Memories of Ron Hardy

Bill Hardy

Ron Hardy (May 8, 1958-March 2, 1992), DJ at Chicago’s Music Box from 1982 to 1986, was instrumental in the creation of house music. In addition to playing disco edits and Italo imports (like other club DJs at the time), he played tapes handed to him by local producers, including early demos by Chip E. and Steve Hurley (aka J.M. Silk). Later, he introduced dancers to Phuture’s acid tracks. Unfortunately, like so many gay men of the era, he died way too young, and no interviews with him have surfaced.

There are few members of Ron’s family left, but his nephew, Bill, an L train operator by night and also a DJ, recently started a label, Partehardy Records, dedicated to Ron’s memory. I spoke with him April 24, 2010, to get a clearer picture of the man behind the legend.

How well did you know your uncle?
Ron and I, we wasn’t that close like I would be calling him every day or anything. Ron, he moved back from California… he stayed after his brother’s funeral, which was my father. When my father passed away, that’s when he moved back to Chicago.

I was just bumpin’ into him at the clubs like Mendel, the Pleasure Dome, and the Country Club…. I got in touch with him on the regular when he started playing at The Music Box… [at] 326 [N. Michigan Ave].

Our family wasn’t really that big. It, at that time, consisted of myself, his father… his grandmother, his mom, and he had a younger brother, Bruce. I wanna say his sister, but she had to be months old at the time. Now, the only people left out of our family is his mother, myself, my two sons, his sister, and his step-mother.

Was it a musical family?
Well, no. Other than me DJing, that was it…. His step-father played the violin, but he really didn’t know his step-father like that because he had moved out at an early age.

What part of Chicago did he grow up in?
Ron grew up in the Chatham neighborhood, and he went to Sabarbro, that was a grammar school. He went to Hirsch High School. I don’t know if he graduated, though…. I’m pretty sure he didn’t. Ron probably moved out at about sixteen or seventeen or so.

Do you know how Ron first started DJing?
Actually, I do…. [My mother] was sister-in-law to Ron…. If my mother gave birth to me when she was sixteen, she probably knew Ron when he was ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen years old, because he was the little brother. And she said the boy had records then, she said how he would come over with my father and use his record player and sit up with my mother and play records, and my father would probably go to the pool hall, wherever. He was playing records back then.

Even his own mother, although she won’t do any interviews or really talk too much about him, ’cause it took me—I had to crack her own shell, because all three of her sons died before the age of thirty-five. I think Ron lived the longest. When I had to get them photos, the pictures that I wanted, it took her a while to do that.

Muzic Box Classics Collection CD cover

Too painful?
Right. I had to tell her, “Your son is famous.” We ain’t rich by it, but your son left a legacy that is far beyond what any one of us could imagine. ’Cause when I started Googling the man… I’m seeing the Chinese people, the Japanese people, the European people, listening and commenting to these mixes on your Web site, which I visited several times. I said, who is this, though, and how he gonna plug every title to the mix tapes from the Deephousepage? Now that’s some hard work, right there. Because it’s songs that I be still tryin’ to figure out what the name of ’em are, and I would probably be too embarrassed to ask because I should already know.

So my grandmother, her friend that helps take care of her in Springfield, I said tell her to Google your son and bring you back a report. She was like, if this your son, everybody is crazy about this guy when it comes to his DJing. I guess it gave her a little bit of closure, ’cause she knew—it would go back to almost the beginning of time with her son: how he loved music when he was little, even before he could play a record, and how when he could play a record, to why he left playing records, and how he died playing records.

It put the missing pieces of the puzzle together for her, which made her go dig up all these little things that Ron had left her, although it wasn’t a lot. When he got to a point when he couldn’t do too much for himself, he got on a train and went to Springfield with his friend Bryant…. He helped him get down to Springfield where his mom could finish taking care of him until he passed away. Bryant passed away as well.

What happened to Ron’s record collection? Were his tapes passed down through the family?
Not quite [laughing]. Most of the music I got from Ron was when he was alive. I remember Ron and them, they used to ride around in this Cadillac… I probably have that confused. It was either the Cadillac or a Chevy. I want to say it was white. Ron would come by—the first time he came by my house, it was after one of the parties. He had just dropped me off some records. I want to say three, four, five crates. He threw me a couple of reels, but these records were just sitting in the trunk. It was like a booth of records in the trunk of the car, bro, and a couple of crates of reel to reels. That’s when I was younger.

When I finally started driving, I would go visit him at his spot up on Wilson [Ave]. You’ve probably seen pictures of Frankie Knuckles’ crib when he had the wall of records, but Ron’s crib was a wallpaper of records. You didn’t see a wall, really, unless you was in the bathroom. ’Cause this was a small, one-bedroom apartment. The entire spot, it was records on every wall.

