Written by D. Michael Taylor
It was understandable that the promoters of the 2008 IndepenDANCE in Laguna Beach were desperate to reach the DJ they had booked for the event. A frantic series of calls led to the morbid discovery that Cary Stringfellow would no longer be playing anywhere. He had been found dead in his bedroom at the age of 36.
This DJ Profile was a long time in the making. Originally meant to be an interview with Cary, it now takes on the somber duty of celebrating his short yet fruitful and promising life well lived.
Ten years ago, noiZe’s Gary Steinberg received a phone call from Salt Lake City. It was from Cary Stringfellow, manager of the Vortex. He wanted to know if he could distribute an article in Circuit Noize (as we were then called) about the dangers of crystal meth. He was seeing a lot of the same self-destructive activity in the heart of Mormon Country.
The two hit it off at once, talking for hours about responsible partying, the state of the Circuit, and what the local Salt Lake City scene was like. “When we finally met in person, it was like we were old friends,” Steinberg recalls.
By then, Stringfellow had also caught the DJ bug, and trained under the talented eyes of friends like Phil B, Chris Cox, and Twisted Dee. Nico, another close friend for the last decade, as well as Cary’s roommate in L.A., remembers that the transition from Vortex to Club Axis was in part born from his passion for music: “When the partners decided to sell Vortex, Cary, wanting to continue DJing—along with myself and another one of our friends—opened a smaller club which did very well for several years and gave Cary the opportunity to continue playing music.”
With a capacity of over 1,000, Club Axis won the title of Salt Lake City’s Best Dance Club for five years, with heavyweight DJs like Paul Oakenfold and the high-tech trappings of a New York or Miami venue. But although the club was doing well, Cary wanted to get out of club ownership and the promoting business to concentrate on DJing and music production.
Cary was always outgoing, according to his mother, Kay. Cary was “born feet first and on the run from that moment,” she recently recalled. “He was very organized and intelligent, and everything had to be just right.” In high school in Provo, Utah, he served on the debate team. He studied business at a local college and also learned to be a pilot.
But he kept returning to his first love. “He grew up listening to music from the time he was born,” Kay said. “We always had music playing instead of the TV. He loved all different types of music, except Country.”
Cary’s musical ear and his infectious energy quickly gained him recognition. In 2001, he headlined “Latin Fever” in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where he returned every year since. (His dream to quit the rat race and open up a yogurt business with a new beau never came to fruition. But some of his ashes are being sent to the place he so loved.)
Gigs in places as far-flung as Fire Island, Toronto and Hawaii cemented his reputation. “He was a master at the uplifting style that sent me to heaven,” Steinberg recalled of Cary’s mixing.
His booking at Splash Days in Austin this year will be filled by his friends Phil B and Twisted Dee, who are donating their proceeds to his family. Of his passing, Troy Spicer, one of the Splash event’s organizers, said, “He was friends with half our group.” Commenters on the web extolled Cary’s personality and talent. One called him a “sweet man with a beautiful soul”; another, a “spirit that was captivating and joyous—contagious”; still another, “his message was so much deeper than his music.”
One person noted that Cary had exchanged vows with the commenter’s brother, a concert pianist with the New York Symphony Orchestra, in 1996. Even after the break-up a few years later, Cary remained close with his mother: “He called her frequently and always beat me to the punch on Mother’s Day.”
“When she was going through a bout with cancer,” Kay adds, “he flew down to Florida. He told her how beautiful she was after he made her take her hat off.”
His sense of camaraderie and fellowship extended to the DJ booth, where there were always sparkling gadgets, toys, t-shirts and hats on hand. “I ran into Cary on the dance floor,” Steinberg recalls of an encounter at the 2000 Masterbeat New Year’s Eve party. “He excitedly pulled me to the side. He had found the very last of a portable laser system that he knew I would like. He had one like it, and loved lying on his bed watching the patterns on the ceiling.”
