DJ Action Slacks — Travlin’ the Tracks, Thursdays, 9-11pm
Take a tour of DJ Action Slacks’ record collection every Thursday from 9 to 11pm on Travlin’ the Tracks. One of Portland’s favorite live soul DJs, DJ Action Slacks will keep you on the move through vintage R&B, soul, blues and jazz from the 1940s - 1970s. We went behind the mic to learn a little bit more about KMHD’s newest host.
What was the first music you got into growing up, and when did you first start listening to the music you play on KMHD?
It was when I turned 10 that I started picking out music for myself. The first records I bought were the 12” single of Herbie Hancock’s Rockit (I thought I was buying the LP) and Midnight Starr’s LP No Parking on the Dance Floor. So I guess you could say I was listening to music that is now played on KMHD from the very beginning. When I was 11/12 I started getting into “oldies” and, specifically, Motown. It was the 1980s and there was a lot of 1960s music in pop culture because baby boomers were feeling nostalgic. That’s how I got hooked.
You’re the host of several super-cool all-vinyl parties and dance nights in Portland. How did you first get into live DJing? What, in your mind, are the biggest differences between live DJing and hosting a radio show?
I started out as a radio DJ (for the most part). I had never considered live DJing until someone recruited me to DJ their birthday party. I loved it. That said, there are things I love about both. The benefits of radio DJing: I can reach people who don’t go to events. I like to think of the radio announcer as the listener’s friend who connects them to their community and hopefully stimulates their mind and mood. Through radio, I can construct a set designed for listening, not specifically for dancing, so I can stretch out more and tell a story through my selections. I can also speak to the listener more often, allowing me to be more of a guide than an emcee. The advantages of live DJing: I can actually see people react to the music. Witnessing the joy generated by this music never gets old. Seeing a room full of strangers bond due to this music is my greatest joy. Another benefit to DJing a dance party is that there is a captive audience, so I can stop to make an announcement and people will actually actively listen to what I say. This allows me to take a pause to point out a photo of an artist and pay tribute to them on stage. It’s important to me that I remind the audience that these aren’t just dance grooves, this music was made by people. I like to provide context to the music, and when I do this live, people can also see what the artist looks like.
How did you first get into collecting vinyl?
Records were still widely in circulation when I was growing up in the 1980s, though cassettes were quickly becoming the dominant medium. My dad taught me that if you buy the record, you can transfer it to cassette, and preserve the record’s fidelity by listening to the cassette. If the cassette recording becomes damaged, then you can just pull out your LP and record a new cassette. Very smart. Then as I got older and wanted to learn more about music, I would go to the thrift stores and buy records because at that point nobody wanted them and they were super cheap. It was an affordable way to self-teach music history.
How did you first get into radio?
By the time I went to college, I had made mixtapes for my friends for years. I had a whole system for it. One day my friend Jenny Jenkins suggested I co-host her radio show with her on KAOS in Olympia. I was instantly hooked. I ended up hosting my own soul radio show for nine years.
What would surprise people most about what you do in your personal life?
Probably not much. I’ve been hosting events and putting myself out there for a long time, so I don’t think there’s much about me that would surprise people at this point. You have to be a pretty giant nerd to obsess over records for four decades. In my personal life, I nerd out. I nerd out over vintage ascots/scarves, vintage fashions, vintage pop culture, vintage illustrations, vintage films, vintage TV, mid-century design, and art. I also invest a lot of energy into community building. Connecting to the community is a huge component to DJing for me, and without that I wouldn’t enjoy doing it.
When you aren’t listening to the music you play on KMHD, what are you tuned into?
I get asked this question a lot and the answer is not very exciting. I don’t have much time to listen to anything but the music I feature in my sets. However, when I drive around in my car I like to switch around to the various local community supported stations (including KMHD) to listen to local DJs curate sets. Local radio has gotten so good in Portland over the past few years because there are so many dedicated music nerds. We are really blessed in that way.
Tell us about an interesting hobby you have.
I haven’t had much time for it in recent years, but I’m heavily into Pacific Northwest history. I used to do a blog about it. A few years back, I took on a project to drive around all of the highways in western Washington and western Oregon to take photos of the remaining mid-century signs and buildings. I also interviewed people to capture their stories and memories. I had a sense that a big push for development was on the horizon and I wanted to take time out to document and appreciate what was left standing of history (good and bad).
Where do you live and what are some of your favorite neighborhood spots?
North Portland. It’s rapidly changing, just like the rest of the city, and many of my favorite old haunts are gone (RIP Fabric World). Still, I gravitate towards the remaining “oldies but goodies”: The Kenton Club, Peninsula Park, The Spare Room, Cathedral Park, Po’Shines, the Paul Bunyan statue, etc.
If you could bring someone back to life from jazz history and hang out with them for an afternoon, who would it be and why?
Dinah Washington, first of all, because she’s a longtime favorite of mine, but also because she was not only the “Queen of the Blues,” she was the “Queen of Snark.” I would love to hear her tell her stories.