Jeffrey Woodward: The Don of Detroit

Jeffrey Woodward: The Don of Detroit

June 13, 2024 Off By Editor

Mars Noumena Headline Photographer


Meet Jeffrey Woodward The Don: The Flint-Born DJ Shaping Detroit’s Musical Legacy

Inspired by Detroit radio legends like Tiger Dan, Mojo, and The Wizard [Jeff Mills], Woodward’s passion for music ignited. A transformative trip to Los Angeles in 1975 sparked his obsession with record collecting, which flourished as he worked in Flint’s/Detroits record stores throughout the mid-80s.

Woodward’s electrifying DJ sets at local hotspots like the Casablanca Lounge and Roller World cemented his reputation, especially when he wowed crowds with Funkadelic’s “Knee Deep.” His move to Detroit was a turning point, immersing him in the city’s burgeoning house and techno scenes.

As one of Flint’s pioneering house DJs, Woodward’s sets, influenced by Detroit’s powerful radio waves, broke new ground. He found himself at the epicenter of Detroit’s techno revolution, playing a crucial role in spreading the genre globally. Woodward also became a leading force in introducing the UK Garage sound to Detroit, further solidifying his influence on the city’s vibrant musical landscape.

The Don playing at a rave Windsor Ontario Canada 1999

Mike Mannix: Nice one man great to meet. Big up to REOSC for hooking us up! Give us your background then. So how you got into the music scene in Detroit and how you came up!

Jeffrey Woodward: Whutupdoe! Good to meet you. I’m originally from Flint. Growing up, I listened to rock and roll until the ages of 13-14, then I crossed over to R&B, realizing that I missed out on a lot of classics.

At the time, we had two R&B stations: one in Flint, and the other in Saginaw. But as I got into high school (shout out to Flint Northern c/o ’78), I started listening to the beginnings of Detroit radio.

Before there was an Electrifying Mojo, or The Wizard, we had Marvelous Marv, and Tiger Dan, so we’re talking around the mid 70’s. I listened to a lot of Detroit radio, then would go to the record stores there.

I got hooked on buying records while I was on vacation in L.A. back in 1975, and it’s stuck with me to this day. My first record store job was at Nick’s Disco Shack in Flint.

Mike Mannix: Was there a standout record? Was there something that you were listening to R&B, you were listening to rock and roll, and then was there any point where it was like, fuck, what’s this? Did something just jump out and grab you, or?

Jeffrey Woodward: Well, it was between what I heard on the radio, verus what I’d hear at the record store. But I do have a story if you’ll bear with me: my first gig was at the Roller World skating rink, then an ice skating rink in Swartz Creek.

My first club gig was at The Copa in Downtown Flint, then I went to this shop bar called The Casablanca Lounge. One of the DJ’s there was Carl Franklin, (who was also on the radio here) and we played on Thursday nights. One night, while hanging out at Studio 416 (the hottest club at the time), we were discussing Funkadelic’s (Not Just) Knee Deep.

So I’m in the club, right, wearing a long blue velour bathrobe with a red and beige stripe from top to bottom on the right side. Anyway, he mentions the record, and I told him to give me an hour, I’ll be right back, as he looked at me funny as I left.

I drove to Bad Records in Oak Park, picked up the 45, went back to 416, gave him the record, and once he put it on, the dancefloor was packed, and the crowd went wild! Folks were coming up to me,  like Oh Shit! And, damn Woodrow! And I’m like,

damn, this is my moment in the sun!”

I was a big R&B fan, then fell in love with Disco, listening to WLBS 102.7 FM. By the early to mid 1980’s, the radio landscape was changing, moving towards mix shows, and the birth of progressive, and House music.

Mike Mannix: And did you guys realize, when you first heard House, like, fuck, this is some new shit there’s something new happening here?

Jeffrey Woodward:  Yeah, I noticed it around 1986. I was the first DJ to spin House in Flint at Club Blackstone’s, and a lot of the music was based off what I heard via Detroit radio, realizing that Flint’s not used to this. It’s a big R&B town, but the people want to dance.

Mike Mannix: Ah, okay. Now we’re talking. This is the shit that we want to go to.

Jeffrey Woodward: I looked at it like this, music is different;

tracks were coming in from Detroit and Chicago, House and Techno.”

So yes, it’s something new to the point of if you play something long enough, you’ll break a new record. The crowd will understand that you’re not like other DJ’s, so let’s keep this thing going.

