His name says it all. “Little Louie” Vega is a Master at Work. His achievements are nothing short of immense. Louie has a rich musical tapestry that spans the cross-cultural soundwaves of house, latin, classic disco, afro-beat, jazz, hip-hop and soul. His influences range from Afrika Bambaataa, Larry Levan, David Mancuso, Red Alert, Tony Humphries, Bruce Forest, and Jellybean Benitez, whom are the classic sound of the New York Underground. “Expand Your Mind…” Lonnie Liston Smith’s words of wisdom is Louie’s motto. Born in the Bronx in June 1965, “Little Louie” Vega grew up in an environment where Latin music was as common as bread and water.
At the same time, the sound of the New York underground was always within earshot thanks to two of Vega’s older sisters, Myrna and Edna, who would pass illicit tapes inspired by the Loft, the Gallery, and the Paradise Garage to their receptive brother. In 1978, Vega hit the local roller-disco scene and soon after he immersed himself in the local hip-hop culture of the Bronx River Projects, where the likes of Afrika Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay, and Red Alert would throw jams.
Then, in 1980, Vega got his first taste of the ultimate clubbing experience: The Paradise Garage. At the same time Vega began his djing career alongside mobile jock Raul Socia before joining forces with DJ-promoter John “Gungie” Rivera, with whom he organized a series of one off neighborhood parties. In 1984, Louie began his first club residency at Chez Sensual, and by the following April he had been lured into a larger venue call the Devil’s Nest owned by Sal Abbatiello (Fever Records). Other venues – including Hearthrob, Roseland, Studio 54, and guest spots at 1018, The Palladium, the Saint, Area, and Mars followed by his infamous Underground Network residency with promoters Barbara Tucker and Don Welch for nearly 5 years. This Wednesday night established itself as the guardian angel of the Loft/Gallery/Garage/Zanzibar/Warehouse lineage.
Having remixed over 100 records, Vega made his house debut with “Take Me Away” by 2 in a room, and he established his underground credentials with “Got to Keep on Pumpin’ it Up” by Freestyle Orchestra, as well as mixing numerous tracks for Todd Terry (Black Riot’s “Just Make That Move”, Sax’s “Give Yourself To Me” and many more). Vega was “It” and before long was offered a deal by A&R executive Joey Carvello at Atlantic Records to record his own album. Vega made most of this amazing break, by writing the LP with longtime friend and collaborator India, whom he helped launch her career with a production of “Dancing On the Fire” (1989), and a couple of years later co-producing her debut Salsa Spanish album “Llego La India Via Eddie Palmieri. His partnership with her also lead to creating one of the most spiritual and beautiful songs to ever grace the dance floor, “Love and Happiness” which Louie produced. He also brought in Marc Anthony to perform as the lead vocalist on the Atlantic album, creating a team of producer and singer on stage. Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri also performed on the album, which led to the debut performance for Louie and Marc Anthony at the Palladium, and the infamous Madison Square Garden. “Opening up for Tito Puente’s 100th LP show at MSG was an experience of a lifetime”, Louie said. “It was the beginning of something special. Putting the band together combining salsa musicians with pop mainstream musicians was the seed for the Latin movement.”
Recording the Little Louie and Marc Anthony album “When The Night Is Over” was the beginning of The Masters at Work, Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez and “Little Louie” Vega’s production team. Masters at Work’s debut remix came soon after with records like Debbie Gibson’s “One Step Ahead”, St Ettiene’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, and Tito Puente’s “Ran Kan Kan”, which established them as the hottest new item on the underground scene. They also teamed up with Todd Terry and Tony Humphries for the “Magic Session” a production concept created by Leslie Doyle (Marketing Executive at Elektra Entertainment), recording club anthems such as “Coming On Strong” by Desiya. The first Masters At Work production, “Blood Vibes”/”The Ha Dance”, reinforced their reputation, and Vega and Gonzalez successfully straddled both ends of the music industry ever since, surfing the category ridden nineties as if the confirming notion of genre was just an illusion, remixing and producing groovy garage, deadly dubs, jazz, latin, hip hop, and soul.
