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Nicky Siano (Studio 54) interviewed by Lenny Fontana for True House Stories # 078

Part 1
In 1971, at the tender age of 16, Nicky Siano getst his first DJing gig at The Roundtable in New York City. In February 1973, he opened The Gallery in Downtown Manhattan with his older brother Joe Siano. New Yorker Magazine called it “one of the five most visually breathtaking nightspots of its time”.

The Gallery was, alongside Macuso’s Loft and The Paradise Garage, one of the three most important clubs in New York’s 1970’s underground disco scene. Both Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles worked there before they both started there DJ careers.

Knuckles had said in other interviews that he and Levan “spent a lot of the time hanging out in the booth, watching Nicky’s every move. He pretty much taught us what we were doing.” Nicky in this part shares with us his family life and what happened to him during his adolescent years that changed his life forever.

Part 2
When Steve Rubell opened Studio 54, he asked Nicky Siano to be one of its Resident Jocks, which he agreed, while remaining at The Gallery during the weekends. Nicky was DJing during Bianca Jagger’s infamous Studio 54 birthday party, and was playing live while Bianca Jagger entered on a white horse which made all the newspapers the following day around the world.

He was known for playing underground alternative music as opposed to the disco hits that were dominating the nightclub scene. Come listen to Nicky school us on how it all began from pre disco, how he survived through The Drugs, The HIV Era, the friends that he lost along the way and the music changing constantly. He also touches on his comeback in the 1990s after leaving the music behind since 1981. It’s a very moving episode.

Nicky Siano YouTube Video Part 1

Nicky Siano YouTube Video Part 2

Nicky Siano

Biography Nicky Siano

Nicky Siano was born in Brooklyn, New York, in March 18, 1955.

At the age of 15 he went to a club for the first time, the Firehouse. He immediately fell in love with the music and the nightlife. He just had to get hold of those great records they played. He searched all the record stores for songs like “Rain” by Dorothy Morrison.
His next great experience was when he was 16 and he got in at the Loft – it was at this time he just know what he wanted more than anything – he wanted to become a DJ!

He used to sit in his room back at his moms’ house and mix back and forth between a stereo and a little phonograph, driving his friends and especially his girlfriend Robin insane. He said to them “Listen to this mix” and forcing them to sit through every record and change. He also used to quiz his friends on the records he played, things like who was the artist and what label they were on.

Just a year after his visit at the Loft, he was DJ’ing himself in public for the first time. His first gig was at the Roundtable in 1971.
Then in 1972 at the young age of 17, Nicky and his brother opened up their own club called the Gallery in SoHo, Manhattan. They run the Gallery until 1978 when they choose to close down. The club fast became one of New York’s most popular and successful private clubs.

Much of the success of the club was just because of Nicky and his work behind the turntables. Nicky just loved the music and loved playing it to the crowd. The people saw how much he enjoyed playing for them and he was able to drive the dancing crowd into a frenzy by selecting music that really turned him on, and the crowd loved it!

I asked Nicky if he thought he had any specific skills or likewise, but Nicky thinks it’s just a gift he had got. He has for example always been able to pick out the hit songs off an album.

He continues with telling me about the DJ’s role back in the 70’ies… Then DJ’s ruled the music scene and the radio did not dictate the DJ’s. Instead the radio-jocks came to the DJ’s to see what they were playing, but the DJ’s and the radio-jocks were united and turned each other on to hot new records, and basically, they programmed the same music. The mixes didn’t have to be beat perfect, as they have today, but they needed to sound good
Also back then the clubs never had three turntables, just two, but one night Nicky had this dream…

He was playing records and this sound effect was playing during the mix. The next morning he ripped his home turntable out and took it down to the Gallery and within six months, every club in New York was using three turntables. Not many people know what to do with three turntables, but Nicky sure did !!!

