Luis Mario O. Rizzo
Legends of Vinyl Founder/CEO Celebrates Disco Music Spun by Deejay Greats Through His Annual Awards
by Brad Balfour
During this December, noted deejay Tony Smith would have celebrated his latest birthday. Unfortunately, lung cancer took his life earlier in 2021. Though the Sirius XM radio host and veteran dance song spinner – who worked at such legendary clubs as Xenon – is gone, I had an opportunity to be at an event which honored him.
More than 40 years ago, during disco’s heyday, we had known each other and had re-connected a few years ago. Thanks to his husband Mike, I attended the recent Legends of Vinyl™ DJ & Artists Hall of Fame annual award ceremony.
As a perpetual outlier, I have long identified with music that reflected my outsider nature: punk, new wave, hardcore on the rock side of things; funk, blues and jazz on the Urban side of it all.
Somewhere in the middle of this was disco, dance music – in all its permutations such as drum & bass, EDM, etc. – and deejaying. Back in 1983, I learned about mixers, Technics 1200 Mk2 turntables and the joys of playing live. From then on, I started doing gigs, first at private parties and then, regularly in clubs. Probably my most significant gig was being the Friday/Saturday night China Club turntablist. I also played a hell of a lot of parties, weddings and bar mitzvahs.
While I loved cutting-edge music, most of it you couldn’t dance to – unless you were tripping and then it didn’t matter anyhow. Okay, there was moshing and pogo-ing to punk. But from the blues, rockabilly and bluegrass on, music that came from the streets meant it was for dancing – or at least could be. First it was R&B, then rock, soul, funk and ultimately, disco. But of all those genres, disco was all about dancing brought by a deejay to an audience in a club. And by the late ’60s and early ’70s, it became a worldwide phenomenon.
I deejayed for 13 years until I was burned out and decided that because of problematic club owners and the wretched conditions they offered, I couldn’t take it anymore. Unfortunately for me, I chose to stop just as digital equipment was coming in. That change eliminated the need to move heavy boxes of records and big equipment. Bad timing but c’est la vie.
I never became a great deejay but the work brought me into another arena and closer to actually making and performing music. I thought I would turn to remixing and started doing it but got sucked back into writing. Then I launched a music magazine which led me into a new phase of my life.
Recently I got a chance to be immersed in a world I’d left behind. Once again, I appreciated the joys of getting people up to dance and of seamlessly segueing music based on the beat and texture.
At this year’s annual ceremony, honorees included Mark S. Berry, Sal Abbatiello, DJ Richie Rich (recipient of the Legacy Award), Lisa Nocella-Pacino (recipient of the Golden Circle Award), and the recipients of the 2021 Icon awards, the first lady of Salsoul Carol Williams as well as the incomparable Smith.
Musical artists such as Pattie Brooks, Pamala Stanley, Phil Hurtt, Cyre, Unlimited Touch and all of them performed with dance tracks. DJ Jeff Yahney and DJ Jimmy C provided the tunes for the late-night dance session.
The entire event was produced by Luis Mario O. Rizzo, who had founded the Legends of Vinyl™ LLC Organization and the LOV DJ/Artists Hall of Fame years ago. Now he’s working on a book to capture his memories and the special people he’s met along the years. He expects it to be published next year as My Life, My Music, My Love by Luis Mario Orellana Rizzo. So this offered a great occasion for Rizzo to enthuse on his love of this music and its impact on his life and the world as well.
What made you decide to do these awards?
About 20 years ago, I thought about giving thanks to my peers in one very special way, creating a Hall of Fame for DJs. This was a dream for me. It became much more than that as I presented the idea to my friends. Immediately it became something amazing because there were so many individuals who had never received the recognition that I believed was necessary, and that no one had ever thought of providing for many reasons.
One of the requirements of legendary attainment is remaining committed, consistent and passionate about turning dreams into reality. I had that commitment for LOV. Now, over 12 years later, we’re the only organization fully engaged and responsible for keeping the musical legacies of our industry in the forefront and alive. I take pride in having created this magnificent entity and am confident that it will continue for years to come.
Who selects the awardees and how are they chosen?
When I created the Hall of Fame for the industry in general, I put together a Board of Directors who are part of the industry. They can select/nominate those who are deserving of the acknowledgement for their contributions to our industry. I have no involvement in these choices. That’s because I, as the founder and CEO, must remain neutral while allowing my Board to make these very difficult choices.
Each year we update some of the board membership to provide an opportunity to others with fresh ideas. Even more importantly, I need a proactive board to keep the organization alive and moving forward. It’s my responsibility to keep Legends of Vinyl™ relevant and interesting to the world. We are the Legacy keepers, doing our best to leave our history intact so that future generations can learn from our success and or mistakes.
