The "Godfather of House" mixes up this week's RA podcast.
If you've even got a passing interest in house music, there's very little chance that Frankie Knuckles' name has escaped you. Starting off as a clubber in the New York disco scene—his first job was to spike the punch at Nicky Siano's now legendary The Gallery gatherings—Frankie soaked up the knowledge passed down to him from his good friend Larry Levan, and managed to secure a residency alongside the Paradise Garage luminary at the city's Continental Baths. What with the Levan connection, it wasn't long before he was headhunted to become the resident DJ at Chicago's Warehouse, a predominately gay and black club where he became a local pin-up for his sets of sublime soulful disco. Playing records that even the hardened Chicagoan disco DJs had never heard of, his reputation shot skyward, but in 1983 he decided to leave the Warehouse and start his own club called Powerplant.
The venture was successful, but Frankie's mind was already on getting into music production, and just three years later, the club closed, and Frankie started putting records out. His first 12-inch was a cover of Teddy Pendergrass' "You Can't Hide," which he produced alongside Chip E and Joe Smooth and put out on Rocky Jones' DJ International imprint, but his biggest hit came the following year when he updated Jamie Principle's "Your Love" on Trax Records. Even though Jamie's track had been circulating on tape for years (and is disputed to be the first house music track ever recorded), many people attributed the record to Frankie (Larry Sherman's decision to capitalize on his popularity by labeling the record "Frankie Knuckles presents" and not mentioning Principle didn't exactly help matters), and from then on he was a name to be reckoned with on the international house music scene.
After moving back to New York, Frankie stepped in for Junior Vasquez at the Sound Factory for a couple of years, and has carried on producing and DJing internationally ever since. While other house legends have been happy to live off their former glory, Knuckles has been active throughout this decade, releasing two full artist albums and plenty of mix CDs, the latest being his forthcoming Motivation Too CD which hits the shops in October. He's also playing the Electric Zoo festival in his New York hometown next month, so we thought that now would be a good a time as ever to get the man to mix up an RA podcast for us. We caught up with Frankie by e-mail to ask him about the RA mix, his first Motivation mix and why he closed the Powerplant.
What have you been working on recently?
Apart from the summer tour of Europe, there's been the fine tuning of my upcoming compilation, Motivation Too, the remix of "Forever Came Today" by The Jacksons, my collaboration with The Shapeshifters on a new song together by our new group, We're House, which is titled "The Ones You Love" and my forthcoming album, Director's Cut featuring Jamie Principle.
How and where was the mix recorded?
The mix was recorded at my studio, Temple Of My Familiar in Chicago.
Can you tell us a little about the mix?
The world we all live in is going through some very dire situations. Folks are having a hard time making it out here, and with every attempt to pull it together things get more and more depressing—people losing focus and desire to carry on. This is designed to motivate. We all need motivation right now. Even if we're doing well, we need to stay motivated, because there's always the possibility of losing focus. Hopefully with every listen the listener will feel inspired to get up and make another effort. After all, "nothing beats a failure but a try."
Have any of your gigs or residencies come close to the atmosphere in The Warehouse?
The only gig that's come close to my days at The Warehouse, or maybe even eclipse those days would be my residency at Sound Factory Bar in NYC.
How exactly did the events of 9/11 inspire you to do your Motivation mix?
In the 35 years I've been involved in this business, there have been two truly devastating events that have had a huge impact on me personally. The first wave of losses to the AIDS epidemic in the early '80s, and 9/11. After looking at the effect it had on me personally, I looked around to see how it affected everyone I knew and I was stopped dead in my tracks and struck dumb and flabbergasted! I wanted to do something, and all I could think of at the time was to get lost in the music. I went into my studio and played music like it was my last day on this earth and I recorded the set.
That set was Motivation. I played it for a few friends (one being Judy Weinstein) and she agreed that it needed to be released. Now, here it is 8 years later and we're facing another devastating event: this current recession and economic downturn. Folks are losing everything that matters and rediscovering what is paramount. Staying strong and carrying on for those that are with us that may not be strong enough. Sometimes all it takes is a song, or just a line from a song like, "Keep On Movin' Don't You Ever Stop" to give you the strength to get up and keep going. Hopefully Motivation Too will give everyone the desire to "Keep On."
You owned your own club in Chicago from '83-86. With your high status at the time, why did the Powerplant close?
I closed the Powerplant because of my desire to get more involved in production. It was too much work trying to run a club, DJ and get a post-production/remix education. Something had to be sacrificed. Call me selfish, but my desire for a longstanding career in the music business was more important than running a nightclub. Plus, I was just too young and naive to be running a club.
What are you up to next?
Completing this summer tour successfully, meeting my family in New York City for our annual Knuckles Family Reunion, the launch of Motivation Too and a well deserved "chill until the next episode."