Saturday, February 18, 2012

Derek Fleming

Here is a interview of a Soul Train dancer name Derek Fleming aka "FOXTAILS". He was a dancer that came from the 1980s up to the early 1990s. He had a large personality. He interviewed with

Here it is

December 23, 2011

Soul Train: Thank you Derek so much for giving us this interview. First off, where are you originally from?
Derek Fleming: I was born in Port Arthur, Texas, but moved to California when I was three.
Soul Train: Do you think entertainment and show business was in your blood?
Derek Fleming: Well, my dad was in a group called Otis Williams and the Charms. So maybe to a degree that had something to do with me wanting to go into entertainment. But what I really think helped to inspire me was a James Brown concert I attended as a little kid.
Soul Train: Tell me about that experience.
Derek Fleming: My great-grandmother lived in South Central Los Angeles across from Wrigley Field and she took me to see James Brown perform in concert at that arena. That was a whole different experience to see the Godfather of Soul in concert and I was so excited to see him. You see, I grew up in a predominantly white area in Orange County, California. When I would be around other black kids, they would say I talked and danced like a little white boy. Luckily, I had teenage uncles and aunts who watched programs like American Bandstand and Hullaballoo and they would show me how to do the popular dances from those programs. I also picked up the dance steps I saw from watching those TV programs. As time went on, I had no idea how good a dancer I was since I picked up dance steps quickly.
Soul Train: So you received a lot of your foundation in dancing as a little boy and it continued into adolescence, right?
Derek Fleming: Yes. I was also interested in other areas of the arts such as reading. My mom was a teacher and she would take me to libraries, museums and art galleries. So that instilled in me a love of the arts as well as music and helped me to be a creative person. She also knew a lot of people who either were famous or would later become famous. For example, Debbie Allen (who also grew up in Texas) used to babysit my brother and me. But at that time, we didn’t know what “famous” was. These were simply people our mother knew. Years later, when Debbie Allen performed on Soul Train, I asked her if she remembered me and she hugged me real tight and kissed me and said, “Of course I remember you!”
Soul Train: You went through a very dark time during your childhood. Would you mind sharing that?
Derek Fleming: My mother was sick with cancer. She died in 1970 when I was 12, and I went into a depression and I had no interest in anything. While in seventh grade I was shell shocked. My grandparents raised me after my mother passed. During that time, I put a lot of time into dancing. I would dance around my grandparents’ house while doing errands like dumping out the trash. I also would study and watch Gene Kelly in his movies that were shown on television.
Soul Train: So even though you were depressed during that time, dancing was kind of a release for you.
Derek Fleming: Absolutely! Dancing was a catharsis for me. It helped me get over my grief and to prove a point to my cousins and other kids who said I danced like a white boy. By eighth grade, I was coming out of my depression and made some friends. One time a friend of mine and I were listening to a radio show called The Soul Express, and when the songs would play I would begin dancing and she began telling everyone that I could dance.
Soul Train: It was when you were 13 that a new TV show called Soul Train changed your life forever, right?
Derek Fleming: Most definitely! I had an aunt that happened to be white and one Saturday she saw this new show called Soul Train and told me about it. Another friend at school also told me about it. So the next Saturday I watched it and I was like “wow!” My favorite dancers were Damita Jo Freeman, Pat Davis, Scoo B Doo and the Lockers. I used to wait for these dancers to do certain movements like Pat rolling her neck around and seeing what Damita and the Lockers were gonna do. Then I started seeing them in Right On magazine.
Soul Train: You also had the privilege of meeting some of Soul Train’s popular regulars of that time, correct?
Derek Fleming: Yes, when I was 14 at Disneyland’s Tomorrow Land stage. Oh my God! When I met the Soul Train Gang, my heart sank in my shoes. Meeting Pat Davis was like meeting Diana Ross! I also met Jimmy Scoo B Doo Foster, James Philips, Lisa Jones, Tyrone Proctor and Sharon Hill. I was really a huge fan of Pat Davis and Scoo B Doo. They ruled the Soul Train stage. They were unbelievable! I also loved watching Damita Jo Freeman and Shabba Doo.
