Newer Big Shot readers might not know that we published a print edition from 2003 to 2010. Much like this website, the endeavor was a labor of love. While I’m not one to be nostalgic, I’ve been looking at back-up files of the magazine. In the light of time and maturity, I’m amazed and proud of the terrific articles our rag-tag team of writers and photographers were able to pull off on a shoestring budget.
What struck me most is that the last page of the final issue is an interview with Frankie Knuckles. What a happy accident.
Frankie was one of the first DJs I ever interviewed in the early ’90s, a time when house music got short shrift in the U.S. media. A fan of his productions and DJ sets, I reached out to his then manager/Def Mix partner Judy Weinstein about interviewing Frankie for Option magazine. Before I knew it I was sitting with the Godfather of House at his apartment in the East Village, a nicely organized flat full of vinyl, vinyl and more vinyl.
Every time I saw Frankie after the interview — whether he was shopping for records at a local record store or DJing at a club — I’d always get a big hug and a few minutes of the Godfather’s time. I’m humbled to present this interview conducted by David Abravanel, who also interviewed Frankie at Electric Zoo in 2009 (see the video below). — Darren Ressler, Editor
The word “legend” is sometimes used a little too lightly in DJ culture, but when it comes to house music, there’s no question about Frankie Knuckles’ status. The Godfather of House, known for remixing disco into the house beats that carry through to today, played a major role in forging a sound that’s loved all over the world.
While studying textile design at FIT, Frankie Knuckles slipped into New York City’s club scene, working as a DJ at The Continental Baths in the early ‘70s alongside another future legend, Larry Heard, and never looked back. Using a tape machine to extend the disco, soul and R&B songs of the day for maximum dance floor pleasure, his sets at the Warehouse in Chicago in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s helped birth house music and launch the global dance-music revolution. Though technology has vastly changed the mechanics of DJing, Knuckles still waxes a bit nostalgic about his low-tech origins and the lost art of working a reel-to-reel.
“I feel a little romantic about it every now and again,” he says, adding, with a chuckle, “you know, different people that I work with just don’t want to know. It’s easy for me to sit down and do it, but nobody else wants to be bothered!”
Many of the most well-known classic Knuckles tracks were collaborations with singer Jamie Principle, including signature track “Your Love,” as well as “Waiting On My Angel,” “Bad Boy,” and “Baby Wants To Ride,” among others. (Tracks such as “Tears” with Satoshi Tomiie and “The Whistle Song” were also mega-hits.)
Between Knuckles’ sensual groove and Principle’s longing and passionate voice, the two made tracks that perfectly express the curious thrill and frustration of an outsider’s sexuality, and the need to lose oneself in a rhythm. Amazingly, over two decades later, Knuckles and Principle are finally collaborating on an album due at the end of the year.
“With the current situation that’s going on in the world, economically, and everything else, I think people are sort of losing touch a bit. So I just figured, it’s time to get people motivated again.”
“For the most part, Jamie didn’t really know what he wanted to do,” says Knuckles on the prolonged process. “He’d write a little bit, then he’d get discouraged. He’d start all over again. I had to make him, finally, buckle down and get serious about it, or just forget about it. So, he got serious!”
In between DJing all over the world and selectively remixing tracks, Knuckles has released Motivation Too, the sequel to his Motivation mix from 2001. Like a house superhero, Knuckles drops a Motivation mix when he senses the communal need for it: “I did [the first Motivation] really just to get people…motivated!” he explains. “To get back to living their lives after 9/11. With the current situation that’s going on in the world, economically, and everything else, I think people are sort of losing touch a bit. So I just figured, it’s time to get people motivated again.”
Motivation Too is an album to get listeners out of bed in the morning, filled with uplifting, gospel-tinged house about peace, love, and the power of the individual. When asked about the spiritual and gospel elements of Motivation Too, Knuckles is all about feeling. “I go for what works for me,” he explains, adding, with a smile, “and, it manages to work for everybody else too.”
More than 30 years since he first started his DJ journey, the recent revival of disco and house has seen a renewed interest in Knuckles’ expansive body of work, most due to his brilliant remix of Hercules & Love Affair’s hit, “Blind.” There’s also buzz band Friendly Fires, who covered “Your Love,” who’ve introduced the song to a new generation of clubgoers. This kind of legacy is, unsurprisingly, a bit overwhelming for the warm and humble Knuckles. “It’s very touching,” he offers. “It’s emotional. It’s a lot of things.”
Archive image courtesy of Frankie Knuckles