Teri Bristol was something of a novelty — a woman in the DJ booth — when she started spinning records in the 1980s at clubs in Chicago.
But her music eventually was heard all over the city, country and world — helping to pave the way for other women in the field.
“We didn’t kick the door down, we battering-rammed it down,” said her friend and longtime tag team partner in the booth, Valerie Scheinpflug, known as DJ Psycho-Bitch.
“It was so hard to get gigs as a woman back then,” said Scheinpflug, who came up in the industry with Ms. Bristol in the early ’80s.
“But for us it was never really about being a woman DJ. We did it purely for the love and joy of connecting with people through the music. The love would just flow out of Teri’s fingertips into people’s hearts and souls,” she said.
Ms. Bristol died Monday from kidney failure in Tennessee, where she spent part of her childhood and where her parents still live. She was 66.
“She was iconic,” said Joe Shanahan, founder of Smart Bar and Metro. “She broke down some pretty major barriers and pushed through that glass ceiling and marched to her own drummer. And her sound was definitive. I was a fan.”
Ms. Bristol’s start in the industry was by chance, or perhaps fate.
In 1982, a DJ got fired at the North Side bar where she was cocktail waitressing and her boss told her to take over.
“She said ‘I can’t deejay, I’m not going up there’ and he told her ‘Let me put it this way, go up there or you’re fired.’ So she did. And she just figured it out. And she was so natural at it,” said Scheinpflug.
With persistence, their careers took off.
“We literally worked at every major club in Chicago,” said Scheinpflug.
Medusa’s, Cairo, Crobar, Ka-Boom, Excalibur — all nightclubs that have since closed — were a few places Ms. Bristol worked.
Ms. Bristol, who was gay, founded “GLEE Club” (“Gay, Lesbian, Everyone’s Equal”) — an LGBTQ+ night at Crobar that she played with Scheinpflug. And she regularly performed for free at events that benefitted the gay community.
“What we were best known for was Interactive Saturdays at Crobar, which ran from 1995 to 2002,” Scheinpflug said. “The owners really left us alone and let us be the creative directors of the entire night from themes and promotions to decorations and guest lists, and we got 2,000 and 3,000 people in there every week.”
The pair also played parties former Bull Dennis Rodman threw at Crobar, and would occasionally spot Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan at their shows.
“We were like sisters. Like peanut butter and jelly,” she said.
Ms. Bristol also regularly performed solo gigs and traveled across the country and to Europe, especially Switzerland, to work.
“We didn’t really play commercial music, Top 40 songs; we played house and techno,” Scheinpflug said. “But Teri did a bit of everything.”
Ms. Bristol also produced her own records and was tapped by major music labels to remix songs from popular artists.
“A lot of female deejays looked up to us and we’d get messages saying thanks and we helped a lot of deejays get started by giving them a guest spot in the booth,” Scheinpflug said.
A graduate of Argo Community High School in south suburban Summit, Ms. Bristol was born Dec., 26, 1966 in Joliet, to Bob Bristol, who worked in property maintenance and as a machinist, and Bettie Bristol, an executive secretary.
Ms. Bristol grew up in Justice, Illinois, and left home and began bartending and waitressing in Chicago after graduating high school, according to her younger brother, Mike Bristol. She also learned billiards from top players at the bars she worked at and earned extra money by hustling pool tables, he said.
“It was hard for her at the beginning; spinning records was just a male-dominated thing,” her brother said. “But she kept fighting and fighting and getting people to show her things and spinning at every opportunity, telling people to ‘Just let me in, I’ll take the slow nights.’”
Ms. Bristol lived on Sheffield Avenue a few blocks south of Wrigley Field for many years and more recently lived in Logan Square before moving to Tennessee in 2017 to be closer to her parents.
“Growing up, she was my personal bodyguard, she would save my butt on the playground all the time,” her brother said.
Funeral services are being held Friday in Tennessee.