Craig Allen says: ‘Meet Franke & The Knockouts’
New Brunswick native Franke Previte, and his band "Franke & The Knockouts" scored several hits in the early 1980's...but he my be best known for the HUGE hits that he co-wrote for a movie soundtrack!
Franke played in several local bands, through his teen years.
In a 1981 radio interview, distributed by his record label, Franke states:
"Growing up, there was music all around. Constantly."
Previte's dad was a singer, and his parents were very encouraging.
"The support was always there...that you can do it. Don't ever think that you can't do it."
Growing up in New Brunswick, Franke says that he found his escape by singing soaring acapellas, letting his voice echo, in the train station with his buddies...
"The first time I actually put a group together, I was 13 years old, and it was four black guys and me...Then I...put...(a) group together with just some guys in high school.
I think, when you grow up on a street level with those people that you play with, and you sing with and do sports with, that its just a innate thing.
Soul is just something that comes from inside of you. Its just the years of doing what I do. Just choosing the notes that I choose to sing. I call them the blue notes."
After a few years singing locally, and being on the road, Franke took a break in the mid-1970's...saying in 1981:
"In the past four or five years, from being in and out of different labels, I actually really sat down and wracked my brain. And, I really didn't play in any bands for a while, just so I would sit home and write songs.
I felt that was the bottom line to being an artist, and developing yourself, careerwise."
Further: "I always felt secure in myself as a singer and as a performer. And, that its kind of like riding a bike...so, if I stop that for a year that won't bother me because I think I should develop and write great songs."
"Franke & The Knockouts" was a result of the break from the band life...and of Franke's prolific songwriting period.
Franke formed the group with guitarist Billy Elworthy in 1980/1981. Rounding out the original quintet were keyboardist Blake Levinsohn, bassist Leigh Foxx, and drummer Claude LeHenaff. They were quickly signed by Millennium Records.
Their self-titled 1981 debut album showcased the Knockouts' light pop/rock sound.
"Sweetheart," one of "Jersey's favorite Hits" was a Top-10 hit! (#10/1981). Franke wrote the song with Billy Elworthy.
Above: Check out the band's performance on the "Saturday Night Live" clone "Fridays" in 1981!
On recording in the studio, Franke says: "There's a feeling that you get when you play out live. There's a certain spark. And, then you try to capture that in the studio, that same spark of seeing the people, and feeling the energy from them. So, sometimes, I'll close my eyes and think I'm playing 'The Garden.' And, actually picture the people there to get the excitement. So, I'm kind of performing as I'm singing. To capture it in the studio, where its just you and a microphone."
Franke & The Knockouts' followup single,"You're My Girl" was a top-40 radio hit as well...
...landing at #27 on the charts in late 1981.
Personnel changes would now occur, as LeHenaff would depart in late 1981. Levinsohn would leave in 1982.
Future Bon Jovi Drummer Tico Torres would appear on the next two albums, Al Wooton would also drum on the next album, and keyboardist Tommy Ayers officially joined the Knockouts in early 1982.
The "Below The Belt" album hit record store shelves in 1982.
"Without You (Not Another Lonely Night" went to #24 in the summer of 1982.
With the demise of their record label, Franke & The Knockouts switched to MCA Records.
Their 1984 release for the new label, "Makin' The Point" fell short of the mark...
"Outrageous" failed to chart on the Hot 100.
With this (final) album, Bobby Messano would join on lead and rhythm guitars, and supply backing vocals. John DeNicola would play bass.
"I think singing is just a gut...you do it from your gut."--Franke Previte
Franke and the Knockouts called it quits in 1986.
Franke Previte would continue to write:
"Sometimes when I sleep, I think of these great tunes! And, I'll wake up, and I'll jump to the piano to go play the tune....and these are...some of the greatest tunes I've ever heard. And, it freaks me out that I know that these tunes are inside of me. That they'll come out."
At the top of this profile article, I mentioned that Franke Previte, despite his early 1980's pop stardom, might be better known for a song (or two) that he wrote for others. You know the songs by heart...but may not have known that they were written by one of Jersey's own!
Franke Previte co-wrote (with John DeNicola) two songs that were made famous by the movie "Dirty Dancing!"
Both songs were written and recorded before the breakup of the Knockouts...and went unreleased...
Of course, you know the song as performed by Eric Carmen...
Carmen's hit version of "Hungry Eyes" went to #3 on the charts in early 1988.
And, it would return the former lead singer of the 70's band "The Raspberries" (and later, solo artist) to chart prominence!
Then, there's the biggest hit of all..."(I've Had) The Time Of My Life."
Again, you dance to the song as recorded by (former "Righteous Brother") Bill Medley, and solo artist Jennifer Warnes...
The hit recording would peak at #1 in 1987, and stay on the Top-40 charts for 15 weeks!
Further, Franke Previte would win an Academy Award for "Best Original Song."
I can recall watching one of those "Behind-the-Scenes/Making-Of" shows a few years ago...where Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey said that when they practiced, and filmed, the dance scene for the movie, they were dancing to Franke's voice...and that the first time they heard the hit version was upon the release of the completed "Dirty Dancing" movie!
Way to go, Franke!
By the way, Franke's version of both songs can be found on the 1999 'Best Of' CD called "The Sweetheart Collection." That is...if you can find it. It is "out of print," and rather rare.
Even more rare is the "Franke & The Knockouts Radio Special" from 1981...
...I was lucky to spy it in a "cast off" pile of vinyl records at the radio station I was working for in the late 1980's.
As I prepare to dim the spotlight on Jersey's own Franke Previte, on a "Homecoming Weekend" from New Jersey 101.5...one more insightful quote from Franke:
"Rock and Roll is a universal language. Everybody from here to Europe can understand...when you hear that rock "E" chord, and what it does to people, its an emotional thing. When you experience on stage, in front of maybe 250,000 people, what your voice on that chord can do to those people, and how it gets them off, I think its like no other feeling you can ever have."