Sometimes, if you look hard enough, you can find beauty in the cruelty of life. These days, Boca Raton-based DJ and director of Miami's Scratch Academy Jamie Keogh, AKA DJ Immortal, is learning that lesson on a daily basis. It's been only a few months since he got a phone call out of the blue from Ron Adler DJ extraordinaire of South Florida during the 1970s and '80s the man who DJ'd the Dolphins ticker-tape parades and climbed on top of the Miami Marlins dugout in 1979 to spin records. According to legend, Adler played practically every bar mitzvah, wedding, and high school graduation party from here to Orlando. He's not exactly a household name, but he paved the way for DJing to become popular in South Florida at a time when the only acts getting booked to play parties were bands.
Well, Adler's not doing so well these days. He says he wants the most intimate details of his ailments to remain private, but during a phone conversation with Dred Scott, he revealed that he suffers from peripheral vascular disease a genetic complication that results in poor circulation and a narrowing of the veins. Adler has lost both of his legs to the disease and, as a result, no longer feels comfortable DJing.
"I'm old and retired and not healthy enough to be the power behind the party anymore," Adler says. "You gotta get out there and pump... and there comes a time when you gotta let someone else do the pumping for awhile and pass the torch."
With a massive record collection, six DJ turntables, and loads of equipment just sitting around his house, Adler woke up one morning and decided that he was going to make somebody's day a lucky one. The first person he called was DJ Immortal.
"The phone rang at the Scratch Academy, and he called looking for me," Immortal says. "I don't know if he found me on the Internet or what, but he left me a message saying that he had something special for me. We played phone tag, but eventually, he told me his whole story and said he wanted to give all of his records to the right person. He just said, 'I see you're teaching kids to DJ over at the academy; you seem like a good person to give it to. '"
The two met at Adler's house in North Miami and, through lengthy conversations, which Immortal now realizes were like having one-on-one sessions with a dancehall sage, Adler parted with his entire record catalog a collection Adler estimates includes nearly 10,000 pieces of rare vinyl. Immortal thinks, off the top, that the records could easily be worth a million dollars.
"It's such a library," Immortal says. "The majority of his collection was 45s. Original Johnny Cash pressed up on 45. Like every record the Beatles put out, ever. I know most of their stuff, I'm a huge fan, but there are multiple records by the Beatles that he gave me, stuff they put out before they got signed to Capitol, that I've never heard of. It's going to take me a long time to go through it all."
Of course, if the records are worth so much and Adler is out of work, why isn't he selling them? For Adler, the answer is simple. The records are priceless, he says. He means it. There's no way he could sell something that means more to him than anything monetary. It was practically his entire life's work.
Adler got started in 1977 when he worked a side job hauling equipment for a bandleader and learned, through osmosis, how to play parties. Before that, he was a tuba player a serious one at that and a music major at Florida State University. Then he found his real instrument of choice the turntable. Adler's glory years came in the early 1980s, when longtime Miami Dolphins owner Joe Robby pegged him to play the teams official off-site events. He recalls Robby's favorite tune, "The Impossible Dream" by Kate Smith. There are a lot of other memories, like his residency as a DJ at the Saxony Hotel in Miami Beach.
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Adler had a good run; ironically, it was technology and not his health that slowed him down.
"I played vinyl," Adler says. "All vinyl. Sometimes, I would make a cassette here and there, but vinyl was the medium. If you had a cassette, it was like you were cheating a li'l bit. Vinyl is a very tactile thing. When you put a CD in, it's cold and hard, and you have to push to another track. When you play vinyl, you can actually see where you're going to put the needle down. And you get to know your vinyl. It has a personality. Once I stopped playing with vinyl, I noticed a big change in how I felt about the parties. Sometime in the late '80s, I got a Sony Discman, and I attached it to my DJ board so I could play either/or. I thought it was a good idea at the time. I didn't want to get left in the dust. I thought they were gonna stop making vinyl, so I learned to play with CDs." In the end, he says now: "It was unnecessary."
This weekend, Immortal and zany music-maker Jared Cole are organizing a tribute to Adler at the Alehouse Rock Café in Margate. It's a DJ battle of sorts, featuring 12 DJs playing music from the '60s to the '80s. Out of respect for Adler, it's an all-vinyl affair no laptops, CDs, or digital music allowed. Adler is even lined up to judge the competition, although he sounds as if he just wants to sit back and enjoy it.
"Hell, I'm just glad that some of these kids are taking interest."