Headed back to town in support of Jason Aldean Friday night at Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in Tinley Park, I spoke with DJ and producer Dee Jay Silver about Chicago house music as an early influence, music as a unifying force following the festival shootings this past October in Las Vegas and much more...
It was Jason Aldean who was on stage last October in Las Vegas when a gunman began to open fire into the assembled Route 91 Harvest Festival crowd from a nearby high rise hotel.
As Aldean's DJ and touring companion since 2009, Dee Jay Silver, who grew up in Texas but calls Las Vegas a second home, had just left the stage in search of his wife when the shots began.
As the incident began to unfold, Silver was informed that his 1 year old son Wake was being housed with a relative on the same hotel floor as the gunman, just a few rooms over at the Mandalay Bay Resort. Ultimately, a SWAT team rescued the baby but it took hours to reconnect Silver and his wife with their child amidst the chaos.
"You don't take it for granted that's for sure," said Silver. "Life is precious."
Silver later released a statement thanking first responders but also noted the division that exists in America, calling for unity despite the times.
"I think music, no matter what you're going through, fixes what ails you. It puts a smile on your face," said Silver of the potential role music can play in bringing people together. "I think that's everybody's kind of safe zone... Everyone can have something in common with somebody."
As he gears up for a return to the road with Aldean, Silver is busy, in the midst of a Vegas residency at Hard Rock Hotel's Rehab (with another set to start at the Bellagio's Hyde) and prepping the release of a full album this summer.
I spoke with Dee Jay Silver about early performances in Chicago at clubs like Excalibur and Rednofive, fighting to establish credibility in both the electronic and country music worlds and moving on from the Las Vegas tragedy. A lightly edited transcript of that phone conversation follows below...
Q. It’s shaping up to be a big summer for you here in Chicago with [Friday's] Jason Aldean show in Tinley Park, LakeShake performances in June and your after show at Bub City on June 23rd. From Wrigley to Tinley you’ve performed all over the Chicagoland area, what’s it like coming back?
Dee Jay Silver: One of my favorite cities on the entire planet Earth. My favorite restaurant is Bub City right downtown. Any time I have a layover at Midway or O'Hare, I always go down and grab some food.
I always look forward to it. One thing about Chicago is it doesn't matter if it's 115 degrees or fifty below, there's a line down the street to get in. We've done them all... House of Blues. We've done Joe's. We played LakeShake and Lollapalooza. It's a guaranteed party.
Any time I get a chance to come back to Chicago – after, you know, November – I try to come there. But I don't do too well in the cold weather!
Q. I’ve seen you cite Chicago house music as an influence. I know you grew up in Texas so, pre-internet, where were you getting turned onto those sounds?
DJS: They used to do pressed CDs. I think it was [B-96]. With Alex Peace, DJ Irene, Richard "Humpty" Vission. Bad Boy Bill of course. Those guys were the trendsetters. That music was just infectious. It was all the hard house CDs, man. I just couldn't get enough of them.
The first time I got to play in Chicago, it was actually at Excalibur. We did Vision Nightclub. We did Spoon, Rednofive, Crobar. To get to play those rooms... Every year, your goal is to get bigger and bigger. My goals were to play Crobar or to play Excalibur. The legends that have played in that room... I remember the first time that I played Excalibur, we were using all turntables. It was like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome with people all around you and on top of you. It was like cigarette ashes falling on your records and you're blowing them off so you don't tear your needles up. It was just a good time.
Getting to Chicago to bang it out for three straight hours... I don't know. To this day, I'd go back right now if we could.
Q. Well you just mentioned being at Excalibur and spinning actual vinyl. You started your career as a DJ prior to the rise of the internet and the laptop. What was that like then and how have things changed now?
DJS: Every record, you had to buy two or three because you would mess one up. You'd be marking your records with like little garage sale stickers so if you had to quick mix, your needle would just drop right on it. It was always something. From weighting your needles to bass rattling off the... There was always something.
