SPTL044: Frankie Knuckles
Frankie Knuckles (born January 18, 1955, in New York) is an American DJ, record producer and remix artist. He played an important role in developing house music (an electronic, disco-influenced dance music) as a Chicago DJ in the 1980s and he helped to popularize house music in the 1990s, with his work as a producer and remixer. In 2005, Knuckles was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame for his achievements as a DJ.
While studying textile design at FIT in Manhattan, Knuckles began working as a DJ, playing soul, disco and R&B at The Continental Baths with fellow DJ Larry Levan. When he became better known, he DJed at the club Better Days. When the Warehouse club opened in Chicago in 1977, he was invited to play on a regular basis. He continued DJing there until 1982, when he started his own club, The Power Plant.
It was at this point that the sobriquet 'House Music' was applied to the sounds played at the Warehouse by Frankie. Initially it was a catch-all term to describe the wide range of music being played at the Warehouse, it soon became the word used to define the raw, drum machine based edits and tracks that Frankie was playing in the early 80s. Incidentally Frankie bought his first drum machine from a young Derrick May who regularly made the trip from Detroit to see Frankie at the Warehouse and fellow pioneer Ron Hardy at the Music Box.
Knuckles also had a musical partnership with Jamie Principle, and helped put 'Your Love' and 'Baby wants to ride' out on vinyl after having been regulars on his reel-to-reel player at the Warehouse for a year.
As house music gained momentum, pioneering producer Chip E. took Knuckles under his tutelage and produced Knuckle's first recording, "You Can't Hide", featuring vocalist Ricky Dillard. Then came more production work, including Jamie Principle's "Baby Wants to Ride", and later, "Tears" with Robert Owens (of Fingers, Inc.) and (Knuckles protege and future Def Mix associate) Satoshi Tomiie.
When business difficulties caused the Warehouse to fold, he moved back to New York, and was the featured resident DJ at The World, and also had numerous subsequent residencies, including at The Choice club.
In New York, he immersed himself in producing, remixing and recording.
Knuckles did a number of popular Def Classic Mixes with John Poppo as sound engineer. Knuckles partnered with David Morales on Def Mix Productions, and both men's mixing styles became very similar for a period in the early 1990s as they honed the formula for a "Def Classic Mix" sound. With several important original productions and remixes to his name, by the early 1990s, Knuckles was becoming a well-known name in the increasingly popular house music genre.
In 1991 he released his biggest hit to date, "The Whistle Song" which bears a slight similarity to Van McCoy's "The Hustle" in its whistle-like refrain. The Def Classic Mix of "Change" by Lisa Stansfield done around this period also features the whistle like motif. Knuckles' debut album - Beyond the Mix, released on Virgin Records also contained "Rain Falls" and featured vocals from Lisa Michaelis. Key remixes from this time include his rework of the Electribe 101 anthem "Talking With Myself" and "Where Love Lives" by Alison Limerick.
As his productions and remixes were becoming more popular, and he was also breaking new ground. When Junior Vasquez took a sabbatical from Manhattan's The Sound Factory, he took over and launched a successful run as resident DJ until Vasquez made his return, at which point Knuckles became the resident DJ at The Sound Factory Bar. Knuckles remained part of the underground scene. In 1992, Billboard's Larry Flick commented "He's probably the best dance music producer we have in America. He understands the groove, but he understands songs, and the whole picture." Knuckles won the 1997 Grammy Award for Remixer of the Year, Non-Classical.
By the late 1990s, house music was much less popular, and it was no longer the world leading music genre it had become. However, Knuckles continued to work as a remixer, revamping the material for singers such as Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Diana Ross, Eternal and Toni Braxton. He released several new singles, including "Keep On Movin'" and a re-issue of an earlier hit "Bac N Da Day" with Definity Records. In 2004, he released a thirteen track album of original material - his first in over a decade, entitled A New Reality, which was critically well received. In October 2004 "Your Love" appeared in the popular videogame Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, playing on house music radio station, SF-UR. On 19 September 2005, Knuckles was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame for his outstanding achievement as a DJ. Knuckles is featured in the 2006 documentary film, "The UnUsual Suspects - Once Upon a Time in House Music" by Chip E. and the 2005 documentary film, "Maestro" by Josell Ramos.