Q&A: Jesse Saunders

Chicago’s iconic house DJ Jesse Saunders celebrates the 35th anniversary of the release of his seminal house anthem ‘On & On’. Originally released in 1984 on his own Jess Say Records label, the track’s anniversary finds it remixed by Kristin Velvet, Paul Johnson and Cinthie.

We spoke to the pioneering producer about the record, what emerging talents he has his eye on, career changing advice and more, find the full interview below.

Jesse Saunders! It’s an honour to chat with a true pioneer of house music, how are things?

Everything is amazing these days! Lots of important life events are happening!

It has been 35 years since your seminal track ‘On & On’ was released, did you have an idea of the kind of impact it would have?

No way I possibly could have! When I was in my bedroom, which was my office space, rehearsal space, socializing space and my creative space, playing around with my 808 drum machine, I had no idea that I was creating the foundation for this phenomenon known as house music!

It was just fun to create. It still is all these years later. After all the songs, mixes, productions and DJ dates that I’ve performed, I’m still in love with house music and the thrill of making people smile and lose themselves on the dancefloor! There’s no better feeling than seeing thousands of people react to my every move, mix, effects and my dancing behind the decks.

To celebrate the anniversary, you’ve arranged a couple of remixes from Cinthie, Kristin Velvet and Paul Johnson, how did you approach those guys?

Well, Paul has been a friend for a long time. He did a remix for my last release, Kaleidoscope, which was amazing. He had been wanting to do something with On & On for a few years now. So I decided that he should definitely be featured on this anniversary remix.

Cinthie came aboard via a friend by the name of Angela Vardar. She told me what an amazing producer and DJ Cinthie is. So we actually talked before the remixes came about. Kristen Velvet and I have not met. But she was another suggestion from a friend. She did a very hard hitting remix that I love and I’m glad she is a part of it.

And did you ever consider a rework of it yourself?

For the vinyl release with Juno, we decided that there should only be four tracks on the vinyl. I do have more reworks that will be coming for the anniversary as well, of which I have done one. My remix with Jerome Baker out of Chicago is a take on the B side On & On tracks from the original. I actually re-recorded the vocal so that it has a funkier feel and it works well in the track.

Besides On & On, what is in your opinion the most influential track in the early development of house music?

Love Can’t Turn Around by myself and Farley Jackmaster Funk featuring Darryl Pandy revolutionized and put on a global map what we had been doing in Chicago for a couple of years prior. Not only did it go number one in Chicago and surrounding areas, but it was a top 5 record in more than 20 countries around the world ending up at number 2 on Top of the Pops in London. It’s also one of the most covered songs in the history of house music!

But I would be remiss if I didnt give honorable mention to Move Your Body by Marshall Jefferson and Jack Your Body by Steve Silk Hurley Hurley.

And do you have any producers that you rate amongst today’s newcomers?

I absolutely love what Cinthie is doing, and Kristen Velvet has an amazing sound as well. There’s a major difference in how a producer in today’s market goes about making tracks as opposed to how we have been doing it for the past 35 years. I think that having a well rounded musical background without all of the software and plug-ins makes it a lot more of a human feel, but these two are doing [that] with digital equipment as well. I commend them.

Thanks for taking a few minutes out to talk to us, we wish you the best with the forthcoming release, let’s close things out with a little bit of advice you’ve managed to stick by over the years?

Stay true to yourself and don’t always try to give the people what they want. Being a creative soul means that you take chances and you are rewarded for those chances when your uniqueness shines through.

You must also change with the times. Unfortunately most of my brethren from back in the day haven’t been able to do so, which is why they are not touring and highlighted today. Unfortunately, it’s something that has plagued a lot of people and pioneers throughout musical times. It’s easy as you get older to get stuck in your ways, I’ve never been that person. I embrace anything new technologically, spiritually, creatively and I always want to pioneer as opposed to follow.

I’ve been working on a new book for the last couple of years, and I think 2019 is a time to finally finish and release it. Stay tuned. In the meantime, Please check out my first book ‘House Music…The Real Story’. You can find it on my website.

Peace, Love and House Music!