A veteran NYC DJ who’s stellar career began during the Great Nightlife Shift of the late 90s, this legend remains an integral beatmaster on the dancefloors of today. Thotyssey gets all the glamorous, glittery details from DJ Sammy Jo!
Thotyssey: Thanks for chatting with us, Sammy! You DJ’ed at the legendary Night of 1000 Stevies in Irving Plaza the other night… how did it go?
DJ Sammy Jo: It was fantastic. It’s my fave party of the year. Just tons and tons of good energy always.
Excellent! Oh, and of course, happy birthday! How are you celebrating today / tonight / in the near future?
A quiet dinner, and then I’m working at Club Cumming “hosting”. I’m saving a big blowout for when they get their new license approved. [CC co-owner] Darren Dryden and I have the same birthday, and since we DJ together on Saturday nights normally, we decided to wait til we could really do it up.
I was gonna ask you about all that business with the zoning and licensing snafu later, but we might as well get into it now. How do you feel about this whole mess–where because of some discovered filing error, Club Cumming has had to cease all live music and dance parties? How is everybody who works and performs there handling this weird state of limbo?
I have to say everyone–employees and patrons–has been amazingly supportive. In nightlife, you expect to people to jump ship the minute something like this happens. But we’ve had some record nights on Saturdays, and the hardcore Monday crew is still coming. It’s such a great sign that it has nothing to do with hype–that it’s really just a place where people genuinely want to hang out.
Is there hope for the future? Things seem more complicated then we all originally thought.
Cross fingers, it will be resolved in a week or two.
Wonderful, here’s hoping!
You’ve had a stunning career, and I suppose you’ve seen a fair share of highs and lows in this challenging industry. Which reminds me: isn’t it weird to see our ex-mayor Giuliani–the killer of nightlife in the 90s–just behaving like a garbage lunatic, sabotaging his last good friend President Trump on national TV?
There’s something slightly satisfying watching his complete meltdown and–most likely–ostracization from the shittiest administration in American history. I mean, if you get fired from the Trump administration because you’re too much of a loose cannon, then you have to be a fucking moron. Like I always say, everything comes out in the wash. It’s nice to see the whole nation catching up to what we already knew.
It does seem impossibly odd that these states who hate New York types embrace Trump and Giuliani, two of the most extreme cases of obnoxious New York personalities.
Yeah. I don’t know if it’s a testament to how stupid those people are, or what accomplished grifters Trump and Judy are!
Ha! Okay, so Sammy Jo! Where are you from?
Two places, sorta. My first eight years were in northern Florida, and the rest were spent in an NYC suburb. I’m so thankful my family moved back down to Florida to retire.
Florida is good for that! Were you always musical?
Yeah, pretty much. When I was 5, I used to set up a stand at the end of our driveway and try to sell my Winnie the Pooh and Lambchop records. Seriously. Most kids had lemonade stands. I had a record store.
Aw, that’s cute! By the way, are you really named Sammy, or is that a nod to Heather Locklear in Dynasty?
Dynasty. My real name is David, but only my parents call me that.
Werk! Aside from Lambchop, who were some of your favorite artists and genres growing up?
Disco and AM radio rock were really important to me in my early years, but then I dove right in to new wave and goth in the 80’s. Erasure, The Cure, Siouxsie, New Order, The Cult, Nitzer Ebb, Cocteau Twins. And then later on I was very into British bands like Saint Etienne and Pulp.
That’s all the soundtrack of my life!
Haha! I feel very fortunate to have grown up with those bands just emerging.
How did you start DJing?
I was working at the nightclub Mother in the late 90’s One night, my boss and mentor, Johnny Dynell, was playing on some off-night, and he had to take care of something in the office. So he said “here, just play my records ‘til I get back.” When he came back, he said he knew I had “it.” He couldn’t say what it was, but he knew from the stuff I chose and how I lined up the tracks that there was a DJ in me just itching to get out. Then I started DJing at bars and restaurants around the East Village, and it kind of grew and grew from there.
I guess you could say it was kind of accidental, but I was always obsessed with music and making mixed tapes for friends. I would also read album sleeves and study who did what on my favorite records.
That’s the best education!
What’s something about the partygoers and partythrowers, the club kids, the drag queens etc. from that period that was really unique to that time… that maybe you don’t see so much today?
