Nicky Siano is a DJ, producer, living legend, and true pioneer of the dance music scene. As a teenager, he solidified his place in the New York club scene as the DJ at The Gallery, a famed disco spot that Siano owned with his older brother Joe. Siano later became one of the early resident DJs at Studio 54 during the weekdays while spinning sets at The Gallery on the weekends.
One of Siano's earliest DJ gigs at Studio 54 was Bianca Jagger's 30th birthday party thrown by fashion designer Halston. Here, Siano recounts the early days of the club and what exactly happened at Jagger's infamous birthday celebration.
In the 70s and early 80s, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell (the founders and co-owners of Studio 54), owned a chain steakhouse restaurant called Steak Loft. It was only on Long Island. They decided to get out of the business. It wasn't as they thought it would be and went to go into the club business. And they rented out the Douglaston Golf Course ... a beautiful building which is in Queens.
The promotion man Billy Smith—who was the first promotion manager to really bring records to DJs in the clubs—took me out there to meet Steve Rubell. So, we sat there. We had steak and lobster. Very, very nice.
That night, he introduced himself. He was engaged to a woman at the time, and he said immediately that he wanted to hire me. Back then I owned the club The Gallery, which was open on Friday and Saturday nights. Both nights were doing tremendous for us so I wouldn't consider going anywhere else. And he said Tuesday night was a free party he was throwing and it was going to be a big one-off party. So he hired me for that party.
This was 1975 so Diana Ross hadn't yet released "Love Hangover." But she had some hits for the dance floor like "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "Surrender." All these early Diana Ross songs. And, I used to play one or two of them and Steve would come up to the booth and say, "Play more Diana Ross! I love Diana Ross! I love Diana Ross!"
Well, this leads you to Studio 54. After two years of that, I said, "Look, Douglaston is like two hours from town. I'm not gonna do this ride anymore. When you open up a club in the city, call me." I was city-focused at the time. I wouldn't even go visit my mother in Brooklyn because it was too far and I live in Brooklyn now, right by where my mother used to live.
So anyway, he calls me up and he says, "We've got a space in Manhattan and we're going to open a great new club in the old CBS Studio 54 building."
I was like, "Great! That sounds incredible."
He said, "I want you to come in and see."
So I went in and I'm looking around. There's dust on everything, all over the place. The stuff that was hanging, like all of the lighting they put in the grid, was hanging there half hooked up. It was a mess. There was plastic all over the floor.
I said, "When are you going to open?"
He said, "Two weeks."
I said, "You're kidding me, right?"
He said, "No, we're going to be open in two weeks." Well, they opened in two weeks. Richie Kaczor played opening night. I played the next.
And then, within the first ten days of opening, it was Bianca Jagger's birthday party. And she said, "Please play my birthday party." Before the club was open, they had a birthday party for her that was literally 20 people in Studio 54. This was a place for 3000 people. She was sitting there with Halston. Mick Jagger was there. Keith Richards, Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol and a few other less famous people, too. And all of them in that kind of class.
And she had asked me to play, "Sympathy for the Devil," which I did. And then, all of a sudden I turn around and the scrim goes up and there's these big letters on the back wall that read "BIANCA" and they start flashing white lights. And she rides in on this white horse out of nowhere. Out of nowhere these hundred photographers come out like ... I don't know where they came from! They just appeared all of a sudden and they're snapping pictures of her.
Well the next day, New York Daily News did a centerfold pictorial on what happened last night in Manhattan and the Bee Gees got a photo—an inch by an inch—and the whole rest of the centerfold was Bianca riding in on that white horse.
I thought it was pretty perverse, actually to be honest. We were still in a terrible, terrible budget crisis in New York and people were not very well paid back then and it just struck me as overselling something, but that was the turning point. From that point on, every night we were open, there were at least 2,000 people in that place with more on the weekends.