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It's been six years since we lost the Godfather of House music, who passed away on 31 March 2014 after complications from diabetes. In honour of the dance music legend, we take a look back at one of the defining figures of dance music and uncover some facts you may not know.
His First Job Was In A Nightclub
His first job in clubland was at New York disco club, The Gallery. What was his role? Not manning the booth just yet, Frankie was in charge of blowing up balloons and... arranging fruit.
His First DJ Residency Was At A Swimming Pool
Frankie's first DJ gigs were at New York's Continental Baths. Frankie held the Monday and Tuesday night slots while Larry Levan would pay Wednesday to Sunday. The Continental Baths sounds like a very unique venue, with Frankie describing it to Red Bull as; "there was an Olympic-size swimming pool and a TV room at the very end. Alongside the pool was a sauna and a shower room, then there was like boutiques and restaurants and bars, and back into an area where there was apartments and private rooms."
He Wasn't The First Choice For Warehouse
Frankie's celebrated residency at Chicago's Warehouse nightclub is widely accepted as where the term 'house music' originated - music you would hear at Warehouse. This is why to this day Frankie is regarded as 'The Godfather of House Music'. However, in a real sliding doors moment, events could have taken a much different path if the Warehouse team had have gotten their first choice of resident - Larry Levan. When Levan turned down the gig, he recommended his friend Frankie and the rest is history.
Frankie Enjoyed Messing With His Audience
According to music journalist Sheryl Garratt, nights that Frankie played would involve all clubbers being handed a tab of acid before entry. Frankie would also admit stopping the music halfway through the night. Then the exhaust fans would be turned on and Knuckles would play the sound of a train approaching. People in the audience would apparently go running into the walls.
"Sometimes I'd shut down all the lights and set up a record where it would sound like a speeding train was about to crash into the club, people would lose their minds." - Frankie Knuckles
His First Remix has Never Been Released
Now recognised as one of the greatest remixes of all time, much of Frankie's early dabbles in production came as part of a team up with his friend Erasmo. The two of them created a bootleg edit of "Let No Man Put Asunder" that was so popular on the dancefloor that the record label commissioned an official remix. While the official release became a huge hit, their original effort remained a secret weapon of Frankie's DJ Sets.
"Erasmo and I re-edited "Let No Man Put Asunder," which had already long been a staple on the dance floor at The Warehouse. Our re-edit breathed new life into this tune that was a long-forgotten B-side album cut. Word got back to Salsoul Records in New York, and they wanted the edit. Then they decided they wanted me to completely remix the record. Our original edit never saw the light of day because I kept it for myself." - Frankie Knuckles
"Your Love" Is About A Real Person
Frankie's collaborations with longtime friend Jamie Priestly birthed his most iconic works. Frankie produced, while Jamie wrote and sung the lyrics. Their release "Your Love" is to this day, Frankie's most revered work, but you probably don't know that "Your Love", like most of Priestly's lyrics are about a real person - Jamie's high school sweetheart, Lisa.
"Jamie wrote all of those songs for the girl that he was in love with at the time—her name was Lisa, a beautiful young girl."
- Frankie Knuckles
Hercules And Love Affair Brought Frankie Back To House
In the late 90s, as hard house, trance and techno began to overshadow house music, Frankie began to get disillusioned with the scene and he eventually stopped creating new music. It wasn't until Hercules & Love Affaird dogged him to remix one of their tracks that he eventually started producing again.
"The further I got away from production, though, the more my health spiralled out of control. And, at that moment, Hercules & Love Affair asked me to remix "Blind." They wanted "that classic Frankie Knuckles/DefMix" sound. I thought they must be kidding. No one was really playing anything remotely DefMix sounding. I passed on the remix, but they remained diligent. "I had to mix it" according to them. Then I took ill and thought, "OK, here's a way out." But the group said they'd wait until I was well. I didn't know how long that would be.
As soon as I got better and was ready to return to the road, they asked me again if I would remix it. At this point, they had waited six months, I had to do it. Long story short, I have Hercules & The Love Affair to thank for getting me back to my first love. Correction, not my first love, my real love." - Frankie Knuckles
Frankie Was The First Remixer To Win A GRAMMY
Frankie won the inaguarl GRAMMY award for Best Remixed Recording (Non-Classical) when he was nominated in 1998. His remix of "Unbreak My Heart" by Toni Braxton would beat off competition from David Morales, Mousse T, Todd Terry and Armand Van Helden.
He Has A Street Named After Him
On 25th August 2004, South Jefferson Street in Chicago - the former site of the Warehouse - was renamed Frankie Knuckles Way. The campaign to honour Frankie largely succeeded due to the backing of Barack Obama who was a Senator (and Frankie Knuckles fan) at the time.
He Played His Last Set At Ministry of Sound
Frankie tragically passed away six years ago today at the age of 59. Just two days prior he had been manning the decks in our main room, where he played his last ever DJ set. Frankie was a frequent face in our booth and was one of the American DJs who first flew over to play for us in the early 90s. We can't think of a better way to honour the Godfather of House Music than by sharing this live set recorded from Ministry of Sound in our opening year.