Frankie Knuckles, The Undisputed Pioneer of House Music, Dies Aged 59
Frankie Knuckles is one of the most important DJ's of all time.
Frankie Knuckles, the prolific DJ and producer known as the Godfather of house music, has died aged 59. Easily one of the most important DJs of all time, Knuckles was known for his epic marathon sets featuring everything from disco and post-punk to R&B and Eurodisco and did much of his best work at his Chicago venues The Warehouse (1977-82) and The Power Plant (1983-85).
Knuckles created a number of dance classics in his own right, notably Your Love (1986), Baby Wants to Ride (1987) and the famous remixes of Chaka Khan's Ain't Nobody (1989) and Sounds of Blackness's The Pressure (1992).
Knuckles began hitting legendary New York clubs The Loft, Sanctuary and Better Days as a teenager and by the mid-Seventies was DJ'ing himself. With his friend Larry Philpot, he worked at two of the most important early discos, the Gallery and the Continental Baths - a multi-room gay bathhouse on Manhattan's West Seventy-fourth street.
By 1977, Knuckles had moved to Chicago and opened his own club, The Warehouse. A unique building on South Jefferson St, the venue would be where Knuckles began honing his own signature style and sound.
At a time when tracks from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack were saturating the clubs, Knuckles was spinning tunes from independent labels like Salsoul and using reel-to-reel tape machines to re-edit his favorite tracks to extend grooves for the dance-floor.
Knuckles became so hugely popular at the Warehouse that - initially a members-only club for largely black gay man - it began attracting new crowds and the membership scheme was scrapped. Knuckles left in 1982 and opened the Power Plant a few months later.
In 1985, Knuckles made his first recording with singer-songwriter Byron Walford, aka Jamie Principle. The pair's early tracks were recorded in the Power Plant's DJ booth though they soon graduated to local studios. Several of their creations wound up at local label Trax Records, one of the most influential labels on the house music scene.
In the summer of 1987, British DJ's - including Paul Oakenfold - travelled to the open-air clubs of Ibiza and were turned onto a new style of DJ performance. It birthed the idea of the 'rave' in the UK, with the likes of Oakenfold and Danny Rampling typically playing in huge warehouses or open fields. Knuckles wasn't interested and instead took residency in New York clubs the World, the Roxy, the Sound Factory and Sound Factory Bar - teaming up with Judy Weinstein and fellow DJ David Morales to form Def Mix Productions.
"[When] you've got someone as big as Luther Vandross and Michael Jackson sitting there saying, 'Whatever you want, however you want it, I'll stay here as long as you need me,' that's the reward right there," Knuckles said in 2011. "All the programmers I worked with were all classically trained musicians . . . I was teaching them a different side of what it is they do. Infusing certain ideas like Debussy-esque piano over a very thick house track or bass line is something that blew their minds. It blew mine, too, but it's something they never imagined and/or heard of before . . . We didn't know if it would work or not, but it did."
Though Knuckles maintained his heavy DJ schedule, health problems and waning popularity meant he went relatively quiet in the early 2000s. In 2008, he had his right foot amputated following a bone disease exacerbated by late-breaking diabetes.
Most recently - after a wave of interest in the Chicago house music scene - Knuckles was regularly hitting the global club and festival circuit.