Remembering J.A.M.O.N., godfather of the Austin house scene

Courtesy of John Wesley Horne.

On March 6, Austin’s dance music scene was dealt a devastating blow when Jamon Jaleki Horne, a house DJ who dominated local clubs, spinning under the name J.A.M.O.N., died following a two-and-a-half-year battle with cancer. He was 44.

“He was a legend in the house scene,” Horne’s close friend and fellow DJ, Mark Denim, said. “He was the top dog of Austin, in history, for house music and everybody knew it.”

On Saturday, Denim will host a college fundraiser for Horne’s son, Kimon, a high school senior, at Ethics Music Lounge. So many turntablists asked to participate that the event rapidly grew from a nighttime benefit show into a marathon 12-hour gig that kicks off at 2 p.m. and runs through 2 a.m. Two dozen DJs are set to spin 30-minute sets. There is no cover and 70 percent of bar sales will go to the family. Denim also will sell T-shirts at the event to benefit Horne’s family and he’s set up a GoFundMe site for folks who can’t attend.

Todd Burgener, who goes by the name Toddy B, is one of the DJs who will spin at the event. He calls Horne a “godfather” of the local house scene.

“He was there with the guys who started it back in the late ’90s,” he said. “He was a record producer. He was a record buyer. He worked in the clubs as a DJ. Every club that was a hot club, Jamon worked at.”

Standing 6 feet, 7 inches tall with a deep voice and a distinctive, cosmopolitan style that reflected his other life as a hairstylist, Horne had the kind of presence that changed the vibe in a room. “People instantly would gravitate to him just to get a handshake. Just to get a hug. Just to get 5 seconds of face time with him,” Burgener said.

“House (music) is all about bringing people together and love, and he was all about that,” Horne’s youngest brother, John Wesley Horne, who goes by Wesley and raps under the name Cooley Fly, said.

Raised in a musical family with a father who preached, Jamon Horne was the oldest of three boys. The brothers cut their teeth playing in the church band. By the time they were in high school, they each were playing several instruments.

Horne was always musically adventurous and he drew from a broad palette of influences, schooling his brothers on hip-hop, jazz and dance music. He also had a sly sense of humor.

“I remember one time we were playing in the middle of church and out of nowhere he just starts playing the ‘Soul Food’ bassline from Goodie Mob,” Wesley Horne said. “He looked at me with this smirk on his face, I looked at him like, ‘Alright,’ and we just kept playing.”

Press photo for Disgruntled Seeds. Courtesy of John Wesley Horne.

“Probably the most important thing to know about him was he was very much a visionary when it came to creativity,” local hip-hop artist Bavu Blakes said.

In the ’90s, Horne formed the hip-hop act Disgruntled Seeds with his brother Jeremy and another friend. Before the Roots broke out nationally, he was experimenting with putting a live band behind hip-hop acts. When he came across Blakes, who was in his second semester at the University of Texas, Horne drew him in as a collaborator.

“I was just a student who was happy having rap skills, but I wasn’t thinking about being a recording artist,” Blakes said. Horne booked studio time, ran the sessions and executive produced “the demo tapes that got us into South by Southwest for the first time, 20 years to the week before his funeral.”

Blakes credits Horne with planting the seeds for the Hip Hop Humpday, the long-running full band, freestyle rap gig that was ground zero for the Austin hip-hop scene in the late ’90s and early aughts.

When Horne shifted gears to focus on house music, he maintained his hip-hop sensibility. “There were very few black folks jamming that, let alone DJ-ing it … He kind of bridged that gap and made it cool for the black folks who wanted to dance to house, but maybe felt out of place,” Wesley Horne said.

He favored Chicago house, a soulful style that incorporates brass and other organic sounds into electronic soundscapes. “He played a style of house music that people loved and that everybody could associate with,” Burgener said. “It wasn’t aggressive music. It was soft. It was fun. It was danceable. If you liked hip-hop it would make you shake…. no one in the city, no one in the nation that I know of, ever will be comparable to Jamon’s style of music.”

The cancer diagnosis was not Horne’s first brush with serious health problems. He underwent open heart surgery to repair a faulty valve twice, once when he was 19 and again in 2012. The experience affected his worldview. “The doctor told him he might not live, so every day was a blessing for Jamon and he was all about living life every day,” Burgener said.

Courtesy of John Wesley Horne.

His passion for life was an inspiration to the people he touched: artists, fans, friends and his loyal clientele at the hair salon.

“This cat could minister to your soul through music and even cutting someone’s hair. Your hair is an extension of your soul and he knew what that meant to be in people’s heads,” said Florinda Bryant, managing director of Salvage Vanguard Theater, who shared a house with Horne during the early days of his music career. “And through music, he taught me to hear God on a deeper level and I didn’t even realize that’s what he was teaching me.”

In the final months of his life Horne continued to push the envelope musically. He spent as much time in the studio as possible. “Even though he couldn’t move around he had his equipment,” Wesley Horne said. “He put together like four unreleased EPs … In the back of his mind he was making plans in case anything happened.”

Horne intended to launch his own record label and release the EPs. His brother plans to carry on that work and eventually turn the label over to his nephew.

In Austin’s dance clubs, DJs are determined to keep Horne’s positive vibes alive.

“I did a gig for Southby on Wednesday and I printed out a picture and put it on the DJ booth because I knew he was going to be with us,” Burgener said. “And it was amazing how many people came to the booth and just kissed the picture and said a prayer. We knew he was there, his presence was there over the dance floor, and I think it’s always going to be that way.”

Horne is survived by his parents, John W. and Barbara Horne, his brothers, Jeremy and John Wesley, and his son, Kimon.

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