Greg Belson & Tim Dillinger

Following contributions from Enchanted Rhythms and Budino, CWPT expands its tape series with a double-sided sonic missive courtesy of Greg Belson. To those in the know (and on the hunt), Belson is an undeniable figure in the gospel music community, a lifelong student of one of the richest and most inspiring musical threads to have emerged from the United States of America.

The tape takes a journey across two distinct sides: ‘Saturday Night’ and ‘Sunday Morning’, reflecting two different shades of bliss. On the former, ecstatic rhythmic hits reflect the communal euphoria of a weekend social on a dancefloor that could be Vegas or Atlanta, before the flip expands on the alternate transcendence of a Chuch service that begins to draw the weekend to a close.

While Greg Belson’s tape is a beautiful sonic experience certain to affect any listener, regardless of their spiritual standing, the records within are rich in context and history, inseparable societal struggle of the Black community in America.

As an accompaniment, Greg Belson spoke at length to his friend and contemporary Tim Dillinger, a music historian/writer with a focus on the worlds of gospel, soul, contemporary Christian, and women’s music. Tim is the Editorial Content Manager at and is currently completing a book on the progressive gospel sounds of the New York Community Choir. He writes bi-weekly features at God’s Music is My Life on Substack.

‘Saturday Night/Sunday Morning’ is available to order now, exclusively from the CWPT Bandcamp.

GB: Please introduce yourself.

TD: I’m Tim Dillinger, a child of the Fire Baptized Holiness Church. I’m a gospel music historian and essayist. I spent the front end of my life as a recording artist, in a sense, making music for Saturday night AND Sunday morning, fairly fluidly. I’ve spent this second half of my life focused on studying and writing the history of gospel music. Perhaps because of my own experience as an artist who couldn’t commit to one genre and my own inability to be a joiner of organized religion, I’ve focused on artists who either crossed over from gospel to non-gospel or who dared to take their gospel music into the general market.

The concept of the cassette release is a journey from a club night set in Las Vegas on a Saturday, and heading straight to church on a Sunday morning. Where often phrases like ‘the dancefloor is my church’ takes center stage, how similar do you find the two experiences can be, as a spiritual journey?

While many church people find the comparison sacrilegious, an ecstatic dance floor experience and the transcendence of a fiery, Sunday morning song service are deeply comparable experiences. The DJ serves as the worship leader, building the mood, setting the pace, watching the congregation’s response, improvising if need be, to find exactly what the crowd needs to hear to reach the climax, the most heightened moment of ecstasy.

While church services today, in many churches, are less improvised than they used to be, the motivation is still the same. Music serves as the conduit through which the congregation can join their voices, and, hopefully, create their own world—where the pressures of the external world can, for a few moments, evaporate.

That aforementioned moment of ecstasy often looks similar in both venues. It is the epitome of throwing caution to the wind, and losing oneself in the feeling. A surrender to the spirit in the dark.

What records have stood the test of time, as those that were played originally in the 70’s and still have a special place in the both gospel and clubbing worlds today?

There are three that immediately come to mind in terms of tunes that have stood the test of time and continue to have life.

In my opinion, the one that has most stood the test of time in both gospel and club worlds is probably The Clark Sisters’ ‘You Brought The Sunshine.’ There is rarely a Clark Sisters performance that doesn’t include it and it remains a favorite with disco aficionados.

Tramaine Hawkins’ ‘Fall Down' is key to the conversation as well. While gospel radio never embraced it—it actually harmed Tramaine’s gospel career for a period—enlightened gospel lovers still herald it to this day, as does the Black gay club scene that embraced it in the first place.

The New York Community Choir’s ‘Express Yourself’ is the third. I think it is the most important because it set a precedent for Tramaine and The Clark Sisters. While gospel had always had a place on the dance floor (Gloria Spencer’s ‘I Got It’ was possibly the first), NYCC was the first gospel group that I’m aware of to take performance dates in discos. Tramaine would follow suit in the ‘Fall Down’ era. The Clark Sisters did not go into clubs and that’s probably one of the reasons ‘You Brought the Sunshine’ has had a different kind of longevity. ‘Express Yourself,’ however, continues to receive vinyl repressings for clubs and I don’t know a gospel musician who hasn’t studied it.

Are there any artists today that are pushing a similar envelope and cross-pollinating gospel and dance music today and how are they accepted?