Mike Mannix: Yeah. Were you excited about it? Like, did you know in your heart, did you like, this is, and things are going to change?

Or was it just the music got you, and you thought other people might like it, or did you think, right, did you think that it was going to change history in music, which it has done, you know? Were you aware of that at the time?



Jeffrey Woodward: Well, Flint has been notoriously slow; musically, we’ve always been one step behind Detroit, and one step ahead of Saginaw, as House was being introduced here.

And radio,  along with the record stores, had a guiding hand. I started at Buy-Rite Music in 1988, commuting from Flint to Detroit. Then the house I lived in since childhood was sold in 1992, then I moved here permanently.

By that time, The

Electrifying Mojo was a pioneer on the airwaves, along with The Wizard (Jeff Mills).”

Mojo was a freeform DJ, and he singlehandedly changed the way we listened to music. You’d hear anything from Beethoven to the B-52’s. Parliament Funkadelic to Prince. Run-DMC to Rick James. And he was an early supporter of Detroit Techno when it was in its infancy.

Mike Mannix: Were you also getting into techno?

Jeffrey Woodward: I was playing bits and pieces, yeah whatever sounded good.

Mike Mannix: Nice one. When did Jeff Mills come into your life? What shop was that?

Jeffrey Woodward:  Jeff Mills was coming into Buy-Rite Music since his Wizard days. As he branched out, became an artist, he was putting out tracks on his Axis, and Mills Art labels.

Mike Mannix: Was it obvious to you guys at the time that, okay, this guy’s something special? And were there others coming up that you took notice of as well?

Jeffrey Woodward: We figured that it was a natural progression more than anything else.

It was Jeff, along with Eddie Fowlkes, Blake Baxter, Thomas Barnett, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins who put Techno on the map, with help from Windsor, Canada’s Richie Hawtin, and John Acquaviva.”

They all were the linchpins of the genre.

Mike Mannix: I’ve interviewed Juan. He was on the front cover about 6 years ago. I’ve also interviewed, Thomas Barnett, Derek Drivetrain, Detroit Techno Militia and DJ Roach [Tec-Troit]

Jeffrey Woodward: Yeah, they those cats you know, were like, the next wave right, God, so many people.

Mike Mannix: So many amazing artists have come out of fucking Detroit, the timelines get blurred. It’s good that you mentioned the next wave, every couple of years, some of the new guys come in. Sometimes, unless you’ve got a time chart, it’s fucking difficult at times to keep up, like, okay, he was in the 90s, he was in the 80s, and this person did this.

So it’s good to have somebody like yourself that’s gone through the whole era where you’ve been around all those guys, the other local crews, that’s why REOSC made this introduction and said, you want to talk to this guy.

The Don & REOSC

Jeffrey Woodward: Right, I met up with REOSC last year, and I can personally say that two years later, he’s a new son of Detroit, and his Leaprechaun Funk is a force to be reckoned with! He’s good people, with skills upon skills for days. Sometimes, it’s the ones that come out of nowhere who make things happen when you least expect it.

REOSC is the man that’s breaking through barriers, carving out what the new sound of Detroit Techno is all about.”

But, looking back at my career now, Detroit wise, I’d say that I’d probably be in the 6th or 7th wave of DJ’s coming through. There were T-shirts that spelled out the Periodic Elements of Techno, featuring luminaries like Mike Banks (MB), Underground Resistance (UR), Rolando (R)

etc. And nobody’s updated the shirts since.

Mike Mannix: And were you guys aware, of the gravity, the impact that that Detroit and Chicago was having in Europe at the time? I know it’s obviously pre-internet, but, the impact was fucking, crazy over here man, you know, for all the white kids.

Jeffrey Woodward: Well, let me give you the name of the person who kicked it off in the UK: Neil Ruston.

Mike Mannix: Yeah. UK.

Jeffrey Woodward: He was the person who released the double LP Techno The New Sound Of Detroit on 10 Records around 1988/89. Other than Mojo playing Techno, there was a point where at the club level, people weren’t understanding it.

But Neil put it out the album, and

it got hot in the UK, and it was fucking amazing. Then it spread like wildfire,

so it went from the UK, to Belgium, then over to Germany.

Mike Mannix: That’s right, yeah!

Jeffrey Woodward:  You know, then the founders didn’t get as far as love and respect here, but they got it over there!

Mike Mannix: And then that was when the floodgates opened really then for Detroit, wasn’t it?

