It takes a (new) Village

It takes a (new) Village

Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to Google Plus

 Ousted members of the Village People plan to keep the disco party rolling

The Village People, the 1970s group that epitomized the disco movement, brought the house down when they headlined Philly Pride in 2014.

Fast-forward to now, and none of the members who performed on that stage is in the group anymore.

What happened?

It turns out to be a story as old as the music business. But let’s back up a bit.

In the late ’70s, the height of disco, French music producers Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo conceived The Village People to target the genre’s gay audience. The singers each took on the now-iconic fantasy personas of the cowboy, the Native American (back then called “the Indian”), the cop, the construction worker, the GI and the leather man. The group quickly graduated from an underground phenomenon to a mainstream sensation with hits such as “Macho Man,” “In The Navy” and “YMCA,” storming up the charts as gay anthems as well as nightclub favorites.

The original members were Victor Willis (cop), Felipe Rose (Native American), Alex Briley (GI), Lee Moulton (leather man), Mark Mussler (construction worker) and David Forrest (cowboy). Because the group was about the personas and not necessarily about the guys inhabiting them, the original lineup wasn’t static and members often were rotated.

At the apex of the group’s success, in 1977, Glen Hughes took over the role of the leather man. Then in 1979, one of the founding members, Victor Willis, left the group, and in subsequent interviews distanced himself from the group’s gay-icon status by stating hits like “YMCA” and “Macho Man” weren’t “gay songs.” Ray Simpson then stepped into Willis’ role of the cop. 

When disco faded in popularity in the early ’80s, the fortunes of The Village People faded with it, and the group went on hiatus in 1985. But, by the latter half of the decade, interest in disco had resurged on the nostalgia circuit, and The Village People — with long-running members Simpson, Hughes, Rose and Briley, along with David Hodo as the construction worker and Randy Jones as the cowboy — started appearing again at special events and on network TV.

Hughes left the group in 1995 and was replaced by Eric Anzalone as the leather man. A changing cast would perform the cowboy and construction worker from that point, but the other members stayed put.

In the last year, a lot has changed.

Willis, one of the original members, won a long and protracted lawsuit in 2015 that allowed him to reclaim 50 percent of the copyrights to several of the group’s biggest hits, which he helped to write. Then last year, he reached a legal agreement with group creator Belolo that gave Willis the rights to The Village People’s name and image.

Willis immediately fired all the members of the group, reinstating himself as the cop and hiring all new singers with exception of Angel Morels, who had filled in for Felipe Rose as the Native American in 2008 and 2010.    

So now the formers members, some of whom had been in The Village People for more than 30 years, suddenly found themselves out of the group.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ousted members of the Village People plan to keep the disco party rolling


“It was pretty abrupt,” longstanding lead singer and “cop” Simpson told PGN. “But we’re in the music industry and it’s like sometimes you get a fastball and sometimes you get a curveball. And you’d better be looking for both of them. But we’re able to bounce back and deal with it and turn it into something progressive. It makes you start to be more creative and think about what you are doing in a different way.”

All the members fired by Willis are regrouping under a new name while the legalities are being worked out. 

“As of right now, we are Kings of Disco featuring former members of The Village People,” Simpson said. “That’s what that is. In this crazy business, I never say what will be tomorrow or the next day, or a year from now. I have no clue. But at this point, that is what is happening and that’s where we are and it feels good.” 

Added Anzalone: “We are working with some new agents and management and we do have some interest under the new name. So very soon we’ll make an announcement about shows.”

Simpson said the fans who know them from their tenure in The Village People have been supportive. 

“We’ve been talking to our fans on Facebook and social media and they all say, ‘We don’t care what you wear or what you are doing, we want to see you,’” he said. “It’s important that people know who you are. We’re just trying to get the name out there and do some shows.”

What the Kings of Disco will be doing onstage is still up in the air. It remains unclear whether this new group will legally be able to perform Village People songs. But Anzalone, who was the leather man in group since 1995, and Simpson said they’re up for the challenge of this new venture and the freedom that comes with it.

“In order to evolve, you have to make changes,” Anzalone said. “Even when we were The Village People we’d have to make changes, because it gets stale after a while. It’s a work in progress and it’s unfolding as we talk right now.”

“I don’t think we could have done 30 years without having a broad stroke of appeal,” Simpson said. “We’ve done all kinds of venues, casino and fairs. We’ve done them all. Hopefully that won’t change. Our energy won’t change.”

“As Village People, there was this framework that you kind of were stuck with,” Anzalone added. “Now we can reinvent, carrying with us some of what we were but taking it to a different level. The fans will relate to us more now as actual individuals rather than a bunch of guys on stage dressed up as something or other. It’ll be a lot more personal now.”

“We’re free to record whatever we want to record,” Simpson said. “That’s a great freedom that we didn’t have. Now we’re in control of that.”

Even though some of the members were straight, Simpson and Anzalone among them, The Village People inarguably have always been viewed as gay icons. The inclusive air that their former group had will carry over into the Kings of Disco, Anzalone said. 

“When people come to see us, it’s a party. We’re not sending a message except, ‘Let’s get up and dance and have a good time.’ I think that’s universal.”

For more information on The Kings of Disco feature former members of The Village People, follow them on Twitter at @TheKingsofDisco and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OfficialKingsOfDisco.


Find us on Facebook
Follow Us
Find Us on YouTube
Find Us on Instagram
Sign Up for Our Newsletter