A couple of weeks ago I went to Circus for an invite only b-day dinner party for legendary LA DJ Frank Del Rio.
Del Rio's DJ sets in the mid 1980's to 1990's at Circus Disco where he was the resident, as well as many other locations, were what helped shape DJ mixing styles and programming for many DJs.
He was one of the big name DJs that was both illusive and ubiquitous as only the best DJs are.
In high school I would hear about how he blended this song or that. After school I would run home to try to do the mix myself, if I even had the records. All us high school DJs, at that time, were in awe of him. To run into him, at Exodus Records in Montebello or at his record Cut Above Records on Melrose, was like bumping into a celebrity. Any record he said was cool, we would buy two copies. He was also one of the first remixers to come out of L.A. and was one of the first Latino names we got to see on the records us DJs were buying up in stacks. He let us know how far this DJ thing could go.
Of course there were other DJs we looked up to like Poison and Nemesis, but Del Rio was a resident at Circus and only the best DJs played there. Martin Rodriguez, Victor Flores, Henry De La Pe~a and Del Rio were the big four in our parlay. They set the standard for what a good DJ sounded like from spinning at Circus. To be honest us youngsters only heard mixed tapes or heard stories from people who were old enough to go to Circus.
The first time I heard Del Rio was at a 'Rock of the 80's' at Pico Rivera Sports Arena. He plugged in a reel to reel and started off with the theme from "The Twilight Zone." The rest was a seamless mix of pieces of songs I knew mixed with a lot stuff I didn't. Mind blowing, but I didn't know what the reel to reel was for.
Years later I heard him at The Red Onion in West Covina on two turntables. The night was going ok, the earlier DJ couldn't gel the crowd. As soon as Del Rio got on the sound got better, louder and the floor erupted. He had two copies of "Knock On Wood" and was looping the opening drums going back and forth between the copies. Flawless.
Years later Richard and I invited him to judge our annual Power Tools DJ contest. We hadn't seen or heard about Del Rio in a while and were so stoked that he showed up. We were more nervous than the contestants. I don't even remember who won that year.
Then Frank Del Rio disappeared.
Rumors of him living in Tijuana, going Christian, dieing, hiding out, selling cars; spread and changed over the years.
He actually got a bad case of diabetes, lost a leg from it and at one point was in a coma.
With the growth of the retro disco parties thanks to Back to Disco and other websites, Del Rio has come back and hosted his own parties with his girlfriend Annie.
When I got invited to his 50th B-day party was like being invited to the big kid's table.
As I sat there and listened to people speak on mic for all to hear about their memories with Del Rio at Circus and as a friend, while he sat on the stage surrounded by his family it really was an LA history moment. This man with the help of so many other players, promoters, DJs, lightmen, and others had really touched a generation of disco dancers from mostly the Eastside of L.A.
He is our Larry Levan, our David Mancuso, our Nicky Siano. Those guys shaped NYC DJ culture, we got ours.