Frankie Knuckles, the New York Disco DJ, remixer and Godfather of Chicago House speaks to Dayna about his music career.
Frankie Knuckles interview kindly conducted and provided by DiscoMusic.com member, Dayna Newman.
Frankie, Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your thoughts.
Thank you for taking interest in me. Please forgive the delay in getting these answers back to you.
I bought the film "Maestro" on DVD and found your spot to be one of the best features of the film and my favorite part. I also found you to be very humble, informative and touching. Seeing as you had touched on some very personal and tragic events How emotional or rewarding was that experience for you?
It was a very emotional interview. As most journalists I've interviewed with, they'll tell you I'm really not into discussing the past and my personal relationships with various people. But MAESTRO was a documentary that was really more about Levan than any other DJ or club. Larry Levan and I grew up together (outside of and inside of this business). Many people passed thru his life but only a handful of us were mainstays. And those of us that really are don't talk much about him (outside of our immediate circle).
This isn't a question, but Frankie I have to tell you how hard" I FELL OUT" When you told the story about the dude with the big pink rollers in his hair. I am lmao right now just thinking about it, He had NERVE.
It just goes to show you, if anyone ever questions your belief in God, now you know for sure that there is one. Because only God could have that kind of sense of humor to put someone like that in your path.
Not many mainstream people know or knew that you and Larry Levan both worked at (The Continental Baths) and you were in good company with artists such as Bette Midler, Melba Moore, Cab Calloway, Peter Allen, John Davidson, Waylon Flowers, Barry Manilow, The Manhattan Transfer, Liz Torrez, etc all getting there start there. How was that experience for you as a whole?
Frankie Knuckles: It was a fascinating experience but you must remember, we were very young. And so were most of these artist. But everyone took to us (Me & Larry) fondly. We were kids but I imagine that most of these stars saw the raw talent in us both. We garnered a lot of respect and support from all of these superstars.
Which venue do have the fondest memories of, Continental Bath's, The Loft, The Gallery, The Garage, or The Warehouse?
I have fond memories for all the above (but for different reasons). 'THE LOFT' because it was my first official foray into after-clubs and the relationship I had with David Mancuso. 'CONTINENTAL' because it was my first REAL job as a DJ and my skills were honed there. 'THE GARAGE' because it was my favorite playground. All of my friends and the folks I grew up with hung out there. So it was always like going home. And 'THE WAREHOUSE' because it was the first club I could officially call my own. With it I won over the love and respect of the people of Chicago which, filtered back to NYC, opening up a whole new adventure for me traveling around the states playing at all the legendary after hours clubs.
If you could work with any artist today who would it be? You can elaborate on why if you like.
There are just too many to list here (both dead and alive).
I love all your records but I have to say my favorite have to be Your reinvention of "Love Hangover"-Diana Ross Do you have a favorite or favorites?
I wasn't completely sure about "LOVE HANGOVER" when I first did it. But one thing I learned about most of the production I did back in the day, a lot of it was well before it's time. Sometimes people on the dance floor didn't immediately get it. But it could be months or years later and all of a sudden people hear some of the songs and are completely blown away by it. I even surprise myself sometimes. Gag at that!
Do you consider yourself a New Yorker, one of the Chicago Children or a Combo Platter?
I am a "Global Citizen". New York is where I was born. Chicago is where I got my education and the rest of the world is where I garnered my success.
Myself, coming from a gay background, but thrust into a straight world due to necessary changes I made to myself know that there are major differences between the two worlds. Have you as an out gay man in this business encountered any drama or disrespect as a result of the honorably honest portrayal of yourself?
