| Image by City Paper Digi-Cam
DJ Jonny Blaze has been a key figure in Baltimore club for more than a decade. So when I contacted him for an interview recently, he was understandably curious about what took me so long to look him up. But the fact of the matter is, well, there's a lot of Jonny Blazes out there-I mistakenly introduced myself to another DJ using the name at an event a couple years ago. "Man, it's like hundreds of 'em," says the 38-year-old producer born John Grant. "They hit me up on MySpace, 'How long you had your name?' One guy said he had his name since 2005. I got you beat, my cousin gave me my name back in '88."
Jonny Blaze began producing club music in the mid-'90s, after he began working with DJ Patrick, with whom he still collaborates today. By that point, he'd already been a DJ for a few years, and had the right musical background for Baltimore club. "I was definitely a hip-hop head," he says. "I was playin' Chicago house, all the old house music."
At the time, he recalls, cliques were already forming in club and it was difficult to be accepted as a new producer. But Blaze says that he and DJ Patrick were instrumental in breaking down that system, by servicing music to other lesser known DJs playing in smaller venues. "DJs that never had access to the big producers and stuff, they playin' all these little bars and stuff," Blaze says. "Eventually [the songs heard in] them little bars is gonna trickle into the big clubs, because the people that go into those little bars are the same people that go into those big clubs. They'll go in there, like, 'Do you have this song?' And it worked."
One of Jonny Blaze's trademarks as a producer is his penchant for sampling children's TV shows, including
Dora The Exporer
, and, most famously,
. As you could probably guess, the producer has young children. "I used to lay there with my daughter and my son and watch Nickelodeon," he recalls. "They'd be like, 'Man, that's a nice song, what you think of that?' I gotta give my daughter credit for the SpongeBob [sample], because I would have never thought of it if she hadn't."
Unwittingly, Blaze set off one of the biggest dance crazes in recent Baltimore club history when local kids came up with a lightening fast leg-skipping move to accompany his track, and eventually started doing the SpongeBob to just about any song. "It just happened," he says. "I walked in the [Paradox], and I think [Supa DJ Big L] was playin' it, and I seen this guy rockin' off to it.
"And I'm lookin' at him like,
What the hell is he doin'?
so my buddy was, like, 'That's the Spongebob,'" he laughs. "Of course, I'm a big guy, so you wouldn't see me doin' that. After the first couple moves I'd get a heart attack."
Nowadays, though, Blaze is looking to get more dance crazes started, and used a recent
to introduce the "Ice Cream dance" for his collaboration with DJ Patrick and D'Asar. Meanwhile, his label Blaze One Records has been consistently releasing EPs of tracks by Jonny Blaze as well as other producers, and moving units on
. But what he really has his eye on, at the moment, is expanding his territory as a DJ, and joining the growing list of Baltimore club artists who've taken the music abroad. "I'm tryin' to get to the U.K., Sweden, all of them, so they can really hear club music," he says.