Owned leg­endary in­clu­sive dance club Me­dusa’s

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY MADE­LINE KENNEY, STAFF RE­PORTER mken­ney@sun­times.com | @Mad­Ken­ney

A memo­rial for one of the most in­flu­en­tial pro­mot­ers in the house mu­sic in­dus­try was erected this week­end against the brick wall of a Lake View apart­ment com­plex, lo­cated at 3257 N. Sh­effield Ave. Peo­ple left can­dles, flow­ers and a bust of the Greek god­dess Me­dusa.

“Mu­sic saved my life” was writ­ten on the side­walk in chalk.

Dave “Me­dusa” Shel­ton hasn’t lived in that build­ing for nearly three decades. In fact, back when he rented it in the ’80s and early ’90s, the place was a leg­endary all-ages dance club known as Me­dusa’s.

Still, peo­ple gath­ered at the former lo­ca­tion of their “home away from home” to pay their re­spects to Mr. Shel­ton, who died in his home Fri­day from nat­u­ral causes, his close friend Miguel Or­tuno said. He was 64.

Mr. Shel­ton, whom many called an an­i­mal lover and “free-spir­ited” man with a “wicked sense of hu­mor,” started host­ing par­ties at the Ware­house, a fa­mous club con­sid­ered to be the birth­place of “house mu­sic.”

Me­dusa’s be­came Mr. Shel­ton’s pride and joy when it opened in 1983 and quickly be­came a hit with the younger crowd. It wasn’t just a juice bar with live mu­sic; Mr. Shel­ton cre­ated a safe haven for teenagers who never quite fit in any­where in their own com­mu­ni­ties. Sev­eral former pa­trons de­scribed it as the “home of the mis­fits.”

Out­side the three-story build­ing, you wouldn’t have been able to tell it was a night­club. There were no signs or flash­ing lights. Peo­ple only learned of Me­dusa’s by word of mouth and fly­ers.

In­side, it was a sanc­tu­ary where in­dus­trial mu­sic fans and teens from the South Side rubbed el­bows with drag queens and goths.

“It was just this cul­tural hub,” said Duane Pow­ell, a DJ and arts cu­ra­tor for Cho­sen Few DJs, who fre­quently at­tended dance par­ties at Me­dusa’s as a teen. “It was re­ally a great place for teens and young adults to re­ally ex­press them­selves. A lot of us felt like mis­fits in our neigh­bor­hoods, you know what I mean? So it was like all these mis­fits con­verged and it was won­der­ful.”

Mr. Shel­ton was proud of the en­vi­ron­ment he cre­ated.

“They were al­ready stars, I sim­ply pro­vided a place for them to shine,” he has been quoted as say­ing about Me­dusa’s.

But even though Mr. Shel­ton loved the phrase, “the show must go on,” the party at Me­dusa’s ended in 1992, when Mr. Shel­ton lost the lease for the build­ing.

Mr. Shel­ton later told Res­i­den­tAd­vi­sor.com that he be­lieves he was forced out af­ter the al­der­man threat­ened to hold up his land­lord’s de­vel­op­ment projects.

The im­pact of the club — which in­spired mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions of dance mu­sic pro­duc­ers and pop­u­lar­ized Lil’ Louis’ hit “French Kiss”

— is still felt to­day. And some be­lieve the di­verse and in­clu­sive na­ture of Me­dusa’s could never be em­u­lated.

“Too much has changed,” said Joell Hays, who iden­ti­fies him­self as a “Me­dusa kid.” “He re­ally took full ad­van­tage of his mo­ment on ev­ery level. He was a true vi­sion­ary. I have yet to see an­other club even touch his level of ge­nius.”

“I al­ways hate the phrase, ‘Ahead of their time,’ be­cause he was per­fect for his time, and he was ex­actly what we needed at that time,” said Gigi Potenzo, an­other Me­dusa kid, who re­mained close friends with Mr. Shel­ton up un­til his death.

Mr. Shel­ton ul­ti­mately opened a sim­i­lar dance club in his home­town of El­gin. It still re­mains open to­day, though its fu­ture re­mains un­clear amid the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, said Or­tuno, who serves as the general man­ager of Me­dusa’s in El­gin.

How­ever, a lit­tle part of the orig­i­nal Me­dusa’s still lives on. Hays owns the orig­i­nal pub­lic ad­dress sys­tem from the club — and it still works.

Hays some­times blasts old Me­dusa clas­sics through the speak­ers, “just to re­live a small piece of my youth,” he said. Sat­ur­day, the day news broke on Face­book of Mr. Shel­ton’s death, was one of those days.

“My life would have been com­pletely dif­fer­ent with­out the in­flu­ence of his ge­nius,” Hays wrote on Face­book. “We all love [him] so much.”

Mr. Shel­ton is sur­vived by his sis­ter, Sharon Shel­ton, and his nephew, Troy Shown, Or­tuno said. In­for­ma­tion for his ser­vices will be an­nounced at a later time.

“He’s just a re­ally lov­ing soul and a true friend to so many peo­ple and so gen­uine, he’s go­ing to be so missed by so many,” Potenzo said. “He def­i­nitely left his im­print on so many peo­ple that he’s never go­ing to be for­got­ten, ever.”

Dave Shel­ton, who died Fri­day, got the nick­name “Me­dusa” for his vo­lu­mi­nous curly locks.


Me­dusa’s didn’t look like a night­club from the ex­te­rior.

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