Mel Cheren: 'Godfather of disco'

Melvin Cheren, record label owner: born Everett, Massachusetts 21 January 1933; died New York 7 December 2007
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The Independent Online

The entrepreneur Mel Cheren, nicknamed "the Godfather of disco", played a crucial role in the evolution of dance music. In the mid-Seventies, while working at Scepter Records, he introduced the 12-inch single and the instrumental B-side, which enabled DJs to mix and loop tracks and build the excitement on the dancefloor. He was also one of the prime movers behind the Paradise Garage, the New York nightclub famed for employing the DJ Larry Levan.

In 1976, Cheren co-founded the equally influential West End Records. The label sparked off the house music movement in Detroit and also scored several hits in the UK, most notably with "Hot Shot" by Karen Young (1978), "Don't Make Me Wait" by the Peech Boys and "Do It to the Music" by Raw Silk (both 1982), and "Another Man" by Barbara Mason in 1984.

Born in Everett, Massachusetts in 1933, Cheren started as an office clerk at ABC-Paramount Records in New York in 1960, progressed to sales rep and eventually became head of production. In 1970, he joined Scepter and was an early mover in the New York disco scene with acts like B.T. Express.

After Scepter folded in 1976, Cheren and his colleague Ed Kushins launched West End Records with "Sesso Mato", a disco version of the soundtrack from an Italian comedy. The following year, Cheren provided the financial backing for his partner Michael Brody to open the Paradise Garage in Greenwich Village.

Since it was a private rather than a licensed club and didn't sell alcohol, the Paradise Garage could stay open all night and became the streetwise alternative to Studio 54. It also boasted the biggest dance-floor and the best sound system in New York, and hosted appearances by Grace Jones, Madonna, New Order, Phyllis Hyman, Colonel Abrams and Gwen Guthrie. In a notoriously faddish city and industry, the Paradise Garage managed to stay open until 1987.

West End became a very collectable label, in particular tracks like "(Everybody) Get Dancin'" by the Bombers from 1979 and the much-sampled "Heartbeat" by Taana Gardner from 1981. After a lengthy hiatus between 1985 and 1998, Cheren bought Kushins out and West End Records was reactivated. In 2001, the DJs Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez and Little Louie Vega compiled a non-stop mastermix double-CD to celebrate the label's 25th anniversary. "We were on the cutting edge without realising it," Cheren said, looking back. "I've always heard we had a special sound, but 'til today I still don't know what that was . . . If I liked a song, we would put it out."

In 2000, Cheren published an autobiography entitled My Life and the Paradise Garage: keep on dancin', calling it "the story of my gay generation, the world we built, and the world we lost".

Pierre Perrone