(This interview was originally published April 6, 2011 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)
When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Downtown Julie Brown. She is best remembered as a MTV Video Jockey (VJ) and host of Club MTV in the late '80s into the early '90s. She was born in England and would become a television personality there in the early '80s. “Her trademark exuberance and enthusiasm, not to mention her eye-catching wardrobe, were noticed by MTV executives” who wisely brought her to America. MTV had a new sexy star who was “hot and cool with saucy looks, a sassy attitude and a suggestive British accent” (as later described by TV Guide). You’ll find out more about her time at MTV, what she did before coming to MTV and even a little bit about what she has done since as we get on to some selections from my interview with Downtown Julie Brown (Be sure to read the answers to yourself in your sexiest British accent)… Q: What had you done previous to being hired at MTV? Were you a celebrity in England before coming here?
Julie: I won the UK Disco Dancing Championship 1979 and went on to win the WORLD Disco dancing Championship later that year. Yup, I was a true boogier! It was a solo competition back then and the beat was fast. I won to “Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” by Gonzalez… and yes, the disco videos are on YouTube (can’t escape the past so enjoy everything you do!) That win led to becoming a regular dancer on Top Of The Pops, one of UK’s longest running live shows. It was the best ever! Everyone who was in the music biz performed on that show from Duran Duran to Adam Ant to Tom Jones to Softcell. No one said “no” to Top of the Pops. I also worked on TV AM’s morning show and the famous kids game show Crackerjack.
Q: How did you end up coming to America and getting the job with MTV?
Julie: Whilst hosting on the first ever cable channel in Europe, Sky TV, I was producing one hour music shows and chin-wagging with various Music Artists. Taka Boom (Chaka’s sis) was my first interview. I was London-based but traveled often to Europe to cover live events. I was seen by MTV execs via video and invited to fly to America for an audition. Although I had never seen MTV, “No” was not in my vocabulary! I came, I saw, they sat me at the counter of one of the old VJ sets (studio was then on 57th & 11th), they rolled camera and asked me to talk. Talking as you may have guessed has never been a problem for me! I went back to the head office, the big wigs Tom Freston and Les Garland asked if I would like to stay…the rest is history. YES, MTV YES! I want my MTV!
Q: Were you hired specifically to host Club MTV? What memories do you have from your time hosting this popular show? Did you enjoy working on Club MTV?
Julie: No. I was hired to join the line up of VJs and work into the regular MTV rotation. 'Club MTV' was born a little later down the road. Once I had gotten settled, our crew decided to take my shifts out of the studio and on to the streets. One thing led to another, we started to do segments at night clubs around New York City. The Tunnel was a funky downtown club that was always on our list. From that 'Club MTV' was born. Truth be known, they actually gave the pilot to Kevin Seal but thank goodness the top brass came to their senses and the show was passed on to ME! It was my favorite show ever. Even to this day. Like American Bandstand represented a generation, 'Club MTV' represented another.
Club MTV was a half hour show patterned after Soul Train and American Bandstand which featured teenagers dancing to popular dance song videos as well as musical guests performing their new singles. The show had more of a nightclub setting being filmed at The Palladium dance club in New York City. Hosted by Downtown Julie Brown, it premiered in September of 1985 and ran for over 1200 episodes until 1992 becoming one of the more popular shows on the network at that time. Here are some video highlights of Julie sporting her fashionable wardrobe on Club MTV…
Q: Where did “Wubba Wubba Wubba” come from? When and why did you first say it? Did you ever think it would become your catch phrase?
Julie: “Wubba Wubba Wubba” became my catch phase by accident. We would sometimes be shooting 10-15 Club MTV shows A DAY. Often it would be tough going, my Club MTV dancers were the most fantastic, hard working kids I have ever met. Always ready to go when the red light came on and never “bitched” but sometimes I did. So instead of swearing when things got a little hairy or going wrong, if I wanted to let the director know, I would simply look right into the camera, smile and say “Wubba Wubba Wubba”. It worked! In the end, we had a very hot, sexy, fun, clean dance show and a funky catch phrase.
Q: Looking back now, it seems that MTV allowed a shift in the music industry making IMAGE nearly as important as the actual music. Do you agree with that and, if so, how do you feel about that.
Julie: Well, MTV was revolutionary at the time because not only could you see the artists in conceptual music videos, but they had to have a unique look or “image” as you mentioned, to be able to sell lots of CDs. I believe I was hired because I had a unique “image” and personality too, but then I introduced funky fashion and a British accent into the equation which sealed my fate.
Q: You were one of the first new VJs hired after the original group. Were you welcomed into the MTV family? How was your relationship with the other VJs and did you become close with any of them? Do you still stay in touch with any of them?
