Gary James' Interview With David Hodo Of
They're celebrating thirty incredible years in the music business! They've sold over sixty-five million records worldwide. They've had Madonna and Joan Rivers open for them. They've appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone twice! They've appeared on American Bandstand, Solid Gold, Soul Train and Midnight Special. Their biggest hits include "Y.M.C.A.", "Macho Man", "In The Navy" and "Can't Stop The Music". Yes, that's right. We're talking about The Village People.
David Hodo, an original member of the group (the construction worker) talked about the history of Village People.
Q - David, when Village People were formed, how long did you think this group would last?
A - Well, I'll tell you this: when we were rehearsing, I can remember looking in the rehearsal mirror and thinking this thing is either going to be huge or the biggest flop ever, because nothing like it has ever been seen. We had in the record business what they thought; we were considered and are considered a novelty act which had a lifespan of about four years. We're celebrating our thirtieth year this year (2007). So, am I surprised? Yeah, I'm surprised, but I would suspect that it was going to be a big thing when it started. From our very first show, we always just had an exuberant reaction from the audience. So we knew it was going to be big. We never dreamed it would last for thirty years.
Q - That is a long time for any group to last.
A - Yeah.
Q - Where are you performing these days? What type of venues?
A - Tomorrow we fly to Nashville. We're performing at a graduation. Then we go to the Bahamas where we're opening part of the Atlantis Hotel with Steven Tyler and Earth, Wind and Fire. Then we fly from the Bahamas to California to a fair. This New Years we spent in Italy, welcoming the New Year on an international scale. So, it ranges from playing a dump to, in Belgium we had 55,000 people.
Q - Wait a minute. Dumps? Isn't that something in the past?
A - You know, you have to take it when it comes along. We have slow periods in the cold months when you take what comes along. I can't say a dump. We haven't played dumps in a long time. Sometimes you think, Oh, my God, what a dump! (laughs)
Q - How many gigs a year do you play?
A - We always say fifty gigs a year. That's a safe bet.
Q - How about the age group of the people coming to see you?
A - OK. I ask the audience three questions: the first question is how many of you were still in pampers in 1972? This is not when we came up. This is when Disco started. And you know a certain amount of people raise their hand. Then I say how many of you weren't even around in 1972? An astounding number of people jump up and scream and raise their hands. Then I say, and the rest of us were having an acid flashback. And that gets a very big reaction too. Little kids grow up now in kindergarten learning the "YMCA" like we used to learn "I'm A Little Teapot". They come to see what this freak show is. (laughs) We see kids mouthing the lyrics to all of our music while we're performing. So, they've grown up on their parent's record. We've never been able to narrow the age group down. It sounds a little bombastic to say every age group, but we recently played a place in Ohio where an eighty-five year old woman came to meet us. She had come dressed up to meet The Village People. So it really is, let's just say a group for all ages. Sorry to sound conceited, but that's the truth. I'm not given to exaggeration. I can't tell you how many people come up to me and say "I went as you to a party" or for Halloween. It's just an iconic thing now. It's taken on a life of its own.
Q - Do you consider Village People a Disco group?
A - Well, that always bothered me from the very beginning 'cause I always said we're a Pop group. We've so far surpassed all of the Disco groups at the time, Love And Kisses, there were so many Disco groups. We are considered a Disco group, but it doesn't rankle us to be called a Disco group. But, we're so much more than that. We're in entertainment.
Q - Were you surprised at all when the anti-disco movement started to take shape in 1979, I believe.
A - I did feel it was a bunch of tired hippies who were feeling threatened, but Disco did come on very strong. I can remember when Time magazine had Donna Summer on the cover and the headline was 'Disco Takes Over'. That's automatically gonna put people off. We were on the inside of it you know. So, we were part of it. There is a picture of some Disco burning party where some little kid is holding a "Macho Man" album. There's also a photo of Lady Bird Johnson holding a "Macho Man" album. So, it's funny. Disco was like the Lambada. It became the forbidden music. Almost the first time in history that something was...they tried to keep it buried. I clearly remember when Rolling Stone did a TV special and Neil Young, who up to that point I had always respected: these were his literal words, "Then Disco came along and ruined everything." This was from an old hippie. So, we have a song in the show called "Trash Disco", which is a snippet of about forty different songs and then some rapping in between it. Part of it says "The hippies couldn't dig 120 beats a minute." It was very threatening to people who thought what their particular music was there to stay. I was not surprised because by the time that happened we had things like "Disco Duck" (laughs). Crap like that. In 1975, I was flown to England by a record company to introduce the Hustle to London society. I was not yet working with The Village People. I was a singer / dancer in New York. This record company had produced just this dreadful music, "I'm Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover" and all of that stuff to a Disco beat. Disco started out pretty dreadful. Then it got really good. There are some of the greatest musicians in Pop history, that were Disco artists. Take Chic for example, Nile Rogers. By the end, it was pretty awful. I would've burnt it. (laughs)
Q - I think the resentment was coming from guys wearing t-shirts and jeans. All of a sudden they had to dress up and learn how to dance.
