Family Portraits: Jimmy DePre

Jimmy DePre is 23 going on the ’50s, ’60s and up. The young DePre is a mixmaster who specializes in music that was created before he was born. His love of classic hits has brought him the attention of Philadelphia music icons such as Jerry Blavat, Reenie Kane and Michael DeCero.

PGN: Do you ever feel like you were reincarnated from another era? JDP: [Laughs.] I get that all the time! People tell me I must have been somebody else to be so young and have such an appreciation for classic oldies. I’ll hear off-the-wall comments like, “You must have killed someone and taken their spot!” But the best comment I ever got that I consider an honor was from Reenie Kane, who compared me to Kurt Borusiewicz, the one-time resident DJ at the DCA Club. From what I’ve been told, he was one of the greatest DJs that ever lived. He was mixing music before there was equipment to mix with. He won the Billboard “DJ of the Year” award twice. I don’t consider myself in his league — I just have a good ear for it — but it’s a great honor to be compared to him.

PGN: Where are you actually from in this life? JDP: I was born and raised in South Philadelphia.

PGN: How many people in the family? JDP: Four. Me and my sister, who is two years younger than me, and my parents. My sister’s still in college and I just graduated in February from Temple University with a degree in broadcasting.

PGN: What keeps you busy? JDP: I do a radio show on WVLT 92.1FM on Thursday nights playing music from the ’50s and ’60s, vocal group harmonies and hit rhythm and blues music, and then I have an Internet show on the Destination Doo Wop radio network on Monday nights.

PGN: How did you get into it? JDP: I guess I got into oldies music when I was a kid. My parents weren’t into music much, but they had a lot of old records lying around. I guess because it was something I discovered on my own, I really got in to it. My main influence was Hy Lit. And at 15, I somehow managed to get a job with Jerry Blavat, which turned into a six-year gig and a career for me.

PGN: So you worked with the “Geator with the Heater,” “the Boss with the Hot Sauce?” JDP: Yeah, I got to spin with him, backing him up on the radio and producing all his radio spots. He taught me a lot about the ins and outs of radio. I did that from the time I was 15 until I was 21 and it was the best education I could have possibly gotten. I also have a passion for old club music from the disco era, especially the underground club music that they used to play at clubs like Catacombs, Second Story and the DCA Club. Someone knew that I had a lot of that old music, so they kept bugging me to make a CD for them. I finally did and one of the bartenders at 12th Air Command heard it and told me I should make one up for the club and if they liked it, I might get a job. I’m friends with a lot of the iconic DJs in town like Michael DeCero and Reenie Kane and they encouraged me to go for it. I ended up getting a job spinning on Thursday nights. It didn’t work out but it led to a lot of other jobs in the LGBT club scene. I started working for Michael at Tavern on Camac and had a residency at the Nevermore in New Hope for a while. He also became a mentor for me. I met Michael when I was 19 and working at a club in Jersey. I think he also appreciated the passion that I had for the music he played. I mean, he was at the DCA Club at the height of the disco and club-music era. He was there for it all. What’s nice is that he hooked me up with work. People would call him asking about hiring a DJ and he would say, “I know this kid you should call … ” and he’d give them my number. I attribute a lot of my success to him. Sandy Beach and Reenie are two others who have been really supportive. I’ve been very lucky.

PGN: That’s great to hear. We don’t have enough younger people who get involved with the pioneers in our community. What’s something fun about Jerry Blavat that we don’t know? JDP: He always likes to be either right on time or fashionably late by 10 or 15 minutes. On Saturdays, he always had jobs lined up and he’d have someone get there ahead of him to set up and do the first hour. One time I went with him to a job where he was due at 8 p.m. and we were going to get there early. He stopped at a Wawa and he spent 20 minutes in the store browsing. Not buying anything, just browsing to kill time. He must have read the labels of every product in the store out loud to me, explaining the nutritional value of each one. He’s really a trip: He was not going to show up early no matter what!

PGN: Is he really into nutrition? JDP: Yes, he’s in the gym several times a day. Very health conscious, which is probably why he looks so good and is able to work as much as he does after all these years.

PGN: Something you learned from him? JDP: I learned how to read a crowd and how to handle people. I can walk into a place and know what music to play to get them going and, if there’s a problem, and sometimes people can drive you crazy, he taught me how to deal with things tactfully.

PGN: He has an amazing memory for names; how about you? JDP: No. Jerry remembers everybody, but I’m no good with names. Songs, I remember: If you come in and request a song, six months later I can’t put a name to the face, but I’ll remember what song you requested.

PGN: So do you get little old ladies trying to fix you up with their daughters when you played with Jerry? JDP: Oh yeah, with their granddaughters! That’s when I have to use that tact that I learned from him.

