Computer Madness is one of the most distinctive tracks of the late 80s Chicago house scene.
Kicking off with a rattling drum furore, before a haunting, hypnotising melody emerges from the speakers, it sounded unlike anything else around at the time, and its release in 1989, on the Work That Mutha Fucker EP (alongside three other bona fide classics, most notably the title track), played a part in forging a new sound in the Windy City.
Commenting in 2015, the late DJ Deeon described the Steve Poindexter-released track as one of his ‘five most bootylicious ghetto house tracks ever’, in an interview with Vice.
“[Computer Madness] is the classic foundation and inspiration for underground music from Chicago’s Southside,” Deeon explained, citing it (and Poindexter) as a big influence on his own productions.
“It made me want to make tracks like that. The way he goes from the high to the lows in the bassline, catchy instrumentals, no vocals — he’s just really good at what he does with that funky sound. Definitely a favourite amongst all the DJs in the city, period.”
However, the role that Poindexter played in the creation of Computer Madness, as well as other tracks credited to him, such as Work That Mutha Fucker, Chillin with the P and Whiplash, has been the subject of some debate over the years – with fellow producer Wes Green going so far as to claim that Poindexter “stole” his tracks and put them out as his own.
909originals spoke to Wes Green about the whole situation, and started by asking him how he first started working alongside Poindexter and other Chicago producers. Over to you, Wes.
“My mother moved us to 70th and Chappel, on the Southside of Chicago, around 1986. While introducing our family, my mother told a neighbour that I liked to make tracks. That neighbour knew Steve Poindexter, and introduced me to him. I was just 16 years old.
“After we were introduced, Steve started coming over to my house — I had a makeshift studio in my basement — to make tracks. I looked up to Steve and thought of him as a mentor/big brother so I liked hanging out with him. To be honest, it was very cool to have someone like Steve hang out with me and encourage me to make music.
“I didn’t have much equipment at that time, but I had a Casio Keyboard and a Synsonic Drum that my mother bought for me. I also had a job at a grocery store at the time, so I saved up and bought a Roland TR-505.
“One day I walked past a local store with Steve and we saw a Casio CZ-101. Although I thought the keyboard looked like a toy, Steve explained that keyboards without speakers were professional and he suggested that I buy it After saving up some money, I came back and bought it, but when I played the CZ-101, I wasn’t happy with the purchase at all, because it sounded like a toy to me! The good thing was that the CZ-101 was also a synthesiser, so I was able to make new sounds — all I needed was time. I had the time, so I went to work.
“I spent six months working on new sounds on the CZ-101. Late at night I would put on my Radio Shack headphones and work on sounds while I was in bed.
“At some point, Steve told me that he had seen other people use a drum machine to control a keyboard, but he didn’t know how to do it himself, and couldn’t tell me what I needed to do. That piqued my interest and I wanted to figure out how to get my Roland TR-505 to control my Casio CZ-101.
“This is when I began to learn how to use the Musical Instrument Digital Interface [MIDI]. I looked at the manual for the TR-505 and found that I could assign MIDI channels to each drum. This was a cool discovery, because I could use the 505 to play the bassline and still use that same drum machine for the basic drum pattern that I needed to make a track.
“This discovery opened the door to the music I created. It was born out of the necessity of wanting to make the music I could hear inside of me with the tools I had in my hands – just the TR-505 and the CZ-101.”
This, in turn, led to the realisation that with the equipment Green had, he could play a bassline while also having the bass drum, high hats, and rim shot playing simultaneously. Computer Madness, with its stripped back sound, was one of the tracks to emerge from this discovery.
“I created Computer Madness by using the TR-505 to play my keyboard with the MIDI, which I had just learned how to use,” he says.
“The name of the track, Computer Madness, came from Steve. He came into the basement studio one day and told me, ‘The kids are going to go crazy for this track! You should call it Computer Madness.’
“He also suggested that I add a snare drum intro, so when people hear it coming on they would know it was Computer Madness. I let Steve add that snare drum pattern and then, when I recorded the track, I kept the volume level down on the keyboard until the bassline came in after the snare intro. When Steve heard the sounds coming out of the CZ, he was like, ‘oh shit!’
“I also knew it was special, but I didn’t think people would love it as much as Steve knew they would love it.”
Work That Mutha Fucker came about somewhat differently, with Green acquiring a Casio RZ1 from his friend Garen Vaughn, who was eager to work with both Green and Poindexter on creating tracks.
“Garen sampled a bass drum sound in the RZ1 that was a lot harder than the one already included, and I used that bass drum in all of my tracks, while I had it,” says Green. “I made a tribal track – and about 30 others – in a short time.
“Steve came by one day when Garen and his cousin John John [Alfred Vaughn] were visiting my basement studio, and said he wanted to make a track called Work That Mutha Fucker. I played one of the tribal tracks I created with the Casio RZ1, and he liked it.
“Steve and I started to use the volume controls to remove the different drums to see how it sounded with different combinations. Everyone loved it when we took out the low or high toms because it made the beat sound RAW!
“I used a Boss foot pedal sampler to sample my voice saying ‘Work That Mutha Fucker!’ But Steve said, ‘Man, that doesn’t sound right.’ So I sampled his voice, and of course he was happy with that. I used the RZ1 to trigger the sampler and recorded it on my MT1X Yamaha 4-Track recorder. And that’s how Work That Mutha Fucker was born.”
Being a teenager at the time, Green didn’t have the same access to other producers that Poindexter had, and remained relatively unknown on the Chicago scene.
