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Reminiscing: ‘Ol’ Skool’ street dancers

Some of the ‘ol' skool’ street dancers in the 1970s at joints like Mavericks Flat, Carolina West, Bahama Mamas, and Oskos in Los Angeles could have given Michael Jackson a run – no joke! COMPTON —

Some of the ‘ol’ skool’ street dancers in the 1970s at joints like Mavericks Flat, Carolina West, Bahama Mamas, and Oskos in Los Angeles could have given Michael Jackson a run – no joke!

COMPTON — The Lockers “ol’ skool” street dance group reigned supreme in the 1970s as the nightclub dancers with the funkiest moves. Donnie “Campbell Lock” Campbell invented the crazy dance, “The Campbell Lock,” in 1971. He was a “street dance” legend who would win all of the extracurricular dance contests at Trade Tech College in Los Angeles, where he was a student.

Then, he introduced the dance at the Apartment Night Club on Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles (now defunct) and later at the legendary Mavericks Flat in the Crenshaw District.

I know because I was there.

I first saw Campbell spellbind the competition in a singular freestyle dance contest without partners at the Apartment dance club in 1971. He performed to James Brown’s kinetically rhythmic “Papa Don’t Take No Mess.” Campbell’s moves appeared weird and awkward (had never seen moves like them), but were executed perfectly in time with JB’s grunts and squeals wrapped around the percussive beat, and the rhythm of the horns, keyboard, guitars, and bass. It was the funkiest dance I had ever seen by far, and I had to learn it.

The combination of music and “chicks,” as we referred to the feminine gender back in the day was a powerful magnet for the average young male. The clubs were ground-zero for “catch-action.” And if you had “dance fever” in your bones, the catch-action was a cinch.

It also helped to have a hip ride like this writer had — 1965 Chevy Malibu SS with bench bucket seats, painted metal flake blue with moon rims, and a .283 engine.

It all revolved around the “Dance Floor”

The “dance floor” was a great way to shed stress after a tough week of academics and track & field workouts.  Thursday “College Night,” Friday, and Saturday nights were the place to be adorned in the “night club threads” of the time — Apple Hat, psychedelic bell bottom slacks, muscle or wide-collar shirts, and platform shoes.

The soul rhythms of the ‘70s was the best music era, ever! It was the right music for the right dance moves on polished, wooden floors that enabled you to glide and spin to the DJ’s select picks.

The “Lock,” as it became known was a rhythmic dance filled with stylized movement — up, down, sideways, with intermittent “stops” or “locks.” The dance exploded into an insanely popular craze that spread far and wide to then-popular joints like the Climaxx on La Cienega Boulevard. (where Richard “Little Richard” Penniman often was a door greeter. The club’s name was later changed to Osko’s).

Around that time during the summer of 1971, the TV dance show, Soul Train, hosted by Don Cornelius, came on the scene and Campbell and the Lockers became world famous as regulars on the show. Damita Jo Freeman, who later co-starred in the weekly comedy, “Private Benjamin,” with Goldie Hawn was a fixture on the set of Soul Train along with the Lockers, although she was not a Locker — but an exceptionally gifted dancer.

Actor Fred “Rerun” Berry, of TV’s “What’s Happening?” fame, and Shabadoo —  great Lockers in their own right, came later. But initially, there was nothing like the “Lock.”

Campbell Lock versus Pop Lock

A variation of the “Lock” called the “Pop Lock” emerged at the end of the ‘70s with a whole new generation of street dancers. This dance was different from the Lock in that it was more “robotic and mechanical” in its application, as one street dance aficionado described.

This writer mastered the “Lock” and won a good number of $25 dance contests with a variation of the dance blended seamlessly with other moves like the “Rock Steady,” “Breakdown,” “Mash Potato,” and the “James Brown,” at college fraternity and sorority gigs at UCLA, Cal State Long Beach, Cal State Northridge, the Kappa House, Sojourner Truth sorority hall, as well as the innumerable house parties (called “sets” back in the day) before street gang mayhem ruined all the fun.

Those days/nights, great and memorable, kept a lot of “brothas” out of trouble and out of jail. I will never forget them.

Many others remember those days, too. Here are some comments:

Michael Cooper: “Jarrette Fellows Jr. I’m Poppin’ Pete from the L.A. pop locking generation in the early 1980s. Boogaloo Shrimp, Poppin’ Taco, and me, are the “three kings of popping.”

Weelzofsteel846: “Street Scape had better polished routine.”

Tessan Johnson: “Street Scape killed it.”

Victor Clark: “When I was younger I could not wait to see the Lockers on Soul Train.”

Uscaping That Feeling: “I think the title [to this story] “Street Scape & The Lockers would have been more appropriate. There is a bit of an ‘era’ difference, and considering their ‘disciplines,’ they both were getting off! Thanks for the great [story] my good brotha.”

Tomislav Stipisic: “Who wins as best dancers? My favorites are the Lockers!”

Jones Strange: “Very difficult to choose ‘who wins?’ Kind of like asking who’s the Best NBA player of all time. Improbable. All the dance genres were exceptional. I knew some “cold” brothas who could hang with Michael Jackson — no joke! I think it comes down to the music. Some of the ol’ skool hits from James Brown, and many other hits heightened the dance routines. Music like the more recent jam, “It’s Getting Hot in Here” by Nelly — would have spurned some thrilling dance competitions.

Yeah, that would have been a favorite for the ol’ skool crowd, just like Brown’s “Papa Got a Brand New Bag” or the Dramatics’ “Get Up And Get Down,” were in the bad, bold ‘70s.

 

Jarrette Fellows, Jr. is Publisher and Editor of Compton Herald. He attended junior and senior high school in Compton, and is an alumnus of California State University, Los Angeles.

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