DJ Lester Temple on San Francisco's '70s Disco Scene and Memories of the I-Beam
It was during the height of San Francisco's disco movement in the '70s that DJ Lester Temple took a break from radio to plunge into the world of mirror balls, flashing lights, and liberating dancefloors. Quickly becoming a resident DJ at the iconic Music Hall, he would share nights with performers such as Sylvester and Pattie Brooks, and was also a regular at Trocadero Transfer and I-Beam. In 1980, he won the Billboard award for best San Francisco Disco DJ, and continued to DJ until he returned to radio in 1987. While he has spent the past 20 years working as production director for Live 105, he recently got back behind the decks for guest spots at Go Bang!. We spoke with Lester Temple about joining the S.F. disco scene, his memories of I-Beam, and getting back to DJing. He plays Go Bang! this Saturday at the Stud with Kenneth Kemp, Steve Fabus, and Sergio Fedasz for an I-Beam tribute party.
What was the San Francisco disco scene like in the '70s?
Pretty much a non-stop party. I was in my twenties and it was pre-AIDS, so people had a tendency to let it all hang out without too much inhibition. It was also very underground. The straight clubs were playing the disco crossover hits for the most part, and the gay clubs embraced a more underground sound -- things you wouldn't necessarily hear on the radio. We also had artists and producers like Patrick Cowley, Sylvester, John Hedges, Barry Beam, and Bill Motley creating the "San Francisco sound."
What made you want to get into DJing?
I became a radio DJ at a small station in Northern California when I was 14 years old. I stayed in radio, and worked my way up to larger stations in larger markets. I ended up in Sacramento at KZAP and KROY and worked for Tower Records. I decided to come out, and discovered the gay scene in Sacramento. The Hawaiian Hut was the first disco I had ever been to, and I knew I had to be a part of it. They hired me as a DJ and I had a blast. Upon several visits to San Francisco, I knew that I was home. It was 1976. The Castro was exploding. I left my radio career behind and dived head first into the thriving San Francisco disco scene.
How did you end up DJing at I-Beam? What was your first time there like?
There were a handful of really good DJs in San Francisco at the time, and we all knew and respected each other. After a while, a trend developed where we would guest spin at each other's clubs. I knew all the I-Beam DJs -- Steve Fabus, Michael Garrett, and Tim Rivers, and they asked me if I would guest spin there. I guess I did okay, as I was asked back a lot. I was eventually assigned certain nights on a regular basis, including Saturday nights for a while. I really don't remember the first night I ever played there. Things are a bit of a blur recalling those early days.
What are some factors you think that made the club so magical?
I think it was the first really large scale club. The other clubs in town were jumping, but this was a big place. It also had a very San Francisco feel to it, being in the Haight and all. The DJs were unique and quite on their game. I considered Tim Rivers to be the West Coast Larry Levan. And of course, Steve and Michael always tore it up.
Lester Temple, Alan Mambers, Steve Fabus
What's your favorite memory of I-Beam?
There were so many incredible nights there. In addition to DJing there, I did the lights for about a year on Wednesdays when Brian Raffi and Alan Robinson had a very successful rock night. Every Wednesday, packed. I'll never forget The Cure, Duran Duran, Siouxie and the Banshees making their U.S. debut there live as well as countless other incredible bands.
What current club in S.F. do you think comes closest to I-Beam?
Well, of course I would have to say Go Bang! Kind of a miniature I-Beam.
After a 15-year hiatus from DJing, what made you get back into it?
I decided at one point that I was getting too old to keep up with the demands and hours of being a club jock, so I retired from the discos and went back into radio, which is what I do today at CBS San Francisco. I've been there for the last 20 years. But I always kind of missed playing in the clubs. Sergio Fedasz and Steve Fabus asked me if I wanted to crawl out of retirement and do a guest night at Go Bang, and I jumped at the chance. This Saturday night will be my third time back.
What's a track you'll definitely be playing for its significance to I-Beam days?
You know, I don't really do much planning. I go through my records at home and make a big pile of the ones I might want to play and lug them in. Then, whatever happens, happens. Of course, I always try to play one by our own diva, Sylvester.