Business is Booming

Jose Armada, Jr., has built his own empire from the spine-rattling, ass-shaking success of bass music.

In an effort to help keep his son in the family business, Jose Sr. connected with Allen Johnston, a local promotion man who had worked with various labels and was at the time between jobs. Convinced that releasing hit records was simply a matter of finding the right song and putting the right amount of money behind it, Johnston told the elder Armada that he was interested in starting a label but lacked the capital. Jose Sr. made Johnston an offer: Get my son involved in the label and I'll back you. With a $1000 donation from Pop for start-up costs, Armada and Johnston (who split with Armada last winter following creative differences) started calling local studios, looking for potential acts for the newly christened Joey Boy Records. They spent $300 on the Rock Five single -- and barely made their money back -- when the green exec Armada came up with an idea for a song.

"There was a big rap record called 'Roxanne' that everyone was doing remakes of and making answer records to," Armada says, hardly exaggerating. The song, "Roxanne, Roxanne," a 1985 hit for the Brooklyn trio UTFO, actually inspired more sequels than any other record since Hank Ballard's 1954 R&B classic "Work With Me Annie." There were more than twenty of them, the best of which included Roxanne Shante's "Roxanne's Revenge," and "The Real Roxanne," a duet between Roxanne (Joanne Martinez) and UTFO. "There were so many 'Roxanne' records out that we decided someone should put out the final chapter," Armada recalls. "So we put out what must've been the thirtieth 'Roxanne' record, called 'Roxanne, No More,' that we recorded with P.B. Floyd. We sold about 50,000 units of that song, which really blew us away. That's when the money started coming in. And since we had a pressing plant next door, we didn't have to worry about having enough copies to sell to distributors. My father said, 'Hey, you've got a hot record that's selling. Press as many as you want.' It really helped me out, having a father who owned a pressing plant. It helped bring more money in."

Just as it ushered in the death of the "Roxanne" saga, Joey Boy also was an early marketer of freestyle, a beat-heavy disco-pop concoction whipped up by Miami producer Tony Butler, the mastermind behind Debbie Deb's seminal 1983 track "When I Hear Music," which would influence other freestyle acts such as Expose, Company B, the Cover Girls, and Judy Torres, to name but a few. Joey Boy entered freestyle's high-energy arena with local groups including Sequel, Erotic Exotic, and Rock Force, landing the occasional national and regional hit and fighting for national and regional radio airtime. Then, as Armada puts it, a drought set in: "Freestyle kept us in business, but there wasn't much else going on. For about two years, we couldn't even buy a hit. We were selling nothing. Everything we put out, we would barely make back our costs. We weren't even paying ourselves a salary for a while. We would get a lot of airplay at times, but the sales weren't there. We just couldn't find a good song anywhere."

Turning once again to rap, Joey Boy stayed afloat with hits by the Miami Boyz, Success-N-Effect, and the Dogs, a triple-X trio that became one of the label's best-selling acts thanks to the local hit "Take It Off," a pair of successful albums (1990's The Dogs and Beware of the Dogs), and a ribald stage show that borrowed considerably from the flesh-pot productions of Luther Campbell and 2 Live Crew. But Armada admits that the label "never really had that big hit until bass music came along."

It was Orlando bass pioneer DJ Magic Mike who opened Armada's eyes and ears to the commercial potential of this new underground music. "He was selling just a ton of records," Armada explains, "so I started checking out his music. I saw that the only difference between the Dogs and Mike was the heavy bottom he had to his music, this massive sound underneath everything. We had a better show and were getting more airplay, but he was selling like four times as many records as us. It was that bass, and I learned that there was a whole underground clientele out there for this music." While digging through piles of artist-submission cassettes, Armada found a tape by DJ Fury and RX Lord, an Orlando duo that was fishing for a record deal with Joey Boy. An idea hit him: "I had a group years ago called Bass Patrol, a copy of a freestyle group. So I told [Fury and Lord] that I owned this name and that if they wanted to sign with me they would have to use that name and do this kind of music. They said yes, and we were in business."

Johnston, Armada's partner, wasn't impressed by the throbbing style of music being explored by the label. Armada laughs when recounting Johnston's reaction upon hearing Planet Bass, Bass Patrol's maiden effort for Joey Boy. "He heard that record and said 'Man, are you crazy? This is horrible. You're wasting your time and our money. Radio isn't gonna play that.' But I knew it was going to sell -- I could just feel it, you know? So we put out the record and the first three weeks it's out, nothing happens, and I'm thinking 'Oh, God, what have I done?' Then, at the end of the third week, the orders started coming in from distributors and retailers. My fax machine literally ran out of paper from all the orders coming in."

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