October 25, 2014

The World’s Nuttiest DJ Keeps It Real

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Waverly, Minn.—When you ask Greg “Chopper” Lammers what sets his DJ business apart from the rest, he’ll tell you what you might hear a lot of DJs say—or not.

“The comedy show I do,” he says. “But more importantly, the way I do it. I always take my microphone and go into the audience and spend as much time as I can with my guests, handing out glow stuff, LED rings and putting beads, fun novelty hats and goofy sunglasses on my guests.”
Sounds typical, right?

Sure, until you see Chopper’s real unique value proposition: in front of his DJ console, the front end of a 1967 Pontiac GTO.

“I get some of my guests behind my car’s front end and console and make it look like they took over the DJing duties,” he says. “And I encourage people to get on top of my car hood. It’s big enough and strong enough to get people up on that and dance. I have two road guys, so they help people up and make sure they don’t fall down. It’s so beat up from women in their spiked high heels dancing on it that I need to have it refurbished every three months.”

We’ve never heard of anything quite like that.

“Neither have I,” says Lammers. “I get people going nuts on it every week. I once had a 96-year-old woman up there, and her 65-year-old son with her. Their conservative family just went wild. Cars are a universal thing. I can get five or more people up there stomping away. I don’t know what it is about it, but when people get up there on the car, the whole place goes nuts. They get so excited. It’s all about whatever I can do to make the people the show and just plain having fun. I do believe my greatest strength and God-given talent is I know how to get people excited.”

Lammers cites as an influence in this auto endeavor the 1960s rock group Paul Revere and the Raiders. “Paul Revere had the front of an old Ford Edsel in front of his keyboard,” he recalls. “He inspired me, and then when he went to a 1966 Mustang, that’s where I got the idea. The first show I used the car front was my second gig, in 1983—the nose of a 1957 T-Bird.”

Four years before that first gig, Lammers was a bar back at a nightclub. The live band that played there regularly had a habit of extending their breaks. The owner asked if Lammers could play some records on the turntables. It was 1979.

“I can’t just play music,” he says. “I have to goof around and have fun. I had a few hats at home that I brought in. I never picked up the mic and talked, I just ran around with my hats like a jack-in-the-box. I was so nervous to speak I was shaking as I put the album on the turntable. Eventually, I got up the nerve to make drink announcements, and little by little I got more confidence.”

After two years the place closed down. But by then, Lammers had an inkling—and he had his own equipment, for which he had borrowed $5,000 to purchase.

He had previously driven a beer truck, so the local bar owners were no strangers to him. “There were no DJs then, it was all bands. I asked this one bar owner if I could come and play, and he said, ‘There are people eating here now, but come after.’ I played for nine people that night, and they loved it. I came back week after week—for $25 a night—and the crowd went to 50, 100, 125, 150, just like that. I started at the low end of the pole, and went into places and played for free just so I could show them what I can do.”

The fact was that everyone liked what “Chopper” did. A typical reaction was: “You’re fun—and you’re nuts.”

“Nuts” in this business is good. A solo operator who performs 150 gigs per year, Lammers resides in Waverly, a tiny town about 40 miles west of the Twin Cities, and books his share of bar gigs to supplement the weddings and corporate gigs. For the bar gigs, social media has been a savior.

“I try to get wedding and company parties, that’s where the money is, but I play bars,” he says, “and I get bar owners to pay decent money. The key is you have to fill the place up, and there’s no better way to do that than to promote it on Facebook. I do pretty well because I’ve got about 5,000 Facebook friends.”

That’s just one of the changes Lammers has seen in the DJ industry—digital music and YouTube being the others. “Guests now come and ask for a specific song and, if I don’t have it, they can download it right there or they might have it on their phone,” he says. “This can be good or bad, depending. When I started, I used 45s and albums and I still use mostly CDs and some digital.

“I have been DJing for a long time, since 1979, and I have my mountain of information and experience built. But I am always looking for pebbles to throw on top. In other words, I’m always looking for a new wrinkle or two. It’s important to keep yourself interested and as excited as your audience. I have my slow months and things got a little slow during the first part of the recession. But I believe my business is strong because I believe DJs are the backbone of the entertainment industry. We entertain more people than anybody.”

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