I remember one time, this was after the regular Music Box when Ron had flipped the Power House into the Music Box, the roof had caved in. I don’t know if you ever heard about that. We had to get all them records out of there. We was just going to hang out before the party, could have been about three or four in the afternoon, and we opened the door and the roof had caved in. Although it only caved in on the dancefloor part. The DJ booth, which was then on the stage itself, everything was still intact. We couldn’t have no party there, so we moved all the records out of there, and we made about twenty trips….

Ron’s [younger] brother [Bruce] moved from Springfield to Chicago…. When Ron passed away, I guess he had helped move the records to Robert’s [Music Box owner Robert Williams] place, in the attic or something. By that time, when Ron passed away, that was really my closest family…. It was kind of hard on me. I spoke with him every now and then. He’d always tell me where the records was at, but I guess I really didn’t care, the way the whole thing went down as far as his funeral and all these friends Ron had. He never really had that many, to tell you the truth. Bruce, really just kept up with the stuff, and then he died three months later. He had epileptic seizures. So then I lost all contact with Robert and the records, and the rumors were out there that the records were being sold left and right to people, but I don’t want to say necessarily who was selling them…. But I still had my share…. I’m not as upset about it as I was. Now that I think about it, I’m glad it’s splattered out there everywhere, ’cause there ain’t no telling what I would of did with all the stuff, ’cause I still had to lug my own collection around.

The Music Box DJ booth

The Music Box DJ booth
Credit: Reggie, The Way We Were

Do you have the original reels with all of the tape splices?
Where you can actually see the splices? No…. Everybody likes to associate that reel to reel and that splicin’ stuff with Ron, but from Ron’s mouth, Ron did his edits off the tape deck.

With a pause button?
Right. Some of that was put on reel to reel as well, because you know Ron used the reel to reel, he used the tape deck, and he used the turntables. You can hear from his edits with the splashes. I consider the edits to be edits because of them splashes that Ron had, as opposed to… splicing.

Other cats, they did [tracks] for Ron. I don’t take any talent away from Steve Hurley, Marshall Jefferson, [and] Chip E. Although they had the talent, who was gonna hear it, and how was they gonna get it out there? They all had their stories on how they had to bring their final production, or maybe half-assed production, so to speak, to Ron just to get a crowd reaction, to see if somebody really liked their stuff other than them.

Was Ron ever in newspaper articles or on TV when the Music Box was still open?
Ron was very shy. I remember this one party he had done at Mendel, and he wore sunglasses through the whole party because he was shy. They didn’t even have a booth, they just had it set up on the stage. I’m like, “Why do you got the sunglasses, man?” He was like, “ ’Cause everybody can see me!”

Do you think there are a lot of misconceptions about The Music Box in the things that have been written?
All that stuff was taken from Robert. Most of the stuff that Robert said about it, about Ron, I’m fine with. I don’t know about everybody else, you know, in those videos, who I don’t consider giant friends of Ron, other than Stacey Collins. I know that friendship for a fact.

Do you have a lot of Ron’s mixes on tape?
I used to have so many tapes. I used to bring my tape deck to the Box, the 326 Music Box, actually. I went through that music, loanin’ it out, to the point where I didn’t have nothing. I guess I took it for granted. I didn’t know how to take it, though. I wasn’t thinkin’ like, oh, my uncle’s gonna die one day, I should save his music. I was thinkin’ like he gonna live forever.

Was the Music Box a gay club?
It wasn’t strictly gay… for the most part, it was a straight party. The gay club was LaRay’s. That was the owner’s name, LaRay. I remember partying in that spot one day, and it was too many straight people in there, one night, and dude got on the mic, like, “Hey, this is a gay party.” The slam dancers was trying to come and whatnot, and he was like, “Yo, y’all got to take that back to the Music Box, ’cause this party is a gay party, and it’s gonna stay a gay party.” That was so funny.

Ron as a person, which people really don’t talk about that much, Ron was probably one of the most caring people…. He cared about his patrons. He wouldn’t let you stand out in the cold because the party didn’t open at midnight like it was supposed to, because of a technical glitch in the system… or the refreshments wasn’t ready. He’d bring everybody in the party from out in the cold. I remember one day this dude got beat up in the party, and Ron stopped the party. Like, “It ain’t gonna be no fightin’ in my club.” People never really talk about him as a person… always as a DJ, as the godfather of house music.

When he passed away, did anyone in Chicago throw a memorial?
Well, they kinda did. They did it at the Warehouse. I remember it very well. Armando and Joe Smooth, although they came to the funeral, I really never considered them friends of Ron. I never seen them around…. They came to the funeral, but like I said, it could have been maybe ten people there.

How do you feel when producers make a record that’s a tribute to Ron?
My thing with that is send some money to his momma. You ain’t gotta send me nothin’. I’ll give you the address. Don’t try to contact her because you want to talk to her, just send his momma a check. That’s how I feel about it. Ain’t nobody ever sends her a check.

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