Morning Show host Jill Riley has being phoning many friends across the music world locally, nationally, and internationally. With the 50th anniversary of First Avenue landing while the venue is closed due to the global health crisis, it seemed essential to check in with longtime First Ave employee Roy Freid, who is one of the original DJs dating back to when the club was still known as Uncle Sam’s. Freid discussed highlights of his time at First Ave, and his feelings in regards to the venue’s temporary closure.
Jill Riley: I’m wondering if I could get your perspective on how you’re coping with First Avenue being closed, especially with such a big anniversary of First Avenue.
Roy Fried: It’s very disappointing that it happened right now, this whole thing, right when we were coming up on our 50th anniversary. It’s a little boring here at home, but I’ve been listening to a bunch of old music. There were some things I haven’t listened to in a long time so I keep myself busy just listening to music, which is what I like to do the most, anyways.
I feel like I’ve been learning more and more about the history of First Avenue, so “50 years of First Avenue”…what does it trace back to, 50 years ago?
I believe 50 years goes back to the beginning, when Joe Cocker started there. I was not there at the time.
Your time with First Avenue goes back to the Uncle Sam’s era. Can you talk about what the club was like when you started DJing?
It was a lot different than it is now. The DJ booth was actually on stage. The crowd was different. The music was different, because it was pretty much a disco place when I first started there. In fact, “Funkytown” was the #1 hit when I started at the club, which is kind of ironic, being a local hit. It was kind of hokey, I would say. We had a lit dance floor. We had male strippers there one time. It went by quickly, and there was a lot of changes. When I started there, all of the sudden, things were changing dramatically, it seemed like. We just tried a lot of different things to see what would work.
Can you just talk specifically about some of the changes and the highlights?
Making the 7th St Entry was a big change for us. One of the biggest changes was when we tore up the dance floor, which was that plexiglass whatever. We thought that it was just going to be rubble underneath, but it ended up being the best dance floor in the city. We didn’t have to get a new dance floor or anything like that. One of the biggest changes that’s really never talked about much, that happened at First Avenue, was that we were the first ones, right when MTV came out with videos, to start showing videos on our big screen. People would be out there dancing, and we would put the video up, and they would just stop dancing and start watching the video. It took a while until they realized it was a part of the programming, and a part of the night. We don’t do it anymore, but one of your DJs, Jake Rudh, [does it] every time he plays First Avenue, he still shows videos, which is great to see.
It’s my understanding that it wasn’t unusual for Prince to be hanging out, or slip you a tape of some stuff he’s been working on.
That is true. He would come down a lot and hang out down there. He would bring his records. We had a good time with the Purple Rain thing. I was lucky enough to work on the Purple Rain movie, and do certain things. I was in charge of opening up the club early in the morning, and making sure his tea was ready, and things like that.
I’m sure you are so looking forward to the club opening up again. It’s such a disappointment that all the shows that were planned for the 50th anniversary were put on hold.
It is very disappointing. I was looking forward to playing music before the bands. That’s my job there now as a DJ. I open up the night usually, play the first hour of music, and try to fit the music for the band. I was really looking forward to all the shows we were going to be having. Hopefully we’re still going to have them, and they’re just not going to be at the same time as we thought we were going to have them. First Ave is going to continue on. It’s not going to stop.