Remembering Rodger ‘Uncle Jamm’ Clayton, early L.A. rap promoter
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The name Rodger Clayton might ring unfamiliar to the 35-and-under set, but his death from a heart attack Sunday marks the untimely loss of one of the pioneers of Los Angeles hip-hop. A founder of the legendary mobile disco crew Uncle Jamm’s Army, Clayton was a West Coast cognate to such seminal New York figures as Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa.
Uncle Jamm’s Army fused George Clinton, Prince, Kraftwerk and the early electro-rap booming out of the South Bronx, and its popularity was practically peerless among the urban youth during its early to mid-1980s zenith. Founded in 1978, the crew hit its stride after changing its name in 1983 and graduated from throwing parties in small concert halls to the Los Angeles Sports Arena, the Los Angeles Convention Center and the Hollywood Palladium.
A 1983 Times article, archived on the thorough West Coast Pioneers site, catalogs Clayton & Co.'s ascent and captures West Coast hip-hop at its most incipient stage. In addition to their massive disco-rap blowouts, Clayton and his crew recorded some of the era’s most famed local hits, including ‘The Roach Is on the Wall,’ ‘What’s Your Sign’ and the classic Egyptian Lover collaboration, ‘Dial-A-Freak.’
Under Clayton’s aegis, Uncle Jamm’s Army incubated the careers of numerous legendary DJs and performers, including the Egyptian Lover, DJ Pooh, Rodney O & Joe Cooley, and Alonzo Williams, who would go onto form Uncle Jamm’s chief rivals, the World Class Wreckin’ Cru.
‘Rodger Clayton was one of the most influential people on the West Coast when it comes to the hip-hop movement. When I first moved to L.A. in 1983, I was shocked that a promoter could fill the L.A. Sports Arena with 8,000 people for a ‘dance.’ No artists, just DJs such as Egyptian Lover and DJ Bobcat,’ Greg Mack said in a statement to Urban Daily. ‘He will truly be missed, and I hope that people will now take a look at everything he created for the people of L.A. and Riverside. Not only did he give light to West Coast artists, but East Coast artists as well. He never wanted to do interviews when people would ask him for his story. He always wanted to do his own book and/or a movie for Uncle Jamm’s Army, so he was hesitant to give anyone an in-depth interview.’
-- Jeff Weiss