I never went to the big gay clubs back then. I was going to Jackie 60, Squeezebox and Cake. I preferred parties with a little dirt on them. What I miss now is a certain intellectual hedonism from that time. The weekly themes at Jackie were so intricate and referential–and even though a lot of them went way over my head, I always felt part of something bigger happening. Like, we were all there making art, even if we were just drinking and dancing and laughing at the shows they put on.
And Squeezebox was so OUT of the box for drag, making queens sing live instead of lip syncing. and Miss Guy playing the best rock and roll for faggots. I had no idea what was happening at Sound Factory or Palladium, and I didn’t care. I had found my home.
Sounds like Heaven! You’ve also been a touring DJ for the Scissor Sisters. How did that come about?
[Scissors’ frontman] Jake lived two buildings away from me on East 12th St, but we met when he was dancing while I was DJing at Click +Drag, a cyberfetish party. We got along like a house on fire… and this was the beginning of Scissor Sisters, so I would book them at parties where I DJed. Then they disappeared for a bit to go and work the UK scene.
One morning, I was laying in bed with my then-partner Vivian Bond, and at some ungodly hour the answering machine clicked on (this was 2004, mind you), and it was Jake saying “things are going really well here in the UK, and we’re about to start a proper tour… and we wanna know if you will be our opening DJ?” From then on, they were stuck with me!
It was kind of a perfect match, because I like playing all kinds of music–and their references were so all-over-the-map that I could play whatever I wanted.
They’ve had a great career, and Jake Shears is an electrifying frontman. So I think it’s ironic that their biggest American hit had Ana Matronic as the lead vocalist!
I know, it is bizarre that of all their songs, the gayest one was the big American hit. I think a lot of people don’t understand the magnitude of what SS accomplished. There never was–and there hasn’t been–a fully Out and Proud, successful American pop / rock band like them. We had Michael Stipe barely out of the closet in the 80’s. Then what? Adam Lambert, like 4 minutes ago. It was really special what SS were able to accomplish, and on their own terms. I think people wanted to dismiss them as ironic, but they actually are one of the most genuine pop bands.
You just mentioned your ex-partner Justin Vivian Bond, who of course has become this legendary cult cabaret performer and activist over time. What do you think of Mx. Bond’s evolution as an artist and a person over the years?
It’s been so amazing seeing V change and grow, and become so happy in her own skin. V is proof that we are constantly evolving–not just as a society, but personally. She’ll always be the love of my life….even when she’s a pain in my ass.
Incredible! It seems like these days, DJs in the gay bars are kind of expected to stick to Top 40. Do you feel this limitation on your nights, or do venues only get you on board when they want something different than that?
I feel lucky right now that I get to DJ at places that don’t dictate what I should play. I’m at The Cock, Club Cumming and House of Yes. They could not be more different from each other, but they all just want me to do my thing. So it’s great to have that kind of freedom, and none of them want me to play current pop music.
I love it! I’m never one to participate in that kind of stuff, but I like being near it. I like the energy of people who feel free enough to carry on like that in public.
And when can we next find you at Brooklyn’s House of Yes?
And before that: on Thursday, May 10th at the Town Hall, you’ll be part of an all-star tribute to the late nightlife legend Flawless Sabrina. That should be a moving night. How do you remember Sabrina?
Yes, that’s gonna be great! I first got to know her when she would come to Cheez Whiz, a night I did with Sweetie (RIP!). She would be there ‘til the latest hour, and get onstage and just tell stories about “back in the day.” It was always fascinating and hilarious. She was so supportive of the younger generation, even though she had every right to be snarky and jaded. A true queen, she was.
She’ll be greatly missed!
I’m DJing outside at Times Square on the 13th for the NY X Design Expo 6-8pm. It’s fab! I just play a bunch of disco outside, and strangers all start dancing together. If we’re living in a bubble here, then I hope it never pops!
Amazing! Okay, last question that I like to ask DJs, especially of your caliber: what’s the best advice you can give to a new DJ coming up today?
Always be aware of who you’re playing for. There’s nothing more annoying than seeing a DJ wanking to themselves in the booth. Your job is to try to make everyone in the room have the best night of their lives… without dying.
Words of wisdom to spin by! Thanks, Sammy Jo!
DJ Sammy Jo spins weekly Fridays at the Cock (10pm) and monthly Sundays for “Bad Behavior” at the House of Yes (10pm). He hosts–and hopefully soon will once again DJ–“Haus of Cumming” Saturdays at Club Cumming (10pm) Check Thotyssey’s calendar for other scheduled appearances, and follow Sammy on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Soundcloud.
On Point Archives