(This interview was originally published January 17, 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 Marcus “DJ Marcus T” Thompson. He is a founding member of the group Timex Social Club which had a huge hit in 1986 with the song “Rumors.” The group also included Michael Marshall, Alex Hill and Kevin Moore. You’ll find out about the long road the song took before being released and why Timex Social Club had such a short run as we get on to some selections from my interview with Marcus Thompson…
Q: Before Timex Social Club, how did you personally get your start in music? When did you start to DJ?
Marcus: Before Timex Social Club, I was a mobile DJ. My mom bought me my first DJ mixer from Radio Shack and I received it as a Christmas present in 1980. I was a sophomore in high school. My focus back then was Funk, soul and Rap music and I was a huge Prince fan. I sang mainly in choirs, but I was not a rapper at all.
Q: You formed Timex Social Club in 1982 when you were still at Bay area Berkeley High School. You are considered the founder, so what was your role in forming the group and personally within the Timex Social Club? What were your original plans/goals for your group?
Marcus: Yes, I am the founder of Timex Social Club. Wow, let’s see, I wore so many hats in the group. I was the group leader. I created the name and concept. I introduced Alex [Hill] to Michael [Marshall]. I was the choreographer for the group. Background vocals, producer and arranger. I was also the one who insisted that we copyright our songs with the library of congress and most importantly, I wrote the lyrics to our hit “Rumors.”Our goal was to write songs just for fun. Personally, I really never thought that we’d ever be signed to any record label. We were just having fun writing and recording. Since we did not have money for real studio time, we recorded on 4-track cassette mini studios at home. Our plan was to just make tapes for our friends and to play our original songs at the parties where we DJ’d. Remember, this was the early 80s. Indie labels were not really a factor or force in the music business back then.
Q: What is the meaning and/or story behind the group name, Timex Social Club?
Marcus: Well, there is really no deep meaning behind the name Timex Social Club. I was a huge Prince fan back then and the band The Time. I had a group of friends in high school and we needed a name to go by, so I picked Timex, because it was similar to the Time’s name. The name Social Club came from me seeing actual social clubs in the bay area, places were these old guys would hang out, kinda like men’s clubs. So one day I said, “Timex + Social Club,” yeah, that sounds great. I remember that the rest of the guys did not like that name at first.
Timex Social Club hit it big with their 1986 single “Rumors.” The song traveled a long road before becoming a hit. They wrote it back in 1983, but did not get the opportunity to actually record it until January 3, 1986. It was released on February 2nd and would break into the Billboard Black Singles chart at #83 on April 26th of that year. It would reach the #1 position on that chart on July 19th (for 2 weeks) as well as the #1 position on the Billboard Hot Dance chart (for 3 weeks). “Rumors” even made an impressive showing on the Billboard Hot 100 peaking at #8 in August making it one of the most popular songs of 1986. Here is the music video for “Rumors” by Timex Social Club…
Q: Take us back to when you actually wrote the song back in 1983 (along with Michael Marshall & Alex Hill). What is the back story of how “Rumors” was conceived and written? How long did it take to write? Was any of it written about people you knew?
Marcus: It took me about two hours to write the lyrics to the song. Funny story, the song actually has four verses to it. We dropped the last verse to make it radio friendly. I wrote it about high school life at Berkeley High School. That was the high school we all went to. As for the characters in the song: Michael refers to Michael Jackson (The King of Pop), Tina refers to Tina Jackson (she was a student at Berkeley High School at the time), and Susan refers to Susan Moonsie (of Vanity 6).
I wrote it while I was at work. Back then, I was a night security guard. I really wanted Michael [Marshall] to sing the song, so I went over to his house and sang it to him and let him read the lyrics. He liked it right away and agreed to sing on the demo.
Then we took it to Alex [Hill]. Alex had a small mini studio in his apartment in Oakland. When Alex heard us sing the song, he also liked it. From there, we started working on the music for the song. A few weeks later, we had a rough demo. We kept working on the song over the next year or so. We had so many versions of “Rumors,” it was crazy (remixes, dub versions, radio edits, etc.). The beginning keyboard riff was an accident. Alex was playing around one day and did that as a joke and Michael and I loved it so much, we told him it had to be in the song. So that’s why the song begins that way.
Q: You did not get the attention of a producer until 1985. How did you hook up with Jay King?
Marcus: Correct, it was December of 1985 when things really started happening for us. A few months earlier, I met Jesse Johnson of the group The Time. I gave him our demo tape, but he never called us. My brother Darryl (the artist that created the cover of Rumors 12″) knew Jay King from Anchorage, Alaska and gave him our demo tape. King called me a few days later and we recorded “Rumors” on January 3, 1986. King’s record company Jay Records funded the project.