The gospel artist most consciously cultivating a relationship with both dance music and gospel music communities today would have to be Ann Nesby. She’s been a beloved figure in the club scene since the Sounds of Blackness days. The Sounds of Blackness has probably had the most dance hits of any gospel act! She’s been an ally for the LGBTQI community and has been unapologetic about that, performing at Pride events. That seems to prohibit her from receiving the kind of acceptance in gospel that she is due, despite her long history in the field, dating back to James Cleveland’s Gospel Music Workshop of America conventions and recordings in the 1980’s.

Ricky Dillard, whose professional career actually began as a house music artist, started recording gospel with his choir, New Generation Chorale in 1990 and has risen to be one of the most acclaimed in the field. While he has always toyed with some subtle house elements in his music (check his 1995 recording of James Hall’s “God Is In Control) and been featured with his choir on staggering dance tracks by both Ann Nesby and Vernessa Mitchell, he released a five track EP of Chicago house mixes from his 2020 album Choirmaster. While the original Choirmaster album was a best-selling, Grammy-nominated project, the remix EP wasn’t received as warmly by the gospel community. It seems to have gotten lost for dance music audiences as it was released in the first summer of the pandemic, but it’s an important project from a house and gospel music legend.

“an ecstatic dance floor experience and the transcendence of a fiery, Sunday morning song service are deeply comparable experiences” 

The most organized gospel-dance experiment happened in the early 90’s when Scott Blackwell, who’d done dance mixes for artists like Debbie Gibson and Stacey Q, founded Myx Records, a Christian label, and began producing house projects with a gospel bent. There he collaborated with established artists like Bernard Wright and Crystal Lewis as well as a handful of artists that he was developing. He created the most consistent output of intentional gospel dance music, ever, but there were several issues that kept the project from success. The (then) traditional preference of the Black gospel market at the time and the racism of the contemporary Christian music industry kept Blackwell’s work from finding ears, but additionally, Myx Records’ distribution (through a Christian label) did not have the access or ability to market Blackwell’s productions to the clubs where they might have caught on.

But the dance music community has long held space for inspirational tracks with a gospel foundation. We can see this most recently with the House Gospel Choir. They are a London-based group made up of people from a variety of faiths that also understand the long tradition of gospel-infused songs having a place on the dance floor.

Others flirt with dance music while maintaining steady ground in gospel. BeBe Winans as a soloist and as part of 3 Winans Brothers has had multiple collaborations with Louie Vega. CeCe Winans had a top 10 Dance Club Play hit with a Tony Moran mix of her “Let Everything That Has Breath” in 2006 as well. Similarly, Steve “Silk” Hurley remixed Yolanda Adams’ crossover single “Open My Heart” that had minor success in the clubs. Lastly, Mary Mary has long made dance music a part of their promotional efforts with remixes by Maurice Joshua, George Mena & Frankie Estevez, Karmatronic, Jamie J. Sanchez, Dave Audé, DJ Escape & Tony Coluccio, Harlan Pepper & AG III, but these ventures receive virtually no attention in gospel channels.

Do you feel that there’s a greater acceptance today in the current music scene for gospel music? ie preconceptions being pushed aside, as knowledge grows about the true meaning such as socio-condition, and the state of the world as a people.

I think there’s definitely a greater acceptance for current gospel artists in the mainstream today, even if not for their actual music in mainstream circles. There are a fair amount of collaborations between mainstream artists and their friends in gospel, but those collaborations themselves are limited in their reach. What they provide, however, is a certain kind of cache, or name recognition, for the gospel artist outside of their market.

Gospel music from the past seems to be attaining more and more recognition for its boundary-breaking and trend-setting ways. These conversations matter because gospel (now being referred to as “worship music” more and more frequently) very much operates in the inverse today—it’s chasing the trends rather than setting them and is, more often than not, politically regressive. Over the last decade, there’s been a real re-examination, outside of the gospel music industry, of the Savoy catalog and a deeper appreciation for the recordings of local/regional groups that never achieved breakout success during the era they were recording.

Gospel music has always held revolutionary potential for social movements, which is why I’m happy to see people discovering the older music and listening to it with fresh ears. Its role in the Civil Rights Movement is undeniable. While its presence was less forefront, gospel was still represented in the Black Power movement. It has also been an important force in the Black LGBTQI movement. Sweet Honey in the Rock blended all of these worlds together in their body of work, marrying their feminist sensibilities in original compositions with their covers of gospel, folk and political songs.

