DJ Chicken George knows how to scratch up a storm
By Joe Gross
April 14, 2005
No kidding. Chicken George might be the hardest working DJ in Austin.
The man is everywhere. He spins Fridays at the Red Fez and Saturdays at Oslo. He can be found First Thursdays at Zen on South Congress. He holds down first Tuesdays at K-Bar, and last Wednesdays at the Firehouse Lounge. And those don't include special gigs or roadshows.
Or maybe it's just that he seems everywhere. George, whose real name is Jeff Henry, is one of the best-marketed DJs around, releasing a seemingly endless supply of mix tapes and a clothing line with his logo, a mutated Chanel icon.
C.G. has this city on lock.
DJ Chicken George, whose real name is Jeff Henry, spins music all around Austin.
The trick is to be flexible. "Fridays and Saturdays are more like mainstream hip-hop and R&B," George says. "I like to always stay true to myself and throw in old-school stuff, some obscure stuff. I have to know the format of the club, but I can't just play a bunch of songs that everybody else is playing."
Other clubs earn different vibes and different sounds. "Zen needs laid-back, down-tempo beats, because it's a restaurant," he says. "For K-Bar, I bring more of a soul, 'jazztronica' sound."
"Jazztronica" is what George calls his best-known sound. "Jazzy beats and electronic music mixed together," he says, and plenty of it can be found on his latest mix CD, "Chicken Soup, Vol. 4," where Stevie Wonder hangs with Pete Roc, and Groove Theory is blended with Brand Nubian. It's a smooth ride.
George is cagey about his age, but admits to being a Boston transplant before moving to Houston as a youth. "In elementary school I was really into RUN-DMC, LL Cool J, Whodini, Public Enemy, all of that," he says. "I have a twin brother who lives in Los Angeles. We used to dress up like Run DMC -- the black glasses, the hat and all that."
His high school hip-hop group was top-heavy with rappers, which meant someone had to get a new job. "We had four MCs and no DJ, and I was the worst lyricist, so I bought turntables," he says matter-of-factly. He DJed in Houston for years before making the jump to the ATX.
"I moved here a week before SXSW in '03," George says. "I'd been doing radio in Houston for seven years, but I thought I could gig a little bit better here."
Well, he's certainly done well for himself, but there are reasons for that. Unlike so many actors who want to be directors, or DJs who really want to be producers, George seems very happy doing his thing in the clubs. "I like selecting music, picking tracks, making mix CDs," he says, "that's the thing that's I'm into. I haven't started making my own music, but I've done scratches and cuts for artists."
That said, he's recently released his first 12-inch EP, "DJ Chicken George Presents: The Swed.u.s.h. Connection," a collection of instrumental tracks from producers Take, Hydroponic Sound System and Malcolm Kipe, released on a Scandinavian record label called Swedish Brandy. Only Kipe is from Austin, though H.S.S. hails from Dallas.
The "Chicken Soup" series of jazztronic rhythms shows no signs of stopping, and George plans on launching a new series in the next few months. "It's going to be called 'C.G. Classics,' " he says. "It's going to be a series of classic hip-hop tracks. We'll start with real old-school stuff, mostly from a Grandmaster Flash show I opened for in December. After that, we'll do one that's more of the Native Tongues-era stuff," referring to late '80searly '90s groups such as De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and the Jungle Brothers. "I've listened to that kind of music forever, and I've always wanted to put it all on one compilation."
And George could teach a class in marketing. You rarely see him in public clothed in anything other than Chicken George clothes. "(Designer) Stephen Donovan at Southern Draw came up with the logo," he says. "A logo has to be all about instant communication: You're something recognizable and just flipping it."
It's a brilliant bit of design, and as a result, you can find the gold C.G. at Factory People, Waterloo, Gomi, Parts and Labor and more.
As for the name, well, as with so much in our lives, we get to blame childhood trauma. "It started as a joke," George says. "My parents are from Trinidad and we always had chickens. When I was in the seventh grade, we watched 'Roots' with the character Chicken George, and kids started teasing me, calling me that. I hated it, but since then I decided just to use it. It sticks out."