MATT MCGILL, HOST: Frankie Knuckles, Chicago. In 1977 I was a freshman in high school, y’all. I went, at Kenwood High School, I went to my first party at a place called Blue Gargoyle, in Hyde Park, on the campus of University of Chicago. One of my childhood friends, Jesse Saunders, was DJing, I was like, “aw check Jesse out, he’s DJing…” I knew nothing about house music back then, I was like, I was straight funk, Rick James, Parliament Funkadelic…my world changed my freshman year. Little did I know about Frankie Knuckles and his influence on Jesse, on Alan King, Alan’s been here in the studio with me, or Wayne Williams, or the Chosen Few, Jesse, Alan, Wayne, and of course, my neighbor, Tony Hatchett, lived down the street. I grew up with Tony Hatchett. So house music was all about my life back then, and all I heard about was the house, the house….couldn’t go to the house; I was too young. What was the Warehouse? Who was Frankie Knuckles? I would soon learn, as many of us did, in the late 70s, early 80s, if you were in high school in Chicago, Fast and Furious, This Beat, and more was all the soundtrack of your high school years, and it has lasted for years, this part of Chicago, strong part of Chicago music scene, is going to come to you in a feature film, it’s going to celebrate the life and times of Frankie Knuckles and the Warehouse, legendary Warehouse, and who’s helping us get this story out?
MATT: Everybody knows Billy Dec. Billy, of course, an incredible part of Chicago history himself, and one of the producers of this incredible film, and you know, Billy’s all over the place in Chicago, the music scene, the restaurant scene, award-winning – Emmy award-winning TV and radio personality, doing some acting, producing, all of that, Rockit Ranch Productions and a lot more. Billy, thanks for coming on the shown, man, I’m excited about this!
BILLY DEC: Hey, thanks for having me. Yeah, very excited, I’m excited to hear your background too, that reminded me of being in middle school and high school, listening to the radio, back when, you know, you’d kind of run home from school to catch the mix at 6 or whatever it was, yeah, you just brought me back!
MATT: Isn’t that something though, man, you think about it, you know cause, you know I grew up, I was at Kenwood, and you know, Jesse Saunders and I grew up together man, playing little league baseball. I didn’t know Jesse was a DJ and then, you know my first party, house music just kind of consumed everybody that was in this little high school clique at the time, and the music scene was just alive and real. And you know, we were all funk, you know, Funkadelic and Parliament Funkadelic and Rick James and all that, and then house music just took over.
BILLY: Yeah, well capture that moment for yourself, and for Jesse, and now transport yourself to a time where DJs are being paid millions of dollars to spin, you know, EDM and Vegas to Ibiza that incorporates house, if not is an evolution of house.
MATT: You know, Randy Crumpton is on with us as well, and Randy, you guys, you and Billy came together on this project. How did you guys come together to not only pay tribute, I said “documentary,” but actually it’s going to be a feature film, to pay tribute to Frankie, to the Warehouse, and to this strong legacy of Chicago?
BILLY: I’ll let Randy answer that one, because he actually started the whole thing and he’s the one that put it together.
MATT: There we go, we got Randy locked in. Randy, how’d you guys come together, you and Billy come together on this?
RANDY CRUMPTON: Thanks a lot, Matt, for having me on the show this morning. I have actually been discussing this idea with Billy for a while now, maybe a few years back, I realized that Bob Teitel is another producer who produced films like Soul Food and Barbershop. What’s also interesting in this story, because it’s a great Chicago story, and so I talked to Billy, then I talked to Bob, and I thought maybe we should all get together, and that’s pretty much what happened. We got Joe Shanahan who owns Metro and the Smart Bar and we put together a great team to put together a great film that will pay tribute to the Warehouse. The feature film about the Warehouse and its influence on the evolution of house music and the Warehouse owner Robert Williams who’s actually responsible for bringing Frankie Knuckles to Chicago, and Frankie’s artistry and his music.
MATT: And you know what, and you know, this is such an integral part of Chicago’s history, and it happened like, my four years of high school were like 1977-81, and I tell people all the time, there was something about those four years, and the growth of house music, that it was important, because for house music to grow the way that it did, guys, it had to hit the high school level. And for me, of course, those four years, I’m gonna take ownership of these four years that were my four high school years, it seemed like in those four years, house music grew, and Billy, like you were talking about, it went from being just like in the clubs, to all of a sudden, it was on the radio, Saturday Night Live, ain’t no jive, the hot mix five, or the six at six, whatever it was, it went from being kind of underground to being on the radio. And that was a huge difference.
BILLY: It was a magical period for a lot of people, and the frustrating thing is, the world really doesn’t know about that magic. That’s the birth right there of an incredible phenomenon that’s worldwide. Some of the biggest people – and even pop music – are sampling and utilizing and leveraging EDM and house, and I come in contact with a lot of people, not only in our restaurants and clubs, but all sorts of different cities across the country, and even around the world when we’re traveling and doing research, and I just, I can’t believe that people don’t connect this phenomenon that they celebrate with Chicago and specifically those years, and it’s a shame. And for us as loyal Chicagoans that are super proud, and I just want the facts straight, you know. We know this story needs to be told, and Randy’s known this for a long time, and Bob is really the authority Chicagoan in the movie industry, and obviously Joe is a music authority in our city for decades, and this collaboration is really about to tell the truth, the true Chicago story, the birth and evolution of what everyone’s celebrating today, but doesn’t realize what you experienced in high school. That’s how it happened.
MATT: Now Randy, I gotta ask you, when was the first time you went to a house party, when was that moment when you went to a party and you were like, “wow, this is different.”
