charlie Anzalone, Tony Spencer, Charlie Cimino, John Ceglia (all former Buffalo disco DJs) and I are still friends after all these years.  In fact, I think some of us get along better now that we're no longer competing against each other in the same market."

Dr. John's Top-10 All-Time Favorite Disco Records

"Romeo & Juliet" - Alec R. Costandinos

"Do Ya Wanna Get Funky (With Me)" - Peter Brown

"Open Sesame" - Kool & The Gang

"Best Of My Love" - The Emotions

"Cerrone's Paradise" - Cerrone

"Devil's Gun" - C.J. & Company

"Love Magic" - John Davis & The Monster Orchestra

"I Found Love" - Love & Kisses

"Fire Island" - Village People

"Love Disco Style" - Erotic Drum Band

 

Three Songs He Hated But Had To Play Anyway

"Bama Lama" - Belle Epoque

"Double Dutch Bus" - Frankie Smith

"We Are Family" - Sister Sledge

 

His Three All-Time Favorite "Slow Songs"

"Don't Ask My Neighbors" - The Emotions

"I Don't Want To Lose You" - Phyllis Hyman

"No One Can Love You More" - Phyllis Hyman

 

Pet Peeves

"Being referred to as a 'sound man' by club owners.  'You want sounds?  Here, I've got a couple of sounds I'd like to make...'

"Cheap, inadequate sound systems.  This is the one thing Catholic churches and discotheques had in common.  The sound system and DJ were crucial to the success of the bar, and more than a few club owners spent as little money as possible on their most important department.  Once I had to spin on home stereo equipment purchased from Radio Shack.

"Customers and bartenders that tried to change the format.  In a club packed with people whose sole purpose was to dance all night, at least one jackass would demand that I stop playing disco music.  You want Stones?  Buy Sticky Fingers and go home. 

"And of course, the clueless individuals who would come up to the soundbooth and demand, 'Play something good!'  'Okay, what would you like to hear?'  'I don't know - just play something good.'  It's funny - if some artist would have recorded a song called 'Something Good,' it might have been the most-requested tune of the '70s."

 

 

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