Step one: Get a New York-house groove. Step two: Add a dance-music diva. Step three: Top the Billboard charts! Sure, it’s not that simple, but Grammy-nominated DJ/producer Chris Cox has been making the tracks that keep dance floors moving since the days we thought Milli Vanilli were still “really good singers.” With more than 40 No. 1 hits, Cox and Thunderpuss might not be household names, but you’ve almost certainly heard the music of this Carson City native who graduated from UNLV and still considers Las Vegas home. For “Oh Mama Hey,” Cox has thrown DJ Frankie Anobile—a Las Vegas nightlife legend himself—into the mix and put Crystal Waters (“Destination Unknown,” “Gypsy Woman,” “100% Pure Love”) on vocals. Holding the No. 5 spot on Billboard’s Dance/Club Play chart at press time, Cox and Anobile tell Vegas Seven about teaming up on the track before the official video drops via Vevo.com on March 4, and Cox’s next Las Vegas gig at Gallery on March 9.
How did you two first cross paths?
Anobile: Chris and I have been friends for many years—I think 1922 was when we first met.
Cox: You were already 40 in 1922.
Anobile: You know, I did the Last Supper; I was recommended by Moses to DJ that thing for Jesus, and many years later this little guy Chris was spinning. The truth is I met Chris years ago; he was a DJ for me way back when at a place called the Elephant Bar on Maryland Parkway near UNLV.
Cox: He gave me my very first club gig. I was attending UNLV, and he heard me one night at a KUNV party where Ken Jordan [from The Crystal Method] and I were playing. And he was like, “Hey, you mix pretty good. Where’d you learn?” “Oh I taught myself.”
Anobile: I also had a teen club on Charleston and Valley View and gave him three gigs right away with Ken Jordan and myself. These guys were working for me and later on both of them made it in the music industry!
What was the genesis of “Oh Mama Hey”?
Cox: I hadn’t seen Frankie in forever. I did the cover story for DJ Times and I was talking about the whole Vegas scene and who some of my influences were because Frankie, R.O.B. and all those guys owned the town for years. I was doing a performance for Pioneer at Winter Music Conference and suddenly [Anobile] walked up—it must have been 10 years since we’d seen each other. We reconnected, and within weeks he was like “Hey! Come play for me at Studio 54!” I started coming to Vegas [from L.A. where I’m based now] because I’ve been visiting family and friends more, so I started staying at Frankie’s place because we would have these musical jam sessions. [Years later] he was talking about this idea he had for a record and I was like, “Why don’t we just make that record? That’s what I do.”
Anobile: I said, “For me to be in the music business for 34 years and never have a Top 10 hit is annoying when you’ve had 44.” And his answer was—
Cox: It was probably something arrogant like, “Well, why don’t I just make one for you?”
Anobile: Chris said, “You want Top 10? You said you want a Top 10 hit?” So, I told him one idea I was kicking around was I always wanted an audience [call-and-]response song.
How did you nab Crystal Waters for the project?
Cox: I did a gig in Atlanta and, unbeknownst to me, [singer] Robyn S. lives there and was getting married that weekend, so all these divas came to my gig after the wedding. Crystal was the only one I had never met or worked with, and I’ve been a massive, massive fan for years. I gave her my info, and a couple of weeks later she was in L.A. and was like, “Hey, I’ve got nothing to do. I’m just sitting at the airport in Burbank if you want to meet up.” I went and picked her up, brought her to the studio and played [“Oh Mama Hey”] for her. About a week later she called me and said “I gotta say, that ‘Oh Mama’ thing keeps getting stuck in my head, so I think I have something for it.” Apparently she’s got a little tape recorder, and she just sits at her kitchen table and comes up with ideas and riffs, so she sends back this really rough demo. I was at Frankie’s when I got it and just heard the opening riff and the “dit dit dee dit dit dee,” and I was like, “There we go! That’s it! That’s house music!”
Anobile: Once she was brought to the table, I felt like, “Wow, my dream is coming true! Not only are we making a Top 10 record, but it’s with a Top 10 artist!”
And coming full circle again, you recorded her vocals in Las Vegas?
Cox: I went to Vegas for one of my gigs, and we flew her in. [DJ] R.O.B. has a beautiful studio and is a really good engineer and had one day to cut vocals. Once we started adding her vocals into the original instrumental, the level was raised.
Anobile: We redid everything.
Where did you road test the track?
Anobile: We had a lot of people test it. At one Vegas pool party, DJ Hollywood was there and we got him to play the record. Skribble was there, and I knew he was a New York guy and the sound is very New York. Sure enough, Skribble comes right up to the DJ booth and is like, “What is that track?” We started laughing because I knew this was something that would spark the attention of New York [house] music lovers.
What makes the remix package for the track stand out?
Cox: We started reaching out to friends and others. A lot of remix packages you get nowadays, everyone has the same style—there are four variations of the same thing. I like where there’s different styles and they complement each other. Crystal’s been working a lot with [DJ/producer] StoneBridge. Trent Cantrelle had actually done a remix of the original instrumental and once I got Crystal to sing, he and Jquintel did an updated version for me I end up playing a lot—it’s just tech-y enough to be cool, but it’s got a tribal bounce.
You first did a humorous “lyric video” shot at Crown nightclub, but the official music video will debut on Vevo.com on March 4.
Cox: I refer to [the first video] as “the Vegas Douchebag Video”: limousines, bottle service—they start the first scene, and there are these hot girls around and we’re doing the thing where everyone’s taking shots. The say “action” and I’m taking shots and they’re like, “You’re not supposed to drink that!” I was already tipsy and halfway through the night, I got blasted, I was annihilated drunk, so there’s this whole end scene where we’re at the table and I don’t remember shooting that part. It was not acting.