Home to Graceland, Stax and Ardent Studios, Goner Records and The Oblivions, as well as Tommy Wright III and Three 6 Mafia, Memphis is a serious music town. It’s also where house music pioneer Larry Heard has called home for 20 years.
But it was in Chicago thirty-one years ago, when Heard, going by Mr Fingers, released "Can You Feel It,” a track that changed house music forever. With its slow and dreamy pace and simple synth chords, it along with Heard's "Mystery Of Love", which Kanye West sampled on his song "Fade", became a bedrock of Chicago house music.
As a kid Heard grew up listening to Sly & the Family Stone, Donna Summer and early disco records. After some time playing drums in a prog rock cover band he moved into electronic music and after picking up a keyboard and drum machine was making early tracks like "Mystery of Love" and "Washing Machine".
But it was "Can You Feel It" that had a seminal impact on deep house and turned Heard into a house music icon. Ahead of Heard's trip to Australia where he will headline the Freedom Time Festival series in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, we hooked up with him on Skype.
Noisey: Hey Larry. Are you much of a Skype user?
Larry Heard: I use it a bit. It's easier and cheaper than long distance calls.
True. I'm curious at to why you chose to relocate to Memphis. Did you have any association there?
Not really. Other than hearing Stax Records and Issac Hayes and the The Bar-Kays and things like that growing up. But that’s pretty much it, I had no family there, my family was from further down in Mississippi.
I’m going to be honest. I know more about punk music than I do house. Are you familiar with Memphis' Goner Records?
Yeah that's the record store that does their yearly festival.
Right, what about local sports? I notice you are wearing a University of Memphis Tigers hat in your promo shot. You into them?
When I first came here they [Tigers] didn't really have anything. They tried football but basketball was the one that seems to have worked for them. I played some baseball when I was younger but I had to stop when I started working.
What’s the attraction of living in a city like Memphis?
Peace (haha). That’s the main thing.
You grew up in the Roseland area of Chicago, which is probably not as peaceful. Do you go back often?
I was just there about three weeks back. Chicago, well the the sector I saw I was disappointed in. Trump's politics have trumped us all. It’s all about profit rather than the community or being about something.
Do you enjoy getting out of Memphis and touring?
I do but as you get older it gets more physically taxing. I was just joking with someone of needing a bar stool on tour. Doing it Dean Martin style. (haha)
How about the generation gap? Your audience would be quite a big younger.
When we’re on tour there’s not much time for hanging out. You can have 500 people at an event who just want to talk about "Can You Feel It", that’s going to be rough (haha). Young and old want to talk about that. (haha)
I deliberately avoided asking you about that track because I know you must have been asked about it a million times. Is it annoying?
Skype drops out. After calling back and going through the "Hello, hello. Can you hear me?" dance …..
I was saying that it must be annoying to be talking about "Can You Feel It" all the time. You should have a standard response or is that considered rude?
Haha. It's not really that annoying. What is more annoying is in the DJ experience when people expect you to play a set of songs and then are visibly puzzled when you don't (haha). Some even try to tell you what to play and shout out play lists. That can be a little weird. I feel like saying, “You could have listened to those songs on you mp3 player."
Are you still doing many DJ sets?
No, I stopped around 2011 as a way to preserve my hearing. If I play a live show now it can go for around two hours as opposed to a dj set that can go for four to six hours. Some guys go ten and twelve hours.
That sounds like some kind of United Nations human rights violation!
(haha) Yeah, I don't know how they do it. They need to start getting hazard pay at some point.
Larry Heard aka Mr Fingers plays Freedom Time.
Dec 31 - Perth
Jan 1 - Melbourne
Jan 7 - Sydney