“I talked to other producers years later who said that they had never heard of me,” he says. “I think Steve wanted me to be a secret. He didn’t introduce me widely, so only a few people knew about me.
“I trusted him and looked up to him. He was my ‘big bro’, he was ‘Mr Gucci Promotions’. I naively didn’t understand that Steve’s failure to bring me into the fold with other artists on the scene at the time could have been by design. None of them knew of the 16-year-old who liked to make tracks in a sparse basement studio on 70th and Chappel.”
As he explains, the cracks in the relationship began to emerge when Green was summoned to fellow producer Mike Dunn’s house on a midweek night.
“After I created Computer Madness and Work That Mutha Fucker, Steve said that we had to go to Mike Dunn’s house to put the tracks on DAT, so we could press the records.
“Even though I had all the equipment, and created all of the tracks and basslines, Steve had connections with the record labels so we agreed to split everything 50/50. I was cool with that, because Steve knew all the right people.
“So, Steve called me, and said we have to go to Mike’s house at 11pm on a Thursday night. But you have to remember that I was just 16, and my mother said ‘You aren’t leaving this house at 11pm on a school night! Your bumpity-bump music ain’t gon’ make no money!’
“I tried to convince her that my music was different, but she hit me in the head and said ‘take your ass to bed!’ When I told Steve we would have to do it on a weekend or earlier in the day, he said that Mike couldn’t do it any other time.
“I should have known then that he would take my music, but I was young and naïve. I didn’t protect myself. Instead, I trusted him and gave him the 4-track and the masters, to get the music put on DAT. When he returned my 4-track, he kept my masters. He just handed me the backpack and left. I didn’t realise that the masters were gone until later. He didn’t say a word.
“I first found out he didn’t give me any credit for Computer Madness and Work That Mutha Fucker when I saw the record at the store. By that time, he had moved to the suburbs and stopped taking my calls. That’s when I realised that he had ripped me off. That was in 1989.”
Green sought legal advice after the record was released, and tried to instigate a court action, but this process fell short.
“I found a lawyer after the record came out, and tried to sue,” he says. “The lawyer said that because it was an underground label, it would be hard to get money from them. I guess since he was doing this on contingency, he didn’t see any money in it for him and he stopped helping me.
“After that, I took some tracks to Larry Sherman [of Trax Records] to press up. After meeting with him I just couldn’t do the deal. It just felt wrong.”
Fast forward to late 2013, and Green, his cousin, and a few other DJs were planning a party for Martin Luther King’s birthday (15 January) in 2014. Walking into a meeting, he encountered artists including J.R. Jordan, Roy Davis Jr., Ellery Cowles… and Steve Poindexter.
“I put my hand on Steve’s shoulder, and he looked up at me,” Green says. “Then he stood up and said, ‘This is the guy, this is the guy! The guy that helped me make those tracks!’
Roy Davis Jr. said in a very low, calm voice, ‘What tracks are you referring to, Steve’?’ Steve said, ‘You know, my first EP. Work That Mutha Fucker, Computer Madness etc…’
“Then I said, ‘Those are my f**king tracks!’ Steve put his head down and said, ‘Damn’.
“Roy Davis Jr. asked me to step outside to talk. He said, ‘It’s an honour to meet you, Mr. Green’. I said ‘What? You’re Roy Davis Jr! The honour is all mine.’ He said, ‘You created Computer Madness and Work That Mutha Fucker, right?‘ I told him I did.
“He then said, ‘Those songs were huge!’ I said, ‘No they weren’t, they had a little radio play, but that was it.’ He looked confused, and then said ‘Oh my God, you don’t know?’ I said, ‘Know what?’
He told me that if you add up all of the sales from my 384 published songs at that time, Computer Madness and Work That Mutha Fucker outsold all of them individually. I said, ‘No f**king way!’
“He asked for my number and got me on the phone with Jeff Craven of Large Records. Jeff pulled up the licensing deals over the internet to confirm what Roy was saying. Roy told me he would help me get things straight with Steve.
“He called Steve and talked to him, and then Steve did an interview for Resident Advisor. He didn’t tell the whole truth, but at least he made people aware that it was my studio and I worked on the music with him, so it was a start.
“I tried asking him, from 2014, to just add me to the publishing as we agreed in the first place. He said, ‘Man that stuff is old! I’ll give you publishing on new tracks that I did, you can have all of it’. I said, ‘I don’t want your publishing, I want mine – from my music.’ We talked a few times but he wouldn’t add my name to the publishing.”
Since that meeting, Green has been working with a lawyer in the UK, Raymond Caramba-Coker, at Citi Law Solicitors LLP, on furthering his case.
“He did some research on my case and found that what I was saying was true,” says Green. “After that, his firm took my case. Citi Law Solicitors contacted Mr. Poindexter to try and resolve the issue but Steve never responded after more than eight months of continuous communication.
“My lawyer compiled all of the evidence and went to the publishing company to have all of the rights for Computer Madness, Work That Mutha Fucker, Chillin with the P and Whiplash put in my name. Actually, my name was on the publishing for Whiplash until 2015 – after that, Steve took my name off that as well.
“I just want people to know the truth! I made these tracks and my name should be on the records.
“My lawyer also told me something that really hit me hard. He said, ‘Steve didn’t just steal your music, he stole your identity!’ These words rang true to me, because Steve held himself out as the creator of the art I created. That is identity theft at its most basic level.”
909originals reached out to Steve Poindexter for comment but has yet to get a response. Main photo by Erika Bracey.