Labi Sifre’s ‘Something Inside So Strong’ is an example of that kind of political cross-pollination. Sifre, an atheist, wrote the song about apartheid in South Africa and his experience as a gay man. An original member of the Voices of Heaven, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, despite having a different positionality than Sifre, recorded the song in 1989 and it received airplay on both R&B and gospel radio. She re-recorded it in 1995 with an all-star gospel choir in tribute to Rosa Parks and again at a performance at the Apollo in 1997. Sifre’s lyric illuminates (as does NYCC’s “Express Yourself”) what I think is gospel’s greatest unspoken power: humanism. The Spirit is, in my opinion, more often than not, a euphemism for the higher self and the power that emerges when two or three people can, in church speak, “touch and agree.” The travail that lifts us in gospel is a calling up of the higher self to rise to the occasion.

You’ve been working on an NYCC project for some time…a group that would feature heavily in club nights in the late 70’s….can you share any experiences that you’ve encountered from any of the members, such as gigs & appearances, particularly at secular events?

The New York Community Choir is unique in that they did not live in the same paradigm that people from traditional Pentecostal churches did. They did not fear the secular or feel a need to distance themselves from it. The choir’s co-founders (Bennie Diggs, Arthur Freeman, Wilbur Johnson and Isaac Douglas) were all part of Christian Tabernacle Spiritual Church (later renamed First Tabernacle of Deliverance) in Harlem which was on the fringe of the mainline church. They were not spiritual separatists—rather, they understood the importance of being in the world, which is why both the choir and Revelation (a non-gospel entity composed of Diggs, Freeman and choir members Philip Ballou & Arnold McCuller) would exist simultaneously, following in the footsteps of The Sweet Inspirations (Estelle Brown of the Sweets was also a member of Christian Tabernacle) who defied convention and sang both gospel and secular music proudly.

Prior to disco, the choir rose to fame outside of the church by way of their recordings and tours with Nikki Giovanni, which placed them in the epicenter of the Black Arts Movement. They performed with Labelle, Elton John, Josephine Baker and others during this period. Additionally, Revelation opened for the Bee Gees on their 1975 world tour, bringing their unique fusion of gospel and soul to new ears. The choir (and Revelation) recorded and performed with Melba Moore, Vicki Sue Robinson and Sylvester at the height of their careers. Bennie began frequenting David Mancuso’s Loft and some of the choir’s members and musicians became aware of it through that connection. The experience inspired them in a profound way. When “Express Yourself” hit in 1977, the first club they performed it in was The Loft. They also brought the disco spirit to their church, by then re-named First Tabernacle of Deliverance, under the leadership of Rev. Louis R. Grant. Members have recounted that disco hits, like First Choice’s “Armed and Extremely Dangerous,” would be re-written with spiritualized lyrics and rendered in their Sunday morning services where the disco heat and holy ghost fire would remind each other of just how congruent they were.

Arthur Freeman was particularly moved by the time they spent in the discos both as performers and patrons. He wrote about it in Revelation’s “Children of the Discos,” and told me, “They [those in the discos] felt accepted there. They weren’t accepted in the church which I think is atrocious. A lot of them had been hurt by church people and they would just go in, relieved to express themselves. My spirit would leave. The children were jumping and dancing and sweating and I said, ‘dance, children, dance.’”

In closing Tim, please share any personal experiences on a musical level that correlate to this project.

I was born about ten years too late to have been in the discos. I was also a church kid. So, I learned about dance music from church people who were ensconced in both worlds when they were younger. They regaled me with tales of hanging out in the clubs, dancing their asses off, caught up in the music, grabbing breakfast when the club closed down at the Waffle House or whatever small diner was open all night, and going right to church. While the saints who shared these things had matured by the time I came along and no longer frequented clubs, there was such a tenderness in their voices when they recalled those days. Part of it was certainly nostalgia, but there was no denying that the music was better back then and life was definitely a bit safer. Those were the days before AIDS, crack and the escalation of gun violence.

Perhaps because I was always a historian, our conversations about those days went deep and they pointed me to records like Machine’s “There But For The Grace of God,” Musique’s “Keep On Jumpin’,” and Sylvester’s “Over & Over,” songs that had, in different ways, gospel impulses. Because my friends had been gospel singers since their youth, the songs they were most prone to talk about were ones that fused together both worlds, the worlds they were traversing.

While most of those people felt that these worlds were somehow separate, I couldn’t help but notice how similar the feeling was in both genres. When I pursued my own art as a recording artist, I put sacred and secular content alongside each other on my albums and went into clubs to perform and found that the energy we would raise in church would show up. One former Prelude Records disco artist came to one of my shows and knocked a table over in the throes of the spirit falling! Through the years, I witnessed people “getting happy” in my club performances just like they would in church. It happened time and again. That validated the thoughts I’d had as a teenager and how I’ve contemplated gospel music in my writing through the years.

