The birth of our underground brand Factory 93 not only brought on an adrenaline rush reminiscent of the renegade warehouse era of raving—on which Insomniac was founded—but it also had us thinking back to all the people, places and parties that made this whole operation possible. And with that came a burning desire to crack open our collection and dust off the classic records we couldn’t live without. Through our From the Crates series, we’ll be breaking out both seminal and obscure cuts alike, imparting some knowledge in the process.
How fitting that one of Chicago’s most mythological house tracks of all time was produced by someone named Adonis. If house music is in your DNA and you haven’t heard 1986’s “No Way Back,” chances are the bassline, one of the genre’s foundational greats, will still be familiar to you.
The lyrics center around the phrases, “Too far gone/ain’t no way back… Release my soul/I lost control.” The record credits the vocals to Gary B, aka Gary Baxter, a Chicago singer who passed away in 2017, according to Discogs.
“No Way Back” rang from Chicago to Detroit to London and beyond; Rolling Stone estimates the single sold upward of 100,000 copies independently. Last year, Trax Records owner Larry Sherman told Chicago that someone in a nightclub offered him $500 for the first vinyl test pressing of “No Way Back,” which he had brought to the night’s DJ.
“It was just that kind of crowd pleaser,” he boasted.
“No Way Back” was healthily sampled on records like Stabbed’s dark “(Theme from) Chicago” in 1989; Ben Sims, Phil Vernol and Rob Jarvis’ techno throbber “B1-Untitled” in 1999; and Armand Van Helden and Da Mongoloids’ sexed-up “Hybridz” in 2000.
After Armand’s record dropped, I magically got Adonis on the phone for the now out-of-print magazine URB. Nearly two decades later, I’m astonished to find no subsequent interviews with him online (“I am one of those underground kinda people,” Adonis told me), and I’m happy this little microcassette didn’t break before some jewels could be extracted from it!
“Lawyers would tell Adonis he had a case, but it wasn’t worth enough money for them to touch it. That classic music business swindle inspired him to want to start his own record label and to work with artists to ensure they didn’t have the same kind of experience.”
At the time of the interview, Adonis wasn’t stoked about the lyrical content of Armand’s track, nor of the fact that he didn’t have control over who sampled “No Way Back.” We talked about how he never made money from the song, despite how many times it’s been sampled, how many compilations it’s appeared on over the years, and how brazen Larry Sherman was about never paying Adonis everything he was owed.
Lawyers would tell Adonis he had a case, but it wasn’t worth enough money for them to touch it. That classic music business swindle inspired him to want to start his own record label and to work with artists to ensure they didn’t have the same kind of experience.
We also talked about how Jesse Saunders’ 1984 record “On & On,” which is credited as being the first recorded house music single, inspired him and countless other DJs and musicians in Chicago to realize they could make a hit. Adonis was trained as a jazz musician since he was young, so DJs would come to him and ask him to make records for them.
“Jesse, I respect what he did,” Adonis told me. “He put the record out and just got everybody freaked out. ‘Cause that’s how I got into it, from just hearing that one record. I mean, actually, I didn’t even hear his record! Just the energy that other DJs were coming to me with that record: ‘Adonis, man, this is awesome! Look, that guy got a record! I want one of these!’ I’m a musician, right? They were, like, asking me to do music for them. ‘Hey, hook me up a record! You play the music, and I’ll put my name on it, okay?’ I’m like, ‘Okay!’ And you’re making these recordings for DJs, and finally you do one for yourself, and that’s how I became famous.”
But music ultimately isn’t about money and fame, but rather art and passion for Adonis, and after “No Way Back” solidified his place in history as one of house music’s first architects, he found his happiest place releasing music outside the intensity of the spotlight. More than 30 years since it was originally released, though, the song is still appreciated by house music aficionados and collectors—not to mention educated dancefloors around the world—as a pillar of the genre. Boston label Get on Down even released “No Way Back” on 7-inch vinyl in 2018, a tiny-format tribute to a huge track.