Manny Lehman keeps it fresh (at the Folsom Street Fair)
House music would not be the same without Manny Lehman producing and mixing tracks for all of us dance floor queens. Lehman maintains his position year after year as one of the most requested remixers in the music industry turning many songs into club hits for the top recording artists of the world.
He once spent time admiring the pioneers of the house music scene like Shep Pettibone, Junior Vasquez, Victor Calderone, and Tony Moran while working in Manhattan’s VinylMania record shop. Now other music makers stand admiring him. His passion for music has not only put him behind the decks and in the studio, it also led him to behind the scenes as a Vice President for A & M Records where he discovered dance diva CeCe Peniston.
The history has been made and Lehman continues to rewrite it as he carries his legacy forward with club hit after club hit. His continued passion for music was very evident as we spoke about his beginnings in New York, his projects with the big names and the yet named, his desire to work with Donna Summer, and how music has exposed him to the world.
Keeping it fresh
BeBe: Hey, you. I know you are workin’ really hard there in L.A.
Manny: Yeah, workin’ in the studio trying to make a name for myself, you know (we both laugh).
BeBe: Oh, like you haven’t already done that.
Manny: Got to keep the brand alive and give them something new.
BeBe: What’s interesting is that I know you were instrumental in starting the career of the one and only CeCe Peniston, whom I spoke with not too long ago, and we are coming up on the 20th anniversary of "Finally" in a few months. You have any plans for a special anniversary remix?
Manny: We’re talking about that. But, I’d really love to get her (CeCe) on a new track. Something like a Kelly Rowland track, one of those anthems. We can definitely remix the old one, but I think her voice is pretty phenomenal and I think it should be heard in a new fashion as well.
BeBe: That girl’s voice is still there in a big way.
Manny: Her new song "Stoopid" is cute. I heard that and thought, oh that hook is really cute. I need to remix that and get it out to the clubs.
Working with Donna
BeBe: Well, back in the day that was probably the artist and the project ("Finally") that was the springboard for your career, wouldn’t you say?
Manny: It was for me, yes. As an executive at the record company (A & M Records) and as a remixer and all that stuff, that was a big springboard in my career. I DJ’d all the while on the side. The DJ thing was always kind of like fun and the bubbly thing that kept you street savvy with what was going on. And that took on a life of its own.
BeBe: Is that how you met up with Jeffrey Sanker (White Party Palm Springs), through the DJ-ing?
Manny: Yeah. I met Jeffrey when I moved to L.A. in 1989. He was just starting this little party called the White Party (laughs). We chatted a few times at Studio One, and he said I’m going to bring you to the White Party. I said okay. The first time I played it, I played all three parties on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He is the one that gave me the first big shot as a DJ. He’s my mentor.
BeBe: And look at you now. I mean you have projects with the biggest dance divas in the business. There’s been Whitney, Deborah Cox, Cher, Madonna, Lady GaGa, Kristine W (15 consecutive Billboard Dance #1s). You’ve even worked with Jeanie Tracy, one of my local Bay Area favorites. With all that is there someone out there that you wish you were commissioned to remix that you haven’t yet worked with?
Manny: I’m always looking for the fresh, cutting edge new artist that I feel I have something to offer. I always look for that. But there is one diva, my favorite diva of all times, that I have never done a remix to and that’s Donna Summer!
BeBe: Oh-My-God! How awesome would that be?
Manny: I just worship her. If her voice would come out of the monitors in my studio, I think I might have a moment and cry! Her music was the first artist that I became an avid fan of. Her music lured me into disco and pop music. I loved her. In fact, I was obsessed. Whatever it takes, let me know. Whose ass do I have to kiss?
BeBe: (Laughing) We’ll anticipate that because that would be hot (the mix, not the ass kissing, however, that did give me a hot flash for a minute).
Manny: It would be an emotional victory for me!
BeBe: Up to this point, what has been your proudest project?
