African American Studies
Interviewer: Andrew Tiedt
Interviewee: Renee Scroggins
Date of interview: 3 February 2006
Summarized by: Craig Teal, 17 March 2007
Renee Scroggins, member of the punk/funk group, ESG, was born in Bronx, New York in the Moore Projects. Located on Jackson Avenue and 149th Street, the projects started to deteriorate within a couple of years of it being built. Renee calls this time the ‘drug era’ and recalls a lot of bad situations being present because of the poor economic situation of the people that lived there. Renee went to elementary school at PS 35 on Morris Avenue where her teacher, Mr. Feedler, introduced her to many different types of music, most notably, Irish Folk music. Graduating to Junior High School 145 she began to study the violin being part of the orchestra. In high school she sang in the chorus a bit, emulating the choir she saw Sundays at church.
Her progression to forming a band was greatly encouraged by her mother, Helen Scroggins. Her mother saw the neighborhood deteriorating and she started to see things going bad with kids that were hanging out on the streets. Watching the Don Kershner rock concert and “Soul” on PBS, Renee and her siblings convinced their mother that they could do the same. Their mother, realizing that music was positive and gave something constructive for her children to do, gave them instruments one Christmas. Soon all three sisters, Renee, Valerie and Deborah, were playing covers of The Rolling Stones and Chaka Khan and Rufus. Every Friday Renee’s mother had a music review to make sure they were practicing. Renee and her sisters were dedicated and soon decided to drop covers, write their own songs and create their own sound by incorporating instruments like the maracas, bongos and congas. Latin music greatly affected their style. Renee lived next to St. Mary’s Park where Latin gentlemen would play with coke bottles, a cowbell and a set of congas.
Their mother soon entered Renee and her sisters into talent shows and local contests. Renee and her sisters (ESG had two other members, Tito and his cousin at this time) were ‘discovered’ in a Manhattan talent show at Music Building off West 30th Street. Ed Baldman from 99 Records in Soho was there and liked their sound. With Ed’s help they landed their first paying gig at Mechanics’ Hall at a show called ‘Popfront.’ ESG began to play mostly on the punk scene. Still without a record contract but under Ed’s direction, ESG began to form a fan base by playing at the Mud Club, Hoorah, Irving Plaza, Peppermint Lounge, Barnes International and Paradise Garage, mixing punk clubs with dance clubs and even entertaining the rap scene. They began to open for some larger acts including The Clash, P.I.L., Public Image, Wilson Pickett and Grandmaster Flash.
Their first deal came while playing at a club with Certain Ratio. Tony Wilson, owner of Factory Records in London, heard ESG and immediately offered to make a record with them. Within a week, Renee and the rest of ESG were in the studio without any formal contract. Renee’s first concern was to just get out there and have her music heard. Soon however, Renee began to hear her music, particularly the single “U.F.O.,” being sampled. Upon asking Ed, their so-called manager, he stated that he had nothing to do with this. Renee admits to not being educated in the music business and today it is an aspect of her life that still upsets her. Renee and ESG began to have an impact outside of New York by 1980. In that year they released an album that was a split-release in New York and London. The singles “Good,” “Moody” and “U.F.O.” were climbing up both charts in the U.S. and U.K.
Reflecting on her overall music experience, Renee recalls that she and her sisters played because their mother wanted to keep them off the streets. They thoroughly enjoyed it as well. Additionally, Renee states that their music was inspired from where they lived in the Bronx. The sights and sounds greatly influenced them. Also, they wanted to get out of the projects and this was the vehicle that helped them to live their dream. Lastly, it was a family bonding experience. In 1995, Renee added her daughter, Nicole, and niece, Shastell to ESG. The band was something brought about by the love of her mother and now, as mothers, Renee and her sisters have passed the love of their mother and music to the next generation.
Scroggins, Renee. February 3, 2006. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
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