Tony Moran is a mega music producer and songwriter who gained fame in 1981 for his work in the hit free-styling group the Latin Rascals. Tony penned top-charting hits for the Cover Girls before going on to become a top house music producer who has worked with Cher, Donna Summer, Michael Jackson, Gloria Estefan, Deborah Cox, and many more. Although house music is no longer in vogue, Tony has managed to remain busy and is currently collaborating with music legend Nile Rodgers and Kimberly Davis, who is the new lead singer in the group CHIC. Tony recently discussed his incredible career and current projects.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How and when did you find your way into the entertainment industry, especially as a producer?
Tony Moran (TM): I started as a DJ at Brooklyn Tech, my New York City high school. Somehow, as a result of my own particular style of playing and blending hip-hop with other music, things just started happening and I just began to receive attention. It must have been 1980 when I started building my own club speakers from spare parts. And doing block parties in Brownsville, Brooklyn for crowds that started getting bigger and bigger. I grew up as part of a time and place where the people around me loved block parties. I’m so glad that I was there to live it, feeling all that ethnic fire emerging out onto the dance floor. The inspiration from that experience has been a part of me ever since. I couldn’t afford to buy vinyl back then, as hungry as I was to support my obsession with music. So, I got a job at world-famous “Downtown” records in the Wall Street area. Not only did they sell the same dance music I heard in the streets and on radio, but THIS special store sold all kinds of DANCE music, and from all over the world! Some of the biggest club DJ’s on the New York club would shop right there, where I now was interacting with them every day. Getting a real-world education from taste-makers like that was priceless – and again, inspiring. Then in 1982 — shortly after meeting DJ Albert Cabrera, at the same store – we teamed up and became partners. We combined the special editing techniques we’d each developed independently. Now, as a team, we began creating our own music, melding together our favorite selections from the world around us. Next thing you know, we were dubbed “The Latin Rascals” and had our own show on NYC’s #1 radio dance station, WKTU. Our sound and style made us so popular so fast, it was hard to believe what was actually happening. After hearing our show, Arthur Baker asked us to apply our special style to his remixes and POW! Suddenly we’re in music business with my first credited song “Born In The USA” by Bruce Springsteen.” The list grew from there!
MM: What was your childhood like? Do you think it impacted your ultimate journey into show business?
TM: I come from a close, supportive family. We were poor but there was so much love, and still is. I never was made to feel awkward for believing that dreams could come true. As long as I stayed in school, stayed out of trouble and had good grades, I was allowed to work on turning my dreams into reality.
MM: You had a lot to do with house music in the 1980s. What was it about this musical scene and style that appealed to you?
TM: The energy! I loved the way – despite the fact that the creative extended versions of songs were all over the map, stylistically – a gifted DJ could find a way to take everyone on a shared journey of delight. I wasn’t even 21 yet, but I managed to get myself into clubs like Paradise Garage, Bond’s, and Danceteria.
MM: What songs did you write for the Cover Girls? Did you write any other tunes that we might recognize?
TM: The freestyle songs were “Dance With Me” by Concept of One, “One Way Love” by TKA, “The Question” by NOEL, and “Arabian Knights” by Latin Rascals along with, top of mind, “Funk Boutique”, “Inside Outside”, “We Can’t Go Wrong”, “Promise Me” and “Wishing On A Star.” In addition to producing the Fat Boys, each of our songs made it at least to the Billboard Top 100.
MM: You are a successful music producer who was ranked in the Top-100 of ‘Billboard Magazine’ as one the best “Dance Artist of All Time.” What was it like to be featured in that publication?
TM: It will always be an honor to have been included on that finite list of utterly amazing talent. Just as it’s been an honor to have worked directly in my career with over half the people on the list!
MM: You have worked with some amazing people, like Michael Jackson, Cher, Donna Summer, Gloria Estefan, Deborah Cox, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Rihanna and more. How did these opportunities come about?
TM: I have two different stories to share about my remixing and producing and writing careers. First, I started doing remixes on my own, bringing them to record companies to see if they’d be interested in using me. Finally, it happened and I was given a chance: with a song to remix Gloria Estefan. Then came Celine Dion and Michael Jackson. Everything that’s followed is a blessing. As a response to my remixes that were doing so well with the public, record companies and artists starting reaching out to me for writing/producing collaborations. That is how I got the chance to produce albums for Gloria Estefan. It’s how I began producing artists like Luther Vandross, Cher, Barry Manilow, Donna Summer, Jon Secada, Martha Wash, Deborah Cooper and many more. That’s when I knew I was MEANT to be living this dream which very much continues, today.
