Larry Heard is a Memphis, Tennessee-based musician widely known for the Chicago-based house music he produced during the mid-1980s and continues to produce today. He was leader of the influential group Fingers Inc. and has recorded solo under various names, most notably Mr. Fingers. He is regarded as a pioneer of deep house music, moving house music away from its “posthuman tendencies back towards the lush” soulful sound of early disco music (particularly that of old Philadelphia International and Salsoul records).
Born on the South Side of Chicago, Heard grew up hearing jazz and Motown at home, and could play several instruments from a young age. Before beginning his solo musical career in 1983, he was a member of the bands Infinity (a jazz fusion cover group that included house legend Adonis). He also worked for the U.S. government as a benefit authorizer, which enabled him to buy his first studio equipment.Heard’s work which was particularly prolific during the late 1980s, early 1990s is credited with helping to birth the deep house genre and influencing numerous house, techno, nu-jazz and nu-soul artists. Some of his classics have included: Can You Feel It?, Bring Down the Walls (ft. Robert Owens), Mystery of Love, Washing Machine, Closer and What About this Love.Much of Heard’s music has been released and re-released under different names, which include Fingers Inc., Mr. Fingers, Loosefingers, Fingers, House Factors, and Trio Zero. Robert Owens was the vocalist on many of those tracks. Heard was also part of the duo known as the It, along with street poet Harry Dennis.
He never sold as many records as some of the other Chicago house producers, but Larry Heard is arguably the best to come out of the scene, providing the crucial marriage between the warmth and communal feeling of disco with the energy and futurism of house music. His classic mid-’80s singles on Trax Records — as Larry Heard and Mr. Fingers, as well as Fingers Inc. with the addition of vocalists
Ron Wilson and Robert Owens — set the template for every house-influenced producer to come later, and scores of dance artists have name-checked him as providing the best moments in house music’s history. Unlike many of his Chicago house contemporaries, Heard’s discography is quite large, with several albums released under each of his three major pseudonyms, plus several albums during the ’90s recorded as by Larry Heard. Born on Chicago’s south side in 1960, Heard began buying records from an early age, and was influenced by his parents’ jazz and gospel collection.
Though he practiced on guitar and bass as a youth, he joined a friend’s band playing drums after bluffing his way through an audition at the age of 17. Heard began practicing with fervor and became quite good, though he took a civil-service job as well to pay the bills.
While playing with a variety of local bands during the late ’70s and early ’80s (including one with future house star Adonis on bass), Heard was introduced to many different types of synthesizers, and he gradually became more interested in playing keyboards than drums. Heard finally opted out of the band setup in 1984, bought a synthesizer/drum machine combo and began producing music. After a few days with the gear, he had recorded three tracks later recognized as serious pinnacles of Chicago house, among them “Mystery of Love,” “Washing Machine,” and “Can You Feel It.” His lack of connections in the club scene made it difficult to get the tracks listened to, though Heard finally debuted on wax with a 1985 single for DJ International named “Donnie.”Instead of being credited to Larry Heard however, the single appeared as “the It”, and was co-written by street poet Harry Dennis. Later, on one of his infrequent trips into the club/party scene, Heard met up with Robert Owens. Owens was then working as a DJ, though he was an incredibly talented gospel-styled vocalist. Heard and Owens decided to form Fingers Inc., with the addition of Ron Wilson.
The nascent Chicago house scene was just about to explode with recording activity, and Heard released nearly a dozen singles during 1986-1987, for both Trax and DJ International. Fingers Inc. contributed Chicago classics like “Mystery of Love,” “You’re Mine,” “Distant Planet,” and“Bring Down the Walls,” while Mr. Fingers dropped quite possibly the most sublime house single ever released, “Can You Feel It”.
By the end of the ’80s, Heard’s name was being dropped by many in the new wave of British producers influenced by American house music. He continued recording in earnest, and released one of the first house full-lengths with the 1988 Fingers Inc. LP Another Side for Jack Trax Records. The following year, Jack Trax released Heard’s original 1984 instrumental demos as the Mr. Fingers album Amnesia, even though he had never given consent to the album’s issue. Despite its barely legal status, the LP showcased the first flowering of Heard’s genius with several impeccable tracks.
His large production role on the 1989 debut album by Lil’ Louis was noticed by the major labels and by the beginning of the ’90s,Heard was being offered contracts by several labels. He recorded additional material with Harry Dennis, though Dennis’ continuing drug problems gave Heard a desire to strike out on his own. After finally signing to MCA as a solo act in 1991, Heard issued his first major-label album one year later. Mr. Fingers’ Introduction charted an intriguing balance between floor-filling garage house and several tracks of polished jazz-fusion; Heard’s undying influence among DJs and producers alike made the album quite an international success. Though it graced the American dance charts as well, MCA attempted to interfere with the production of its follow-up, Back to Love, and later refused to release the album at all. It finally appeared in 1995 on Black Market Records, the label formed by Heard’s friend and former manager Ren Galston. By the time Back to Love was released, however, Heard had already recorded and released another album, his first as simply Larry Heard.
This incredible biography proves that Mr. Fingers Larry Heard is and always will be one of the greatest men to grace the house music scene…