Q: Did you feel you had something special there back then when you recorded it? Could you have ever anticipated the success it would have?
Marcus: Well, to tell you the truth, since the song was 3 years old by the time we actually made it to a 24-track studio, I was not as excited about it as I was about some of our newer songs. The song sounded bigger and cleaner than our 4-track demo. We brought in a Linn drum to give more kick to the 808 that was on the demo, but the song sounded the same. Just getting to the recording studio was the real special moment. I thought we had a 50/50 chance of it getting airplay. I guess when I think back, I really did not anticipate it going #1. I would have been just as happy if it just got on the radio and sold a few copies in the stores. The success that “Rumors” had was more than a dream come true.
Q: By May of 1986, the song was being played on urban radio stations across the country. How did it feel the first time you heard “Rumors” on the radio?
Marcus: Wow, I’ll tell ya, hearing “Rumors” on the radio for the very first time was just outstanding. I really cannot describe the feeling. I screamed when I first heard it. Even when I hear it today, I still get a little choked up.
Q: Shortly after that, it was picked up by pop stations and even impressively made it to the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. How did things change for you personally and for Timex Social Club, both good and bad, after this song’s incredible success? Were you prepared for all of the attention?
Marcus: Changes did occur, lots of them. Fame happened. We started earning money for performances. That was the biggest change, because up until then, we were doing shows for free. The first thing I bought with my advance was better recording equipment. Money would ultimately also be the reason for our break up.
No, we were not prepared for the success and attention that surrounded us. Things got real crazy, real fast. Michael had a manager, but Kevin, Alex and I did not have one. We were self-managed.
Q: When you have a mega hit song like that, do you (or did you) ever get sick of playing it? What are your feelings about the song today?
Marcus: Nope, I never get tired of playing or performing the song. I’m just happy that people still like it and want to hear it. I had a guy tell me one time that “Rumors” changed his life (for the better). I’m still in awe of that statement; I mean, how can a song change a person’s life? Oh well. When I was writing it, all I wanted to do was make people get up and dance.
Back in the summer of 1986, Run-DMC was on top of the world after the crossover success of their Raising Hell album. The legendary tour for that album has to go down as one of the best in Rap music history. In addition to Run-DMC headlining, you also had LL Cool J, The Beastie Boys, Whodini and Timex Social Club. That’s right, Russell Simmons chose Timex Social Club to join that impressive roster. The tour was unfortunately marred by violence, particularly fights between rival street gangs, and riots in several cities.
Q: Timex Social Club opened for Run-DMC on the Raising Hell tour in the Summer of 1986. What do you remember about that experience? Did you get to hang out with Run, D & Jay much? What can you tell us about those three legends?
Marcus: Oh my god, the Raising Hell tour was so much fun! There will never be another tour like that again. It was an all male tour, no females at all. We were wild! We did anything we wanted to do. If you can think it, we did it on that tour. The rap riots in multiple cities were crazy. Long Beach, St. Louis, New York. Wow! What a summer. The best show was New York; I remember we sold out Madison Square Garden! Does it get better than that?Jam Master Jay was like a big brother to us. He was the first performer we met at the first show. He really looked out for us and I was so angry when he was shot. RIP. The Beastie Boys were the craziest group. They would trash their dressing rooms on a regular basis. They even trashed ours on occasion. Dorks! LOL
Q: Any stories you remember and can share from the tour?
Marcus: Tour stories? Yeah, I have a hundred of them. One story is about the Beastie Boys, one night they flooded our dressing room. While we were onstage, they emptied the ice and water buckets from all of the food containers. When we got back, we stepped into a flood of water all over the floor of our dressing room. We could hear them laughing next door. They admitted they did it.
Q: During the tour, why was Michael Marshall suddenly replaced by Fred “Buz” Busby as lead singer? What caused this decision and did it cause tensions within the group?
Marcus: Well, let’s see if I can sum that up for ya. After Michael’s manager gave the rest of us his new salary demands, we decided to rejoin the Raising Hell tour sans Michael. We auditioned new singers and Fred was chosen. Fred was never signed to Danya Records, he only replaced Michael on the second leg of the Raising Hell tour. Yes, we all made the decision to hire a replacement singer for the tour. Yes, it caused a lot of tension and ultimately added to the break up. Michael has always been the lead singer of the group, we never fired him.
Q: Please describe the circumstances surrounding the break up of Timex Social Club in 1987. How can a group with a hit song that popular just disintegrate that quickly?
