Jacques Fred Petrus Born: 1949 Died: 1986 (murdered)
Jacques was born on the island of Guadeloupe in the French West Indies of Italian descendants on his father's side. On his mother's side he had a Creole or mulatto origin as he was dark skinned, but not black. The mulatto's were a mixed population of black and white people going back in time that represents 77% of Guadeloupe's population. In the late 1960's he moved to Italy. Why he left for Italy is not known, the fact that he was of Italian descent was probably the main reason and curiosity might be another. In the prosperous town of Milan, known for its extraordinary culture and world renown fashion Petrus worked as a disc jockey at different clubs some time after his arrival. In 1974 he started a record store, "Goody Music," to import records from the United States to sell to eager Italian music lovers, a new phenomenon at the time and the business prospered. In 1975 he met Mauro Malavasi at the conservatory of Bologna (Conservartorio Di Musica) where Malavasi was teaching. Malavasi had earlier studied choir and orchestral arranging at the conservatory and was a gifted piano player. The duo formed "Goody Music Productions." Jacques also established working relationships with other Italian musicians that became an important part of his staff. The most important and frequently used of them was self-taught bass player David Romani that he met in 1977. Together with Malavasi, Romani had an important role in almost all Petrus projects until 1984. During the late 1970's Jacques opened a publishing company in New York, "Little Macho," that took over "Goody Music." It was used for all publishing duties from 1980 on. The Petrus/Malavasi roles were divided; Petrus was the business side and Malavasi the musical side. Jacques did participate in the studio and had the final decisions on what artist and album material would be released. Jacques used various musicians to create his masterpieces. He would, for instance, use highly talented musicians from his own staff, like Romani or Malavasi as one part and then studio musicians, like Terry Silverlight or Fonzi Thornton as another part, coupled with studio vocalists such as Kevin Robinson or Gordon Grody as the final piece. The musicians/singers were hired and flown to the studio in Bologna, Italy and did their job but had no idea of how the material was going to be used. They played their small, but important, role with certain direction by Petrus, Malavasi and Romani. The musicians/singers were allowed to change and developed the project though, but only within their own instrumentation/singing and Malavasi and Petrus always had the last word. Later the musicians/singers would hear their contributions when the songs hit the dance floors on different albums. Sometimes the outside musicians/singers would become "the group" or the touring band but everything was very loose and could change very fast if Jacques' mood shifted. An example is the rapid change of "TheB. B. & Q.Band." In 1981 the members depicted on their first album, actually played the instruments during the recording session. They vanished completely by the 1982 album. This was Jacques need for total control over his productions. That was the working order in the early days, after 1982 a more stable identity was formed in his two major successes, Change and TheB. B. & Q.Band. It's not an overstatement to say that the Mafia helped create some of the Disco music in the 1970's and that most of the Italodisco sound. It's indeed a fact that most of the money brought into disco-era productions and the record companies that supported them came from the Italian and the American Mafia of New York. An example was the Buddah record company in New York. Entirely an alleged Mafia property that ruled with sometimes rough methods. That's why many Italians worked on or in, one way or the other, with the recordings. Not all Italians are Mafioso and certainly many of the musicians are reputable artists. The Mafia go where there is money to be made. In the 1970's disco was BIG! Money was to be made and certainly it was a convenient way to launder "dirty cash." In the late 1970's and early 1980's Jacques Fred Petrus most likely got involved in organized crime and some sources have said that he eventually helped the Mafia launder money. That collecting important, and always welcomed, money into his business he unknowingly sealed his fate. Like all businesses the need for financial support is crucial, Petrus' empire was no exception. Of course such activities, if they actually occurred must have helped the financial part of his musical projects but also bound his hands for years to come. Whether he played a higher role or was a small cog in the wheel, the Mob got what they wanted and Petrus too. The problem was that he was forced to pay back the Mob in "music money," a fact that later became more of a problem than now. If the musicians were aware of this is not known, but most likely they suspected. One thing is sure, Petrus' decision had a great impact on the rest of his career. The career......Petrus' and Malavasi's musical work is clearly divided into two periods. The first period, between 1978-1980, included the studio group Macho that was formed in 1978 (two albums) that did produce some reasonably important tracks including the monster hit "I'm A Man." Petrus "own" band Peter Jacques Band (three albums), Midnight Gang (one album) and a few others, most notably the Revanche release and the Goody Music Orchestra. After the success with the Peter Jacques Band debut in 1979 ("Walking On Music," "Fire Night Dance") their second album "Welcome Back" was