A - Yeah. If I could tell guys anything, I would say if you want to be a chick magnet, learn how to dance! Fortunately, because of Disco, you see so many men dancing now. Videos are full of men dancing. It's almost like we freed men up!
Q - How great of a role did (the late) Neil Bogart (president of Casablanca Records) play in your success?
A - Neil had a very big part. I loved Neil. Of all of the people I dis-respected in the music business, I really respected Neil. Neil taught me what a hook was. You know what a hook is?
Q - Sure. The part that grabs you in a song.
A - That's the thing you can sing by the time the song is over upon hearing it for the first time. Macho, macho man. Jacques, our writer was great at writing hooks, but Neil was great at picking the hooks that were going to be hits. For example, "YMCA" was meant to be a filler on an album. Neil said "No, no. This is the hit. This is the one we're gonna push." Neil was very fresh, young, a genius in his field. I loved Neil. I regret the day that Neil passed. He died very young.
Q - And yet, as smart as he was, I thought I read someplace after he signed Kiss to the label, he didn't want to see the group in make-up or their first album released with them wearing make-up. Something to that effect.
A - Well, you know, I can remember before Village People happened, I can remember seeing a picture in a magazine called After Dark. There was a picture of Kiss in the magazine about Neil Bogart. I can remember thinking, how far will people go to get attention, not knowing that I would be dressed like a lesbian for the next thirty years. I've never heard about him not wanting them in make-up. They did go through some stages of make-up. When we came to Casablanca, Kiss was on their way out. They were squeezing that last juice of the lemon by releasing the solo albums. And when we came along, we and Donna Summer took Casablanca over. Kiss always blamed us for that. Gene Simmons has never missed a chance to dog us. They simply ran the gamut. Every group has its popularity. You hit the top and there's only one way to go. Now they're back, like we are. We hit the top and we went down just like Kiss did. But, they really did blame us for coming in and sort of stealing their fire.
Q - And Casablanca also had Angel.
A - Again, Angel is another one that blamed us for the fact that they didn't go anywhere. We met them and they were the pissiest bunch of straight queens you'd ever meet. They had a great show, but it was all about special effects. They didn't have a memorable song, though I'm sure there are Angel fans who would argue with me. I did see, in Virgin Records, "Angel's Greatest Hits". I didn't even know they had a hit. But, they were another one that, when we came along, they sort of dropped by the wayside. I saw their show and their special effects were just awesome. I loved their special effects, but their music was really un-memorable. They had so much make-up on. (laughs) That was the thing that struck me the most. They had heavy pancake make-up and eyeliner and dressed in white with these flowing arm sleeves. In fact, one of the guys, it wasn't Punky Meadows, I can't remember his name, he had very long hair and he would bend over backwards with his guitar and his hair would hang over and the roadie kept warning him he was hanging over the fire, the special effects, a flame. And sure enough, he ended up burning half his hair off because he wasn't paying attention.
Q - How many records have Village People sold. Any idea?
A - Well, several years ago it was sixty-five million. Because of our work around the world, we've kept the catalog going. I will stick with the sixty-five million, but it's much more than that by now.
Q - Did you guys actually sing on the records you released?
A - Absolutely. We always sang. Each one of us had a double with us in the booth. When you hear a Village People record, you're hearing twenty-four male voices. That was how Jacques...there were twelve guys, us with a guy with us. Then he would double that. So, you're really were getting twenty-four voices. But you are hearing all of us on that.
Q - Who was writing the music?
A - Jacques (Morali).
Q - Where is he today?
A - Jacques died of AIDS several years ago.
Q - You were an off-Broadway actor before joining Village People?
A - I was actually what's called a gypsy in New York. I was a singer and dancer in the chorus of shows on Broadway. And, more summer stock...dinner theatre tours than I can count.
Q - A gentleman by the name of Tom Smucker wrote "They (Village People) were gay goofs to those who got the joke and Disco novelties to those who didn't." How many people got the joke do you think?
