Larry Heard aka Mr. Fingers on Chicago House & his return to Glasgow

Ahead of his first solo club show in 20 years at the Barrowlands, 80s house giant Larry Heard aka Mr. Fingers talks house, creating a scene, and his history with Glasgow

Feature by Donald Shields | 28 Nov 2017
  • Larry Heard aka Mr. Fingers

Larry Heard, aka Mr. Fingers, is one of the godfathers of house having produced one of the biggest house tracks of all time – Can You Feel It – in the mid-80s. “It somehow became a staple at parties – I can’t walk out of a town without getting asked to play it,” he tells us. Kanye West famously sampled another of his classics – Mystery of Love from his 1988 Amnesia album – on The Life of Pablo's Fade. “[Sampling has been] a common part of hip-hop since day one... like the first big song, Rapper's Delight was pretty much just a Chic song. It’s not a total surprise that other music is utilised to build tracks... It does happen from time to time but it was a surprise.”

Originally a drummer, we ask why Heard move to drum machines and production? “I wanted to be involved in creating music instead of just supplying a beat which is what a drummer does. That’s what caused the whole shift, I wanted to create music. It’s a whole different undertaking of course but worth it, being able to piece together your own creative ideas.”

As part of an underground scene which included the likes of Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy, Larry Levan and Marshall Jefferson, Heard tells us that the humble beginnings of Chicago house was down to one word – “community."

Heard says: "We had our scene just like Detroit had theirs up there, just like you have yours in Glasgow, [and] the excitement started when there was a physical release. We were hearing the music in the clubs where Frankie was playing and Ron Hardy and other guys – and ladies – around town were playing songs off of tapes, and we were hearing the songs and liking them but they just weren’t physically available. But when they did start to become available it was like an avalanche of enthusiasm from people buying and people making music within the community.”

The vibrant dance music communities in Chicago, Detroit and New York at the time did not have the same mass appeal that they did in Europe. This can still be argued today, says Heard: “America has always had its run-ins with dance music culture, that should not be a news flash to anyone. That 'disco sucks' attitude is still there and it hasn’t went anywhere. Just because Europe and Asia are enthusiastic about the music doesn’t mean you change the viewpoints of other people that are conservative and against the music and the things connected to it like the partying, the drugs and the sexual activity. You can’t change people’s minds because you have a good song. So that’s the reality that we work around, and work despite of.”

With such a difference in attitude towards dance music between Europe and the States we wonder how it affects the crowds that come to see shows. “European crowds are interested, that’s the first point," says Heard. "They’re receptive. American crowds can be more stand-offish because there have been so many negative things attached to dance music over time. But it’s not like there hasn’t been negatives attached to rock music, and hip-hop, and R'n'B and all these other styles of music, but they just want to hold it against dance culture. People have been dancing since people have had legs. It’s not like a new concept, they danced in villages in Africa thousands of years ago, we didn’t invent dancing.”

Being involved in music for decades, Heard experienced an all-too-common problem among musicians, forcing him to take a break from his career: hearing loss. “I started playing drums when I was 17 years old. I had been in constantly loud environments from '77 to 2011. I started to notice I wasn’t hearing the high frequency in one ear. I would have to turn my head to hear people which is when I realised ‘OK, this is a problem’. How I dealt with it was I discontinued with DJ gigs. I knew I couldn’t get any better by continuing DJing. Being away from loud music and allowing my ears to heal, my hearing came back.”

Realising the importance of his hearing meant the difficult decision of years away, but he's back fighting fit and will be gracing us with his presence in Glasgow on 1 Dec. "I’ve played Sub Club four times over the years. First time was in '92, then 2002, 2008 and 2011 and I’ve been to Glasgow seven times in total.” His show at Barrowlands this Friday will be his first solo  UK club show in 20 years. “We’ve got a guy doing some great visuals, we’ll be playing songs from my new album which is getting ready to come out and we’re just hoping it’s not raining on the night.”

Mr. Fingers plays Barrowlands, Glasgow, 1 Dec; get tickets here