In the same sense that house music producers are “doing” Larry Heard’s music (as Theo Parrish claims ), today’s disco re-editors are essentially doing Walter Gibbons’ music. It’s easy to overlook his contributions though, as virtually nothing was known about him for many years. Regardless, his remix work became ubiquitous in a burgeoning dance music culture largely due to his technical prowess and risky, yet visionary, production techniques.
Before delving into those techniques, let’s consider ‘Simultaneous Invention’ or (Multiple Discovery). This theory suggests that scientific discoveries are often found independently by multiple people at almost the same time. In Gibbons’ case, he was using two turntables and two copies of a record in order to extend and shorten certain parts of the song, while another pioneer, DJ Kool Herc, was doing the same thing in the same city, only 30 minutes away. Herc called it the Merry-Go-Round, and it involved looping percussive sections, known as breakbeats, in order to keep the crowd moving. This technique would lay the foundation for hip-hop, but Gibbons used it, alongside beatmatching, EQing, and reel-to-reel edits in order to get a rise out of his audience.
In the mid to late 70s, Gibbons continued to build upon the name he had made for himself: he was the first DJ to remix a record, was credited on the first commercially available 12 inch single, and was the first remixer to do an entire album. Furthermore, he was Salsoul’s go-to remixer for many years, and Tom Moulton even referred to him as “the first radical one” for his polarizing, yet uncompromising work. This vital work would pave the way for generations of DJs to come.
Coinciding with disco’s eventual fallout from popular culture in the late 70s, Gibbons became a born-again Christian. This spiritual revelation put him at odds with the industry he had been so personally and professionally tied to. He fell out of touch with most of his friends and colleagues, but never lost sight of his vision. Desperate for work, he eventually met producer George Logios and started his own label, Jus Born Records, as an homage to his faith. His first mix for this label would go on to be an early electro hit, but it’s the second release that I’d like to highlight. This mix showcases many of his classic techniques that would soon be adopted by a new class of DJs and producers.
I’ve Been Searching by Arts & Craft is an esorteric song for many reasons. First (and perhaps oddest), the year of release is unknown. Second, it’s essentially a remix of a 7 inch single from the mid 70s, but released sometime in the mid 80s. Original copies of the 7 inch are practically non-existent and the only musician credited for the original song is singer Willie Daniels. It’s not a large leap here to assume that Daniels was a friend of Logios’, and the original 7 inch was cut for promotional use but never went anywhere. Regardless, Gibbons somehow got his hands on it and pushed the mix to its absolute limits, adding bongos, synthesizers and effectively turning it into a ten minute disco epic. Synthesizers fly in and out of the piece, acting as special effects and contrasting with the otherwise ‘organic’ instrumentation. Female vocalists (unfortunately uncredited) add a degree of earnestness, while Daniels’ voice sounds strained and stressed, yearning for a true love, but not in an overly cliche way. The repetitious percussion arrangement, dramatic build ups, and melodic emphasis were repurposed for the house and techno movements that would soon follow, but Gibbons himself faded away into relative obscurity.
Although Gibbons’ wasn’t around to see his contributions fully acknowledged, he remained unfettered by outside influence, instead putting everything into making dance music that he truly believed in. Walter Gibbons exemplifies what most every creative yearns for: originality and trueness to self, even in the face of economic hardship. He accumulated a great deal of accolades and was the first DJ to truly realize his value in the creative process. His accomplishments extended much farther than his own life, as he essentially forged the path for all DJs to view their craft as more form than function.