A - Well, first of all, I don't know who this guy is. There have been so many quotes about us. I think our favorite was that we were the "Court Jesters of Disco". I don't know who this guy is and "gay goofs to those who got the joke." Well, we were the ones that created the joke. One of our former managers mentioned to us one day something about all the sexual double entendres in our music. And we said what are you talking about? Name one. He said oh, c'mon, "signing up the seaman fast." We said, oh, no, no, no. It must've been people were buying our records and playing them backwards like The Beatles' records. The people that were writing this music weren't that bright. We were the ones that decided we have to make this funny because "macho, macho man"? C'mon. At the time macho had been banned from the English language by the feminist movement. So, when the producers pulled us together to do this, they wanted this whole thing to be very serious. It was gonna be very dark and very serious. During rehearsals we just said, there's no way we can do this seriously. We just can't pull this off. So, we were the ones that swaggered around and grabbed our dicks and pinched our tits. So, we were the ones that created whatever the joke was. I think a lot of people thought they knew a lot more about it than they did. It was always playing it as though it was some kind of "in" joke. I guess you could call it that. It was what you saw.
Q - I recall seeing Village People on TV, maybe it was Midnight Special and thinking, what a great gimmick. Those guys at Casablanca Records really know how to pick the acts.
A - I can remember reviewers saying this is nothing more than a male burlesque act. Well, we were the fore-fathers of the Chippendales and all of that thing that went on. On Merv Griffin, you saw us open our shirts and bite our biceps. I mean, this was never seen before! They used to pull the old Elvis on us...we're only gonna film you from the waist up if you don't stop moving the way you're moving. So, it was something that people had never seen before. The next thing you knew, there were all these stripper troupes that were dressed like us and of course would strip down to g-strings, which is nothing we ever did. The most we ever did was open our shirts up.
Q - You had Madonna open for you? What was that like?
A - I had left the group by the time Madonna had opened for the group. I left for a few years. However, the group said she was very nice and very professional and the audience loved her.
Q - What year would that have been?
A - Let's see, I left in '82. Whenever she had "Holiday", whenever that came out. That was her first thing. Michael Jackson also opened for us as did 'N Sync. Several newcomers opened for us.
Q - How long do you see Village People lasting?
A - I guess until they start yelling at us to get off the stage. I don't know. We're all hams and we really love performing. It certainly is a rough life and the airlines don't make it any easier. Each time we perform, it's a conquest. We've had only two bad reactions in the thirty years from audiences. One of them we deserved because we had a horrible sound system and this terrible sound guy and the other one was for the Mr. Olympia contest in Las Vegas and we came out and did "Macho Man" and they felt very much like we were making fun of them...which actually we were.
Q - How do you work your 'live' performances these days? Do you carry your own band on the road with you?
A - We work with tracks now. We always had a band with us. We started out with a band. There were thirteen to fifteen guys traveling around in a bus at one time, literally across the United States. We literally played club to club, from a bus, across the United States until we got to Hollywood and did Merv Griffin and that was the beginning of the big part of it. Then we pulled the group back together in '87, we had a band. We weren't making the kind of money that we were making. We were having to fly thirteen guys to Australia. An Australian promoter recommended us using tracks. We tried it and the promoter said for the first time we can see all of you, rather than the other six guys that are behind you. It's been so much easier working with tracks. So many acts work with tracks that maybe we were pioneers in that too. Right now we're putting together this tour that is with a 'live' band that is going out this Summer (2007) and it's called the Solid Gold Tour, mimicking the show Solid Gold. They've got the Solid Gold dancers. None of the originals. New dancers. There are acts like Taste Of Honey. Several Disco acts. We're the headliners. Right now we have a full summer in the United States plus we're throwing Germany and Poland in. We've done Italy several times this past year. So, you just never know where we're gonna be.
Q - Disco never seems to die.
A - I think we have the Disco backlash to thank for that. Like I said, it was the first music in history forbidden to be played on the radio or anywhere else. Then people came along and said I like that music. I want to hear that music. It has stood the test of time. Plus a terrible backlash. Many careers are ruined. Donna Summer, one of the great voices of our time, will always be branded a Disco singer.
Q - And she is good.
A - She's seriously one of the best voices of our time. When you listen to she and Barbra Streisand sing, "Enough Is Enough", it's about singing. You listen to that and it's a lesson in singing. She's still performing. But, unfortunately, she got that label Disco that hurt her for quite a while.
© Gary James. All rights reserved.