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Formerly known as either Virgo Four, M.E. or Ace & the Sandman. Now going by, Merwyn.
In the late nineteen-eighties, Merwyn Sanders and his childhood friend Eric Lewis recorded a series of beautiful house tracks here in Chicago. Their first two EPs were issued under the names Virgo Four and M. E. on Trax Records in the U.S., then were licensed to Radical Records in the U.K. The duo followed up with another M. E. EP on Trax and a fourth release as Ace & The Sandman on Trax subsidiary Saber Records. – Jacob Arnold, www.gridface.com
The self titled Virgo album, released in 1989, is regarded as a seminal house album. Yet, the album is not common knowledge. Nor is much known about its creators Eric Lewis and Merwyn Sanders. ‘We were horrible at networking’ says Merwyn now. ‘By the time we started releasing on Trax, the label was past its prime’ explains Eric. Besides, there has always been some confusion about Virgo and Virgo Four. There were two different Virgos on Trax, the other one being the Virgo of Adonis, Marshall Jefferson and Vince Lawrence. Merwyn: ‘That was one of Larry’s (Sherman, Trax label boss) ideas. felt since we were unknown and our stuff was in the same vibe that it would add some name recognition. Our name was M.E. (Merwyn & Eric). We were very against Larry changing it. We had no idea until he started pressing ’em up. We were somewhat furious, but finally went along with it because we were so into doing the music and not so worried about a name.’ Eric and Merwyn were both born and raised on the south side of Chicago in musical families. They met at elementary school and started playing covers of funk and pop hits of that time in a four-piece band. Eric played guitar and Merwyn was on drums. The band didn’t last long and disbanded around the time they went to high school. It was here where they started to embrace dance music. ‘Anyone from Chicago knows about the Mendel high school parties. Literally 1000 kids listening to the popular Hot Mix Five DJ’s, Ron Hardy and others’, Eric says. Getting their debut single released was not an easy task. After being recommended by a friend they went to visit Trax, where they were initially turned down. When they were also turned down by another Chicago label, State Street, it was back to the studio for Eric and Merwyn. They produced more music and after two years went back to Trax. This time Larry did sign them, because: ‘Larry’s dog he had at the time liked us the second time around and that’s how we got started over there’ Merwyn says. Their first single, Virgo Four ‘Do You Know Who You Are’, was finally released in 1989. A second single ‘Ride’ quickly followed in the same year, this time, oddly enough, under their M.E. alias. A year after the ‘Summer Of Love’, house music was in full swing in the UK, where ‘Do You Know Who You Are’ was picked up and led Sherman to combine both singles and license these out as the Virgo (this time leaving ‘Four” off) album to Radikal records. Their second single as M.E. was released a year later. ‘Winter Days & Summer Nights’, which featured r&b singer Yvonne Gage (‘Garden Of Eve’), stalled pretty quickly after Sherman refused to promo this to a local Chicago radio station. Only one more single followed in 1992, this time under another alias, Ace & The Sandman on Trax sub-label Saber. Merwyn: ‘That was another one of Larry’s ideas, but at least this time he asked us what name we wanted to use. He felt the Virgo stuff had a particular vibe to it and I guess he felt the other stuff we were giving him didn’t match that vibe.’ By this time the Trax label was on its way down, never to fully return to its mid 80s heyday. Why Eric & Merwyn didn’t release more records is simply because ‘just didn’t release everything. We were giving Larry tracks all the time. He probably has over 20 recorded and just didn’t do anything with them and that’s not including what we would give him as ideas. They never stopped doing music, but they also started doing other things. Merwyn performed around Chicago for a while, playing anything from Ben E. King, Bill Withers and The Beatles to his own singer/songwriter stuff. He also acts on stage in various plays. Eric graduated from college in 1992 and went on to become a maths teacher. Rush Hour Records, www.rushhour.nl