Family Portrait: DJ Freddie Tek

“You spin me right round, baby, right round like a record baby … ” These lyrics come to mind whenever I think of DJ Freddie Tek. A longtime figure on the LGBT music scene, the affable music meister has been keeping people on their toes for close to four decades. I took a beat to chat up the mix master known for his hearty, “Hey, hey, hey!”

PGN: So Fred, are you an urban guy? FT: No, I was actually born in a small town, Berwick, Pa., the home of Wise potato chips. It’s halfway between Williamsport, where they play the Little League World Series, and Wilkes-Barre.

PGN: Do you have any brothers or sisters? FT: I’m the oldest of three siblings. Next oldest is my brother and then a little sister.

PGN: What did/do your parents do? FT: My dad currently is a sign painter. He used to work at the local forge, Berwick Forge and Fabricating. An interesting fact: Berwick was actually on Hitler’s top-10 list for bombing if the Nazis ever got here, because the forge supplied tanks, railroad cars and ammunition during the war. My mother worked at the potato-chip plant in the packing department, where they packed the finished product into boxes. I worked there too in the summers.

PGN: So were you raised on potato chips? FT: [Laughs.] It’s kind of like an “I Love Lucy” episode, where at first you’re all excited and eat all the product you can, then after three months you can’t stand it. Even the smell gets to you.

PGN: What’s your background? FT: Hungarian on my father’s side and Russian and Slovak on my mother’s side.

PGN: What were you like as a kid? FT: Pretty studious. From an early age, probably about 3 or 4, I loved math. I wanted to be a math professor and went to Penn State as a double major in math and physics.

PGN: So how did you get into the entertainment business? FT: I started doing radio at home when I was 16 and that helped pay for my first year of college. My first two years, I went to a bridge campus of Penn State called Hazleton, which was only 20 minutes from my parents’ house, and then I went to the main campus starting my junior year. While I was there, I started working at nightclubs and spinning for fraternity parties. I loved it and ended up pursuing it as a career. And, here I am 38 years later, still doing it.

PGN: So does your math background help you with syncing up beats and combining music? FT: Yes, absolutely.

PGN: Do you remember your favorite book as a kid? FT: I think it was “Helter Skelter,” the true-crime book by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry about the Manson murders.

PGN: Favorite toy? FT: I was really into Tinker Toys and also the Kenner Bridge and Girder and Kenstruct Interstate Highway Set. I remember one year we went to the county fair and when we came home, I built a model of the different rides I’d gone on out of Tinker Toys. Later in life I also tinkered with the idea of becoming an architect.

PGN: What were other things you liked to do? FT: I liked to do paint by numbers, but it was a bit embarrassing because my father did real painting, free-style. He is very creative and used to do still-life paintings. He’s from a family of nine kids and they all paint or do something creative. We have some of his pictures hanging in the dining room. He still is responsible for the lettering/signage on a lot of big tractor trucks, so I can see a truck go by and say, “There’s my dad’s work!”

PGN: What was a first sign that you were gay? FT: When I was 7 years old there was a show called “A Man’s World,” about four young men who live in a houseboat called the Elephant. I remember feeling all tingly when I watched it. I didn’t know why at the time, I just knew I was obsessed with the show. If I realized the show was on, I would come tearing in from outside so I wouldn’t miss any of it, and I would stand 2 feet from the TV to watch them.

PGN: When did you start the coming-out process? FT: When I was 11, I had a friend from church who I used to have sleepovers with. One night he started fooling around with me and that was my first experience. After that, I mostly fooled around with “straight” friends at home. Then I started going down to Atlantic City when I was 18. One time, a buddy took me to a gay bar called the Chez Paree. I was appalled and excited at the same time. I’d never been around gay people that I knew of until then. I met my first boyfriend that year during Memorial Day weekend.

PGN: How did your family take it? FT: I’m not officially out to them. When I was 18, my mom found a letter from that first boyfriend. She confronted me and said that I needed to go to a psychiatrist. I told her that I wasn’t sick and that I wasn’t going and we’ve never discussed it since. That was the first and last time the subject was ever brought up.

PGN: That’s wild considering how visible you’ve been in the community for so many years. Was being open in the public eye ever a concern? FT: No. I’ve always been open in public and at home; it’s just a subject that we never broach.

PGN: What type of music would people be surprised to know our man from Berwick likes to listen to? FT: I like a lot of R&B and funk. Rap too to some degree.

PGN: Do you collect anything? FT: I have a large comic-book collection. I had about 6,000-some going back to the ’50s. I have a bunch of old Mad magazines as well.

PGN: A beautiful childhood memory? FT: Going to Niagara Falls to go camping with my family. We went to a campsite about 5 miles from the falls and we got to go swimming and diving in the pool at the campgrounds, which I really enjoyed. And we spent two days at the falls, both on the Canadian side and the American side. It was a fun time.

