By Jacob Katel
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Anybody who thinks Carmel Ophir spins at the Vagabond every Saturday night just because he's one of the club's owners is best advised to think again. Better yet, those thinking such thoughts would be wise to swing through the NoDo hot spot when the man is manning the booth, so they can hear for themselves just how much music means to this cat.
Even full-time DJs who share the nights with Ophir are quick to point out how seriously he takes his spinning. And they're ever ready to talk about how giddy Ophir gets when he's tracking the house through another kick-ass set of classics.
Asked about his sound, Ophir says it's a mix of rock, mod, garage, psychedelic, and soul. Yet even that seemingly all-encompassing explanation only hints at the breadth of what he does. To Ophir, a song must first have an R&B component before it even gets onto his playlist, but he's as likely to spin vintage British Invasion as he is to slip in some so-called Northern soul. More important, Ophir wants to hear "swagger and moxie, and a freewheeling rebellious spirit."
But don't think he's simply a classicist with a well-worn collection of Lenny Kaye's Nuggets at his disposal. Because Ophir can get just as excited when a contemporary act brings a new spin to an old favorite, like the Black Crowes did recently with their Emotional Rescue-esque "I Ain't Hiding."
And Ophir is just as eager to reach back further, to the originals who influenced the Kinks and the Yardbirds and the Stones in the first place. On Tuesdays, for the weekly Stone Groove event at the Vagabond, he's wicked quick to tip his turntable to the Delta blues before raising a toast to an outtake from the likes of Otis Redding or Jackie Wilson. And though he's loath to spin house himself, Ophir has helped make the Vagabond a home to many of the genre's kingpins, including Little Louie Vega, Jellybean Benitez, and John Digweed (who, along with Rodney Mayo, rounds out the Vagabond's ownership).
This New York-born, Miami-based operative has helped build our local music scene in myriad ways — be it as DJ-in-residence at fabled venues such as Groove Jet or as one of the sound slingers in the swing-soaked, rockabilly drive-by known as Uptown Jive. And there's a damn good reason he continues to do so, whether he's one of many holding court at New Times events such as Artopia, or throwing down the closing set on a white-hot Saturday night: because he believes in the power of music.
In this day and age of insta-DJs looking only to have their closeups, it's nice to know there's someone who cares about more than glory. So, no, Ophir didn't open up his own joint in order to realize his spinning potential. He opened up his own joint to realize the potential of sound. And if his sessions at the Vagabond didn't sate the sonic beast, he wouldn't even be in the booth. Bet on it.
Carmel Ophir's personal top ten:
1. "I Ain't Hiding," Black Crowes
2. "Shake Your Hips," Rolling Stones
3. "The Changeling," the Doors
4. "Boom Boom," John Lee Hooker
5. "Woman," Barrabas
6. "Melting Pot," Booker T. and the MGs
7. "Tombstone Blues," Bob Dylan
8. "Shot Down," the Sonics
9. "She's Got Everything," the Kinks
10. "Trampled Under Foot," Led Zeppelin