Nico recalls Cary placing “Hello, my name is ___” stickers on people’s bare chests at parties after asking their names: “While at first people looked at him like he was odd, by the end of the party people were coming up to him and asking if he had any stickers left.”
Nico also notes Cary’s acts of kindness to those around him: “He was incredibly sensitive and thoughtful. For my first anniversary with Zack, who I met through Cary, he instructed us to ‘make sure we were home at seven,’ without telling us any more. Promptly at seven, a limo pulled up to our house, picked us up and drove us to Robert Redford’s restaurant Zoom in Park City. There was a camera in the back seat to take pictures during the ride and a wonderful table with flowers waiting for us. That was his style—to create fantastically memorable moments for those he cared about.”
He also had a charitable side. For a big birthday party, Steinberg had asked for donations to the Trevor Project, which helps gay youth. Stringfellow immediately volunteered his DJ services at no charge.
After his death, Steinberg called Cary’s cell phone just to hear his recorded voice: “I hung up, took a deep breath, and went on with my day. The next day I got a call on my cell. It was the voice of a woman, shaky and soft. ‘Hello, did you try to call Cary Stringfellow?’ she asked. ‘This is Cary’s Mom.’ My eyes teared up and my throat closed. ‘I saw your number on his phone. I need to tell you…’ The two of us, strangers, spoke about Cary, much of the conversation in silence. She was in the car, driving back from Los Angeles to Utah, with Cary’s ashes in a container on her lap. I told her how much I cared for him, how influential he was in my life, how we talked almost daily.”
The cruelest irony of his passing, as with so many bright lights extinguished too early, is that he was on the cusp of even greater success. He had just received rave reviews for playing at “Frisco Disco” at San Francisco Pride (with a giant can of Crisco as the DJ booth). “My partner and I danced together under the DJ booth for what was truly Cary’s last song,” recalled promoter Kyle Pickett. “Cary Stringfellow was a wonderful man who knew nothing but how to bring joy into people’s lives both on and off the dance floor. He spun uplifting and sexy music that just simply made you want to dance.”
Having watched him grow and develop as an artist, noiZe was proud to offer him a DJ Profile in this issue. We obviously had no idea how sad and ironic the timing would end up being. We therefore offer this profile as a celebration of a friend whose life was filled with talent and joy. May we all learn something from this gentle and loving soul.
I can’t believe Cary is gone! He always talked about you guys and how good you are to him. i remember a pool party at your house that he said he never wanted to leave. And when he spun at Ray’s pool party in the valley, no one wanted to leave because of his music. We lost a DJ, but more importantly a close friend.
By Bob Tills on 07-09-2008
That was beautiful, Gary. Thank you.
I miss Cary for many of the same reasons. He was beauty in spite of all that is ugly and frightening. I miss him terribly and yet have not seen him in years. His was a lasting impact. Cary- I miss you!!!
By Danny on 07-14-2008
hi gary. This is Cristian, cary’s BF. I saw ur comment on cary’s my space and saw the beautiful article that you made special for cary….. i will never forget that day when we had dinner togueter in west holliwood, then we went to ur house and have a great time listening the new cary’s cd. I would like to be more in touch with you. this is my e-mail addres. i’ll apreciate a response. cristian lomeli.
By cristian lomeli on 08-07-2008
No one talks about the way he died… Or why, I guess we really don’t know, I think in some way it had to due with his future and where he was going,Not his past…
By Carl Landry on 08-10-2008
By Gary Steinberg on 08-13-2008
Hopefully this will reach the many friends that helped make Cary’s life wonderful and beautiful. I thank each and everyone of you for being a part of his quirky but fulfilling life (he was always trying to think of something outrageous to show people) He said that he hoped he had shown everyone the love that they had shown him. I know he did. He was the kindest, most loving person I have ever seen in life. My heart is broken in half but I feel very blessed to have had him as my son. Thanks to all of you for loving him.
By Kay Stringfellow on 08-14-2008
I MISS MY CARY STRINGFELOW IS MY BROTHER FOR 11 Y..