Soul Train: So meeting the Soul Train Gang only further inspired you to continue to dance.
Derek Fleming: Yes! From age 13 to when I was in high school, I entered dance contests. One time, my grandmother, who was real strict, allowed me to be in a dance contest at a club called Avery Smith & Jones. She permitted a teacher named Mr. Cole to take me to this club to enter the contest and I won $200.00. I was only 13!
Soul Train: How did you become a Soul Train dancer?
Derek Fleming: There’s a funny back story to that. When I was in high school I grew a big afro and people thought I was Jeffrey Daniels, who was a popular Soul Train regular and with the group Shalamar. People would always ask me if I danced on Soul Train. But because of my dancing ability, people would tell me all the time that I would eventually be on Soul Train. So when I was a little older, I went to a lot of clubs in California. One night in late 1979, I went to this club called the Ichabad, which was where a lot of the Soul Train dancers would go. On this particular night, Jeffrey Daniels was judging a dance contest–which I won. I met him and we talked and he gave me a Shalamar album and wrote his name and phone number on it. So I called him and asked him how to become a dancer on Soul Train and he gave me the information. The first time I went to the studio where the show was taped, me and a friend who came with me did not get in. But the second time, we got in.
Soul Train: What do you remember about that first time being on Soul Train?
Derek Fleming: I remember sitting in the stands and the first person I met was Penny Ford, who was talking to Odis Medley (the Soul Train dancer who wore all the different masks and costumes). When the floor director Chuck Johnson announced, “dancers on the floor”, I simply went on the stage. I thought that the dancers just went anywhere they wanted to. But Chuck told me to come down off the stage. But when the music began playing, he saw what I could do and then he told me to get up on the stage.
Soul Train: What was it like dancing on the Soul Train stage?
Derek Fleming: When I first got on stage, it was very competitive. There was a lot of competition but being the kind of person I am, I helped others to get on the stage. I brought a lot of people from my hometown of Orange County to the show and we brought a whole new look to the show. We had that Prince style before Prince was even doing it. (Laughs) We went from wearing Spandex to suits to the new wave look to Members Only jackets.
Soul Train: You also helped a little kid go down the Soul Train line, right?
Derek Fleming: Yes. One of the dancers brought his little brother to the studio and he wanted to dance on the show. Every time he went on the floor to dance, the floor director told him to sit down. So when it was time to do the Soul Train line, I told him he could go down with me.
Soul Train: Do you have any OMG moments from being a dancer on Soul Train?
Derek Fleming: Yes, when I asked Diana Ross a question when she appeared on the show. It was such a great moment for me because she reminded me a lot of my mom. My mom would have been so proud of me. Another OMG moment was when the Brothers Johnson’s “Stomp” was played on the show and we all just jammed! Lunchtime was another great OMG moment. It was even hotter than being on TV! People would have their radios tuned into the same station and we all danced and got down. Another great OMG moment was one year when we were given the official Soul Train jackets before Christmas. Those were some of the many great OMG moments I had on Soul Train.
Soul Train: Did you ever do the Scramble Board?
Derek Fleming: I did the Scramble Board at least five times! Chuck picked me to do it the first time and Don Cornelius picked me to do it all the other times.
Soul Train: Did you have a favorite artist that you enjoyed seeing perform on Soul Train?
Derek Fleming: I enjoyed everybody, but Teena Marie really stands out. She was so much fun to be around and was a joy to have in the studio. We didn’t want her to go when she finished performing. Another great memory was when Jody Watley came on the show to do “I’m the One You Need” and she danced with me. It was a surreal moment. It was like a homecoming whenever a former dancer from the show came back.
