So where and when did ‘disco’ music start? A question that many have asked over the years! It is generally believed that the first disco record was 1968’s Dance To The Music by Sly & the Family Stone but others will argue that it’s more funk than disco. Is there a difference? Who knows! Certainly by 1974/1975 with the introduction of the Philly sound, the direction had changed and disco was in full effect and then, with hindsight, you could agree that Dance To The Music probably was funk.
The word disco became fashionable by mid 1975 when Hamilton Bohannon took Disco Stomp into the top ten and thus became the first song to use that word in the title. The word is less common in artist names but was used six months earlier when, in November 1974, Get Dancin’ by Disco Tex and The Sex-O-Lettes reached number eight.
The Sex-O-Lettes were a group of session musicians led by New-York-born Disco Tex which was the pseudonym of a hairdresser by the name of Sir Monti Rock III who was actually born Joseph Montanez Jr and had been a teen idol as well as a regular guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in the 1960s. They were assembled by former Four Seasons member and songwriter Bob Crewe. Sir Monti tells how it all started, “I left New York in 1972 and went to Hollywood to become a night club act. I was drinking a lot, ended up crashing my car and Bob Crewe took me in and told me that I could have a hit record.
Bob had been writing songs since the late fifties and among his best known songs are: Big Girls Don’t Cry, Rag Doll, Let’s Hang On and Walk Like A Man (Four Seasons) as well as Silhouettes (Herman’s Hermits), The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore (Walker Brothers), Silence Is Golden (Tremeloes), Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (Andy Williams), The Proud One (Osmonds), Bye Bye Baby (Bay City Rollers) and Lady Marmalade (Labelle) among many others.
He also recruited a female session singer who he had met in New York during the early seventies and her name was Jocelyn Brown. Although she is best remembered for her 1984 hit Somebody’s Else’s Guy, she has sung uncredited backing vocals for Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Bette Midler. She then moved onto the R&B scene and contributed backing on numerous hits including Change’s 1980 hit Searching, Musique’s 1978 hit In The Bush and Chic’s hit Le Freak. In 1991 she was the featured lead singer with Incognito’s hit Always There and later the same year a guest vocalist on Right Said Fred’s Don’t Talk Just Kiss.
Disco Tex was signed to Wes Farrell’s short-lived Chelsea record label who issued Get Dancin’ as a 10” single promo single, the first time this practise had been implemented.
Sir Monti was a big black camp man that appealed to the gay community, Here’s how Monti describes it, “In the late ’60s and early ’70s, New York was the most innovative place. We had Ondine’s which was a 60s private discotheque in NYC. We were having fun! The subculture, the LSD, the sex, we couldn’t have enough of it. We didn’t want to sleep because we thought we’d miss something. I’d hang out at the piano bars. I was an eyesore. I looked like the gay Hedy Lamar! I wore fur coats with a monkey on my shoulder and a Yorkshire Terrier in my arms. It was a time when we lived to be fabulous… and how dare you not recognise me, you old queen! I’m an egomaniac! I became this underground disco Trudy Heller (a 70s New York night club act) and I began to get the power of fame. I performed at the Cheetah with the Chambers Brothers and Halston did my clothes! It was an era when you didn’t have to have an act – you were the act! It was an incredible time to be anything, to be Monti Rock, Disco Tex. I realise how lucky I’ve been to have been in films like Saturday Night Fever (he played the DJ), to have been in fashion for 18 years, to be notorious. I believe so much in my legacy. It’s never been about the money. It’s about the fame!”
Much written about him at the time implies that he was either gay or bi-sexual, so what about his sexuality? “I loved women at one point, but I’ve always been tri-sexual, a man whose sexuality has always been his power. It shouldn’t be about getting old and out to pasture. I’m a romantic and I need to be seduced or be the seducer. Back in those days, sex was free of course. But I was different! I wanted my sex to count. My sex was very important to me. People talk about me being well endowed. I always felt I wasn’t pretty enough. I wasn’t special enough, darling!”
By 1977 things fell apart, “I went back to New York and met up with entertainment lawyer Freddie Gershon and my life started again,” revealed Monti. “Being a disco artist was the real beginning of my life that thrust me into money and the limelight. I had become a gay disco queen, along with Gloria Gaynor and Donna Summer but I hated the shows! You have all these people and they want to play, they want to sing, and everybody has a problem. It became like I was the Mother Superior of a bunch of losers! I decided I wanted out and I became an actor. That’s when I got Saturday Night Fever. I never thought it would be a hit, but it was, and by that time I had become quite a big night club act.
Get Dancin’ and the follow up, I Wanna Dance Wit’ Choo, sold seven million copies worldwide! I’m finally getting paid. I never got paid for all those millions I sold. Everybody’s rich and living in mansions. Those of us who were trailblazers ended up with no money. It’s a long story and process of anger which I let go.
He currently lives and performs in Las Vegas. He says “Now I’m a columnist and an ordained minister. I do weddings as Reverend Monti Rock III. And I’m trying to do a show called Two Kings and a Queen- where you have Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and me, The Queen!…It’s about survival. When your name is a myth, people don’t know if I’m alive or what. You change your ways if you wanna survive. No matter what card has been dealt me, I will survive!”
At least some quality pop acts haven’t forgotten him. He, or his group are mentioned by Elvis Costello in his song Invasion Hit Parade which featured on his 1991 top five album Mighty Like a Rose and also credited on the Pet Shop Boys’ track Electricity on their 1996 album Bilingual in the line, ‘It’s the greatest show with the best effects, since Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes’.