It was also at the Gallery two other famous DJ’s started their careers and learned how to beat mix, these guys were no less than Frankie Knuckles and the late Larry Levan. It was Frankie who first became friends with Robin, Nicky’s girlfriend, she introduced Frankie to Nicky and he got a job as a DJ in the club. Frankie introduced Nicky to a “wild, but very talented” friend of him, Larry Levan. Larry got hired as well and soon he and Nicky became best friends…

Nicky’s impact on the people who entered his dancefloor was huge and the record-buying power he generated made him well-known among the record labels. He was the first to introduce and establish hits like “Love’s Theme” by the Love Unlimited Orchestra, “T.S.O.P.” and “Love is the Message” by MFSB. He also let new talents perform at the Gallery, Grace Jones made her first US appearance there and Loleatta Holloway made her first live gig in the club.

The Gallery was frequented by stars as Patti La Belle, David Bowie and Mick Jagger, and now the media started to notice the club and this popular DJ. “Women’s Wear Daily” called Nicky “a genius behind the turntables”, a 1975 story in the “N.Y. Daily News” named him “One of the city’s best DJs” and “New York” magazine’s 1977 color photo essay, on Manhattan’s five most visually breathtaking nightspots, included Nicky’s club “The Gallery.”

The great press plus the popularity of this DJ led Nicky into engagements at various other New York clubs and in 1976 he started playing at a place called the Enchanted Garden located in Queens. This club was owned by two guys called Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell. These guys later was about to open up a new club located in W.54’th Street in Manhattan and they asked Nicky if he would like to become one of their resident DJ’s at this club they would call – Studio 54.

Just two weeks later Nicky played at the now legendary club, Studio 54, for the first time. Nicky was one of their two resident DJ’s, the other was Richie Kaczor. Since Nicky played at the Gallery on the weekends he was given the weeknights and Richie was given the weekends.
It was Richie who played the opening night, and the second night was Nicky’s.

Nicky worked at Studio 54 for about half a year, then he actually got fired because he preferred to spend hours in the bathroom getting high on drugs instead of getting high on playing records in the DJ booth. This Nicky told me himself when I got the chance to speak to him, but for the record I also wanna tell that he stopped taking drugs many many years ago.

Nicky has got so many memories from the Studio that it would take a whole book to tell it all, but one memorable night was when he played at the now famous Birthday bash for Bianca Jagger, the one where she rode in on a white horse led by a naked body painted guy. He adds; That night was a blast!
He also tells me a little about the owners of Studio 54, Steve and Ian; “Steve was straight when I met him…? Ian was always the level headed business man, and he was straight, all the time… I love them both, Steve and Ian were really good to me, and I will always consider them great supporters and friends.”

He thinks a little more and continues; “Yes, there was also this celebrity lounge at 54 that made Sodom and Gomorra look like kindergarten!” (Ooops – I guess we don’t wanna know what went on in there !)

Other precious memories are some stories of the late Larry Levan, Frankie Knuckles, Grace Jones and Donna Summer among others. But these memories we’ll have to wait for until his movie – Dance – is finished.

But… He tells me one memory of his dear friend Larry. “Larry and I were in Gallery one day, and Larry was not exactly the most masculine guy, especially around me, we used to camp it up a lot… Anyway, we were at the gallery one night and we hear someone breaking in, so Larry goes and gets a crow bar we had in the back, and we ambush the burglar and Larry says in his most butch voice ‘Hold it right there bro’. Well – I just cracked up laughing and the burglar thought we were both out of our minds…”

I asked if Nicky had any mentors and/or artists he wanted to mention, and he said; “DJ’s like David Mancuso (owner and DJ at the Loft), Michael Cappello and David Rodriguez (both DJ’s at the ‘original’ Limelight on 7’th Ave. South) were my mentors. I have a real soft spot in my heart for Grace Jones, she made her first US appearance at Gallery and the same for Loleatta Holloway…”

So… Did he really like Disco music during that time or was it just a job ?
He never thought it was just a job, he have always ate, slept and breathed music, even when he was out of it for a while. The only type of music he doesn’t care for is Opera and Country music.