Ron Hardy (8 May 1958 - 2 March 1992) was a Chicago DJ and producer of early house music. He is well known for playing records at the Muzic Box, a Chicago house music club. Decades after his death, he also is recognized for his edits and mixes of disco, soul music, funk and early house music (sometimes known as Chicago deep house).
Hardy started his career in 1974 in Chicago gay club Den One.(link to article) Here, with a set-up of two turntables, a mixer and a reel-to-reel tape-deck, he played long nights of underground black dance music. Around 1977, he went to work in Los Angeles. At the end of 1982, when DJ Frankie Knuckles left the Warehouse to open the Power Plant, Ron Hardy DJed at the Warehouse's new location until Robert Williams renamed it "The Muzic Box." Producer Chip E. introduced Hardy to recording music in 1986 when the two mixed "Donnie" by The It (featuring Chip E., Larry Heard, Robert Owens, and Harri Dennis). From humble beginnings, Hardy's contributions to house music are considered incredibly influential.
Musical and mixing styles
While Frankie Knuckles at the Warehouse (and later the Power Plant) had a very smooth style of playing, Hardy was very different. He had less regard for sound quality and would play with a manic energy, mixing everything from classic Philadelphia Disco classics, Italo disco imports to new wave, disco and rock tracks. Hardy also pitched records up way more than Knuckles (pitch being the difference between normal speed and the speed at which the record is currently playing. Usually expressed as + or -, with 8 being maximum/minimum). Techno artist Derrick May remembers hearing Ron playing a Stevie Wonder cut with the speed at +8.
Hardy played a lot of reel-to-reel edits and was always tweaking the soundsystem and playing with the EQ. A Ron Hardy trademark was playing a track backwards. Theo Parrish and several others have said that he did this by turning the needle upside down and putting the record on a cylinder so the needle played the underside of the record, although Stacey Collins says that he did this by using a reel-to-reel. Hardy's residence-club The Muzic Box was also known for its very loud sound volume.
Favorite song selections in early 80s
Hardy opened his nights with "Welcome to the Pleasuredome" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Among the classic disco that was a staple in Chicago clubs at the time, typical tracks one could also hear him play were Visage - "Frequency 7", Klein & MBO - "Dirty Talk", ESG - "Moody", Patrick Adams - "Big Phreek", Liquid Liquid - "Optimo", First Choice - "Let No Man Put Asunder", a lot of Philly soul Classics and even pop hits like Eurythmics - "Sweet Dreams" and Talk Talk - "It's My Life". Hardy also played electronic body music acts like Nitzer Ebb. Such eclecticism and the technical wizardy described were highlights of a unique style that separated Hardy from others like Knuckles and Levan. The main ingredient, however, was the soulful black disco tracks.
Beginnings of Chicago house
Midway through the 80s, many Chicago DJs and clubgoers started experimenting with creating their own rhythm tracks. DJs would play these homemade tracks, and (in short) this is how house music was born. Hardy was no exception, often getting the hottest acetates and tapes. Chicago producers including Marshall Jefferson, Larry Heard, Adonis, Phuture's DJ Pierre and Chip E. all debuted a lot of their compositions at The Music Box. When DJ Pierre and his friends Herb and Spanky created a weird squelching rhythm track from a Roland TB 303 bassline machine, they gave this track to Ron Hardy. The first time he played it, the dancers left the floor. Hardy played the track 3 more times that night, and by the fourth time the audience was going crazy. The track was named "Acid Tracks", and the band was called Phuture.
Ron Hardy played a lot of the same tracks his DJ peers in Chicago played. However his combative DJ style, loud volume, experimentation with new music and the general atmosphere of The Muzik Box makes him to be considered a pioneer in the house music genre. Hardy continued a successful DJ-residency at The Muzik Box until the end of the 80's and quickly changed his playlist to encompass more and more house music.
Later in life
In early 1987, Chicago passed an ordinance forcing after-hours clubs to close at the same time as bars, and The Muzic Box was one of many casualties. After the closure of the Muzik Box, Hardy continued to DJ at various events around Chicago. However he battled with heroin addiction and did not manage to overcome this. He died on March 2, 1992.
Lately, there has been a renewed interest in Ron Hardy's legacy as a DJ. In 2004, two bootleg 12" records were released with "Ron's edits" and in 2005, Partehardy Records, run by his nephew Bill released authentic edits not heard in over 20 years. There is also another bootleg series of edits called "Music Box", containing either genuine Ron Hardy re-edits or tributes by other DJs imitating his editing style. DJ Theo Parrish also made a series of tribute-remixes called "Ugly Edits" some of which bear a striking resemblance to Hardy's re-edits. These have been bootlegged too. Some of DJ Harvey's Black Cock edits records are tributes to Hardy's edits as well.
In addition to his DJ mixes, long-buried original productions have also come to light—among them, "Throwback 87", a collaboration between Ron Hardy and Gene Hunt.
Ron Hardy has a section dedicated to him on the 2nd DVD of the DJ documentary "Maestro".
- Bill Brewster, Frank Broughton (2000). Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey. Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-3688-5.
- Ron Hardy discography at Discogs.
- Back to the Music Box Photos of Ron Hardy and the Music Box from 5 Magazine.
- Ron Hardy Mixes at Gridface.
- Interview with Ron's Nephew at Gridface.
- Interview with Music Box employee VERB at Gridface.
- The Den: Ron Hardy’s First Year as a DJ