Frankie Nicholls, born January 18 1955 would define, name and popularise what we know as House music. Frankie Knuckles is another true pioneer, sadly no longer with us. He passed away on March 31 2014, however his passing is cause to celebrate and pay tribute. There is no mistaking his influence, the title ‘Godfather of House’ is not something bestowed lightly, yet it does not sit uncomfortably with the man whose led to the term ‘House’ music being coined. Besides, how many other DJ’s can you name with a street named after them?
It is of course his legendary ‘Warehouse’ club opened in 1977 in Chicago where he both made his name and birthed a genre. Taking inspiration from his time in New York were he had started to DJ with childhood friend Larry Levan he honed his style in the windy city. Taking disco classics, soul, jazz funk, a touch of rock and spinning it into an irresistible mix he made the Warehouse the must visit place to be. He continued there until 1982 when he moved to the Power Plant, his own club.
It is here he added a drum machine, bought from none other than Derrick May to enhance his dj’ing. This harder, mechanic sound blended with disco began to define the musical sound of Chicago – and what we now call House music.
Having been central to house music’s development, Knuckles would continue to DJ around the world playing a 4 month residency in London at Delerium. He even co-produced the track ‘I Want a Dog’ on the Pet Shop Boys 1988 album ‘Introspective’ signalling his wider influence on the music scene. Of course, it isn’t just his skill behind the decks, thst made his name. As evidenced by his work with PSB, he was a producer of note too.
In 1982 he was introduced to Jamie Principle with whom they re-recorded Jamie’s track ‘Your Love’ and co-produced ‘Baby Wants To Ride’ creating 2 dancefloor monsters in the process. Some 30 years later both of these can still rock a club, despite the tracks being older than most of the dancers. Knuckles continued to create as well as play music, with tracks such as ‘Tears’ with Robert Owens and Satoshi Tomiie.
Through the 90’s Knuckles was central to the Def Mix Priductions sound alongside David Morales, in this era producing his classic ‘Whistle Song’. He also provided stand out remixes for the likes of Electribe 101 and the anthem ‘Where Love Lives’ by Alison Limerick. He continued to influence and produce, with his remix of ‘Blind’ by Hercules & The Love Affair hitting the heights of his earlier period.
Working right up to his tragic passing in 2014, The Godfather of House leaves a lasting and valuable legacy. With none other than Barack Obama a fan (being key in the naming of Frankie Knuckles Way in Chicago in 2004 & the celebratory ‘Frankie Knuckles Day’ on the 25th August) this is a DJ rightly described as a pioneer.
The mix below is a tribute to the music Frankie Knuckles would play in his early days at the Warehouse. RIP.
1. Gwen McCrae – Funky Sensation
2. Roy Ayers – Running Away
3. Ecstasy, Passion & Pain – Touch & Go
4. Gino Soccio – Dancer
5. Imagination – Burning Up
6. Donald Byrd – Love Has Come Around
7. Loose Joints – Is it All Over My Face
8. ESG – Moody
9. Jimmy Bo Horne – Spank
10. Eddy Grant – Timewarp
11. Frankie Knuckles – Baby Wants To Ride