The record label Muggsy is not related to Muggsy Spanier, the legendary jazz
cornettist. Nor is it connected to the tiny terror of the NBA, Muggsy Bogues.
Neither, for that matter, is it linked to Cypress Hill DJ and producer DJ Muggs.
Nope. It is, however, entirely related to the Brooklyn house firmament, Henry
The man behind Henry Street is Johnny De Mairo, known among New York
industry heads simply as Johnny D; ergo he is also the chap responsible for
Muggsy, which is why we are here.
For those of you who are not familiar with the oeuvre of Johnny D – and where
ya been if not? – let’s step to one side for the moment and run through the CV.
Born and bred in Brooklyn (and proud of that fact), Johnny D has been a DJ,
record and autograph collector from the moment he had some spare cash. He
got his first break in the music industry working for Vince Pellegrino’s S.I.N.,
before moving on to work for Atlantic Records, with whom he was associated for
Among the many projects he’s been involved with there (and there
really are too many to mention) were the Bucketheads, with his longtime friend
and associate Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez, the remix for Tori Amos’ ‘Professional
Widow’ which wound up at number one in the UK pop charts, and the remix and
campaign for Everything But The Girl’s ‘Missing’, which he took from indie nohopers
to the upper echelons of the Billboard Hot 100. “Johnny D spotted the
potential of this record early,” writes Tracey Thorn of ‘Missing’ in Disco Bedsit
Queen, “and refused to give up on it long after it might have seemed reasonable
to admit defeat. He made us realize that the song was taking off in a big way.”
As well as his major label manoeuvres, Johnny also had his ear to the ground at
street level. He first launched Henry Street in 1993, followed a few years later by
Muggsy. “I was looking at the house market and thinking a lot of the labels were
hitting a wall. I felt as a record fan and a collector, I wasn’t interested in a lot of
the shit that was out. I’d go to Vinylmania and around and I wasn’t interested.
I’d find myself tilting towards imports and I thought, you know, ‘I know how to
make records, I should start my own label’. Masters at Work was just starting
to kill things and Wednesday was their night at Sound Factory Bar night, which
is where we all were. One night, I said to Tommy Musto, who was one of my
close friends, I was thinking about doing a label. He said, “Well listen, I got all my
distribution through Northcott, if you wanna do it, we’ll do all the pressing and
distribution and you do the A&R.”
Henry Street became known for a sound deeply rooted in the disco that Johnny
De Mairo loves and collects while still taking care of dancefloor business.
Muggsy was his chance to branch out into other areas. “After years of Henry Street music being predominantly a soulful house label, I wanted to have another outlet to
release different types of records,” recalls Johnny. “Initially, I had intended for
Muggsy to be the harder more ‘tribal-type’ label and keep the soulful stuff for
Henry Street. So when Chris ‘TKC’ Staropoli came to me with ‘Back Jack’ I figured
that was the best time for Muggsy to begin as it was a bit tribal but, more than
that, pushed the envelope a bit more than my regular releases on Henry Street.”
With a collection of like-minds gathered around the De Mairo table recording
for the label, some of them New York cohorts (Kenny Dope, Brutal Bill), with
Chicago’s Ralphi Rosario, Robbie Rivera from Puerto Rico and Miami’s Mike ‘Da
Mooch’ Mucci, Muggsy released a string of tracks that ploughed a different
furrow to big daddy Henry Street. But the Muggsy groove still retained the
sample-based ethos (and disco roots) of its proprietor Johnny D (who also found
time to released tracks under the Sopranos pseudonym with studio partner
“After Chris’s TKC, I was getting some tracks that were more in the pop/rock
category than the soulful/black style that pretty much was the Henry
Street Music sound,” remembers Johnny. “So Muggsy went from initially a harder
sound, to more of a rocky feel added to the tribal sound. But it still had its own
sound and the roster was a good extension of Henry Street Music in the way that
the name and brand power was there with artists like Brutal Bill, Kenny Dope
The Muggsy Story is a document of a special time in New York history, before the
gentrification of New York made party-throwing a guerilla activity, rather than
the core of its musical soul. Muggsy, we salute you.