Along the way Louie and Kenny created their very own blend of rhythms in the form of the ground breaking “Nervous Track”, and the concept culminated in 1997 with the critically acclaimed Nuyorican Soul album, which brought together a dazzling, talented and eclectic collection of artists and musicians. Roy Ayers, George Benson, Jocelyn Brown, India, Jazzy Jeff, Vince Montana, Eddie Palmieri, and the late deeply mourned Tito Puente, Hilton Ruiz and Dave Valentin all appeared, delighted to be part of such an incredible project. A string of hits spanned the underground and the charts followed: “You Can Do It (Baby)” featuring George Benson, “Sweet Tears” featuring Roy Ayers, “Runaway” featuring India, and “I Am The Blackgold Of The Sun” and “It’s Alright, I Feel It” featuring Jocelyn Brown. Nightworld couldn’t believe their ears. A testament to their musical roots, the Nuyorican Soul album didn’t just break new ground. It tore up the terrain of dance music.
This was the first time that anyone had dared to bring together such a diverse array of talent on a single album – an imaginative leap that could only have been thought up on the dance floors of New York. In addition, the album demonstrated that DJ remixers, so often scored as a breed head-banging automatons, could transfer their talent to the business of production. Louie is also busy running MAW Records with his partner Kenny “Dope”. Launched in 1995, MAW Records has consistently broken boundaries in the form of Gonzalez and Vega’s fusion of afro , jazz, latin, funk, hypnotic beats and emotive vocals, as well as the best in upcoming artists. The label broke the smash hits “What a Sensation” and “Bangin” by KenLou, “Everybody Be Somebody” by Ruffneck featuring Yavahn and “To Be In Love” featuring the always remarkable India. Recent hits on the label include Kenny and Louie’s Tribute to Fela Kuti, “Maw Expensive”, “Latin Lover” by the wonderful Stephanie Mills, “I Love To Love” by Jody Watley featuring Roy Ayers, and “Lean On Me” by James Ingram.
All this and more will feature on Louie and Kenny’s Ten-Year Anniversary CD, an extraordinary collection of music that catalogues their staggering contribution to dance music. Released by British label BBE, the collection features the very best of their work with international artist such as Tito Puente, India, George Benson, Joe Sample, Luther Vandross, Incognito, Brand New Heavies, Daft Punk, Mel B., Simply Red, Lisa Stansfield, Martha Wash, Ultra Nate, Roni Size and much, much maw. And who can forget that Louie possesses prolific turntable skills? This DJ extraordinaire is highly sought after in the international party arena. Having played around the world many times Louie also has Dance Ritual in New York, his weekly Wednesday night party for 3 years now. He also has played at the infamous “Magic Sessions” in Miami for 11 years now.
Such is his exploit in this domain that he has produced along with Kenny, some of dance music’s most memorable events. For instance, the highly publicized and very exclusive Masters At Work Winter Music Conference annual barbecues which culminated last spring with a 10th year anniversary celebration, as well as the Nuyorican Soul Concert at Central Park Summerstage which drew an audience of 11,000 screaming fans! Even though the two time Grammy nominee has been making music for over 15 years, he is as prolific today as he’s ever been. Recent productions include remixes of “Finally” by KOT, “Here With My Best Friend” by Stephanie Cooke, and “Breakdown” by Ananda Project. Masters At Work productions includes, “Y Tu Conga” by Gloria Estefan and “Just Friends” by Musiq.
Three albums in the works: The MAW album “Our Time is Coming” giving you the organic house of the Masters, The Masters At Work album with an electronic edge, and the long awaited Nuyorican Soul 2. To cap it all, Louie has just made his debut appearance as a named artist: “Little Louie” Vega featuring Blaze on “Elements Of Life” and “Life Goes On” featuring Arnold Jarvis. As always, the little man knows how to think big, big, big.