MM: Do you have any interesting stories about some of the celebrities you have worked with?
TM: I have so MANY stories! I’ll share one now…Once I was producing Celine Dion with Emilio Estefan. I was tremendously uncomfortable with the horde of media folks and executives in the room while she was working. Despite that unwanted pressure, I asked Celine if she’d make some adjustments to the melody she was singing. To my nervous surprise, she asked me to leave the control room and join her in the vocal booth to sing a sample of what I was hoping for from her. Oops! I hadn’t foreseen that request from this legendary artist and I started to panic, though I tried to seem “calm.” I walked into the booth but found I was so nervous that I ultimately had to ask her if she kindly would turn away so I wouldn’t be facing her while singing my ideas. Everyone in the control room thought we’d get fired on the spot, but she was wonderfully kind and gracious. Her special combination of talent and kindness marked her forever for me as one of the most amazing artists EVER!
MM: Out of all your projects, was one particularly exciting? If so, which one and why?
TM: Producing and recording Deborah Cox for the first time at my studio to reconstruct a dance-friendly version of “Easy As Life” from the hit musical, AIDA. I was DJing more consistently again and had my own thoughts of how I wanted an audience to experience an anthem. What a great and memorable result! The chance to meet and collaborate came out 100% as I’d dreamt and hoped it would be meet and collaborate with an artist of her stature. That experience helped me develop a whole new approach for developing anthems with several other artists.
MM: You’re now working with music mogul Nile Rodgers. How did that partnership form?
TM: From a great encounter that included another amazing talent, Kimberly Davis. After hearing a remix of a song that she released in 2013 — written by lyricist, Mike Greenly and composer, Jim Papoulis — I asked Kimberly to perform at my club residency in NY. I was so impressed with her talent that I HAD to get to know her better. Well, it turns out that Kimberly is also a lead vocalist in the band called CHIC which is headed by iconic producer and writer, Nile Rodgers. After I’d written another new song with Mike Greenly and Audrey Martells, Kimberly let Nile hear it. Next thing you know, we’re all in the studio together! I had worked for Nile on some his productions for Grace Jones and Duran Duran, but having him actually performing on a song I helped to create is producer heaven for me right now. Look for it later this spring: “My Fire” – Nile Rodgers and Tony Moran feat. Kimberly Davis. Talk about making dreams real!
MM: You just released a new album called ‘Moodswings’. Can you tell us a bit about it?
TM: Of course, it’s my proudest work yet! Why? Because I’ve put together a collection of diverse styles of music – not just one – that have always been part of what I love. With 28 songs to choose from, you’ll find no shortage of anthems, ballads, and other styles in-between. I’m showcasing ALL of myself in this project, with the most amazing collaborators. I can’t help but find it special. The concept simple: it comes in two parts. First is a collection called “MOVE”, which makes you want to do just that. But I’m also presenting the “FEEL” collection which reflects a different mood and displays the broadest range yet of the musical genres I love. I am so very proud of Moodswings. Already, it has three #1 Billboard Dance Hits under its belt. My thanks to the DJs out there reporting my songs, and to the people who’ve been embracing them on dance floors.
MM: You’re still DJing! Are you actively involved with New York radio station, WKTU, anymore? They were truly the City’s dance music station back in the 1990’s.
TM: Now, I DJ live all around the world but WKTU gave me birth.
MM: You wear a lot of different hats as an entertainer and producer. Do you favor one role in particular?
TM: As a producer and songwriter. I love being connected to other musicians and writers. It’s simple, really: I love creating with beautiful minds!
MM: If you could work on anything, what would be your “dream project”?
TM: That’s easy, it’s what I am doing now on Moodswings. I hope you’ll encourage all your readers to check it out and to look out for “My Fire” of which there’s only a first taste in this collection.
MM: To date, what has been the most rewarding experience involving your musical career?
TM: It’s more gratifying than I can express every time I hear that I’ve inspired others to get past their own self-imposed boundaries and limits. I push myself hard to keep exploring my creative potential, and it’s extremely meaningful when people say I’ve helped them do the same.
MM: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to enter show business, especially as a music producer?
TM: This won’t surprise you by now but my advice is…”GO for it!”
MM: Are there any upcoming projects and/or events that you would like to mention?
TM: I’ve already mentioned my new single – “My Fire” – with Nile Rodgers and Kimberly Davis. And I’m working right now on another one, featuring Jason Walker, the title is yet to be announced. Those two projects are racing through my mind and heart right now.
To learn more about Tony Moran, visit his Facebook page. To listen to a sample of Tony’s latest single, “My Fire,” visit iTunes.
[Featured Image by Len Evans/Project Publicity]