That rich profusion of sound and emotion is evident in this compilation, the consistent groove that suddenly takes a turn and you realize you’re not just riding the groove, but entirely caught up in it and letting your inhibitions go. While some would say that one venue satisfies the body and the other satisfies the spirit, I’d argue that both locations touch the totality of our beings. The preacher at the beginning of the B side of this cassette brings that point home! Soul translates in all the worlds.

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Paul McCartney - Kicked Around No More

‘Fuck a pig, it’s Paul!’ as John Lennon was once said to have exclaimed.

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Underground System - Into The Fire (Andrés Remix)

Looking forward to closing out Love Saves The Day later. First time I played LSTD was a few years ago now - I remember the plane was quite late landing and the lady who was there to pick me up figured I was no longer coming and had just put two other Dj’s in the back of the car when I finally emerged. I tried to wangle my way back into a ride but she said she’d promised them one and didn’t wanna let anyone down so kindly offered me some cab money and dashed off. There were no taxis available for the next hour and I was quite pushed for time so hopped on the airport shuttle bus with Pev & Kowton before trying to get a car from the city centre. I queued at Bristol Temple Meads taxi rank for about 25 minutes, finally got to the front of the line and was told it was cash only and I’d have to go inside the train station to find an ATM. 35 minutes later I was finally en route to the festival but somehow we ended up on the wrong side of the M32 which I then had to cross in order to find the site entrance, mindful of the drivers advice to head towards a ‘large group of trees.’ The festival is in a park, it’s all trees. Eventually I found my way in and got rushed over to the stage where I stuck on a couple records for the remaining 25 minutes of my set. I’d just gotten a copy of Bill Loko - ‘Nen Lambo’ and was letting that play out thinking about how badly everything had gone when a gust of wind blew my jacket across the turntable and cemented it as the most unfortunate day of my professional career thus far. Floating Points was kind enough to quickly take over and as I began packing away my records I realised I’d left my laptop in the seat pocket of the plane. I’d run out of credit so began frantically looking around for some WiFi to find the airport lost property number and ended up in a backstage cabin where Mike Skinner of The Streets (pictured) was asleep on the floor. I’d finally gotten hold of the password when Big Narstie came into the dressing room, exclaimed ‘you stink of hair spray bruv!’ and asked me to leave. Defeated, I walked to a nearby garage and took a taxi back to my parents house.

Budino & Beppe Loda

The second tape in CWPT’s mix series arrives courtesy of Budino. Following an expansive residency at Berlin’s beloved Cocktail D’Amore party, the unusual past few years have just proven another opportunity for the Italian-born DJ to expand and diversify her collection of twelve-inches, rarities and very special selections. As such, we’re delighted to welcome Budino to the CWPT fold with a double-sided cassette that reaffirms her status as dance music’s not-so-best-kept secret, featuring artwork from Ruff Mercy.

We’re equally excited to welcome an accompanying contribution from Budino to the CWPT blog; a transcribed conversation with friend, mentor and legend of the Italian disco scene, Beppe Loda, who describes the foundations of his journey through the cosmic landscape he helped build, and how Budino’s selections carry on this legacy. Even if, as we quickly establish, she is very much not his daughter…

Vale Budino: We have known each other for some years now. Some people think that you are my father (haha), recently someone sent me a message saying: “I saw your dad playing in NY a few years ago and it was amazing!” I died laughing. However, without even realizing I have known you since I was a kid, as my actual dad would often listen to your tapes and especially the ‘Dance 8’, his favorite! Anyway, officially we met for the first time in 2014 at Berlin record shop Record Loft, you were there with Dama and Trent and I remember you saying that the village I grew up in was very important for the Afro movement because it is where everything started. The name of the club was Bisbi (in the Pavone del Mella province of Brescia in central northern Italy). When did you start playing at Bisbi and which kind of music did you play?

Beppe Loda: Yes, I remember that, daughter! (laughs) The Internet is a receptacle of lies and sometimes really ridiculous. Yes, the idea of Afrodisco music was born in 1980 at Bisbi... The music I was playing was very diverse and avantgarde: Not only Afrodisco, but Spacedisco, Electronic, Funky, etc..

V: In another village not far from there, there was also a very important club where you played for years called Typhoon in Gambara. It was defined during these years as the “Room of Sound'''. What was the soundsystem and the set up of the DJ booth?

B.L: 3 MacIntosh amplifiers, 8 JBL loudspeakers, 2 Tascam M30 mixers, 4 Micro Seiki turntables. I personally went to choose it at Giovanneli in Mantova, a city not far. We can say it was the main club as the movement and the Afro style were born there. Afro style was a box where I included different music styles of which the roots derive directly or indirectly from African music or rhythms. As I’ve studied percussion, I could easily recognise that.

