Even though I may have got a certain experience of life, I couldn’t (and still can’t) help myself suffering from the effects of a deep pain, if not some internal revolt. This when being reported about the passing of Frankie Knuckles back in 2014. Mind you, I had thought of a daily series of tributes to some of our heros (including the latter) on our Facebook page during the Winter Music Conference. Miles away from figuring such a terrible thing could occur a couple of days after…
Meeting one of my heros, that’s exactly how I felt when being introduced to Frankie Knuckles in the middle of the 90’s by the Fontainebleau-Hilton Hotel pool bar… Those of you regular of the Conf back then should have a clear pic of what I’m saying. With this being the first of countless ones Frankie and I would have throughout the following years… Be they impromptu, like in the street of Miami when hangin’ from a party to another. Or scheduled, like my regular visits at Def Mix HQ on Broadway Ave. when comin’ to the Big Apple. With an impression left – just like with his team mates, David Morales, or Hector Romero – of an accessible and per se friendly man. Always dedicated to pleasing his fans and caring about his friends.
Thereafter, some extracts of conversations Frankie Knuckles and I had, from tapes I’ve managed to record along with time…
Awakening to music: And Frankie Knuckles was born!
“That was around 1963. I was 8, and my elder sister used to play Jazz records in the house. People like Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto and Morgana King. I loved it, athough kids were more into the Motown sound back then, meanwhile adults would listen to popular Jazz, which my sister felt like. This left me like with a warm feeling and got me starting listening to music…
I got diggin’ deeper into it along with time. Checking the liner notes on the back of the cover art of the vinyls back then. This givin’ me a clear understanding as to who produced which song. Who arranged it, who would sing or play on it, who engineered it. I mean this is just what we as DJ’s used to do back then, and it told us a lot about music. I didn’t realize though it educated me and would eventually get me ready to do production later on. Meanwhile I just learnt a lot as to who was doin’ what and eventually how. Then what to expect from the great musicians and engineers who were around back then. And when I started getting remix projects engineered by these great people, I could understand the way the did it.
All the programmers I’ve happened to work with classically trained musicians. They taught me music, I taught them House Music, bringing them to a different side of what they used to do.
There’s nothing like the exchange to make it forward. With the biggest challenge being in complementing what people you’re working with are doing. Be they singers, musicians, engineers. There’s nothing like people around you who are there for you. From the engineers helping you in shaping your sound and perfecting it. To singers ready to stay as long as you need them and therefore showing their trust in you. Just the way I’ve experienced it with big names such as Michael Jackson or Luther Vandross…
First of all, I look for the magic in the piece of music I’m given to play with. And if I hear it, it’s handy for me to decide what direction to go in to (re)build the foundations. Although, as I said, you gotta complement the artist’s performance with your work coming up as like an extension to what they do. I’ve learnt something new on a remix or a song I’ve produced. And that’s what I look forward to…
“Frankie Knuckles was already a legend when I met him. He was the talk of the town when he came back to NY (from Chicago.) It was as if we had been friends for a long time. Frankie was one of the most generous and classy individuals I have met in this business…” (David Morales)
Frankie Knuckles: It started with the Philly sound!
“Most of the music I used to play at the beginning came from Philadelphia. My favorite songwriters would be Thom Bell and Linda Creed at the time. I was into everything they did. For The Stylistics, The O’Jays, The Spinners. Meanwhile, on the other side, there was also Ashford & Simpson who wrote almost everything on Motown in the early days. Beginning with ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’.
Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson ended up being like my parents in this business. I’ve had a very intense and close relationship with both of them. Playing people’s music then becoming friends with them gives the feeling that your life has come full circle…
My dad had relocated somewhere else and eventually got remarried after my mom’s death when I was 16. And I didn’t want neither to live by my sister. They let me share a flat with a high school pal. And by then I started to feel an appeal for DJing which I did for the very first time at Better days on $50 a night. Meanwhile working at Bloomingdales in the textile dept. during day time. Then one day, Larry (Levan) offered me to work at The Continental Bath, and this is how I’ve switched to DJ work full time.
The Warehouse was about to open. They contacted me to work for them, and this is how I got to Chicago. As I said, what I was playing back then was essentially Philly Sound and R&B. I would regularly go back home to New York. Then bring back records and eventually this NY unique mix to Chicago where there was no real style at the time…
Frankie Knuckles inda… House!
“The first time this term came to my ears was something like back in 80 or 81. I was in a car with a friend of mine, going to his house on the South Side. We arrived at a stoplight. There was a tavern on the corner with a sign saying: “We play house music!”. That was the first time I’d heard of it. I asked him what it was. He said to me: “It’s the music that you play down there at your club. It’s the House. That’s everybody’s nickname for it.” This was the first time ever I really felt like I belonged in Chicago. That I was part of the city. The fact that people had given it a nickname, that they thought of me and that music together all in one.”
Frankie Knuckles… record salesman (and seller too)!
“I used to work at a record store, in charge of dealing with the imports, and that store had a record pool in the beginning. Just like For The Record in New York which was next to the Def Mix offices in New York, as you know. Record pools were places where all the DJ’s who were part of this membership were given the same records to be played at their gigs. Many people would travel back and forth to New York City once a week back then. I had so many connections in music in New York and through them I got a offered a job at the record store.
Back at the time, there were other stores that were beginning to put in these kind of sections sections: ‘Frankie’s Warehouse Picks’, or ‘Ronnie Hardy’s whatsover’. Then our store opened up this selection called ‘The House Section’. You walked in there and that particular section was packed. All these DJ’s, or wannabes, would come over to look for the next big thing. From the moment I became a buyer at the store, I tried to order things in enough quantity so that everybody could have it. Because there’s nothing more frustrating than standing during hours with you hands empty next to a guy who’s got the last copy of the record you’ve been dying for to get…”
Frankie Knuckles inda… remix!
“I started while doing edits when I was still at The Warehouse by the end of the 70’s. A very close friend of mine, who was studying engineering came to me and said: “We’re in the part of class now where you learn how to edit tape.” He asked me to give him some records to take home to cut them up and re-edit them.
I gave him a handful of records and he came back with these mixes and edits he had done. He really impressed me with what he did because of the way he turned these songs around. I was fascinated and thought I could need try this but didn’t wanna have to go to school to do it. So I asked him to give me a splicing block, which he did along with some tape. I then bought myself a reel-to-reel and stayed at home cutting up everything in sight.
He showed me just what to look for… Where to mark the tape, how to cut it, how to put it together. I was cutting up everything, and came to realize things like continuity which you have to avoid as much as possible in order to avoid monotony and add something extra to make it specific. I remember starting with things like The Rhythm Makers…” (the future GQ).