Fabulous Flip Sides – Interview with Franke Previte

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We celebrate The Complete Collection – Franke & The Knockouts triple CD featuring “Sweetheart,” discuss the Top 10 hit compositions from Dirty Dancing, "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" and "Hungry Eyes," and the new musical Calling All Divas.

By Warren Kurtz

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GOLDMINE: The first time I heard you on the radio was in the early days of FM rock radio in Cleveland in 1971, with the song “Uncle Duggie’s Fun Bus Ride” by Bull Angus. The creative harmonies sounded like what we were hearing from Three Dog Night.

FRANKE PREVITE: That year we played a three day Pocono Mountain Festival with Three Dog Night. Their producer was Jimmy Ienner and almost a decade later I submitted a demo in the four to five song range to him, when he was the head of the record label Millennium.

GM:I remember his smiling teeth logo on the label when I bought “Three Times in Love” by Tommy James in 1980, after we moved to Dallas. The following year I won your song “Sweetheart” as part of the entire American Top 40 four record box set, in a contest with KAFM 92. Now I also have “Sweetheart” on your new 3 CD box set.

FP: We were an unknown band, out of the box, with a Top 10 hit. It is the last song that I wrote for our first album, and it was very pop. At the time there was just three of us, me and Billy Elworthy on guitar, from Bull Angus, and Blake Levinsohn on keyboards. Then we had to form a band and got Claude LeHenaff on drums and Leigh Foxx on bass, who is now with Blondie.

GM:I also enjoy the flip side of “Sweetheart,” the steady rocker “Don’t Stop,” with your voice reminding me of what Joe Cerisano was delivering with Silver Condor at the time.

FP: Thank you. Joe has such a strong voice. He is a close friend. We have played gigs together as part of the band Brave New World, opening for Bill Medley and Darlene Love.

Franke & The Knockouts

Flip side: Don’t Stop

A side: Sweetheart

Top 100 debut: March 7, 1981

Peak position: 10

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GM:The next single from your debut album, one of the two “My Girl” songs that promoter Ken Franklin at Millennium was plugging in the second half of 1981 and got in the Top 40. Chilliwack had “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” and you had the catchy “You’re My Girl.”

FP: That is one of the songs from the demo that we did for Jimmy.

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GM:The following year brought your second album, Below the Belt, with another Top 40 single, “Without You (Not Another Lonely Night).” A favorite of mine from that album is “Just What I Want,” especially the bridge and guitar.

FP: The bridge is really good and guitar as well. The sound is reflective of what I would call the Foreigner era. Years prior I was in a band with musician Benny Graham. He told me, “You have to hear my brother sing.” His brother was Lou Graham who became Foreigner’s lead vocalist in their hit filled years.

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GM:On the new box set your first two albums fit nicely on the first CD. The second CD begins with your third album, Makin’ the Point. There is a change of drummer, with Tico Torres, someone that my wife Donna has seen live numerous times with Bon Jovi. You can hear Tico’s steady power on the songs “You Don’t Want Me (Like I Want You)” and “Carrie Why?”

FP: This is what I refer to as our lost album and I wanted to get it out to be heard. Millennium records was shutting down and Jimmy was able to get us over to MCA, but MCA wanted us to sound like a band they were more familiar with from their label, Night Ranger. Tico had been with Joe Cerisano in the R-Men before Joe’s Silver Condor years and Tico was a Knockout with us until he joined Bon Jovi. I called him the band’s heartbeat. We became such good friends that I asked him to be my best man. He is not only a great drummer but a great guy. Once a Knockout, always a Knockout.

GM:The second half of the second CD contains eleven bonus tracks and rare demos. I enjoy the back to back mid-‘80s pair “Desperately” and “Faded in the Night” along with the final number, from 1991, “It’s Alright by Me.”