RANDY: You know, Matt, I think we went to the same high school, and you might be a couple years older than me, and my mother was real strict, so I didn’t get to go out while I was in high school. But people used to come back to school on Mondays and brag about what they did over the weekend, and I would always hear about going to the Warehouse and having that experience. But for me, I didn’t get to experience the Warehouse, and I think the first party I went to was at the Bismarck Hotel.
MATT: Is that right? We were talking about the Bismarck the other day, it is funny you mention that man, and you know what also? Back in the day, too, guys, because of the cassette, the cassette tape, house music was circulating, going from hand to hand, listen to this mix, listen to that mix, Farley and I – Farley Keith and I – were in a group together and I remember, Farley would do a mix and put a tape out and next thing you know everybody was trying to dub the tape, and house music was just growing all over the place man, and I appreciate you guys doing this, we need it. Obviously last year, when Frankie died, a lot of people learned who did not know about him, a lot of people learned about him, and then what you guys are doing, Billy and Randy, you are about to put it on film so that it can be documented, it can be historical, it’s a Chicago story, and this is something that needs to be out there.
BILLY: Even beyond the one moment of the film, the really cool thing about this event we’re doing on March 31st, is that we’re launching and helping to support the launch of the Frankie Knuckles Foundation, which is there in part to continue the story and educate and allow people for generations to celebrate the music and keep it going so it doesn’t – this story and its truth doesn’t fizzle out. So if anybody can make it, it’s the 31st of March at The Underground at 6:00. Randy’s hosting, Joe Shanahan, Bob Teitel’s flying in, we’re all there to just really make some great announcements about what we’re doing with the film and to launch the Frankie Knuckles Foundation, which is super exciting.
MATT: Yeah, let’s do it, I wanna be there, let’s go. I tell you guys, March 31st, The Underground, 56 W Illinois, at 6 pm on Tuesday, March 31st, number 1, support a Chicago story, you know, with our dollars, you know, a lot of times we support things with our spirit, but sometimes we gotta put some money down. Let’s support the Frankie Knuckles Foundation, let’s support arts in Chicago. Billy, I appreciate what you’re doing with Elston Films, getting the films out there that are relative to Chicago. We’ve got so many Chicago stories that need to be told on the big screen so I applaud you.
BILLY: And we have so much Chicago talent here, in front of the camera, behind the camera, behind the productions that many times are just sort of being picked up at the last minute when these other films come in from the coast. I think we need to create things right here at home and especially create things that we’re passionate about, like these stories, the Warehouse. And this Warehouse is not just about the nightclub, it’s about the phenomenon, it’s about the time, and everything that was going on. Now if we can do that here, internally, we’re, you know, getting the story straight, educating and exciting the world about it, and creating jobs. And so it’s a super exciting win-win for everyone.
MATT: Man, you think about the music history in this city, and I was reading a story about a guy named Jelly Roll Morton coming to Chicago and recording and Louis Armstrong, I heard a story about Louis Armstrong getting off of a train at 63rd and Stony Island the first time he came to Chicago to play in the King Oliver band, and then Quincy Jones spent time here, and now we’re talking about — and you think of the 60s and the 70s and the Dells and the Chi-Lights, and then that lead right into Frankie Knuckles and the house music scene and the 80s, the 90s, the R. Kelly, R&B, music in this city man – Billy, you got a lot of stories to tell, brother.
BILLY: I was going to say, you got the wheels turning. We really have to nail this one and pay the respect that’s due and really make everyone proud, and if we can accomplish that goal and feel really good about it and who knows? I’ve sat in meetings, sometimes back in the day with the mayor or people that were in charge of PR with the city, and they were actually frustrated with how are other cities able to be labeled as these great music cities? Some deserve it, but some kind of relative to Chicago’s history don’t compare at all. We just need to do a better job internally of telling our story and projecting it and celebrating it and getting it out there so people understand.
MATT: And Randy, you’re gonna be able to relive those parties that your mom wouldn’t let you go to, brother, through the movie. [laughs]
BILLY: That’s why Randy’s doing it! Randy, that’s why you’re doing it, isn’t it? Hey, you know what? Listen, guys like me and you too – I wasn’t able to be at the Warehouse, I was a little bit, I was probably too young, but I want to recreate with Randy and see that vision, and Robert Williams, the owner, is going to know it better than anyone, and really bring this legitimacy with Frederick – and this whole family of people from the Warehouse that are coming to just really paint the picture and provide the layers and the feel and the trueness to it. I’m super excited, someone who’s been working in nightclubs you know, for the last couple decades, I wanna, this has been a dedication of my life towards these emotional entertainment experiences that we give people, but I wanna know where it started, I wanna know the guys who did it best, I wanna, for me, this is going back in time and celebrating the true masters, because yeah, I’ve done some cool things night of, but these guys created a worldwide, eternal phenomenon. How do you do that?
MATT: That is incredible.
BILLY: I wanna know.
RANDY: Right here, on the near west side of Chicago.
MATT: That’s right, that is going down right there, there’s no doubt about it. We gotta talk about it, you guys gotta come back on the show with me sometime, man.
MATT: I’m out of town right now, but you guys gotta come back, let’s talk about Chicago, let’s talk about more of these stories, let’s tap into the talent that’s here. Billy, I’ve got a Chicago story for you, man it’s gonna blow your wheels off when I tell you man. I’m gonna have to find you and tell you the story. This is something that you tell on the big screen, my God, when I tell you this story, you’re going to be like, Matt, are you kidding me? And it’s true, too! So we got a lot to talk about. A lot of talent, a lot of stories, this is all about celebrating Chicago. Billy Dec, Randy Crumpton, guys, thanks for coming on the show with me.
BILLY: Thank you.
RANDY: Thank you.
MATT: Appreciate you guys, man. Right there, two Chicagoans who wanna keep the legacy of Chicago music and all these great stories in our city, keep them going man, and we appreciate these guys for doing that.