V: Typhoon opened on December 19th 1980. Did you play that evening? Do you remember the very first record that you played?

B.L: Of course I played. I was the resident there even before it was open. I contributed to the choices about the club and I was the art director. The booth was built according to my height.
I was the resident DJ for 7 years, until the official closing in September 198, beside a period from September to November 1984 in which I was the resident at Cosmic club in Lazise. The first record I played at Typhoon was “John Tropea - Short Trip To Space”. Beautiful. It perfectly opened the journey of the night.

V: What was the flow of the night? Were you the only DJ?

B.L: During those years clubs opened at 11pm and music started around midnight and closed around 2.30am. My philosophy was that music is the encounter of experience and contamination and I applied this for everything and based on that we were open to inviting other alternative DJs of a certain level.

V: So you were at Typhoon for 7 years, how did the music evolve over the years?

B.L: I can describe these years in three phases:

Electronic (in different forms)
Afro (and derivations)
Rare-Groove and Blaxploitation

V: I have an uncle called Ermanno, who’s a friend of yours and a singer in a band. When he found out I was taking percussion lessons in Berlin a few years ago, he gave me a book of the copies he made of your percussion notes from back in the day. When did you start taking lessons? When did you get into percussion?

B.L: I started in 1982. When I was playing at Bisbi I could see people were getting more and more into percussive music. So I went around Europe looking for records and went to Amsterdam. One day at Dam Square there were musicians who played just percussion and I was very fascinated. One evening at Melkween in Leidsplain, there was a Fela Kuti concert and I had no words! Amazing! I was fascinated by all those rhythms that together made you move but I couldn't understand the constructions of those rhythms so I decided to go to school and learn.

V: My uncle Ermanno was at Typhoon the very first night it was open. I am so jealous! However many people who went there couldn't get in because it was too full or because they were young with no money. So they were still partying outside in the small streets around the club in this small village, listening to your tapes. Were the tapes recordings of the nights or pre-recorded? Where could they buy them?

B.L: Until 1985, every set was recorded directly on a tape recorder so I was cutting the best parts to put them on tapes. You could get them at the booth.

V: What intrigued you at first about mixing records?

B: This way of building a DJ set by playing records together, following a certain rhythm is very magic! I think this is what really always has intrigued me.

V: Where did you buy your records?

B.L: In and outside Italy.

V: After Typhoon closed, in which other clubs did you play? Have you been in other clubs as a resident DJ and felt at home like at Typhoon?

B.L: It is impossible to list all of them and in some I had very short residency. However, nowhere felt like home as I did when I was at Typhoon.

V: 30 years after Typhoon, you have been resident DJ at Oscillator, the party Dama, Trent and I organized from 2014 to 2017 at Griessmühle in Berlin. How was it for you to come back every two months? What are your reflections about the new generation?

B.L: It was nice to come back often to Berlin and I had a lot of fun at Oscillator. It was a party where you could experiment with different music. In 2014 I started the construction of my DJ set based on ‘Spaghetti Disco’ at Oscillator. This collaboration conjugated my experience with the young spontaneity and inexperience of the three promoters. However, you could see already in the embryo phase the paths they would have taken.
When it comes to the new generation, I have more questions than reflections. Do they like the music they play? Is it a way to adapt to the trend? Or for showing off? Do they have real love for DJing? You answer.

V: Everytime you came to Berlin you wanted to go record shopping and to be as fast as possible and listen to as many records as you could, you’d listen to the records and I’d put them back in the covers. Meanwhile commenting on the records you were listening to and giving tips to us like: ‘Buy this. Maybe you don’t get it now but you will one day!’. You are constantly looking for new things and it’s something I really appreciate about you and you made me realize there is always something new to discover out there. Am I wrong? How can you maintain the enthusiasm after so many years?

B.L: That’s right! You see, you got it!
It’s the love for music and the work and dedication of the DJ that maintains the enthusiasm!

V: Do you have future projects that you want to talk about?

B.L: I still have a lot of projects, all waiting for this pandemic hell to finish.

V: Grazie del tuo tempo! Ciao Beppe.

B.L: Ciao.

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Rubio - The Guitar Is A Motherfucker

Heard this whilst having dinner in Helsinki last weekend, Katerina from Émotsiya Music was playing on a wonderful looking custom soundsystem and subsequently gave me a bundle of records from the label. She then arrived just in time to hear me totally wing mixing out of it in Kaiku later that night.

© CWPT 2023

© CWPT 2023