PGN: Did you have a blankie or stuffed animal? FT: [Laughs.] I didn’t, but I’ll tell on my brother. He had a stuffed bunny!

PGN: Favorite ice cream? FT: I just had it when I went home for Mother’s Day — a flavor called teaberry.

PGN: So during the outlandish ’70s, what was your wildest outfit? FT: Oh man, right before my senior year in high school, I’d lost about 40 pounds and had developed a really good body, so when I went down to A.C., I would wear these half shirts. I had one shirt in particular that was this outrageous maroon color. I look back and think how ridiculous we looked.

PGN: Most unusual job? FT: One time, when I was at Penn State DJ’ing at a frat party, I locked myself out of my van as I was loading up to leave. The party was over and I pounded on the door for quite some time to get one of the brothers to let me in, and when someone finally opened the door, it was this handsome guy in a robe. This was back when I was in my hey-day, and he took one look at me and said, “If I’d have known what was waiting at the door, I would have come down sooner.” I learned that fraternities had the biggest closet doors of all.

PGN: Your most unusual record? FT: I have the song “Africa” by the group Toto. The actual record is shaped like the continent of Africa, complete with color cartography.

PGN: You’re so into music. Do you play any instruments? FT: I’m actually classically trained on the piano. I also play some clarinet and the pipe organ. I took lessons from the minister’s wife at church for four years. There’s a different technique for playing the pipe organ as opposed to the piano.

PGN: What zodiac sign are you? FT: I’m an Aries.

PGN: If you could be reincarnated as an animal, which one would you choose? FT: I’m thinking maybe a lion. Purely for practical reasons. He’s pretty much on the top of the food chain, so I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone other than man messing with me!

PGN: What traits do you think you get from your parents? FT: I know I have the ability to hold my temper like my dad. It takes a lot to get us riled up, though if you do cross that line, watch out. And I have my mom’s stubbornness.

PGN: Person you miss? FT: There was a local DJ named Eddie Meyers who used to go by the name “Helen.” He died in the early ’90s. He was a real popular DJ at Woody’s and used to throw these crazy parties after work. His mother used to be the coat-check lady at Gatsby’s, and I’ve remained friends with her for all these years.

PGN: Something you’d like to learn how to do? FT: I’ve always wanted to learn to bungee jump. But without a 100-percent guarantee that I wasn’t going to perish, it’s not something that’s going to happen.

PGN: Name some of the places you’ve played over the years. FT: I play at Sisters now and, last year, I was also spinning at Taylor’s in Cherry Hill. Wow, I played at Kurt’s in Philadelphia back in the day and at Studio V and a place called The Chester in Atlantic City. I played at a big club up at Penn State called Mr. C’s. That was one of my greatest achievements getting that job. I really wanted to work there, so I went for it full force and ended up being the first DJ hired for the club. I also played at Hepburn’s, which was located where the 12th Air Command is now, and I was the head DJ at Gatsby’s for five years.

PGN: Others are embarrassed when I … FT: When I’m at Sisters having our shift drink after work, I know I embarrass the women when I talk explicitly about men or sex. Natalie, the bartender, always castigates me for being too graphic.

PGN: A brush with fame? FT: I met the actor Jack Palance on two occasions. He was from the area I grew up in. In fact, he was from Hazleton where I went to school. His sister owned a bar there and I went with a friend whose boyfriend at the time was trying to buy Mr. Palance’s pipe organ. So we went to check it out and got to meet him. He was very nice and signed one of my schoolbooks for me.

PGN: Are you into any sports? FT: I love the Phillies. I got to go see them the year that Veterans Stadium opened and was hooked. I follow all the games and have a huge collection of caps.

PGN: Any paranormal experiences? FT: When I was young, there was a hill near us where supposedly if you parked your car facing downward, it would slowly drift backward up the hill. I went with a bunch of friends and they swore they could feel it, but I didn’t notice anything.

PGN: Did you play any sports? FT: I loved playing baseball but I wasn’t very good at it. I got teased for throwing like a girl.

PGN: Ever have any trouble with the law? FT: I got busted once in Atlantic City for DUI. It didn’t make any sense because I’m not that big a drinker. I’d had two rum and Cokes over the course of the evening and, for a guy my size, that was not enough to do anything. But the cop said that I was swerving all over the place. I didn’t remember it. I found out later that someone had put something in my drink. One of the people at the bar saw it and didn’t tell me.

PGN: Something that makes your work special? FT: I’ve always prided myself on being one of the few DJs that will take requests. But you really have to know how to work the songs to squeeze in a request that might not be as popular as the other songs, to find a way to fit it in and still keep people dancing. I look forward to keeping them dancing for many more years to come.

To suggest a community member for “Family Portraits,” write to: Family Portraits, 505 S. Fourth St., Philadelphia, PA 19147 or [email protected].