Jeffrey Woodward: Yeah, definitely. You had places like Motor Lounge, and Lush Lounge in Hamtramck, and 1515 Broadway, and St. Andrew’s Hall downtown, places to experience it in its glory, becoming pivotal players, with the rave scene coming to the surface.

”DJ’s would come from Detroit and Chicago with an equal desire to bang the box.”

Mike Mannix: What was the scene like on the ground for the locals like yourself? Was it buzzing?

Jeffrey Woodward:  Yeah man, we had House clubs where the DJ’s would play some techno in their house sets. My first major gig in Detroit was at the legendary Club 246, the place for house music from 1988 until the mid 90’s.


The Don at Club 246 1997

Mike Mannix: Similar, yes. That was very similar to how it was in the UK and Ireland as well,  where I’m from, yeah, for sure!

Jeffrey Woodward: Right, and anything I’d say by definition, maybe the mid 90’s, everything became compartmentalized.

Mike Mannix: Right. We used to call it dance music, man. It was only after that where you say, are you listening to techno? Are you listening to house? For us, it was all just dance music. We never defined it separately until later.

Jeffrey Woodward: If you went to a rave here, you’d hear House, Techno, Hard House, Trance, Tech House, Speed Garage, and UK Garage. Thank God there was no gabber on a regular basis.

Mike Mannix: Haha or thank fuck EDM hadn’t been invented.

Jeffrey Woodward: Well, let me start off with this, and you can quote me.

EDM, my definition, Erectile Dysfunctional Music.”

Mike Mannix: Fucking wicked.

Jeffrey Woodward: The culture was great, until one night during the rave scene, one of the TV stations here, Fox 2, decided to do an expose on the underground, with the tagline “it’s 10 o’clock. Do you know where your children are?”

And that’s when the police took notice, cracking down on these events. And I’ve been a part of many raids, at many sketchy places. They’d call them blind pigs: anyplace operating illegally after hours.

Mike Mannix: So it killed the scene then? And you pushed into a different direction towards the UK Garage sound?

Jeffrey Woodward: Yea. I’ve been holding up the UKG flag here since 1996, trying to get in where I fit in. That’s what I wanted you know. I mean, it wasn’t like London, where you had pirate radio, and clubs with dedicated nights (like the Sunday Sessions). By the time the Internet rolled around,

I was lucky to be a part of, a collective of DJ’s who loved music, and had the spirit of Mojo with us, cause we played damn near everything.”

While working at Buy-Rite (until 1998), I didn’t realize that some of the records I sold was my introduction to UKG [UK Garage], By 1997/98, I was a featured DJ at Detroit’s legendary Club 246, and I had to find a way to be different, so I became the first DJ in the city to play garage on an exclusive basis.
Then I took my talents to Hamtramck’s Lush Lounge, where the Saturday night crowds couldn’t get enough. I moved over to Melodies and Memories in Eastpointe, managing the Dance Zone in 1998.
I met a fellow DJ, CDX, who was a member of the dubTech underground crew. One minute, we’re talking about speed garage, the next, I’m a member of the group. I went from someone who was on the bottom of the flyers, to headliner. The name? Well, DJ Godfather was already taken, but I wanted something along that line.

The Don & Austin

So, enter The Don, and I’ve never looked back. I’ve played alongside the greats like Terrence Parker, the late Paul Johnson, and UK Garage legend Todd Edwards. And throughout my journeys over the decades, there’s been three people who have kept me grounded through the good, the bad, and the ugly: Dezi Magby (DJ Psycho), Kevin J Klida (DJ Max Jerome), and Carolyn Ferrari.

When Burst Radio started, that’s when I met Brent Scudder, who now runs 313.FM in Detroit, and we’ve been holding it down for the past 10 years now.”

Mike Mannix: That’s amazing, man, and you’re still kicking it!

Jeffrey Woodward: Yeah, I didn’t think that I’d be one of the last Mohicans still standing, but there you go. I’m Detroit’s Original Don of UK Garage, and I’m NOT giving up the damn title title anytime soon.

Mike Mannix: Wicked conversation man, nice one.

Jeffrey Woodward: Thank you man for reaching out.

Jeffrey Woodward’s journey from Flint to Detroit encapsulates the transformative power of music and the indomitable spirit of a true DJ. His deep-rooted passion and innovative sets not only influenced local scenes but also contributed to the global rise of house and techno. Today, The Don stands as a testament to the rich musical heritage of Detroit, continuously inspiring new generations of DJs and music lovers. His legacy, interwoven with the sounds of an evolving era, remains a cornerstone of the dance music community.