Don't get me wrong – those are good days. But I don't miss it whatsoever. Now, I show up, send a rider in advance, they've got the CDJs on the picture ready to go and I plug a laptop in.
And every piece of music ever made is at my fingertips. [As opposed to] waiting in line, digging through crates at every record shop from San Francisco to Springfield, Missouri trying to get my hands on as many records as I could get.
Carrying them. The weight fees were ridiculous. Carrying thirteen or fourteen crates of records! Because, I mean, we might be doing a house gig in Chicago on a Friday but a hip hop gig in Dallas on Saturday. Then we're playing like a breakbeat at Miami on Sunday and back to Austin, Texas Monday. And you're playing everything.
My god. We were making no money... But we were having a good time.
Q. I feel like people don’t always associate DJs with country music. I would imagine you were kind of fighting to establish credibility in both of those worlds. But, especially in terms of the live experience... there’s some similarities. How difficult was it for you to prove that that idea was viable, that there was something there, and to be taken seriously while doing it?
DJS: Well, every DJ in the world, they play what they're comfortable with. And I was raised with country music. And country music always told a story. But I loved house music. I loved hip hop. And it was just something I always did.
It's just like chasing down a Mobb Deep record and the bass line rolls in the same as “Dust in the Wind" [by Kansas]. It's the same way with country music. And if you're going to play in Texas you've got to have “Dixieland Delight” by Alabama. It's just doing your homework. Doing the research and seeing what works.
I think some of the best advice I ever got as a DJ was, “Any DJ can play a record. Who are you? What makes you different?” And [I wasn't so much] meaning to be, but that's just what I always did. And it was unexpected.
Q. How do you adjust your sets to cater to specific audiences be it in a giant venue like a baseball stadium for a country show or one of your more intimate club appearances? What’s the key for you in reading those different audiences?
DJS: Well, you've got to know what city you're going into.
When you're in Boston, you've got to know you're going to play [Neil Diamond's] “Sweet Caroline” sometimes.
But there are some records that just work in every city. There are some records that talk about Friday night and obviously you don't play those on a Tuesday. Getting in and knowing the city, traveling and playing a city as many times as I have and have been blessed to do... If we roll into Sacramento or Fort Lauderdale, I could play something that people out there are going to associate with.
I just want to relate and connect and vibe with everyone I can and hopefully come back and do it again.
Q. I know Vegas is kind of a second home for you and obviously you were there in Vegas last October as shooting started. What’s it been like getting back onstage now in these bigger venues before you head back outdoors with Jason this summer?
DJS: You know, I was telling Aldean this last night, I worked my entire life to headline Las Vegas. So I'll be damned if I'm going to let somebody keep me from doing that. So I was literally back on stage four days later. And I've played Vegas a hundred times since then. Vegas is home for me.
You don't take it for granted that's for sure. Life is precious. A lot of things happen. Life happens. You have to move on. At the end of the day, it's what I love to do and Vegas will always be home for me.
I've worked my entire life to have my face on a billboard in Las Vegas and I'll be damned if I'm going to let some asshole take that from us.
Q. When you released your statement following the Vegas shootings, you noted the division in the United States and called for unity. In an America where everything becomes so immediately divisive, how important can music be in terms of that idea of coming together? If you take away lyrical content, genre or anything else, at the end of the day, one thing a lot of people have in common is that general love of music...
DJS: I think music, no matter what you're going through, fixes what ails you. It puts a smile on your face. I think music brings you together no matter what color or race you are.
That's what it is to me and I think what it has to be. I think that's everybody's kind of safe zone. It's whatever everyone can relate to. Everyone can have something in common with somebody.
- Jim Ryan ( @RadioJimRyan )
(Details on Friday's Jason Aldean show in Tinley Park below)
Dee Jay Silver
Friday, May 18, 2018
Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
Show starts at 7:30PM
Also performing: Jason Aldean, Luke Combs, Lauren Alaina
Tickets: $40 - $110
Click HERE to purchase tickets