Frankie Knuckles – A Retrospective

Frankie Knuckles (aka Francis Nicholls) was a quiet, peaceful, god fearing man who, after a long battle with ill health, passed away aged 59 on March 31st 2014. His legacy, House Music, continues to touch the souls of thousands of people all over the world, uniting every creed, colour and sexual orientation under one banner of universal love and understanding. As one of the most sought after producers in the world, he worked with everyone from Michael Jackson to Diana Ross, he even had a street named after him in Chicago by none other than his countries president and fan, Barack Obama.

Born in the Bronx, NYC he was mentored by Larry Levan, a legendary pioneer of the New York Music scene in the 1970s, before he moved to Chicago in 1977 to take up a residency in a new club called ‘The Warehouse’ just as Disco was starting to decline. His new sound, built from the ashes of the Cominsky Park, was, in his own words, ‘Discos Revenge’. “I witnessed that caper that Steve Dahl pulled at Disco Demolition Night and it didn’t mean a thing to me or my crowd,” Knuckles told the Chicago Tribune. “But it scared the record companies, so they stopped signing disco artists and making disco records. So we created our own thing in Chicago to fill the gap.” Later dubbed ‘House Music’ this post disco sound was the catalyst for a global youth culture movement the likes of which had not been seen since Rock N Roll in the 1950s or Punk in the 1970s. It captivated us all, and like it or not, you know a Knuckles track, even if you didn’t know it was him.

This new music was the culmination of years of artistic preparation and slowly building a following in his adopted city. Frankie would play his own edits as well as European tracks and use drum machines to emphasise the beats. “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,” he said “People would lose their minds.”

Some of his most well known tracks include, Your Love (1986), Baby Wants to Ride’ (1987) with Jamie Principle, Tears (1989) with Robert Owens and Satoshi Tomiie, His solo production – The Whistle Song (1991) and his remix of Hercules and Love Affair – Blind (2007). Frankie was officially acknowledged for his role in the formation of House music in 1998 winning an inaugural Grammy for ‘Best Remixed Recording’. In 2004 after a campaign backed by President Obama then a local senator, South Jefferson Street in Chicago, where the Warehouse once proudly stood, was renamed Frankie Knuckles Way.

Over the last 10 years Frankie had been battling with Osteomyelitis, a bone infection causing severe pain. He also developed type 2 diabetes. In 2008, he had to have a foot amputated due to his punishing tour schedule and total refusal to give up on his passion for playing the music he loved to fans all over the world. In fact his last gig in the UK, Ministry of Sound Main Room happened 2 days before his unfortunate death.

As news of his death circulated the globe via social media, an overwhelming feeling of love was felt by all. For me personally, the mark of a man is how much he will be missed and judging by my Facebook news feed, Frankie is in all of our hearts. Peace, Love, Unity, Respect are four words House Music stood for. And it was brother Frankie who led the way. “I know millions of people will post about the very sad death of Frankie Knuckles,” writes Steve Parry, owner of SMP3 Music Management “…but theres a reason for that. He was a true originator. He helped change the face of dance music. I had the honour of hearing him DJ only once, but he played ‘Tears’ in Cream Main room, and it was a bit of a moment. And I had the honour to interview him for my radio show a few years back, i was very nervous making that phone call, but he was a true gent! I salute you Mr Knuckles”

CJ Mackintosh concurs, “Frankie not only inspired me as a DJ, Remixer & Producer from the mid to late 80’s onwards but judging by all the messages I have seen so far, he has inspired each & everyone of you in some way or another regardless of what music style you are into. I have been so lucky to have played alongside him on many nights over the years. I used to call him Jack as in: In the beginning there was jack and jack had a groove….He would always chuckle at that….”

Another stalwart of the UK House scene Danny Rampling adds, “…His music has made a huge positive impact with so many of us and given so many of us the opportunity to become House music Djs Frankie was the driving light in the creation of House which we are so grateful for. Now he’s gone too young too soon like so many of the greats. A unique man with great humility, warmth, spirit and soul. His legacy will live on forever…”

Frankie was to House music what Elvis was to Rock n Roll. He will be missed greatly by many of us. He will be in our hearts and our music.