The board of directors are from each city we’ll visit and bring the awards event to. These individuals all have incredible personal histories. They themselves know the “who’s who” in the business, from DJs to Recording Artists. They spend months studying each bio and then vote in a democratic process to finally send me a list of awardees. Only then, as executive producer of Legends of Vinyl, do I begin production of the whole event.
What is your role in picking the award-winners who appear each year?
I’m the last to review the honorees as I give primary responsibility to my board of directors. They are usually right on target!
What about the Icon awards in particular?
The Icon award was created to celebrate those who are multifaceted in our industry. They stand out for obvious reasons.
And as to this year’s Legends of Vinyl Awards?
There was no 2020 celebration and as time passed so did a lot of our legends. 2021’s celebration proved that although time took away some of us, time also left a lot of us here to make this year’s gala awards event an unforgettable evening of honoring those with us along with, unfortunately, a longer than usual “In Memoriam” segment. We attendees all saw many peers and friends in person after such a long period of time. A feeling of victory over the pandemic won out, with hope and gratitude for the legends who are still here.
I began to move forward to include artists of the ’80s freestyle. We don’t want time to further pass them by as has happened over the past two years. The inclusion of Phil Hurtt, music achiever since the ’70s and younger artist Cyre, was seen as the beginning of going into the future with a full recognition of ongoing music history.
You honored DJ Tony Smith, in particular, to whom you recently gave a posthumous Icon of Music Award.
As far back as I remember, Tony was a creative and generous peer to everyone he came in contact with. An impressive quality about Tony was that he would talk with you as if he had known you forever without the “ego” that was so predominant and still is in our industry. I considered Tony to be a purist to the fullest extent of the word. Friends like Tony are very few. I’ll always remember those precious moments when we saw each other and interacted.
What made Tony an Iconic Legend in music history?
Icons are people who break barriers because their voice/image and talent is so captivating. I believe an icon is someone who uses their talent to introduce a new concept into their field, all while knowing how to display their image and music to the public. This describes Tony perfectly! He’s widely acknowledged to have been a major factor in the historic rise of disco, for example.
What prompted your passion for music?
I believe it’s a natural passion that I was born with. I feel blessed to have inherited a natural love and understanding of music in general. In my home there was always music of all genres. Growing up, my ear was always tuned to old and current melodies, compositions and songs.
What were your favorite clubs?
In the late ’60s and early ’70s I can recall The Electric Circus, The Haven and The Sanctuary as the home of my favorite schooling. They created a valuable source of interest for me. That is how I became a DJ and part of the generation of pioneers during the inception of the Dance Music Culture.
And what was your favorite song?
Too many to mention. It wouldn’t be fair to just pick one song. I have a library of so many genres of music in my head that only a few in the world can understand.
Growing up in the ’50s listening to a vast range of music from both my parents and family, I will also restrain myself from choosing just one favorite group.
Okay. But how about your favorite deejay?
Francis Grasso who was my mentor and friend. He created the movement through which we, the DJs/Vinyl Spinners, came to present our talent to our audiences. They reacted on the dance floors to evenings of non-stop seamless change from one song to another, with music and dance flowing continuously for hours on end. Francis took charge of the dance floor to drive people to ecstasy night after night!
Do you still have your vinyl collection? How many records do you still have?
I started collecting vinyl as a child in the way that most kids collected toys. When I immigrated to the United States, years later I went back to my homeland for a visit, and I brought back those records. After returning to the States, I started to collect vinyl prior to becoming a DJ. Then, as a DJ my collection became a lifestyle.
To this day I can proudly say that I still have my personal vinyl favorites to the last days of vinyl production. I have about 25,000 records of 78 RPM, 45 RPM, LPs & 12″. They’re approximately 75% Promotional Copies from Motown, Doo-Wop, Standards, Rock n’ Roll, Opera, Classical, Show Musicals, Jazz, Latin, Reggae, etc.!
Have you ever used digital equipment?
As a consistent performer, I had to adapt to the changes around me. It was not my preference to do that, because technology presented itself as cold and indifferent compared to the feeling of listening and playing analog on vinyl! But I was naturally curious. In order to continue to be relevant to my profession, I had to adapt to a new era. To this day, I can confidently play Vinyl to Digital without missing a beat and Loving It!
How did you get your first gig?
Non-paying in the late ’60s doing house parties, then as a paid professional DJ it all started in 1970.
I lean towards deejay but which term do you prefer – deejay or DJ?
I’m fortunate to have grown from a DJ to a Producer. That being said, I use DJ. I have many “firsts” in my career. I have traveled both nationally and internationally, representing myself at first. Now I represent the company which maintains the legacies of all those legendary pioneer DJ’s. They include those who have and have not been recognized by their peers. These achievers include artists, sound & lighting engineers, club promoters, producers, etc. I call the program Legends of Vinyl™ with the goal of helping their legacies to live on into perpetuity.
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Copyright ©2021 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 29, 2021.
Photo ©2021. Courtesy of Legends of Vinyl LLC. All rights reserved.