released in 1980. It included the hits "Is It It" and "1-2-3 Counting On Love." By 1980, despite success, all these early ventures vanished, except the Peter Jacques Band that came back with a release in 1985. "Drives Me Crazy" was a hit but failed to take the U.S. by storm. That era had been characterized by good high-energy disco tracks. Petrus and his producers were obviously not satisfied with the overall commercial and musical success and they decided to start from scratch. When Petrus' and Malavasi's new Italian/American group Change released their album in 1980 he had finally found his golden egg that was to become the duo's most commercial success. Jacques goal was finally fulfilled. The second period of Petrus and Malavasi's career, 1981-1986, would be their most commercially viable if not their most prolific. From a pop stand point this was their "golden-era" but those of us in the Disco community view their earlier work as their most successful and memorable. During this second period, as before, the two songwriters, conductors and arrangers Malavasi (the main conductor/arranger) and Romani were used. In December 1979 the production of the new Petrus musical vision (Change) was finished. As with his earlier work the album was a vision realized with his coterie of musicians and a collection of outside players, most notably Luther Vandross on vocals. In 1979 Chic had dominated the disco and pop worlds and inspired a whole new sound with their hit "Good Times." In fact rap music's general acceptance and mainstream birth can be traced to that one song. It inspired the Sugarhill Gang to record "Rapper's Delight," the first acknowledged rap record. Many artists were influenced by Chic at the time and Jacques was one of them. David Romani admits that this was the case. But when recording the sessions that would become the first Change album he gave it his own unique flavor from the beginning. Characteristically for Change, was the groups much more polished, smoother, softer and airy, laid back sound compared to Chic's harder, aggressive, more groove-oriented sound. Released in 1980, "The Glow Of Love" shot straight to the top of the charts around the world. It produced the disco classics: "A Lover's Holiday," "Searching" and "The Glow Of Love." With a monster hit on their hands Petrus was faced with a dilemma. Since Change was a studio concept, recall that their are no pictures on the first two albums of any people, their was no group to help promote the album. Musician Jeff Bova recalls: "The album was recorded with all the studio players. When it came time to promote it, Petrus had to put an actual touring band together to make it a real promotable entity. If I recall they did some gigs with the original line-up but it didn't work out for the long run. Between 1981 and 1982 they tried some live support of the record, recorded the second album, organized the official touring group and members, then released it and the basic Change that you now know was unleashed upon the world! To make Change a real group was what promoters, booking agents (Norby Walters was ours) needed to get people to feel a connection to the name and sound." In the case of Change Petrus used up to three different touring bands during the very first years. 1981 was another banner year for Jacques. In addition to the release of the second Change album, "Miracles," he launched another concept The B.B. & Q. Band. As with his previous successes he used his formula of equal parts of in-house and farmed out talent to create The Brooklyn, Bronx And Queens Band. The album, released on Capitol Records, scored the mega-hit "On The Beat." It also featured the equally infectious "Time For Love" and "Starlette." Jacques now had two monster successes made up of entirely studio musicians. Fans were demanding to be able to see and hear these "groups" live, record companies were foaming at the mouth for promotional entities and Jacques now had to rethink his way of doing business. Petrus working order did change both for Change and B. B. & Q. Band after the tour in 81-82. He now wanted both entities to be actual groups in the real sense of the word. In 1982 the listeners could finally see how Change and The B. B. & Q. Band looked on their albums. The line-up for the new Change was: James Robinson (lead vocals), Deborah Cooper (lead vocals), Timmy Allen (bass), Mike Campbell (guitar), Vince Henry (sax & guitar), Jeff Bova (keyboards) and Rick Galwey (percussion). Some of them had also participated on the tour after the 1981 release. This line-up was almost entirely stable until their last album in 1985. The line-up for The B. B. & Q. Band was: Kevin Robinson (lead vocal & lead guitar), Tony Bridges (bass guitar), Chieli Minucci (guitar) and Bernard Davies (drums). That line-up held for the two albums in 1982 and 1983 and was after that changed once more. The question of whether the formation of actual groups had any affect on the inspiration and creativity compared to earlier albums was uncertain. Most naturally the earlier concept brought the best level of performance whether it was in the studio or on tour. In 1982 five albums were released, all recorded at the Media Sound studios in New York. They were "Sharing Your Love" for Change, The B. B. & Q. Band's "All Night Long," both newcomers High Fashion with their debut "Feelin' Lucky Lately" and the obscure Zinc with their "Street Level" album as well as a guest appearance on The Ritchie Family's album "I'll Do My Best For You." Two stood out over the rest of the material, High Fashion's "Feelin' Lucky Lately" and The Ritchie Family's "I'll Do My Best (For You Baby)." No