"Etymologically, 'jack' (as in 'jack your body' or the 'house that jack built') seems to be a corruption of 'jerk' but also may have some link to 'jacking off.' The house dance floor suggests the circle jerk, a spectacle of collective autoeroticism, sterile jouissance. 'Jacking' also suggests jacking into an electrical circuit and recalls the 'console cowboys' in William Gibson's Neuromancer who jack into cyberspace via direct neurological interface. Plugged into the sound system, the house jacker looks a bit like a robot with epilepsy. In jack tracks like Fast Eddie Smith's 'Jack to the Sound,' lyrics are restricted to terse work-that-body commands. Eventually acid house bypassed verbals altogether and proceeded to what felt like direct possession of the nervous system via the bass-body interface."

-Simon Reynolds, "Generation Ecstasy," (Little Brown and Company, New York, 1998), p. 29.


In late 1982, Jesse Saunders began spinning a bootleg recording called "On and On" by Mach on the Remix label. Whenever he began his sets at the Playground and elsewhere, he would open with "On and On."

This original "On and On" had a loop from "Space Invaders" as the bassline, as well as some samples from Donna Summer's "Bad Girls," and Lipps Inc's "Funkytown."

Since the supply of disco dance recordings were beginning to dry up about this time, Jesse and other DJs were seeking ways to provide fresh dance tracks to the public inexpensively. Jesse's first attempt at making a recording was traditional. He worked with his mother to create new melodies based on some of the records he was currently playing, and then wrote some lyrics and titled the piece "Fantasy." Next, he engaged a band he heard perform at his old high school and got them together to rehearse the work. A friend of his, a student of sound engineering, provided free use of a studio to record "Fantasy" as a school project. This traditional approach didn't work out to Jesse's satisfaction. The tempo was much too high and they ran out of time before they could record the vocals.

So Jesse decided to look at some of the new technology available, including the new Roland TR-303 Bass Line synthesizer and TR-606. With these machines Roland promised that the producer didn't need "a drummer." Rather, one could create the rhythm sections "synthetically," thus avoiding the costs of hiring talent.

He then turned to his friend, Vince Lawrence, who already had one record released, for advice on how to better re-record the "Fantasy" piece.

Vince Lawrence was head of the group "Z Factor," which included Vince on keyboards, two guitarists and another keyboard artist. They were amongst the first to use synthesized music with guitars. Vince also had a Moog synthesizer. So Jesse joined Z Factor and began working with Vince on recordings using the new synthesizer machines.

Dr. Robert Moog (PhD in engineering physics) was the inventor of the first commercially available synthesizers, and his invention was the beginning of radical change in the music world. New genres arose from this invention, and old genres were redefined. Much work preceded Moog's release of the first fully developed synthesizer in 1964, of course, and a more detailed history of electronic music and innovation can be found in books like Ben Kettlewell's "Electronic Music Pioneers," (ProMusic Press, Vallejo, 2002). The first commercially released all-synthesizer album was Wendy Carlos' "Switched-On Bach" in 1968. I still have my copy.

Z Factor eventually recorded a few songs, including Jesse's "Fantasy." Jesse, meanwhile, had acquired a second hand Roland TR-808 Drum Machine. The 808 was introduced in 1979 as a tool for high-end producers to record demos, and it sold for over a thousand bucks. But it never found favor as a demo maker. Rather, hip hop producers like Afrika Bambaata and Arthur Baker used the 808 to actually record the seminal "Planet Rock."

Roland had ceased production of the 808 by the time Jesse picked up this mis-positioned but wonderful machine. Roland, as has often been the case, didn't really understand who really would use their machines -- and how. They produce awesome musicians' tools but often marketed them improperly. I have always had a Roland machine of one sort or another, and once owned an 808. I now have the D2, as well as a U-8 and A-6.

Jesse, and other Chicago DJs, started buying up used 808s and used them in a way Roland never envisioned: they played them live. Jesse used his in his marathon sets at the Playground to make new rhythm tracks under old disco and other recordings, including his signature "On and On." This is how house music was born; this is how the four on the floor developed -- in real time situations on the dance floor using drum machines.


As Jesse tells the story, the first commercial house release was born after his bootlegged recording of "On and On" was stolen from the Playground. Now the original "On and On" was merely an edit of various popular disco hits. It was not yet house music. When Jesse added the 808 drum tracks to it when he opened his sets, the evolution began.

So Jesse got together with Vince Lawrence and decided to finally make his own recording -- a true house version -- of his signature "On and On."

They added some original drum tracks, screams, and some rap and recorded it on cassette. Jesse began playing this new house version with his sets and, fortunately, Frank Sells, a salesman at one of Chicago's major record stores, heard the mix and expressed interest in selling it on vinyl.

So Vince and Jesse transferred the recording from cassette to mastering tape. On the B side Jesse laid down some rhythm tracks at 117 BPM and named that "117." They went to Larry Sherman, who then owned Precision Records, and pressed 500 copies. The label was black with white printing and a logo, drawn by Vince, for the new, and first, house music label: Jes Say Records. "On and On" was released in January of 1984.

The first edition sold out in a couple of days, and they went back to Sherman to do 1000 more. There is much drama that evolved out of this relationship, as well as the birth of Trax Records and some copyright disputes. But we will leave that for later.

"On and On" became a hit in Chicago, and ended up on WBMX radio promoted by the Hot Mix 5. Soon the hit found its way to Detroit. House music was officially born, and the seeds were planted in Detroit for the birth of yet another genre: techno.

NEXT ISSUE: More House from Jes Say