DJ Mark Anderson Looking Back - Memphis Nightclubs Confetti, Dooley's, Mark Lascola & More
The image above is from Confetti Memphis 1982-83. One night while working the Confetti DJ booth I captured this image with my trusty 35mm camera. Confetti was a popular Memphis night club located in Clark Tower on Poplar Avenue. Confetti was a new McFadden Ventures concept designed to capture the new wave of music and style hitting the American shores fueled further by the recently launched MTV cable channel. Confetti was in the spot formerly occupied by Élan. Élan was a member’s only disco that thrived for a time but McFadden decided to flip the older concept and bring in the new concept and demographic with Confetti. This blog is a bit about my experiences and at two McFadden Ventures properties named Confetti and Dooley's and the talented general manager's impact on my early professional life.
I was a DJ at Dooley’s and Confetti in the early 80's. I learned a great deal about entertainment and nightclub management working there. My girlfriend and I loved to go dancing and Dooley's was our favorite spot in town. We both were students at Memphis State University (now U of M) and college sweethearts. Dooley's was a popular dance club and party place close to campus. The club was usually full of college students, alumni, current & past athletes, cheerleaders, the dance team, the band, media types and preppies galore, it was a righteous place! If the Tigers were playing in town it was best to arrive early at Dooley's. Long lines quickly formed out the club's door, down the very long set of stairs and around the Clark Tower the building the club was located. Crowds would arrive at the conclusion of the Tiger basketball games played at the Mid-South Coliseum. Victorious Tiger fans arrived in numbers, these Tiger teams rarely lost a home game. The fans made a "B-line" to 5100 Poplar Avenue to celebrate. The early 1980's Tiger Basketball teams were awesome and Dooley's was post game party central!
One day after a great night of dancing until we dropped at Dooley's the night before I decided that I wanted to DJ there. This seemed like a reasonable thought because I was mobile DJ working college parties and special events and I am a club regular. I thought this was a reasonable idea, why not work in a place I loved to hang out and get paid! So I wrote and addressed a letter to Dooley’s and it started with "to whom this may concern" since I did not know anyone there. In the letter I explained that I was a mobile DJ for special events, college parties and I was a M.S.U. student and club regular. Additionally I placed a custom cassette mix tape in the envelope. The mix tape contained music selections that worked well at the college parties I played and believed would work well at the club and did not hear at Dooley's. I look back on that letter and realized what a long shot it was for anyone to open my letter, read the letter and listen to my mix tape. I had no nightclub DJ experience and I was very young. I was essentially “cold calling” the hottest property in town (via a written letter) introducing myself in the hope someone would respond. I guess you can say that ignorance is bliss.
Well the long shot letter paid off, a few days after mailing the letter I received a call from a fellow named Mark Lascola the general manager of Dooley's and Confetti. Mark set up meeting at his office in Clark Tower. One of the things I remember about the meeting was that Mark said he liked where I was going with the mix tape and he thought the song selections and energy on the tape would work well in Dooley's. Mark offered me trial period to sit in at Dooley’s with the DJ to see how things would go. Of course I said yes! Mark explained if the sit in period went well I could begin training. After a few nights of sitting in at Dooley’s all went great and I began training. I breezed through the training quickly proved myself effective with Dooley's crowd and dance floor. It wasn't long before Mark began to schedule me for DJ work at Confetti. I was one happy 19 year old, I was a full time DJ at two of the hottest clubs in town!
Mark made certain his DJ's fully understood each of the club's music formats. The music format at Confetti was "dance oriented rock music format" with an emphasis on new wave music hitting the American shores and aired on the recently launched MTV cable channel. The Confetti music format targeted the musical tastes of post college and young professional customers (yuppies and younger boomers). The music format at Dooley's was more of an "modified open music format". Early in the evening "beach music" and "shag music" played in the club. Later in the evening the music switched to hot dance, funk, post-disco and danceable top 40 music. The Dooley's music format was designed to serve college students and alumni (a college club atmosphere). Mark and corporate policy required the DJ's to stick to the music format specific to each club. Each of the clubs music formats were designed to attract and retain the specific target demographic customer. This meant a DJ could not play a customer request unless the request fit format of that club. Following the music format was in place to provide structure and controls to consistently reach the target demographic customers. This created a musical boundaries for the DJ to operate all in an effort to attract and keep the desired customer base.
McFadden had a national music director and a policy that required all DJ's at each location to write down all music tracks played into a nightly music log. The log had a header for the club name and location, the date and DJ name. The body of the log was lined with two columns, one column for the song title the second column for the artist or group name and a time box to note every half hour. The music logs were turned in nightly to the club manager. Additionally DJ's at the clubs were required to record sound checks periodically of their live DJ sets. The tapes were sent to the director in Houston Texas for review. No news was good news after the tapes were sent and reviewed. Many times notes would accompany the tape reviews with suggestions. The suggestions were normally constructive criticism and helpful. Fortunately I don't think Houston ever had a problem in Memphis with me.
McFadden was a stickler for quality control, this was a hallmark for of the company. Recording ones live music mixes and voice over’s improves a DJ (or any performer). The act of pressing record on the tape deck is added pressure along with the stress of keeping a dance floor moving with “on format” music programming and mixing. Listening to the recordings later is revealing and unforgiving as the tape does not lie. This recording process motivated me and helped to improve my skills. I continue to record myself to this day.
