The Godfather of House: The Music and The Legacy
Frankie Knuckles, the Chicago-based DJ, composer, producer and remixer, has died suddenly in Chicago on 31st March 2014, aged 59. The news was announced by his business partner, Frederick Dunson, who has revealed that the house music legend died unexpectedly while at home during the afternoon. Reports suggest it was due to complications with his Type II Diabetes.
Frankie was born in the Bronx on 18th January 1955 as Frank Warren Knuckles, Jr. and began his DJ career in the seventies alongside another legendary name, Larry Levan. But it was when he relocated to Chicago and became the resident of the Warehouse club in 1977 that the story takes a world-changing turn. As the backlash against disco grew, Knuckles became the tip of the spear in an opportunity to evolve his beloved music into something new and exciting. It began with his own re-edits of his favourite tunes which he created using reel-to-reel tapes. Around 1981, Warehouse punters abbreviated the club's name to describe the style of music that they were hearing Knuckles play and in doing so coined the term house music. A new genre was born. "As disco died, we started to play around with drum machines and re-edit old songs, to keep the crowd engaged, to make them hear classics in a different way," Knuckles told The Observer in 2007. "Other people who were perhaps more musically inclined than me, often because they were musicians in church bands, saw this as a new way of doing things and picked the ball up and ran with it."
Frankie left the Warehouse in 1983 to set up his own club in Chicago, the Powerplant. Derrick May visited from Detroit and sold Frankie a drum machine, the Roland TR-909, which was to be the first step on Frankie's path to music production. So Mayday taught FK how to program a drum machine. Anecdotal genius. That machine is reputed to have been used to create a version of 'Your Love' with Jamie Principle and be used during club nights to segue tracks together or underpin them as an additional rhythm section.
The mid-eighties period in Chicago saw a lot of growth in house (music) parties and the launch of the Hot Mix 5 radio show that also paved the way for a lot of new talent, but also industry politics, inflated egos among emerging producers, back-biting and records being released that made money for the people at the label, rather than the artists. Frankie recalled that despite having club hits such as 'Only The Strong Survive' and 'Baby Wants To Ride' on D.J. International and Trax Records respectively, he and other artists were being short-changed as far as the rewards go. In the '87-'88 period Frankie moved back to New York to make a renewed effort at producing away from any of the difficulties in Chicago. New York clubs such as The World, The Roxy and the Sound Factory welcomed him, as did the Def Mix collective.
It's during this period with Def Mix that Frankie truly become an international star. 'Tears', 'The Whistle Song' and 'Workout' were among his productions earning major label releases and both club chart and mainstream chart success. His remix roster is particularly impressive, with almost 500 music works from many big names having been reinterpreted by him: Chaka Khan, Inner City, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Chic, Alison Limerick, Adeva, Melanie Williams, M People, Lisa Stansfield and A Guy Called Gerald among the many. His production and remix partnership with David Morales will be fondly remembered also.
Frankie's studio work took a backseat during the noughties, although his classics continued to appear on compilation albums. It was during that decade, in 2003, that he was in a snowboarding accident in Switzerland, breaking several metatarsal bones in his right foot and then contracting the bone disease osteomyelitis later. In 2008 he needed to have the foot amputated, largely because he continued gigging despite doctors advising him to rest, leading to the injury worsening. However his Director's Cuts series of releases and other tracks on Nocturnal Groove saw a triumphant return to production form in recent years.
The spot on which the Warehouse club once stood is now named Frankie Knuckles Way, a name given to it back on 25th August 2004, a day that was declared as Frankie Knuckles Day in the city. The state senator for Illinois at that time who helped it to happen, was none other than the man that would become President, Barack Obama.
Words: Justin Richards
02/04/2014 by Helen
An absolute legend R.I.P Frankie Knuckles. Plenty of fabulous memories from his music X
Rated 5 out of 5