FP: Thank you for digging deep into this section and enjoying it. I think the three CD set shows my musical journey to the Academy Awards and beyond. The mid-‘80s songs, again, remind us of the Foreigner era on the radio, and I was able to keep my blue eyed soul sound that I developed when I was signed to Buddah in the late ‘70s. With “It’s Alright by Me” I had started working with producer Phil Ramone. This was around the time that 25 of us songwriters were selected to represent the U.S. in a songwriter summit in the Soviet Union. I was there with Barry Mann, Mike Stoller, Diane Warren, Desmond Child, Cyndi Lauper and others. We wrote songs in Russia for a project called “Music Speaks Louder than Words.” Cyndi and Earth, Wind & Fire did some of my songs.

GM:I like the songs you wrote with Cyndi for her Night to Remember album.

Earth, Wind & Fire and Cyndi Lauper are family favorites. Our daughter Brianna has played EWF songs in marching band, on trumpet, over the years. When we saw Cyndi Lauper share a stage with Meat Loaf for a double billing in Reno, Brianna was thrilled when Cyndi touched her hand at that concert. Speaking of concerts, I drove around Daytona Beach listening to the third CD in the box set, like it was a radio concert, with six live songs, beginning with “Never Had It Better,” originally from the Below the Belt album, sounding so strong like the best moments of Jefferson Starship’s Mickey Thomas era.

FP: You are the second person recently offering a Jefferson Starship comparison. I guess Mickey and I have similar rock and roll roots. The six live songs are from radio concerts, generally morning shows, with the full band.

GM:In the late ‘80s we moved back to Cleveland, in an Eastern suburb, not that far from where I had interviewed Eric Carmen in the ‘70s. Thank you for bringing him back to the Top 10 with “Hungry Eyes.”

FP: Jimmy Ienner reached out to me about a soundtrack he was working on for a film called Dirty Dancing. After he assured me that it wasn’t a porn film, I presented a duet demo to him and he also asked if I had any more songs. I offered “Hungry Eyes,” which I had a recorded a demo of, for what would have been the fourth Franke & The Knockouts album, which never came to be. He used my music demo as a template and it worked really well. Eric has a great, recognizable voice from The Raspberries and his solo work.

GM:And “Hungry Eyes” enabled Eric to stay in the Top 10 with his next single, “Make Me Lose Control,” capturing the big sound he left off with The Raspberries’ “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record).” These were proud times in the Cleveland music scene. Now, let’s talk about the award winning duet. In the fall of 1987, the radio alarm clock went off and Donna asked, “What is this?” I told her, “It is a new film duet. This is Bill Medley from The Righteous Brothers. Wait a moment and you’ll hear Jennifer Warnes.” We are Officer and a Gentlemen fans and yes, our family became Dirty Dancing fans too. We especially like the 6:47 version of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” with the trumpet part included in the film and on the 2003 Ultimate Dirty Dancing CD. So, I have to ask you the question Max Kellerman asked Tito Suarez in the film, “Do you have sheet music on this stuff?”

FP: No, no sheet music from me. I did a duet demo and when Michael Lloyd scored it, I would believe that he did sheet music for the players. I wrote the chorus on the Garden State Parkway, exit 140, in my car, pounding on the dashboard and singing, “I’ve had the time of my life.” At the Academy Awards, Patrick Swayze really touched me with his kindness. He said, “Your cassette was number 150. We listened to 149 songs for the film and rejected them. You were the only one to submit a duet. It really changed things for us. After hearing your demo, we knew that we had a film. In the film, when I lip sync ‘and I owe it all to you,’ I am really thanking you as a songwriter for this great song. I owe it all to you.” Wow! I got chills. I’ve never heard anything like that. Now $1 from every sale of the new 3 CD Franke & The Knockouts box set goes to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in memory of Patrick Swayze.

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Lisa Niemi Swayze, widow of Patrick Swayze, receiving a charitable check from Franke Previte, courtesy of frankeandtheknockouts.com

GM:That is amazing. We are also a fan of Patrick’s Top 10 song from the film, “She’s Like the Wind.” Please tell us about your new musical.

FP: It is Calling All Divas. There are four women of different backgrounds bringing four different musical genres. They come together as a vocal group called The Unforgettables. That is act one. Act two is the concert. In some cities and venues they want the full musical. In some venues, like casino shows, we shorten it to just the second act, and the audience sees the concert. Thank you for asking about this and digging so deep into my musical career for Goldmine.

Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with giveaways, interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.

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