Owned legendary inclusive dance club Medusa’s
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.