The Brand Named DJ Captain Charles
Charles Leach, better known around the boot as the “legendary” DJ Captain Charles, is arguably the most sought after party DJ in the city of New Orleans. Quite a phenomenal status for a man who’s been spinning and mixing since the peak popularity of groups like The O’Jays, The Commodores and Cameo.
In such a highly competitive industry, the question is “How has he managed to remain so successful and maintain such a high demand?” Further consider that most top club/party tracks primarily consist of artists not even born when he began deejaying. You might think he’s just lucky, or that he’s only popular with older folks… Well, you would be wrong on both accounts- and his explanation is rather simple.
“I’ve been doing this since the early 80’s and there are kids who follow me whose mothers followed me. People wonder how,” says Leach, casually leaning back in his chair. “I enjoy what I do,” he explains.
The walls in his uptown office are covered top-to-bottom in plaques, valuable memorabilia and framed pictures with superstars new and old- some photos dating back to the days of his big awkward-framed glasses. Back then, he was the feature MC and DJ for crowded talent shows inside Booker T. Washington’s auditorium with audiences reaching a couple thousand people. “I don’t know how I got picked to deejay. I was petrified,” admits Leach.
A Lesson in Composure
A short time after, he landed a regular gig at Margie’s, a Magazine St. bar which catered to Latin patrons. Leach says the unfamiliar territory taught him how to manage a crowd. With borrowed turntables, records and speakers he took from friends, Leach managed to learn a skill that he masters today with complete authority.
“Back in those days you had all types of music. You could go for hours without playing the same song,” says Leach, but vividly remembers the first time he panicked before the predominately Cuban crowd. He had been playing for an hour and realized “nobody was dancing.”
Leach says he took a closer look at the crowd and noticed that although they weren’t in full motion, they were “groovin’ and vibin’” with the music. And most importantly, “Nobody left,” says Leach. After taking it all in, he understood that motivating a large group of people to dance at the same time would be a process. “They were (actually) enjoying the atmosphere and vibin’ to the music,” says Leach, adding, it simply took some time and a few more drinks. “As the night went on, everybody starting getting up and dancing.”
“I panicked. I think we all panic as DJ’s when you notice the crowd ain’t in it the way you think they should be. I thought about it again and said, ‘No don’t panic. They’re enjoying what you doing.”
The Right Touch
Many years passed before Leach realized that he had a true talent to thrill a large mass of people. He sat upright with a huge grin and reminisced about a 1997 Cameo concert where he was scheduled to open at the House of Blues, but the band arrived late. “I was scheduled to do a 20-30 minute show. I wound up playing for 2 whole hours,” says Leach describing the scene as “crazy.” He said there was not one person standing still in the building the entire time. It was one of the most intense and memorable shows of his entire career. “I think that’s when I first realized I had a gift,” says Leach. “The crowd was rockin.”
Some describe a DJ Captain Charles party experience as euphoric- a harmonic balance of a several genres of music. “He’s good at reading his crowd. He understands how to juggle just enough old-school with just enough new-school,” says DJ Square, member of the collective Definition DJ’s.
Leach, who plays every Sunday night at Boomtown Casino, says if he plays Mary J. Blige’s “I’m Going Down” at the right time he can literally stop the music and the women sing the rest of the way to the top of their lungs. “I do the blues, the Marvin Gayes, The Temptations and stuff like that,” says Leach. He also knows the right time to get folk moving with a line dance. “The same stuff I play for the old people, I play for the young people. The same stuff I play for the young people, I play for the old people.”
Even with the current shift of club/party music to dancehall, dubstep and house music, Leach refuses to be left behind. He pressed a button on his laptop and Rihanna’s highly synthesized techno-house track “We Found Love” blasted from his office’s surround sound speakers. “Many deejays are afraid to venture out. They stay inside the box,” says Leach, loud enough to be heard over the music, and explains there’s no place he can’t or won’t go with his music.
Leach acknowledges that music is evolving to a more pop sound, therefore believes all DJ’s need a formula for success. And after thirty years in the business, he still has his own. It begins behind the scenes in his shed where he practices mixing because he’s aware that the same mix won’t work for every crowd. Ultimately, if the DJ is “afraid or unable to change things up he can get stuck with people looking at him crazy.” “If you practice mixing, it helps to custom fit different crowds,” says Leach.
“I want you to vibe while you’re talking, you’re drinking, and you’re eating. You may not be ready to dance,” says Leach, patiently waiting for the right break “I’m going at you very easy,” and promises “when I get into it, I’m coming hard.”
“I get into it so hard I get a headache,” admits Leach, a fact he’s never shared with anyone. A combination of the energy, the music and excitement gives him a rush. “It’s everything.”
Just a Regular Guy
During the course of our hour-long interview there was a steady flow of knocks at his office door- each person needing something different. He obliged each one as if it were routine. It was hard to believe this was the same person that sets his own price to do a show.
The same guy who’s deejayed for New Orleans Zephyrs, New Orleans Brass (former hockey team), Essence Festival, Budweiser tailgate parties, distinguished Hotel holiday parties and along-side some of the most poplular MC’s can be found walking up and down Toledano St. talking with neighbors. The self-proclaimed “entertainer” describes himself as “easygoing.”
“I don’t have an ego. I’m a very humble person. I just love people,” says Leach sincerely. You have to understand growing up poor and watching your mother struggle in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s was about respecting your elders and doing for each other, says Leach. “I don’t treat anybody different.”
Leach says he’s dedicated to uplifting the black community and bringing fun and joy to people’s lives. His music contains no curse words and he is staunchly against violence at any of his shows. “When people hire Captain Charles they know what they’re gettin’,” says Leach, reflecting back to the days of his mentors AD Berry and DJ Slick Leo, when party DJ’s were solely about having a good time. “Even if I tried to do something different, people would know that I was trying to be something I’m not.”
A similar respect is given to anyone who attends one of his affairs where he says he does not and will never drink alcohol. “I feel like I’m the designated driver and I have to be in control of everything I’m doing,” says Leach.
DJ Captain Charles can be seen and heard broadcasting live from Club Caesar’s every Tuesday. The first Thursday of each month from Margie’s and every Sunday at 7 p.m. at Boomtown Casino.
On June 24th, Captain Charles celebrates his 50th birthday bash at Boomtown Casino in Seersucker. Admission is free, but he asks all guests to bring school supplies to support his charity.