Manny: That’s a good question. I’ve had so many, knock on wood., great opportunities happen this last year. The remix of Beyonce’s single "Best Thing I Never Had," I’m very proud of that one, if you ask me, because she is one of the big stars in the world and I respect her. I love the flip meaning of the song. But I’ve been proud of many different projects, big and small. I am also proud of working with Dave Aude’s new single "Holdin’ On" featuring newcomer Elijah. It came out amazing. And I’m really proud of that one.
Keeping it special
BeBe: It’s funny you mention Dave Aude, because you have collaborated with other renown remixers/producers before. You worked with Tony Moran on the "Wings" from the movie "Brokeback Mountain." Is it unusual in the music industry to have remixers of your caliber come together on projects?
Manny: I wouldn’t say unusual, but it isn’t often. That’s the best way to put it. It sends a great signal out to people the more people collaborate on mixes. I think it makes things a little more interesting as well.
BeBe: You also started getting into podcasting this year, right?
Manny: I did my first podcast and people really liked it. I’ve started a couple more, but I’m just so busy.
BeBe: It’s time consuming I know.
Manny: I just don’t want it to be a podcast of songs put together. I want it to be a show and entertaining. Not just playing one song after another. I’d like to make it special.
BeBe: When I listen to some of these podcasts it takes me back to the days of Shadow Stevens and his radio show which was, to me, entertaining to listen to.
Manny: Make it special.
BeBe: You have played all over the world, Manny. When I read that you played in Tel Aviv, I thought oh my gosh. Do you have a few favorite clubs or events that you particularly love to play all the time?
Manny: I have to tell you any time I get to play in Brazil, it’s always a treat. The people down there just par-tay! And in Europe they have a club they call Rapido in Amsterdam. It’s ridiculous. Anytime I get to play in a city like Paris or Barcelona, cultured cities, there are no words. I play mostly in North America because of my music style, but once in awhile when I get out to other countries and cities like Montreal and Tokyo, I’m like "am I really here playing this". How did this happen? If you would have told me years ago I would be traveling the world playing records, I would have said it will never happen. But it’s like wow! It’s happening.
BeBe: Well you have Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco on your your calendar coming up.
Manny: Yes, I will be there. Folsom Street last year was one of the most amazing things I ever played. That was just ridiculous! The dance lines and the weather were perfect. So many things just came together that year to make it all great. I love the Bay Area. I’ve played for Gus parties (Gus Presents), Fresh @ Ruby Skye (Janine Shiota and Mike Lane), Industry (Luke Johnstone and Jamie J. Sanchez). I get a chance to spread myself up there, but pace it right so I don’t get tired (to the public).
BeBe: The Folsom Street Events raise a helluva lot of money each year for the gay community. I think last year they gave out over $300,000 in grants from the proceeds. Not too shabby! That’s in part to great talent, such as yourself, that they bring in.
Manny: That’s great! I hope this year everything is in line, again.
This was an interview that has been on my wish list for some time because, for me, Manny Lehman has been apart of what makes the nightlife happen for quite some time. He has definitely put his mark on the music world as a record company executive and producer, an astonishing mixer of dance floor music, and a prolific international DJ. He’s one of the living legends with so much more to throw at us over the next 20 years, I hope!
DJ Manny Lehman can be heard spinning during Folsom Street Weekend in San Francisco September 23 -25 at Gus Presents NakedSword’s Ringmaster at 1015 Folsom on September 23 and Gold’s Gym presents 10th Street Entertainment District outdoor stage at 10th & Howard Streets on September 25. For more information on these events www.guspresents.com and www.folsomstreetevents.org.
To follow Manny Lehman’s music and podcast go to www.djmannylehman.me
As an actress, BeBe was introduced to film with a lead role in the independent film "Under One Sun" with her character dealing with religious, racial and gender issues. Additionally, she appeared in the campy musical "Devious, Inc" (Australian Film Festival, San Francisco Short Film Fest) also adding additional vocals to the musical soundtrack. Both of these performances led to her selection for a lead role in Aisha Media’s next short film series, "Con-tin.u.um" to be released in 2012.