Born in the South Bronx in 1955, Frankie Knuckles began his career in his teens, DJing alongside pre-house guru Larry Levan at a series of nightspots whose names provoke nostalgia even in dancers born too late to have been there: Nicky Siano's Gallery, David Mancuso's Loft, the Continental Baths, Better Days.
In 1977 Knuckles moved to Chicago to work at a discotheque called the Warehouse, where his playlist—Philly soul, Salsoul, Eurodisco, obscure African and Brazilian imports, strategic sound effects—would help shape the modern club sound. The theory that house music was named after the Warehouse is a warhorse of club folklore, and with good reason: Knuckles would often underline the beats of the records he played with the deep kick of a Roland TR-909 drum machine, which is all over early Chicago house.
By the mid-80s Knuckles had begun producing tracks in the studio, working with house stalwarts Jamie Principle, Robert Owens, and Marshall Jefferson and playing the results at the Chicago club where he was then spinning, the Power Plant. Toward the end of the decode he moved back to New York, and since then his reputation has gone nova. He's remixed pop stars like Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan, and En Vogue, and dance magazines name his version (with frequent studio partner David Morales) of Alison Limerick's "Where Love Lives" the single greatest house track of all time as routinely as Citizen Kane tops film critics' polls. (His 1989 production of Owens's "Tears," with Satoshi Tomiie, doesn't usually rank too far below it.)
But Knuckles is still a DJ at heart. His sets, whether from 1977 or 1998, are heavy on soul vocals and funk percussion—and even the ones that sound like they were recorded inside a closet are clearly the work of a guy who never stopped believing in the romantic or sonic ideals of disco. Thursday, November 25, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Lavine.