major hits were made by Change or The B. B. & Q. Band, and Zinc didn't reach any success and vanished after a poor 12" release in 1983. At the time that the 1982 albums hit the market the power team was already working on the 1983 releases, Change's "It's Your Time," The B. B. & Q. Band's "Six Million Times" and High Fashion's "Make Up Your Mind." All these recordings were made at the UMBI studios in Modena, Italy. Compared to the previous year's releases this batch was not as commercially viable. They included no smash hits but still several really good tracks like "This Is Your Time" (Change) and "Make Up Your Mind" (High Fashion). The B. B. & Q. Band's album was unfortunately a flop, with just two decent tracks. After reaching the top the only place you can go is down. That's exactly what happened to the Petrus/Malavasi team after their tremendous success. In the 1983-1984 season their working relationship started to become seriously unbalanced because Petrus did not pay Malavasi or Romani. Or anybody else for that matter, so they (Malavasi & Romani) finally left in 1984. They headed back to Italy were they started their own studio together. Playing together and later producing several Italian artists. One of their first projects was Stadio with their album "La Faccia Delle Donna" for RCA Records in 1984. Malavasi later commented that he missed Italy, and that combined with his uncomfortable life and economic situation, made him leave the U.S. Romani however, came back for Change's album in 1985 but he never played dance music after that. Jacques obvious money problems were now hard fact, although the earlier successes must have surely brought in a lot of cash to the Petrus Empire, it just wasn't enough. Where had all the money gone? To the Mafia? Or was it due to mismanagement? Very few knew, and some of those are dead, others won't talk. Most likely the two-sided sword that Petrus got after his presumable pact with the devil (The Mafia) now showed its other, more cruel side. But even though he was under pressure he managed to make a few more musical masterpieces. 1984 was the beginning of a new and unfortunately short era. Petrus/Malavasi had split and Romani, Paolo Gianolio and most of the Italian musicians were also gone due the financial problems from the previous year. Although the original hit-making team was gone he managed to find two new multi-talented replacements. Jacques now simply invited a new strong duo, the rising stars and former Time (Prince's back-up band) members James (Jimmy Jam) Harris III and Terry Lewis to produced the new Change album. "Change Of Heart" was Jacques only release that year except the obscure 12" "The Beast In Me" by Silence 2 featuring Gordon Grody. Despite Grody's powerful vocals it was a poor effort that disappeared instantly. The Change album was recorded both at the UMBI studios in Italy and at the Media sound studios in New York. Jam/Lewis had started their producing career in 1982 when they produced the SOS Band's album "S.O.S. III" and Klymaxx's album "Meetin' In The Ladies Room" while they were still members of The Time. In 1984 they also worked magic on Cherrelle's album "Fragile" and the SOS Band's classic "Just The Way You Like It." But the new partnership ended quickly because of the same reasons all of Jacques partnerships ended, they didn't get paid. The engineer, Michael Brauer, that mixed that album was ripped off completely, Brauer recalls: "Petrus didn't pay me for the last Change record I mixed for Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. That was the last project I did for him so I wasn't aware that he was ripping me off until after the project was over." In 1985 despite lacking inspiration Jacques was the force behind three albums that year. All were recorded at the Morning studios in Milan, Italy. Change's "Turn On Your Radio," The B. B. & Q. Band's "Genie" and Peter Jacques Band's "Going Dancin' Down The Street." This time it was Change's album which was a bomb, without a doubt a flop. Although David Romani had returned to Petrus as a songwriter, despite their previous financial disputes, it didn't help the overall quality of the album. The B. B. & Q. Band's release however, was great, especially compared to their 1983 release. Petrus actually co-wrote two tracks for the Change album, "Turn On Your Radio" and "Let's Go Together." A job he usually never did and hadn't done since High Fashion's album in 1983. One might wonder why? Perhaps he was desperate for more money? The reason behind The B. B. & Q. Band's greater success that year was partly because they had waited over two years to release their fourth album. And because of the completely new group, including singer Curtis Hairston (see our tribute) that took over the role as lead vocalist after Robinson, former Breakwater vocalist Kae Williams and the use of old Change members like Allen all together made a new and fresh contribution. A noticeable thing is that all songs, lyrics and productions were made by Kae Williams that also played an impressive amount of the instruments. The album had several stellar tracks, the title track "Genie" together with "Dreamer" were impressive tracks. Couple that with Curtis Hairston's sensitive vocals made the album complete. In 1986 Hairston released "The Morning After" on his own that sounded very much as the tracks on "Genie." This was Petrus last major success. The Peter Jacques Band's album on the other hand sounded very much like the Change album, but faired better in sales and club-play. It included the decent title track "Going Dancin' Down The Street" and my favorite "Drives Me Crazy." Despite the relative