Back in 1981, a disco act called Weeks & Company burned up discos around the world with songs like “Rock Your World." Singer, songwriter and producer Richie Weeks would work late into the night recording songs and performing in legendary nightclubs like Paradise Garage and Studio 54 – and then head in to punch the clock for his day job at the Post Office. When disco cooled down, Weeks pursued his living elsewhere. But now, a new series of previously unheard private recordings is bringing him fresh recognition. Speaking from his home in Newark, Weeks talked to WNYC's Morning Edition host Michael Hill about his days as The Love Magician, and what made him decide to start releasing tracks from his private trove of 300 vintage tapes.
[The following transcript has been edited for clarity and concision.]
Michael Hill: Your new album is called "The Love Magician Archives – Disco – New York City 1978-79, Vol. 1." It's the start of a projected 10-volume series on a label called Past Due. This new series of recordings is drawn from your personal archive of 300 unreleased tracks. Where were all these tapes all these years, and why are they coming out now?
Richie Weeks: Well, every time I went into the studio, I'd make copies for myself, just as reference copies. And what I did was I just kept my copies in a safe environment and, you know, at the right temperature, just to make sure that there nothing marred their performance.
Take us back to the start of your career. How did you get involved in music, and did you come from a musical household?
Yes. My mother was a artist, she was a singer. My grandmother was a nightclub singer. My father was a co-writer with this song called "I Wonder Why," I believe was the name of it, by Dion and the Belmonts, and it had big success.
And on top of that, as a kid in my preteens, I used to sing at a boarding school in Staten Island. I sang onstage, and they loved it. You know, that really raised my eyebrow. I said, Wow, look at this. At six years old, I knew I was a talent to be reckoned with, you know?
During disco's heyday, you were working with major artists like singer Jocelyn Brown, you mentioned producer Patrick Adams. You played legendary nightclubs like Paradise Garage and Studio 54. Then you'd go to work at the main Post Office. I'm just wondering, how did you manage to keep up that routine, and what made you do it?
Well, you know, it's like this: I love music. And, you know, just the fact that I worked in the Post Office, you know, it was a good job, so I wasn't about to let that go. I just said, Hey, I'm just gonna have to burn the candle at both ends, you know, see how far I can get with it. And it turned out okay. I mean, I'm sure that if I had had left the Post Office and got into my music really, really a hundred percent, I probably would've been even bigger, you know? But the point is, I wasn't feeling any pain, and I had to pay bills. And, you know, I was just worried about my pension; I didn't want to lose that. So I said, Hey, I gotta do both, you know?
Did your coworkers at the post office know about your double life?
What? Are you serious ? [Laughs] They knew about it. I used to have a limousine come down to the Post Office and wait till I finish work. And I'd jump in the limo, and they would jump in there with me! And we'd take it, we'd go right down to the Garage, and they'd come right in the back with me and everything. And they didn't say anything at the Garage; they said, Yeah, okay, that's your crew. And we'd be back there, and then I'd go onstage or whatever.
You know, it was fun, it was a lot of fun. I did that for quite a few of the places, like Funhouse, Bonds International, Studio 54, you know, Roseland – I did all of them, just about all the major clubs in New York. And that's what I did: I just had the limo come down to my job and pick me up if we had sessions at night. And, you know, it worked out fine.
After you'd left the Post Office, you joined a bricklayers union in Newark?
Yes, I did that for seven years. I laid brick. I built schools, hospitals, precincts, jails, everything that has bricks and blocks. And it was good – I mean, it was paying, well, it was paying $40 an hour. I couldn't turn that down.
Today you're working with Jerome Derradji. He's a French Algerian DJ and label owner who's put real effort into championing overlooked Black artists, and in some cases helping them recoup unpaid royalties from major labels. What convinced you to entrust your personal goldmine of tapes to him?
Well, you know what it is? It's because of the fact that the person that in put me on with him, I knew him and I trusted him. He said, Rich, I'm telling you, this is a good deal. So I trusted him. When I spoke to Jerome, the chemistry was there. He was saying all the right things. I was just basically just saying, Okay, well, I got a shot to just unload these tapes now.
And when I unloaded them, I felt a little funny. I felt a little squeamish about it, because I said, "Damn, I'm giving him all my tapes," you know? But after he showed me all the things that he knew and all the things he was able to do, I trusted him. And he's good to go. He's an angel, man.
Now that these archival recordings are coming out, Rich, you're in the spotlight again. I'm wondering, what advice would you give to an artist aspiring to build a career today?
Okay, it's basically this: If they're doing the same thing that I was doing – like if they got a job, you know, and they want to get out there and be successful – they need to give a second thought about giving up their day job, as the saying goes. Just try to find ways to go around and do what they want to do, and sometimes burn the camera on both ends.
If you believe in your product, stay with it – don't listen to people and say, ahh, it's alright. If you believe in your product, just stay with it. That's the key, because there's always room at the top. Somehow, there's always room at the top.