By Stu Chisholm, “The Complete Disc Jockey”
When summer arrives, spinning music in the D – what Michiganiacs affectionately refer to as Detroit and its suburbs – means one thing: it’s car cruise season! Owners of classic cars, most members of one of the many clubs around town, will gather at various bars, restaurants and other hotspots for impromptu “car shows,” often enticed by freebies, special pricing and contests where they can win trophies, food and other prizes. It’s a great symbiosis; the cars attract customers to the businesses; the businesses give proud owners of classic cars a place to show them off and everyone profits in the process.
SOUND + VISION
The obvious role for a cruise DJ is to play classic music to accompany the classic cars! That means you’ll need more than the 20 minutes to an hour’s worth of oldies that the wedding guys might play. A good DJ knows that car cruisers have been making the rounds, sometimes for decades, and they’ve heard it all. So while you’ll still need all the staple tunes – even the most experienced cruiser might want to hear “No Particular Place To Go” by Chuck Berry again – I’ve always made it my job to try and surprise them. There are clues to help.
For one thing, standard faire among cruise DJs is ‘50s and ‘60s music, with liberal doses of Motown. (I did mention Detroit, right?) But sometimes you might notice a car that is even older! One night I spotted an old war era car rumbling in with a front plate that said “1942,” so I fired-up Glenn Miller’s “American Patrol.” The driver came up and shook my hand. I made the driver of a 1928 Cadillac, a spitting image of Al Capone’s famous car, break out in a huge grin when I played “West End Blues” by Louis Armstrong. That cruise was held at a bar I once worked for regularly and the owner came out, complimented me and slipped me a fat tip. (Very rare for him!) I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the music database on my laptop can list music by year as well as tempo and other parameters. That was back in the ‘90s and my software had been custom made. Today, a DJ just has to make sure that his music has the proper year listed in the ID3 tags.
Technical details aside, the main take away here is to pay attention! Get to know the cars, if you’re not a fan already, and when you see a car from 1965, have a tune ready from that year. Break out those deep cuts; songs that were fun and popular despite not being in the Top-10. Try to learn the names and faces, because you may see them repeatedly at various shows. You’ll also make car owners happy when you make announcements reminding spectators to mind their keys, umbrellas and beverages when getting close looks at the cars.
Just like the old “sock hops,” a cruise night is a theme party, even if nobody really knows it. The years have moved along, and today cars from the ‘70s and ‘80s are appearing at the shows. After all, 1984 was 30 years ago! So I might toss-in something like John Lennon’s “Watching The Wheels,” or “Built For Speed” by the Stray Cats. Even when constrained by a format, the sheer amount of music available means that your creativity is virtually unlimited!
This also includes your appearance. Give the wedding tux the night off and break out your grandpa’s old High School letter sweater, or that leather jacket that looks like the one worn by “The Fonz” on “Happy Days.” A neat online find for me was a website called “Daddy-O’s.” They have some great classic style shirts, such as the one inspired by James Dean in “Rebel Without A Cause,” and neat shirts with the Sun Records label. For a beach party, I found a decent replica of the relatively tame Hawaiian shirt worn by Elvis Presley in his movie, “Blue Hawaii.” These details aren’t vital, but how can a DJ ignore this kind of fun? Use your imagination and take your creativity out for a run!
Running the average cruise night also means running 50/50 raffles, encouraging people to vote for their favorite car (sometimes with different categories), talking about the cars, reading interesting tidbits from magazines like “Cruise News” and taking requests.
THE GRAND FINALE
Depending on where you live, many places have that one huge cruise either at the peak of the season or at the end. In the Detroit area, it’s called the “Woodward Dream Cruise.” (Woodward being a huge divided highway that radiates out from Detroit deep into the ‘burbs. Other streets also have cruises around the same time, but Woodward is the big game in town, covered by local TV sometime to the point of hair-ripping annoyance.
For the DJ, though, this means many opportunities for work, since every bar, restaurant, resale shop, boutique and ice cream shop along the route wants music! For these, you’ll be adding a lot more activities to your repertoire. Unlike the cruise clubs who mostly know each other and will sit and talk or mill around most of the night, whole families will come out to the businesses, allowing the DJ to run contests more involved than just raffles. I introduced a group of kids who hadn’t been born before the turn of the century to the joys of the hula hoop! Some parents couldn’t resist joining in and both kids and adults had fun laughing at one another.
Been a while since you broke out the old limbo pole? This is the time to dust it off! Limbo was a huge craze back in the ‘60s and can be a perfect pastime for people waiting to see the next wave of cars cruising by. Or maybe turn “The Twist” into a contest! More often than not, the business you’re working with will have prizes to hand out. Aside for the car awards, it may be up to you to find ways to give them away.
If you become involved with the local cruise community, you may find yourself tied-in to a good many functions beyond the cruises! Hot Rod groups have holiday parties, rallies, races, house and even tailgate style parties. One day you’ll be set up in a parking lot, then the next you’ll be in a backyard of a private home, and maybe out at the local race track for yet another event. Get used to working outdoors a lot and be sure to bring a decent “survival kit,” consisting of a cooler with ice, water or beverages, snacks, sunscreen, bug spray and maybe even a chair and light tent, since some cruise events can last all day long. I also drag along a portable fan, because a cool DJ is a happy DJ.