PGN: So back to you. Tell me about your family. JDP: My mother is a dedicated stay-at-home mom. She’s all about the family. She has always been supportive of her kids and behind us 100 percent. My dad works in the insurance industry and they are proud of my success as a DJ, though they’re still coming to terms with my sexuality.

PGN: When did you come out? JDP: I think it was more dragged out than coming out. My mother found out when I was a senior in high school. She found some text messages on my phone that she wasn’t too happy about.

PGN: What did you like to do as a kid: Were you into sports or were you the bookish type? JDP: I was always into music. I was never into sports and the only time I did any reading was if it was about the music industry. It was always 100 percent about the music, even as a kid.

PGN: Do you remember your favorite song? JDP: I don’t know about favorite, but I remember the first song I ever heard on the radio. It was by a Philadelphia group called The Majors, and the song was “A Wonderful Dream.”

PGN: Were your friends into music as well? JDP: Most of them were more into the top-40 stuff being played on the radio. I always kept up with what was current, even though my heart was with the oldies. But when I went to high school at St. Joe’s Prep, I met a lot of kids who had an appreciation for the classic stuff, maybe because so much of it came from right here in our neighborhood. They understood that it was, and is, part of our roots. And these days, I laugh when people say that disco sucked because so much music of today is based on sampling music from that era. Hip-hop is the same music, just with a harder beat.

PGN: If you could pick your birth year, what year would you choose? JDP: 1949 or 1950. That way I would have had a chance to experience some of the soul music from the ’50s and ’60s and I would have been the right age to be there for the whole disco era right from the beginning. I would have loved to experience the real club scene with all its craziness in the early ’70s.

PGN: Are you seeing anyone? JDP: No.

PGN: A sound you hate? JDP: I hate the way people pronounce certain words. It drives me crazy. I guess I used to have a bad South Philly accent, but one of my teachers was Amy Caples, who was on KYW Radio, and she really stressed learning standard broadcast English and made a point of teaching me. I used to not notice it, but now it kills me. I was listening to the radio today and this guy was doing a commercial and he sounded fine until he got to the end and said, “The number to cawl is blah, blah, blah.” The way he said “cawl” instead of “call” made me want to scream. And he said it about four times.

PGN: Do you play any instruments? JDP: I took accordion lessons for six years because I wanted to be a Mummer like my father, but I never really followed through. I sing, if you count that as an instrument.

PGN: Your dad’s a Mummer? JDP: Yeah, he plays saxophone with the championship Quaker City String Band.

PGN: Did you ever participate? JDP: No, I couldn’t see getting up that early in the morning. Plus, I’m usually DJing New Year’s Eve. It’s cool watching my dad on TV and in the parade, though. The Mummers are so distinctive and such a part of the city. I know other cities have parades and things, but no one has anything like the Mummers anywhere in the world. I mean, where else can you see a bunch of grown men, most of them blue-collar workers, walking and dancing around in drag for the whole day?

PGN: Describe a favorite relative. JDP: My Aunt Margie. She’s a great-aunt, but she’s younger than my uncle. She’s a short, heavyset woman and she constantly has an ear-to-ear grin on her face. She’s always laughing and is kind to everyone. She never judges people and has a smile every time you see her. You could go two years without seeing her and, when you do, it’s like you’re best friends and time never passed. She’s fabulous.

PGN: Hobbies? JDP: I collect records. And I like making mixed tapes. Other than that, if I’m not working, I try to go out with my friends. We have a good time everywhere we go: It could be the biggest dive and we’ll make it a party.

PGN: What’s your most unusual record? JDP: I don’t know why, but record collectors get obsessed with having something that no one else has. We’re like drug addicts: We see it and can’t stop thinking about it until we get it. [Laughs.] Then we’ll play it once and then put it away as a collectible. I have one rare album that’s in the top 10 of hardest-to-find records in Philadelphia. It’s from a group called the Dynamics and it has two songs: “Betty My Own” and “Forever Love.” PGN: Favorite TV show? JDP: It’s a tie between “Family Guy” and “South Park.” “Family Guy” is just flat-out funny and “South Park” is genius the way they’re on the mark with what’s going on and political satire.

PGN: Who would you want to contact at a séance? JDP: The DJ Kurt Borusiewicz, since he could tell me stories of being at the forefront of the club scene.

PGN: A beautiful childhood memory? JDP: Going down to Wildwood with the family. Almost any good weekend, we’d go to the shore with the whole family: my sister, parents, grandparents, aunt and uncle. My grandmother had a small condo there that she bought in the ’70s and we’d have a great, carefree time at the shore every summer.

PGN: Why do you think so many people, young and old, take to you so well? JDP: They feel how much I love the music and I think people like the fact that I keep the music alive. They’re happy that, 50 years from now, I’ll still (hopefully) be around to honor it.

Check out DePre at jdepre.blogspot.com.

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