IM FROM PUERTO VALLARTA JALISCO MEXICO ..
MYSPACE IS ..
CARY STRINGFELOW FOREVER OXOX
By DJ RAMSES on 08-16-2008
By Shelley on 08-19-2008
Cary— Smiles forever. Your friend Noah misses you. See you again in time my friend.
By Noah on 10-17-2008
Cary Neil, I miss you so very badly, every single day that goes by without hearing your voice and telling me to be happy and that you love me, but I know you come to see me in my dreams and that you are alright. I just miss you darling. Enjoy your peace in heaven, until my day comes.
By Kathryn Moosman on 01-08-2009
Cary, It has been 6 months since you left us yet it seems like yesterday. I still cry every night and want to talk to you and see your smile and hear your laughter that brought so much joy to everyone. I still think of all of the if’s and why’s but I guess until I see you again I won’t know. I miss you more than anything my beautiful son. I hope you have found peace.
By Kay Stringfellow on 01-29-2009
I can´t believe it, my dear friend it´s gone, im so sad, i will never forget you Cary, you was a great friend and a great dj, was a great honor had played with you in Mexico. You will be with us in our hearts forever. We will miss you. Rest in peace my dear Cary.
By Jay Montes on 02-26-2009
Thinking about you Cary- wishing you a Happy Birthday! Drop into my dreams sometime, will you? Your laugh and smile are right there in front of me. Love ya— Danny
By Danny Ceballos on 04-08-2009
Cary, it seems so weird not to be able to talk to you and hug you on your birthday. It was one of the hardest days of my life. I hope that you and Syd were together to celebrate it. Know that I love you with all of my heart and miss you every minute.
By Kay Stringfellow on 04-14-2009
This track, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, was just written by
Guy B, dedicated to the memory of DJ Cary Stringfellow.
There’s a free download at:
By Gary Steinberg on 07-28-2009
Merry Christmas sweetheart. Your ornament is on the tree and your stocking is hanging on the mantel. The only thing missing is you. I’ve been trying to remember all of the holidays when you were a child instead of dwelling on the fact that you are not here. You were always so excited especially when you got some goofy thing that no one else would want. I miss your smile and hugs but know that someday I will again have them. Give dad a big hug for me and stay with me to keep me going. ok.
All My Love
By Kay Stringfellow on 12-22-2009
Well, it’s almost your birthday my sweet son. You would have been 38 on the 10th of April. Oh how I miss you so very much. What I wouldn’t give to be able to hug you and hear you laugh. Someday, huh. Get Syd and the two of you have a special dance for both of your birthdays and know that I love and miss you very much.
By Kay Stringfellow on 03-31-2010
My sweet son,
In a couple of weeks it will be 2 years since you left us. The time has gone by fast yet slow. I can finally get through a day without crying but the nights are harder. I still miss you more than you could ever know. You were always the first one to call me on Mothers Day, Valentines, Birthday, etc. I sure miss those calls. Your two grand babies are beautiful and Chandler looks just like you when you were his age. Thank you for putting them into my life so I can at least have something of yours that I can hold and love.
Take care my beautiful son and I will see you before you know it.
All My Love
By Kay Stringfellow on 06-22-2010
Still thinking of you..
Love Stephen x
By Stephen Stringfellow on 09-23-2010
Well Cary,,I’m not sure I’ll ever get over you being gone. It’s been over 2 years. I’m constantly playing all your music you gave me. Every single CD and compilation you ever made. You gave it to me when I stayed with you in Long Beach that last summer during Pride..how would I know you’d be gone in a year. Your music really did make me happy,,and I’m so very glad I danced at your party in San Francisco Pride ‘08. My last memory of you smiling at me from the DJ booth there…thank you..Me and Crazy Jen spoke so very fondly of you. I have very special memories of you always my friend<<. What a treat to meet someone so special as you. I love you and we’ll dance again someday. Keeping your music alive..Ricky
By Ricky Lashley on 09-30-2010