Julie: There seems to be a couple of stories to this question, depending on who you ask…so I’ll tell mine. Yes, I was welcomed by the late J.J. Jackson, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter and Martha Quinn. Nina [Blackwood] was not there that day. I was hired to become the 6th VJ. I was not then aware that Nina’s and J.J.’s contracts were up and not renewed. So I am sure my arrival was bitter sweet. Bitter for Nina, but sweeeeeet for me! I was by no means the cause of their departure from MTV. It is just that it happened around my arrival. And yes, we all got along great. MTV was a family and we all hung out together even with the execs. I am still in contact with Martha, also my producers, writers and directors from back then and, thanks to Facebook, a whole lot of other MTV folks, too.
Here is a video clip of Downtown Julie Brown as a MTV VJ…
Q: I am sure there were many, but what were some of your favorite or most special moments while at MTV?
Julie: Everyday. Seriously. EVERY DAY. Come on, think about it. We had everyone from Robert Plant to The Red Hot Chili Peppers to Annie Lennox to The Monkees stopping by the studio on any given day! I remember I was in my car on the way to work and I saw David Lee Roth walking down the street and had him hop in to bring him to set! Fun or what? Hells yeah!
Q: Were there a few moments or interviews that you’d care to forget?
Julie: Nah. Non. Niente!
Q: What was the deal with the other Julie Brown? What a coincidence that two young ladies both with the same name would both be hired by the same network during the same time. What were your feelings about having two Julie Brown’s on the network?
Julie: There’s ANOTHER Julie Brown?????????
Q: Any strange, surreal or particularly odd stories/moments that you could share from your time at MTV?
Julie: MTV itself was surreal and odd. It was like MTV had created its own party and only cool, crazy, sexy, funny, weird and wild music people were invited. Guilty of most of the above!
Q: What memories do you have from being a part of the Club MTV Tour? That first year (1989) had an interesting mix of acts. I remember Paula Abdul, Milli Vanilli, Tone Loc, Information Society among others.
Julie: Ah, memories… may need a glass of bubbly for this question! Paula Abdul, Milli Vanilli, Tone Loc, Information Society, Was not Was and the Club MTV dancers. Talk about sleep deprived?! I don’t know how long it lasted and I don’t know where I went, I just know when we packed 20-60 thousand seat stadiums and the show started… it was ON! A non-stop fun-filled music Extravaganza! Lights, music, dancing with great performers. Someone for everyone.
Q: How and why did your run at MTV finally come to an end?
Julie: I left MTV in the early 90s. I was no longer doing VJ shifts and, due to other outside ventures, I was only shooting Club MTV (that was my baby). New brass came on board and wanted to go in other directions. MTV had already moved into the new programming and I just did not have the wardrobe for it! So up, up and away… Downtown Julie Brown to L.A. And all I had to say to the new bosses was “Wubba Wubba Wubba”!
Q: Are you as disappointed with what MTV has become as many of us are? Or should we just appreciate that all the stars aligned for at least one special decade?
Julie: Wish I could answer that question, but the truth is I don’t watch MTV. I think it was what it was and it is now what it is and that’s what ya got! Wow, just read that back and got dizzy.
Q: Some of those connected to the '80s “run away” from the '80s and some embrace the success and fans from that decade. You are adored by so many that grew up with you on their TVs. How do you personally deal with and keep the '80s alive and in perspective? Do you ever get sick of the '80s or your connection to them?
Julie: No, no, NO! I LOVE the '80s, like the '90s and the 2000s are mix of them both! Today’s music has beats from the past infused into the now. And on top of that, I am still in love with my wardrobe from back then and am proud to say that I still fit into it! So there! Plus, running away in the platform thigh highs that I wear would not get me very far.
Q: Any regrets (that you’d care to share) from your times at MTV or since?
Julie: No regrets from anywhere. I loved and love my life. All of it. Yup, sickening huh? But it’s ALL true. The good, the bad and the ugly all looked GREAT to me!
Since leaving MTV, Brown has kept quite busy. She went on to work for ESPN and E!, hosted the “American Dance Traxx” radio show, even posed for Playboy in August, 1998, made many appearances on television and in movies and became a wife and mother. [She is now hosting for Sirius XM on the '90s on 9 channel and you can tweet her @DTJB on Twitter.]
Q: What else is Downtown Julie Brown up to these days? Both professionally and otherwise?
Julie: Well, I could tell you but then I’d have to torture you by making you watch endless re-runs of Club MTV! Let’s all rally for a Club MTV comeback!!!
I am very happy that Julie took some time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. She always looked sexy. She always sounded sexy. And she is one of the last links to the MTV that we all remember and love which means she will always hold a special place for me. I want to take this opportunity to again thank Downtown Julie Brown for her contributions to '80s pop culture especially through Club MTV and, even more, for taking a moment to go back to the '80s with us here as well. Wubba, Wubba, Wubba!