Marcus: Well, just like a lot of bands, we had a dispute over money and percentages. During the Raising Hell tour, Michael’s manager demanded that we pay him more money than the rest of the group members were getting. He wanted Michael to receive 50% leaving the rest of us to split the other 50% three ways. Kevin, Alex and I did not go along with his manager’s demands, because our verbal agreement was an equal 25% split of all monies. We took a vote and replaced Michael with singer Fred Busby and completed the remaining dates on the tour. Ultimately, we asked for a release a few months later and it was granted. This left Michael as a solo act. Alex and I did not write or produce any tracks on the album Vicious Rumors nor were we in any of the videos. Our only contribution was to the Jay Records version of “Rumors.”
Q: In the video, Michael Marshall gets all the face time. Who came up with the video’s concept? How come you and the rest of the guys don’t appear in the video?
Marcus: For the video, I do not know who came up with the concept. Kevin, Alex and I were in the process of getting our release from the label when they were shooting it, so we do not appear in it at all.
Q: Are you proud of what you created as Timex Social Club? Any regrets about those times? Do you wish that you could have found a way to keep it going back then?
Marcus: Oh yeah, I am very proud of Timex Social Club and I really do not have regrets. I mean everything that happened is part of our story, our history. There were a lot more sunny days, than dark days. I really had a lot of fun and it was a first class education about the music business.As far as trying to keep it going? Well, with any relationship, if one person is not happy, what do you really get out of trying to make them stay? I mean, they have to want to be there to make it work. So I really feel that even if we were able to make Michael’s management happy for a few years, there would have been other demands made that would have ultimately disbanded the group, so I was happy things happened right away.
Q: How does “Rumors” actually appear on a Greatest Hits compilation album for the band Club Nouveau? I assume it has something to do with the Jay King connection (who went on to form Club Nouveau and have a #1 hit with a cover of “Lean On Me”).
Marcus: You see, we never signed a recording agreement with Jay Records, so in May of 1986 we were approached by Danya and signed with them. Danya tried to buy the master recording of “Rumors” [from Jay King] but I guess the price was too steep, so King still has it and re-released it on that compilation. The surprising thing was that the artist name now says Club Nouveau, but folks know it’s Timex Social Club. You’d need to ask him how that occurred.
Q: Some '80s pop superstars “run away” from the '80s and some embrace the success and fans from that decade. How do you personally deal with and keep the '80s alive and in perspective?
Marcus: I love the '80s! I really never left. I keep waiting for VH-1 to email me, so I can be in their show Best of the '80s. But seriously, I have a very large music collection and I really only listen to the older stuff. In my car, I listen to the old school station on XM satellite radio. Some of the newer music is okay, but I just cannot deal with the lyrical content, all of the profanity. I still DJ parties and I play Old School music exclusively and my clients love it.
Q: After over three decades in the business, from your perspective, how has the music industry changed over that time? And how do you see the future?
Marcus: Well, it’s all digital now. I’ll try not to sound like an old man. LOL. I’ll just point to the obvious three inventions: 1. The personal computer 2. MP3 technology 3. The internet. Anyone with ambition, a Mac book and internet access is a songwriter these days. It’s all changed since I was writing. I heard DMC from Run-DMC say once that the radio is now controlled by 12-19 year olds. He said that most of the hit songs are written by them these days. Yeah, a hit can be written by a 12-year-old, but today’s child prodigies are a far cry from little Stevie Wonder. Give them Garage Band and a weekend to play around and they will come up with a nice song or what they call beats. I really cannot imagine what the future holds, I’m hopeful that consumers will want more substance in their music and will gravitate to the more talented writers out there.
Q: Is it true that you and Michael Marshall have reunited as Timex Social Club again. Do you ever foresee creating new music as Timex Social Club again?
Marcus: Actually, we are still working things out. We have yet to do a show together, but when we do, it will be like old times.
Q: Tell us a little about Rumor Radio.
Marcus: Ah, Rumor Radio is a show I created to interview my friends. I have a lot of creative friends. Some musical, some in other areas of the arts. I wanted to have a show were I would have them tell me about the things they do and the process. I also have been able to ask them questions that I have not been able to in person. It’s really fun and I enjoy it.
Marcus: Well, I’m working on a few books. The first book will contain the lyrics, stories and poems I have written from 1982-2010. The second book is the story of Timex Social Club. The third book will be the best of Rumor Radio including transcripts and insights on the interviews I’ve done over the years. Besides being a husband and father, I’ve also returned to DJing. I do clubs, private parties and corporate events. My website for that is: OldSkoolDJs.com
I am very happy that Marcus took the time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. You can follow what’s happening with Timex Social Club at their official website TimexSocialClub.com website. I want to take this opportunity to again thank DJ Marcus T for his contribution to '80s pop culture with “Rumors” and for doing a little reminiscing with us here for a little while as well.