The sun is out in force across London and only one thing could have kept me in doors this warm evening and that was the legendary Frankie Knuckles, who was being interviewed at the Red Bull Studios as a prequel to their Red Bull Music Academy takeover of New York later this year.
Although the history of House music is well documented, there’s something about hearing stories straight from the horse’s mouth that make them feel much more personal and ‘real’ and thankfully Frankie carries his status with humility and warmth, making him a pleasure to listen to. There are also incidental tales that I didn’t know such as Derick May giving him his first Drum Machine, although he insists that there was no direct musical relationship between the Chicago and Detroit scenes at the time. There was the occasional subtle snipe at various other legendary DJs but done in such a friendly way as to make it almost undetectable, only Trax records received any actual venom, with them having essentially stolen and bootlegged his early seminal productions with Jamie Principle.
My favourite parts of the interview were his digs at some of the DJ traits of today, such as ‘not dancing’ to the music, or only being able to turn up and play an hour of big tunes without paying any attention to the natural flow of the night. “They all want to make their mark, but sometimes they make skid marks” (I’m paraphrasing from bad memory but it was something like that). This is coming from a DJ who would play all night every night when he first started, even whilst running his own club (which he advises never to do).
What was also great about the session is having a chance to stop and listen to some of the great tunes he produced. Your Love, The Whistle Song and Baby Wants To Ride, which I played none stop when I first had it back in the 80s. Funnily enough though the record I had it on, FFRR’s ‘Silver On Black’ (which also had Tears and his remix of Marshall Jefferson’s Open Our Eyes) doesn’t seem to credit him at all, naming Larry Sturm and Phil Balsano as producers and Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley as remixer. This may have something to do with the fact that Trax released the record credited only to Frankie, something which led to a falling out between the 2 for a while, although he is adamant that he had no prior knowledge of the record’s release at all… and with such an inspirational talk, I’d definitely like to believe him on that.