Disco producer Cerrone discusses his career as pioneer in the disco/electronic music scene and the track that started it all for him, “Love in C Minor.”
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On the July 4th weekend in 1976, as America was in the throes of Bicentennial fever, an international flotilla converged on New York harbor, framing France's most famous gift to America, the Statue of Liberty. Toward the year's end, another Gallic gift ignited the city's dancefloors: a 16-minute slab of wax by Jean-Marc Cerrone called “Love in C Minor” (Malligator). Like Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer's “Love to Love You, Baby,” the 126 bpm Euro-disco template pushed the kick drum to the front of the mix and featured heaping crescendos, climaxes, denouements and erotically charged cover art that would define Cerrone's signature as much as his accelerated tempo and symphonic excess.

For all its success, “C Minor” barely made it into being, let alone stateside in time for the movie Disco Fever. A Parisian shop inadvertently shipped the self-released single to NYC in lieu of returning Barry White overstocks. The single then infiltrated New York's nascent record pools, where tastemakers like David Mancuso, Nicky Siano and Frankie Crocker put it into heavy rotation, generating sales to the tune of 3 million units. Billboard included it on its year-end list, and Cerrone eventually claimed five Grammy awards. Thirty years later, his total record sales range between 25- to 30-million units.

The success of “C Minor,” however, came with a price: a falling out with former partner Alec Costandinos. Many versions of the rift between Cerrone and Costandinos have circulated; to this day, Cerrone maintains it was a matter of loyalty. “When I did ‘C Minor,' I asked him to do the lyrics,” Cerrone recalls. “When the record companies refused to sign it, I said, “I'm sure I've got something. You know why? Because nobody wants it. That proves it's brand new.' He said, ‘No, I think you fucked up.' I said, ‘Shit, what am I supposed to do, put it in the garbage?' He said, ‘Yes, it's over. Goodbye.' When ‘C Minor' was a hit, he came back to me. I said, ‘Who do you think you are?' You don't forget that.”

Cerrone soon found another lyricist and kindred spirit. “One afternoon in Piccadilly Circus, I saw a red-haired girl without shoes playing a little plastic sax,” Cerrone says. “I was carrying my keyboard. She said, ‘What do you do?' I said, ‘Musician.' She said ‘Great! Where? Can I come see you in the studio?'” That girl was Lene Lovich, and the surrealist cabaret/punk diva from Detroit and the former hairdresser/Club Med music selector became friends, co-writing some of disco's biggest hits, including “Supernature” (Atlantic, 1977) and its B-side “Give Me Love,” as well as “Je Suis Music” (Malligator, 1978).

As disco's popularity waned and Cerrone explored R&B, rock and other sonic textures, another unexpected muse came from farther East. “I lost my father in 1983,” Cerrone laments. “In '86, I became a Buddhist. In 1994, I met the Dalai Lama. I went up to him like he was my father. He gave me certitude and advice: ‘Good or bad news, control yourself.'” He also gave Cerrone two to three pages of lyrics that he set to music and has repeatedly performed at many of his international outdoor spectacles, which have included 6,000 revelers at Versailles.

Cerrone's latest extravaganza is scheduled for New York in the summer of 2007. It will comprise 23 simultaneous stages, last six hours, be beamed via satellite to millions and will continue his fundraising efforts for HIV/AIDS awareness, collecting contributions directly from people's phone bills via text messages. After NYC, he's off to Las Vegas and a two-year world tour. “I spend half the year on the road. It's my life,” he says with a shrug. The event follows the 2006 re-release of Bob Sinclar's Cerrone DJ mix (Malligator) and the upcoming 2007 release of a new album that may include Barbara Tucker, Chaka Khan, Run-DMC and Masters at Work — extending a roster that includes covers by Danny Tenaglia, Armand Van Helden and Daft Punk.

Underscoring the obvious, the silver-haired 56-year-old — who first prompted his father to buy him a set of drums some 40 years earlier to keep him from tapping out dinner-table rhythms with his fork — concludes, “When I go on vacation, my wife gets crazy; I get restless. One day I will calm down, but not now. It's not time yet.”