He injects an eternally '80s Hi-NRG beat to pop gems such as The Grass Roots' Sooner Or Later, The Partridge Family's I Think I Love You, ABC's Be Near Me, and Yazoo's Only You. He dares to cover dance classics such as Debbie Jacobs' Don't You Want My Love, and Stomp by the Brothers Johnson. And even has the balls to take Tim McGraw's Live Like You Were Dying and add a disco beat.
He's created memorable originals such as Bad To Be Good, To Save The Love, Say Adieu, and many more. And takes the best of the bunch and creates a new mix every few years to keep them fresh. And in 2013, he's still riding high from the recent success of the hit single Anyone Who's Ever Been In Love (and its record-breaking number of remixes.)
"And when the show closed, I had offers from major record labels. And I signed with Blue Sky/CBS. But one thing that really upset me about Avantgarde is that every single male in that cast died, except me. I'm very fortunate to be HIV negative. And all the woman are still alive. But the men died so quickly. Including Jeffrey. We all became very close friends.
"And when Avantgarde closed, I thought I was a failure. I didn't even go to the closing night cast party. I left in tears from the theater. I didn't even take my makeup off. One of the cast members, Lisa Navarre, we went up to Fulton's Cafe on 71st and Broadway and had a turkey club. And I thought the closing was my fault. For thirty years I thought that. I don't anymore."
Bobby O, Divine, and Flirting with Madonna
"When I first met Bobby, his offices weren't on 57th Street. His office was in the Vanguard Records offices. I must have come in around the time he was working with Roni Griffith. I laid down some vocal tracks. I didn't even know what songs I was singing because I was singing them all in pieces. I was singing three lines here, four lines there, and I didn't even know what it was.
"And some time after that I went to Studio 54, and I was on the dance floor with my friends. And all of a sudden I heard this record and thought: This sounds familiar. Then all of a sudden I heard, 'She knows what you're looking for, she knows how to make a score, she knows all the things you adore.' And I said to my friends: That's me! That's me singing! That's me! And my friends said, 'Ernest, what is wrong with you? Are you drunk?'
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"And by the time I got all the way up to the DJ booth, they were mixing into another song. And I asked the DJ to bring the record over to me. And there's this round record label that said "O" Records on it. And it was pink and baby blue. And the title was She Has A Way. And it had Bobby "O" as the name of the artist. Not Ernest Kohl. And I was stunned.
"And I didn't draw attention to it at the time, maybe out of naïveté? Or maybe out of fear. I mean, in the music business, you never know where the money's coming from. And I don't want to say it was like The Sopranos. But there were rumors. I mean, when I worked with Bobby, I would see big men in suits going into his office for private meetings. We never knew what went on. We'd waste hours of studio time. Waiting and waiting and waiting. So I didn't make waves. Hell, I just wanted to finish high school. "
It would take an entire decade before Kohl actually sang the song to a live audience. And even that happened without warning.
With that reaction, you'd think Kohl would be tempted to re-record a version under his own name. But not so.
"Because a drag queen covered it. And I don't want Bobby to make anymore money off me. And that's the truth. Because he wrote it. One thing I can say, he is a brilliant musician. I actually saw him pick up a cowbell, not run it through a computer, but pick up a real cowbell and a drumstick, and play it from the top of the 12 inch to the end of the 12 inch, and hit it every single beat exactly and perfectly. He's a brilliant musician, and he can play classical piano like nobody's business. He's a brilliant writer, he's a brilliant musician.
"Bobby also used my vocals on his studio group One-Two-Three. He put people who kind of looked like us on the record cover. And one of the models on that cover was actually Joanne, one of the owners of Unique Recording Studios in New York. I also sang on I'm So Hot For You, The Letter, and who knows what else.
"And during that time with Bobby, we were all performing at The Funhouse. Everyone on "O" Records. Jellybean was the DJ that night. Madonna was there. A young Madonna. Everybody was there, including Divine. I was lucky enough that Divine let me share a dressing room. We'd worked together in the studio. I sang back up vocals on Native Love, Shoot Your Shot, Jungle Jezebel. And I just adored him.
"So that night, Oh Romeo were also there. And they were two models actually. Waterfront Home. They were models too. Miki and Paul Zone were there. They sang a song that Bobby produced for them, At The Gym. Jacques Morali also produced it for them when they later became Man 2 Man. And that night, Bobby sang She Has A Way." Kohl didn't see much of Bobby Orlando after that. But he did see Madonna again.
"And awhile after that I ended up auditioning for Stein at his apartment. I think it was in The Dakota. You know, where John Lennon lived. And if my manager hadn't been there with me, I think the audition would have ended up in the bedroom."
On The Road w/ Dead or Alive
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"Pete Burns had a thing for one of his male dancers. But got upset because his male dancer had a thing for one of my female dancers. So things got pretty lively at our hotels," says Kohl. "The night Pete trashed a hotel lobby, I stayed in my room and put a deep conditioning mask on my hair."
By 1986, Kohl was enjoying his own breakout hit, an energetic cover of Sooner Or Later. "That's the one that still gets the most radio play. It put me on the map."
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The Ernest Kohl Saturday Night Dance Party
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