Soul Train: Do you remember any funny moments on the show?
Derek Fleming: Yes! Someone came to the show and brought a bag of costumes and literally over 100 roaches came out of this bag and spilled out onto the Soul Train stage! (Laughs) Big roaches and little roaches! Don was cursing and he was livid! He said, “Get that (expletive) bag out of here!” (Laughs)
Soul Train: Did the tapings go as late as they did back in the seventies? Many dancers from that period told me the tapings would go to midnight or one in the morning,
Derek Fleming: While I was on the show, we would get out at 8 or 9PM, 10 at the latest. Usually after the tapings we would go to all the popular clubs in LA such as Paradise 24K, Danceteria, Moody’s, Dillon’s and the Palladium. 50 of us dancers that got into these clubs would be on the V.I.P. list–me, Cheryl Song, Reggie Thornton, and Sheila Lewis.
Soul Train: You were also a fashion icon. You wore some really terrific outfits.
Derek Fleming: Thank you! People made clothes for me to wear. I also did modeling for Oak Tree and Merry Go Round.
Soul Train: You wore a foxtail with most of your outfits and earned the nickname “Foxtails.” How did this come about?
Derek Fleming: My mom used to call me and my little brother foxes. A friend of mine would call me a little fox and she even gave me a foxtail so years later I started wearing it with my outfits and it caught on. Others such as Full Force and Grandmaster Flash began wearing foxtails. Shabba Doo even sported a foxtail in the movie “Breakin’”, but I was the first to do that on Soul Train.
Soul Train: You did cameos with many of the artists that came on Soul Train. Who were those artists?
Derek Fleming: I did cameos with Thelma Houston, Sybil, Sister Sledge, Evelyn Champagne King, Carrie Lucas, and Little Richard when they came to the show. I also danced on stage with Sheila E when she came to the show, but it was reshot since I was told to come off the stage. The same thing happened when Janet Jackson came to the show. Don Cornelius reprimanded me for going on the stage to dance with her and her segment was reshot.
Soul Train: Who was your best friend while you were on Soul Train?
Derek Fleming: Cheryl Song! She was and still is the best friend I had from Soul Train.
Soul Train: Being a Soul Train dancer opened up a lot of doors for you I’m sure.
Derek Fleming: Absolutely! Back around 1984 or 1985, the Brotherhood Crusade Organization hosted a tribute to Don Cornelius. Patti Labelle, Luther Vandross, and Dionne Warwick were among the artists that performed at this tribute. Members of the Jackson family were in the audience. When the Soul Train Gang danced during one part of the show, we just turned it out! We did the Soul Train line to Ollie & Jerry’s “There’s No Stopping Us” and the theme from Beverly Hills Cop, “Axel F.” Also, Cheryl Song, Nieci Payne, Rick Carson, and I and some other dancers traveled to Japan. We stayed there for two months and we had such a great time.
Soul Train: How did you feel when the dancers weren’t used for the Soul Train Awards?
Derek Fleming: That was a slap in the face. We sat there in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and could not believe we weren’t being utilized. We were told we had to be a part of the union in order to participate. We were treated like we didn’t exist. We didn’t even have good seats. We did, however, make the after parties jump!
Soul Train: You were almost the dance coordinator for Soul Train. Explain that experience.
Derek Fleming: This was when Soul Train was taped at A&M Studios. Darryl Mitchell was the floor coordinator at the time, but he was sick at the time and a replacement was needed.. All of the dancers were outside at the gate. Don Cornelius happened to come out and he asked, “Who knows all of the dancers?” Many hands went up including mine. Don looked around and saw one particular dancer named Eric. Don told him, “Ok, you come on in.” Eric went with Don inside the gate and the door shut. He basically started out as an assistant to Pam Brown (long-time dance/audience coordinator for Soul Train) before he moved up to the dance coordinator.
Soul Train: You also did some acting in movies, right?
Derek Fleming: Yes. I did a movie called Body Rock and played a character named Maurice Bruno but my scenes were edited down. I also appeared in House Party 2 and The Night Before.
Soul Train: Didn’t you also do some singing?
Derek Fleming: Yes. I was part of a singing group called Section 3. We cut some demos but we were never picked up by any label.
