Franke & the Knockouts
The songwriting ace on smash hits, showbiz idiocy and Bon Jovi stealing his band.
Franke Previte never tires of discussing the globe-straddling smash that has trailed him since 1987. But to dwell on the 72-year-old’s inescapable Dirty Dancing theme, (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life, would be to cruelly overlook his zinging early-80s work as leader of New Jersey pop-soul-rockers, Franke & The Knockouts. A new compilation including rarities has just been released, and a dollar from each sale will go to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Previte tells us about the band’s rise and fall.
The Knockouts have a reputation as a ‘lost’ band. What happened? We were on Millennium/RCA for our first two records, and that label really got behind us. Then we went to MCA and they said: “We’re gonna make you sound like Night Ranger. We’re gonna take a song off the third record, have Night Ranger’s producer produce it and see what radio thinks.’ So they put out a song called Outrageous, radio gave it the thumbs-down, so did MCA, and that was kinda it for us. It’s frustrating, because you have your whole life wrapped up in your art, then all of a sudden, you find yourself selling cars out of your driveway.
So what will we find on the The Complete Collection?
I call my songs my kids, so this collection is a chance for my kids to get out there and play. For twenty-eight bucks you can get all the records, eleven unreleased songs, plus six live tracks. To me, those were my favourite versions of the Knockouts songs, because they just kick ass more. The energy of ten thousand people cheering for you gives you a different energy than standing there in a fishbowl, recording. Did you cross paths with Bon Jovi on the New Jersey circuit?
Jon used to follow our band around. Y’know, he’d come up afterwards and say: “Oh, you’re my favourite singer.” Many years later, I was having dinner in Asbury Park and this guy comes up and says:
“Hey Franke, how are ya? I was the original road manager for Jon Bon Jovi. You know why we followed you around?” I thought he was gonna say: “Because we loved the band.” He goes: “We were trying to steal Tico Torres [drummer].” So Tico joined Bon Jovi and the rest is history. But both of our paths ended up okay, because two years later this guy called me to write (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.
“MCA said: ‘We’re gonna make you
sound like Night ranger.’”
Is it flattering or annoying when journalists still ask about that song? Winning an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, ASCAP song of the year, a Grammy nomination… it’s beyond my frickin’ dreams as a songwriter. I got to hang with [Dirty Dancing star] Patrick Swayze at the Academy Awards and he told me: “We were getting ready to do that last scene to a Lionel Richie track, but the last cassette came in and it was you. We knew then that we were gonna make a great movie.”
Swayze died of pancreatic cancer in 2009. Is that why you’re donating to that charity?
I’ve been selling demos on my Facebook page for ten years, and I’ve raised about thirty thousand dollars for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. So I thought here’s another great opportunity with me putting out this collection. If you want to not buy my record, it’s cool, but just donate to them, that’s even better. HY