Mark was a creative and turned me on to several song mixing tricks. One particular trick early on was to cleverly use the beginning of Prince's song "1999". Most DJ's would not use this unique song beginning as it was deemed unusable because there was no defined rhythm or beat present at the beginning of this song. 1999 would start with no music bed, just this low pitched "Darth Vaderesque" voice that said "don't worry I won't hurt you, I only want you to have some fun" then the first big song measure would play and the song would take off. Mark demonstrated how to use this beginning song part. Mark explained, to set this up one would need to bring the current record playing on the opposite turntable to a slow, slow stop. Mark said the best way to accomplish this slow stop was to “turn off the power” to the turntable playing the current song as this will will cause the motor of that turntable to come to a very slow winding down stop. Please keep in mind this trick playing loudly will happen with packed club and a full dance floor! Professional DJ turntables such as pro Techniques turntables have separate power switches and continue to pass sound / music out of the turntable to your mixer and sound system even when the turntable is turned off. Well the current song playing was three fourths of the way through and Mark said “do you have 1999 cued up on the opposite turntable at the beginning of the voice”, I said “yes”, he said “okay, turn off the power to the current song playing”, I did and the song began to slow down more and more and sound lower and lower pitched until it sounded like the Lock Ness Monster. Mark then instructed for me to start the 1999 song at that precise moment on the opposite turntable. Wow, the two songs melted into one another! The Lock Ness sound from the current song slowly stopping blended into the Darth Vader sound at the beginning of 1999! This was magic! Prince's 1999 song bellowed out, "don't worry, I won't hurt you, I only want you to have some fun" and the dance floor and club love it! This simple trick sounded incredible and worked great transiting the dance floor from one genre or tempo to another. This was the beginning of me listening to music in a whole new way and was an example of how Mark was not like other G.M.'s.
Much of what I learned was part of McFadden Ventures corporate initiatives. Mark adhered closely to the McFadden standards but he had the freedom to vary a bit from the standards as all markets are different and he had the respect and trust of Lance McFadden to do so. McFadden had specific details and plans for each of their properties - concepts such as: club locations, décor', theme, music programming and food & beverage service. Lance McFadden and his team were the main architects of the concepts, philosophies and standards and Lance was the leader. McFadden Ventures was the largest hotel and club management company in the world at that time. Lance and his staff were the best in the business. Mark was a purveyor and student of all things McFadden and did an excellent job educating the staff at Dooley's and Confetti.
I learned a lot about setting up lighting scenes, chases and special effects. I was taught how to properly execute a confetti blast over the club's dance floor. This was process to be done in a specific way. Mark placed an emphasis on proper special effects delivery to maximize the “all in confetti blast”. Many small effects must happen simultaneously to make the confetti blast epic. Peak times were the best time to execute a confetti blast and at a musical crescendo or at a key point in a hot song. An effective confetti blast was a process and had steps. Step one was decide about what time the effect might happen. Step two was to decide which hot song track was to be used and to ready the chosen record by turning the record and sleeve on its side for quick retrieval. Step three, set the lighting scene that will be “punched in” at the moment the confetti cannon explodes. Step four is to ready and load the confetti canon and determine who will set it off. Step five was to execute this mini production to the delight of the dancers and the club.
Working at McFadden under Mark's direction opened up my "mobile DJ entertainment mindset” to new slick nightclub production elements and how to enhance music with visuals. Mark would demonstrate how to use the clubs lighting system, how to choose lighting color and the rate of movement to enhance a songs message and feel. Mark explained how to properly use the clubs smoke machines, strobe lights to create epic moments. Mark's philosophy was "less is more" in regards the effects. He said that picking select moments was the key to keeping things fresh and exciting. Mark was not afraid to lay down his beliefs, he would tell me to "light up the pretty people" with the spot lights for all to see if they were on the dance. I remember asking, "what if I don't see any pretty people for long stretches"? Mark replied, "don't worry you will, we are in the hottest place in town they will show and don't use the spots on ugly people"!
Mark often hired costumed dancers wearing hip trendy attire with disciplines in dance (contemporary jazz, tap, freestyle, etc.) to liven up the club. The dancers were instructed to use the elevated dance platforms early in the night when the dance floor was sparsely covered. Mark explained this provided entertainment value for the customers and and provided a happening atmosphere before the crowds took over. On a few occasions I remember Clyde "The Glyde" Avant a Memphis State football player and dancer extraordinaire lending his talents to the dance floor. Clyde would throw down his Michael Jackson moves and moonwalk to the delight of the crowd, Clyde was an entertainer! Mark would often would say it's New Year's Eve every night, let's give them a show! This was eye opening time for this 19 year old.
Dooley’s and Confetti were two of the best run clubs I have ever worked at or experienced. Thank you Mark LaScola! You were an industry all pro G.M. and more and you possessed the energy and patience to share your knowledge. I learned proper music programming, club audio and lighting systems, special effects and much more. I continue to use and benefit from this experience today.
P.S. About the girlfriend I mentioned earlier, her name is Melanie. She was a member of that famous Memphis Pom dance team. I married Melanie her after college, we had a son (Austin) who is a producer in Hollywood California and we are still together 40 plus years later, cheers!
Mark Anderson is a Memphis TN area special event disc jockey. Mark has performed at thousands of events spanning the decades with corporate music programming experience and is a former nightclub & bar owner / operator.