Soul Train: You also had a doll modeled after you.
Derek Fleming: Mattel had this doll named Derek. You see I wrote a letter to Mattel when the anniversary of its G.I. Joe doll was being commemorated. I also sent them photos of myself and just mentioned that I danced on Soul Train. Next thing you know some time later, a doll came out called Derek which wore clothes similar to mine and then a line of Soul Train dolls came out. Someone owes me a check! (Laughs)
Soul Train: What do you think of Soul Train in the latter years–say the mid 80s onward–in terms of the look and feel of the show?
Derek Fleming: When Chuck Johnson (dance coordinator) was there, he had a distinctive art of putting talent on the show, showcasing real dancing. But when he left, the quality went down slowly. You could see it in the style of the dancing. Also a lot of soul artists were not being presented. The soul was gone. A lot of new wave artists were being booked on the show and a lot of soul artists were not on the show. Their music was not played during the dance segments, either.
Soul Train: What are your thoughts on the 70s Soul Train and 80s Soul Train?
Derek Fleming: There will never be a Soul Train like the 70s. It was “unbridled soul power.” The sights and sounds of that era of the show are everlasting! The 80s were the “dance & dynasty era” of Soul Train. The Soul Train Gang made music look great!
Soul Train: There was a turning point on Soul Train in 1990 when a number of the dancers left, right?
Derek Fleming: Right. Basically, there was a picket line in front of the studio where Soul Train was taped. People from the actors unions were telling us dancers that if we were trying to get into the union, don’t dance on the show. But some of the dancers were already in the union and the union members who were picketing told them that if they continued to dance on Soul Train, which was a non-union show, they could lose their union cards. So that’s when several of the dancers left the show.
Soul Train: When did you stop dancing on Soul Train?
Derek Fleming: In 1990 I wasn’t coming to the show that often since I had some personal issues I was dealing with. I came back in 1991 with a new look which Michael Jackson and some other entertainers started to take after. The very last time I came to the show was in 1993 on its new set at Paramount Studios. My hair was long and I had a beard. Don Cornelius saw me and said, “Man, go on the center riser looking like Jesus!” (Laughs) That was the highest compliment coming from Don. After that, I stopped dancing on the show.
Soul Train: You are also a published author, right?
Derek Fleming: Yes. I published a book called “Get Me to the Train On Time”, which I am considering doing a rewrite of. It was published by Winston Publishing, Jan. 2, 1996. Those who are interested in reading it, the publishing number is TXu722910. I had given my manuscript to someone in the business and in the late 90s. Several popular movies came out loosely based on my manuscript.
Soul Train: What are you doing currently?
Derek Fleming: I am a corporate businessman and I have been married for 20 years. I also do paintings and art work. My artist name is D-Fox. Holla! (Laughs) I also have a music room which contains my collection of 5,000 albums.
Soul Train: What are your impressions of Don Cornelius?
Derek Fleming: I have high admiration for him. I always felt he recognized me. The floor director would tell me to come off the stage or risers but Don would tell me to get back up on the stage and risers. A few months ago, a street fair was held in Los Angeles and I ran into Don Cornelius and his son Tony and they both remembered me and we chatted. Tony thanked me for being on the show.
Soul Train: What is your overall experience with Soul Train? Would you do it again?
Derek Fleming: In a heartbeat! I am proud of all the time I gave to the show. To be a part of a show and organization that has become a part of the Smithsonian Institute is an honor.
Soul Train: What is your special message you want to send out to haters?
Derek Fleming: Blowing out someone else’s candle does not make you shine brighter. I’m shining in the glow of love. Get your shades! (Laughs)
Soul Train: Do you have any words of encouragement of wisdom you would like to leave with the readers?
Derek Fleming: When my mom died, I had a dream. To make your dream a reality, you just have to trust God.

Don Cornelius company. Soul Train Interview done by Stephen Hill

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