Surprisingly, I have never had any trouble in the straight community. The biggest problems I've always had has been in the gay community. Some of our brothers and sisters (on this side of the fence) seem to think that my total devotion should be to the Gay community only. First and always. However, the disrespect I have endured from club owners, managers and promoters in the gay community has sometimes been horrendous. I never wanted to look at it as a Black and White issue, but on many occasions I was often paid less than my contemporaries and worked harder. For my management this has always been a nightmare. But in the straight community I have never had this problem. Which is why when SFB (Sound Factory Bar) closed in 97, I decided to take my act on the road. Got where I'm most appreciated and wanted and, paid what I'm worth. Why not?
Legendary-Pronunciation [Lej-uhn-der-ee] Adjective,Of pertaining to,or the nature of a legend. Celebrated or described in Legend. Not many people can say they are Legendary at least not by the Children's standpoints, and you know the Children are tough~!!Does it give you a greater sense of accomplishment knowing your such a well respected innovator and musical Icon?
To this day I've never really given myself this respect. My work is my life. I work hard and live the music I write, produce and play. I get so caught-up in showing everyone a good time that I don't think of myself as being "LEGENDARY" or "ICONIC". But a man is what I am, first. A GAY man is a by-product of what this life has given me. It feels good to know that there are folks here in the gay Community that recognize and respect my accomplishments of the past 35 years.
I believe that what you do is a gift and either you have it or you don't have heard some DJ's that made me want to throw eggs at them" of course I'm Much too much a Lady"(COUGH)..lol..Would you agree that It's a gift?
Absolutely! Technology has made it possible for anyone to learn how to either make music or, string two records together. But it takes a person with a real give to present a sound that evokes emotions of joy and happiness. To be able to take you on a journey that musically will speak so much of who you are and what you reflect. I am very fortunate to have this gift. I'm even more fortunate to come into this business at the time I did (1972). People like David Mancuso taught me how to educate myself about music and songs. Friends like Larry Levan taught me how to "LISTEN". And every club and crowd I've played for throughout the years has given me the experience to lock in a sound that is signature.
In all fairness you are the Godfather of House music, Your much too humble in my opinion. I realize House evolved from Disco as did most other forms of dance music. But it is you that has turned it into the Art form it has become. Is that fair to say?
I'm the absolute worst when it comes to tootin' my own horn. But I must say this in defense of my colleagues that share the same gift and success; To be able to develop a sound all your own is essential. Originality is everything. There are many other great ARTIST that have helped make this Art form a reality. I can't total credit.
Loleatta Holloway, Melba Moore, Taana Garner and Ron Richardson wanted me to tell you hello for them.
Maximum Love to all of them. Especially the ladies. Those are my muses. My Girls!
Can or will you name some of your peers that you really respect as artists?
David Morales, David Mancuso, Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson, Simon Marlin (of the SHAPE SHIFTERS), SEAL & Heidi, Danny Krivit, Ron Trent and the list goes on.
Is there anyone that you simply would NEVER work with again? SPILL..lol
There used to be a time that I felt that way, but I've learned that sometimes time and circumstances can change a wounded heart. I'm the easiest person in the world to work with so, anyone that brings drama to the session I can't be bothered with.
Can you explain as best as possible the feeling you get when you are spinning and mixing and you look out onto the dance floor and the crowd is really feeling the music on a level that your feeling it too?
A full evening for me is like everyone boarding a flight for a journey that I'm about to take them. There are those first couple of hours when everyone is getting settled in and comfortable with whatever space their in. Once everyone has found their sweet spot in the room the music hits full throttle. This is when the real magic begins.
Collectively the room becomes one. Everyone's vibes connect. It's like a cosmic, invisible umbilical (spelling) cord and I'm the "Mothership". Nothing but love and respect is feed to the crowd thru the music I'm playing. It's a power that allows me to take the audience anywhere I want to (as long as there is no one to distract my focus). At this point it becomes a "LOVE AFFAIR" between me and the folks in the room. Together we all fall in love.
Frankie, thank you again for giving of your time and your essence, your truly a music legend and a gentleman.
Thank you Dayna. I hope this is helpful. All the best to you and yours.
- The End