On Wednesday night, senior reporter Jordan Schneider sat down in Yorkside over buffalo chicken tenders to discuss the illustrious career of Toad’s Thomas ‘DJ Action’ Jackson. He spoke on his early days as a high school exchange student skiing in Austria and what happened after he broke his dad’s record player. The former Quinnipiac physical therapy student, who started at Toad’s in 2004, answered pressing questions about sex on the dance floor and just who the hell is the guy with the giant beard.
Q. When did you first get into music?
A. When I was 3 years old I thought my dad’s belt-driven turntables were the coolest thing … I remember my dad worked nights as a social worker so he worked for Department of Children and Family Services. I would wait on him to go to work on Saturday and as soon as he left there I was down in the basement playing with the turntables. One day he came back, he said, “Have you been messing with my turntables? My levels are off!” One day I broke the needle and stylus … that was the worst ass-whooping I can remember. I took that but hours later, guess who’s waiting for him to go to work and messing with the turntables.
My dad was never a DJ, but he had a huge love for music. You don’t expect a black man in inner city Chicago to listen to groups like Led Zeppelin, the Alex Harvey band, the Cars … I’m sitting here like, wow, this man is about the music.
Q. When did you DJ your first party?
A. In 7th grade I had a boombox. We’d have parties in our classroom, I’d bring a boom box and CDs that I brought from my dad. No mixing, no scratching. I would mix from CD to the radio while I mixed until the next CD.
Q. What was your first set of decks?
A. I went to Colby College before I went to Quinnipiac [for grad school in physical therapy]. The school just had a set of three CD players that had a tray and mixer. I would just DJ off of that. Most people end up with campus jobs that pay minimum wage, but my roommate who was a DJ said, “Come DJ with me!” He showed me how to hook up the equipment and before I knew it I was getting requested for all the parties.
Q. What’s your DJing philosophy?
A. It never really mattered what I wanted to hear, it was what the crowd wanted to hear. You put yourself last, otherwise you’re just a bedroom DJ and you play for yourself.
Q. How did you get involved with Toad’s?
A. The Toad’s DJ who was graduating at the end of the year was a buddy of mine who was familiar with one of the promoters at Toad’s and heard me DJ. He said, “Oh man we gotta get you into Toad’s.” But I’d never even heard of the club. I was a graduate student … I was out of the loop! I thought it was the dumbest name in the world for a nightclub. I did the set, and the DJs who were there were really impressed. The guy ended up graduating and I’ve been doing it ever since 2004.
Q. So what’s changed since then?
A. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The party has been the same, the energy’s been the same, the music’s been the same: house, hip hop, R&B, some classics. “Livin’ on a Prayer” is a staple, and if we don’t play it, Brian [the owner] will yell at us.
Q. What are the most outrageous things you’ve seen at Toad’s?
A. Extreme drunkenness. What I mean by that is not just people who have passed out. People do things and appear to have forgotten where they are. For example, people having sex on the dance floor, doing it like they’re at home and no one’s watching them. People having sex in the DJ booth like I’m not there doing my job. And I’m not talking about just heterosexually. When I’m trying to DJ it makes things difficult.
As much as I can appreciate a fine female figure, you can see that the girl is not quite with it. I feel for people’s safety, and I don’t want to see anything bad happen to anybody. The way people dance these days they could be doing it so sometimes you don’t know. But the last thing you want to hear is someone getting sexually assaulted in the nightclub, that you saw it and you did nothing about it. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. So that’s why I call over security.
I’ve also seen some pretty nasty fights. Back in 2005-2006, back when a lot of the Quinnipiac kids appeared to be juicing, they always had trouble with Yale kids.
Q. What do you think are some differences between Yale and Quinnipiac students?
A. When Quinnipiac kids come in, it’s like they come to impress. They dress to impress, they order their drinks to impress. The average Yale student, they come in in whatever the hell they feel like wearing. You guys kind of don’t care. There’s something really cool about it. For Quinnipiac kids it’s like they’re going to the finest establishment in the city. There’s something cool about that too.
Quinnipiac kids will go nuts to certain records, and Yale will too to the same and some different records as well. You can play older music to a Yale crowd and they’ll still love it — Yale never gets tired of “Livin’ on a Prayer.” One time, I didn’t play it and 20 people came up to me and were like, “What the fuck?” Quinnipiac kids, if they stay that long, are like, “oh, here it comes again.”
Quinnipiac, no disrespect, but truly Toad’s is [Yale’s] club. It’s in your neighborhood. I’m not gonna say [the owner] caters to you more but you guys have always been and will always be the foundation.
Q. So I hear you were a ski racer?
A. I wanted to go to the Olympics so I spent a year in Austria freshman year of high school training with their junior team, and then I went to Salt Lake City and trained with a ski academy for three years.
Q. So who is the guy with the beard?
A. Jim Day. He is the light technician who is often times confused as me. He’s just that guy. He’s just a regular old dude. Nice guy though. I don’t know how long Jim Day’s been there, or what’s up with the beard.