It's past his 9 o'clock deadline, but the regulars at the Clover Leaf Bar on North Taylor won't let Disco-T go.
"I'm gonna play one more, this last one is for the owner, and this is her very favorite Mr. James Taylor," he says into the microphone atop his traveling DJ setup. The somewhat incongruous pop strains of "How Sweet It Is" fill the bar, and Ethel Johnson, the bar's owner, gives Disco-T a smile. He keeps packing up his records and equipment, knowing he'll probably actually play at least a couple more songs before the old folks let him get out the door and on the road to his next gig, across the bridge in Illinois. Still, he takes the time to repeatedly remind his audience to drive carefully and, "This is that weekend, so when you go home tonight, don't forget to set your clocks up an hour."
Here's how Disco-T explains his typical weekend schedule: "During the week, it's more or less just normal, with me gettin' up in the morning, going down to News 4 and doing my shift, and then doing my daily rounds for Jiffy Express package delivery. But when Friday comes around, I'm up at about five a.m. to be at the station doing production for the morning show, then off to make my Jiffy rounds until about five o'clock, and then Friday night I hang out and help a friend of mine who dee-jays around the corner from here at a little place called Peter Gunn's. That means I'm out late Friday; then Saturday, I get a little sleep and get over here (to the Clover Leaf) in time for my five to nine gig every Saturday, and then I will try to stay and talk just for a minute, but I got to get on over to the east side by eleven o'clock. I spin records at a club over there called Another Level, in East St. Louis. That usually goes until about six in the mornin'. I drive back across the bridge, get back to my house in Florissant, and then I hide. There are some times when I hear that voice that says, 'Boy, you need to get up and go to church,' but mostly I sleep. On Sunday, it's like my grade school teacher used to say: 'If you ain't bleedin', dead or dyin', don't call me.' By Sunday, I'm damn near runnin' on empty."
It's hard to begrudge Tony Butler, a.k.a. Disco-T "yours truly," a Sunday day of rest. He works three jobs, not including the full-time husband, dad and stepdad roles: production technician at KMOV-Channel 4, delivery driver for Jiffy Express on Olive and spinning records as Disco-T for bars, birthday parties, wedding receptions and family reunions, which he's done since 1979.
"I'll tell you what I've been doing it since 1979, street jock I guess you'd call me, and I love it. I just love the music! Lotta people tell me, 'Man, you're stuck in the '70s; how can you listen to that music?' And I am, in some ways. I love that old stuff, that funk and blues and rock. The thing about comin' in home late at night in the '70s, they knew you'd been out dancing, 'cause you were sweatin'! There was no doubt you'd been out dancing, rather than he'n and she'n, which is what I call it."
Not that Disco-T doesn't get his opportunities for she'n, although he is a happily married man. Still...
"My wife used to have trouble understanding how I could be knowing all these females who would come up and request songs and talk to me in clubs, without me tryin' to get to know them, if you know what I mean. But then she would come out sometimes where I was spinning and she would see how it is, that women will just come up to me and start talking."
"For some reason, Miss Irma decided she likes Mystikal, so I always play it for her the clean side," Tony laughs.
Tony's stayed in the music business all these years by giving the people what they want, even going so far as to make an annual trip to Fort Worth, Texas, to dj the birthday party of a friend whose job with Southwestern Bell relocated him there. He has big dreams for the future, including getting together a demo tape and an application to host his own music show on KDHX-88.1 community radio. And he swears he'll be out spinning records somewhere until he "cannot physically pick the stuff up and haul it around anymore." (It should be noted that Disco-T is available for your next special event, at 314-837-3022.)
For now, he'll keep on working his regular weekend gigs, which he tries never to miss or change at the last minute, even if another paying opportunity arises. "Even though the money sometimes might be good, I just don't want to make it hard for these people who are counting on me to be there every week, unless I can give them a lot of notice, then they can make other arrangements," Tony says. "Just like you don't want to be treated funky, I try to be good about that."
By 10:30, the crowd's thinned out at the Clover Leaf, and Disco-T has to end his conversations.
"I'm out the door just like I came in the door," he says. "I really gotta go, 'cause I still got to go to work, y'all."