success with The B.B. & Q. Band and the Peter Jacques Band releases Jacques days were reaching an end as a producer and, unfortunately, as a human being. The circumstances surrounding his death are very mysterious. All trustworthy sources give the same basic explanations to his death. Sweden's music guru Mats Nileskär has publicly stated that "Jacques was a leading figure and heavily involved in organized crime. He was laundering a lot of dirty money into the music business to give the mafia legitimacy." David Romani claims in an interview that "he was murdered at his home in Guadeloupe by an unknown assassin, his body riddled with eight bullets sometime in 1986." He also said that "the murder presumably was connected with the illegal affairs Petrus was involved in." Engineer Michael Brauer has said that "he was killed in his homeland of Guadeloupe. Some people hated him so much, that they went to Guadeloupe to make sure he was dead." Former Change member Jeff Bova is quoted as saying: "I don't know if anyone knows the real reason. He obviously crossed someone in the underworld. It was a hit, an underworld/Mob kind of thing." Leroy Burgess said in an interview with Mats Nileskär on the Swedish national radio program "Soul" in 2001 "Petrus was involved in something connected to the underworld." Even though Burgess didn't say it straight out, it was obvious that the Mafia were a part of the Petrus net of connections in New York. All available sources point to Petrus' Mafia connections in such a way that there can be no doubt that such connections with the Mafia in the USA and/or Italy existed. One thing is for sure; his death was a sad end for a great producer. Jeff Bova described him like this: "Macho was his running theme. Jacques was the business, brains and money behind the creative team of Malavasi and Romani. He had lot's of energy and a "Macho" attitude to get what he wanted. He played the tough guy. He was self created. He was probably a wounded child who needed to build an empire around himself to protect who he really was. He was all about power. I remember when he picked me up at the Milan Airport on one of my trips to Italy to work. After clearing me through customs, he said "Jeff, you see, I decide if you get into the country or not. If I say let you in, they let you in, If I say you don't, you don't." He also drove really fast. Petrus was capable of a good laugh and did have a charming way at times. But he thought very highly of himself and he was a very passionate person. Very direct too. You knew he had the last word, he was the boss. He said to us once that, "I AM Change!." Drummer Terry Silverlight had this to say about Petrus: "I really liked Fred very much. He was always very kind to me and had a soft way about him that made me feel comfortable. He was quiet and careful about what he said. And when he said something to me it never came off as being aggressive. I liked him. I have heard brief quotes about Fred from other people, but I only know him the way I remember him and the way he treated me which was kindly and fairly." Michael Brauer, the most used engineer by Petrus' saw him both in the U.S. and Italy studios gives the most explicit, revealing and hardest picture of him: "Fred Petrus simply was the business man who took the credit for it all. He was a really bad man who screwed everyone he ever met out of money and credit. He abused people like they were crap." And he continues..."I saw him do things to young singers that destroyed them. He was a wolf in sheep's clothing. He was shit. If you think for one moment that Petrus was anything less than an evil man, you are much mistaken and to write otherwise would be misleading." Obviously Petrus had different sides with different people during different times and on different locations. Like most of us do. When it comes to business Petrus was a firm hard-liner that used any means necessary to reach his goals and obviously he was a very ruthless man in many respects too. More privately however, like in the studio he was also a person with some good sides. As always you get different answers from different people simply because we all have different relationships with different people and Petrus was no exception. Maybe his looks worked against him sometimes and added even more stuff to his tough and ruthless image. Terry Silverlight's experience was that: "You wouldn't want to mess with him. If you didn't know him, he could be very intimidating at first meeting." Besides this more hard driven and tough guy image he had a very friendly and relaxing way with most of his musicians and was respected for what he did as an executive producer. The gang of musicians in Italy in the early 1980's seemed to have had a relaxing as well as intense time together. Silverlight says that: "there was plenty of great food all the time. We stopped each day for fabulous lunches and were treated to great dinners at beautiful restaurants. I got along with everyone and there were never stressful moments. Intense, but not stressful." The image of Petrus as a pretty big guy with a roundish head and not much hair, probably fully shaven or bald. He wasn't fat, but he was big. His skin was dark but not black. Most of the people on Guadeloupe were mulatto, Petrus was. His looks could sometimes be intimidating. Jacques Fred Petrus was never married and did not have any known children. There are no known relationships with women either, speculation is that he was gay. Whoever Petrus was we are glad that he existed and brought us so much classic disco music both during disco's prime time and in the later dance-era.....thanks for being the "Music Man."