Francis Grasso :: Father Of The Club DJs

Francis Grasso born in 1949, in Brooklyn. At an early age he started playing drums, guitar and saxophone. After injuries in several motorcycle accidents he had, doctors advised him that dancing would be the best way for recovery. Soon, he became a Trude Heller’s go-go boy and started dancing with a live band on a Greenwich Village’s small platform while on daytime he was managing a clothing store.

A Friday night he went to club Salvation where the staff knew and liked him from Greenwich Village. The disc jockey, Terry Noel didn’t show up for work so the staff and owners of the venue asked him to give it a try. The club had a Reco-Cut fader placed between two Reco-Cut turntables and of course records! He knew what to do. He was familiar with music and already a dancer. The crowd responded immediately and soon he started getting his first regular gigs.

Club ”Manhattan South”, circa 1965, later named ”Salvation”

Grasso perfected his techniques in New York clubs, such as “Tarots” and the famous “Sanctuary”, a former German Baptist church. He was the first DJ to require headphones as part of his setup, which allowed him to preview a record on one turntable while playing for the people on the other.

Using headphones in combination with slip-cueing, changed the art of DJing. It needed skills and good ears to mix those records for more than a few seconds and Grasso took that to longer and longer sequences.

He didn’t stay on that. He knew how to get the vibe of the dancefloor, so he slowly began to retool the job of the DJ. He didn’t took his job as simply putting records on, he had to keep the dancefloor busy. The best way to do that was to make one song sound as stretched on forever. This helped create the notion of the disc jockey, as artist and live remixer. Working with two 7inch singles at first, he would start a new track on the same beat (beatmatching), which ended the previous song by holding the record still as the turntable spun below it, a technique known as slip-cueing. Later, he began matching the beat of records, trying to keep two songs playing simultaneously for as long as possible. An extremely difficult task, since most turntables back then lacked conveniences like pitch control.

There wasn’t really DJ’s before Francis Grasso. Nobody managed to keep the beat going. They’d get them to dance, but when the song ended you had to catch the beat again. It never flowed. DJ’s back then couldn’t develop an atmosphere and make the crowd dancing non stop. Francis djing was like an experience, an unstoppable flow of music going up and down. He could pick up the energy of the crowd and sent it right back with the next track.

He spread the art of mixing and passed his skills to later DJ’s, by giving birth and teaching technics Dj’s use today. In early 80’s he quit DJing and later occupies himself with construction works.

A pioneer who never got his due, but sent into hospital by the Mafia when he decided to leave a residency. Francis Grasso passed away on March 20, 2001.

Francis Grasso / Venue images source: