Monday, February 20, 2017

Black History Month: FRANKIE KNUCKLES

Frankie Knuckles (1955 - 2014)

Francis “Frankie Knuckles” Nicholls is without argument, The Godfather of House Music and certainly one of the most important figures in the genre. Born in 1955 in The Bronx, NY, he was a teen in the early to mid 70s. This is when Frankie and his friend Larry Levan began frequenting discos in NYC. Both textile design students at FIT, the two began Djing at The Continental Baths and The Gallery, two of the most important discos in the early days.

After Frankie moved to Chicago in the late 1970s, his friend Robert Williams opened what became The Warehouse in ’77, a members-only club for black gay men. This came with an opportunity for Frankie to play there on a regular basis, honing his skills and style as a taste maker. His mix of disco classics, indie-soul, rock, Euro-disco, and more caused the locals to refer to this style as “Warehouse Music” now shortened to be named “House Music”. With Knuckles’ popularity growing, the club began attracting a straighter, more diverse (white) audience causing the owner to discontinue his membership policy. Frankie then stopped his residency there and opened The Power Plant club in 1982. The same year, he was introduced to Jamie Principle by Jose “Louie” Gomez.

In ’83, Derrick May (Detroit) sold Frankie his first drum machine. Frankie then layered his live mixes of disco classics with bare drum sounds defining the early sound of Chicago house music. Many producers mimicked this technique and took it into studios by 1985. 

With the closing of The Power Plant in 1987, Knuckles found himself in the UK as Chicago house music artists were in high demand with the success of the new genre. He played a residency at Delirium in London for 4 months before a stint in NYC producing, remixing, and recording. Frankie helped put out the Jamie Principle tunes “Your Love” and “Baby Wants To Ride” on vinyl after playing the unreleased dubs on reel-to-reel for a full year in his sets to receptive crowds. He then appeared as a co-producer on the Pet Shop Boys “I Want a Dog” on their third album. As house continued developing so did Knuckles experience as a producer. Chip E. then began mentoring Frankie, helping him produce a remake of Teddy Pendergrass' “You Can’t Hide From Yourself” followed by “Tears” with Robert Owens of Fingers Inc and Satoshi Tomiie.

Frankie partnered with David Morales for Def Mix Productions and dropped his debut album “Beyond The Mix” in 1991 on Virgin Records. This project included the seminal work, “The Whistle Song” which hit number one on the US Dance Chart. In the early '90s, Frankie held a DJ residency at Genesis (Osaka, Japan) and soon, Junior Vasquez took a break from The Sound Factory in Manhattan and Frankie took over, launching a successful NYC residency. In 1996 Frankie was inducted into the Chicago Gay & Lesbian Hall of Fame and in he ’97 won a Grammy Award for Remixer of the Year (Non-Classical). 

In the mid ‘90s and well into the 2000s, Frankie Knuckles was in demand as a remixer, reworking everyone from Michael Jackson and Luther Vandross to Toni Braxton and Diana Ross. His productions are globally recognized as some of the most important works in dance music. So much so, in 2004, Chicago named the old Warehouse intersection of Jefferson St. & Jackson Blvd. “Frankie Knuckles Way” in addition to Barack Obama declaring August 25th as “Frankie Knuckles Day”. Finally, in 2005, he was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame. After Frankie Knuckles passed away due to complications with Type II diabetes, Defected Records released a retrospective comp., “House Masters: Frankie Knuckles” featuring a track list selected by the legend himself before he passed on. Shortly after that, a version of “Baby Wants To Ride” was released by Underworld, Heller, & Farley marking the 1 year anniversary of his death and the tune reached number one on the UK Official Vinyl Singles Chart, proving that Frankie’s footprint, left on popular dance music the world over, is here to stay.

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