Local Noise: Franke Previte

Franke Previte has become a legend in the songwriting world, largely based on his co-writing of the song “Time Of My Life,” which has become a standard. Not only was it a huge hit when it was released as part of the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, it has continued to be a radio staple, played at proms and weddings constantly, and has resurfaced time and time again, most recently on the hit TV show Glee and on a 2010 release by the Black Eyed Peas.

But that wasn’t his first foray into stardom. His first chart hit was actually a song he did with the band Franke & The Knockouts. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the song “Sweetheart,” which was a top 10 hit in 1981. To mark the occasion, Franke has just released a newly remastered CD version The Best of Franke & The Knockouts: Sweetheart. In addition, all four of the Knockout’s albums will now be made available digitally.

Franke is donating his portion of the proceeds to the Patrick Swayze Pancreas Cancer Research Fund, in memory of the Dirty Dancing star and his longtime friend. “Timing wise, it’s because of the charity,” he explains. “I’m trying to generate the money for the pancreatic cancer charity, looking to generate what I can, and generate awareness of this disease because it took a close friend a mine. Patrick and I, we had chances to spend some time together. He did a charity in New Brunswick, and you get to know a person on a personal level, see what his roots are. He was just a really good guy. I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to do something with these demos.’”

The Best Of CD also contains a demo version of the song “Hungry Eyes,” which was another hit from the movie, performed by Eric Carmen.

Interestingly, the second drummer of Franke & The Knockouts was someone that is now part of rock and roll history himself: Tico Torres, who went on to fame and fortune with Bon Jovi. “He was my best man, I talk to him every couple of months,” Franke says. “I just saw him down in Florida. We remained friends. We’re musicians, we talk the same language. Music is louder than words. It connects you for life.”

Franke actually started out in a Jersey heavy metal band. “I was, for years and years, in a band called Angus, and when I came out of it I had shrapnel wounds from singing all that heavy metal,” he laughs. “I took vocal lessons, singing Stevie wonder songs. I was getting antsy selling cars out of my driveway, and borrowing $25 a week for vocal lessons. Bert Padell, the accountant for the stars, started to become my business manager. He turned Jimmy Ienner onto my demo. We went in, and he said, ‘Is there a band?’ Of course, there wasn’t a band, but we said there was. He said, ‘If you can write three more songs like this, I’ll give you a record deal. I like two of them, but “Sweetheart” is a little too cutesy.’ I said, ‘Come down to rehearsal and we’ll play it for you.’ Even though he thought it was a little too pop and a little too cutesy, we put it on the record, and it went to number nine on the Billboard charts.

“We put together a band real quick. I had Billy Ellworthy on guitar. Blake Levinsohn on keyboards. I added Lee Fox on bass, who plays with Blondie for years now, added another guitar player, Bobby Massano, and Claude LeHenaff was our original drummer before Tico. We had no endings; we just recorded the songs and faded. Then I got a call, saying to watch Fridays tonight. Fridays was like Saturday Night Live, but on Friday nights. At the end, they announced, ‘Next week, special guest, Franke & The Knockouts.’ Holy shit, we didn’t even have a real band! We better have one by next Friday! I hadn’t gigged in 3 years. My first gigs were Fridays, American Bandstand and Solid Gold.”

The story of “Time of My Life” also stemmed from an unusual situation. Franke was actually on the Parkway at exit 140 when he scribbled some lyrics for “Time Of My Life” on an envelope, as he recalls. “I got a call from Jimmy Ienner, and he said, ‘I got this movie, can you write a song for the last scene?’ I told him I didn’t have time, I was trying to get a label deal. He said this could change my life, and he gave me a synopsis for the movie and the last scene. It’s seven minutes long, and it should be up-tempo. I called John Denicola, and said give me something that starts with the chorus in halftime. I demoed the track, Jimmy liked it, and he said, ‘Make a demo of it.’”

“So I took the original demos, and a friend at Atlantic Records came in and did the duet with me. Weeks go by, and I get a call from Kenny Ortega, screaming, ‘You did it, you did it! Patrick Swayze said your song turned the whole movie around, because we didn’t have a song. We were getting ready to film it to a Lionel Richie track, so when we got “Time Of My Life,” we filmed it as the last thing. What a great ending!’”

Franke actually included another song from the movie demos on the new Best Of album. He had written a song called “Beat Of A Broken Heart,” that was written for the Dirty Dancing sequel, but never used. “I spoke to Jimmy Ienner a couple weeks ago, and told him that the song was on the record,” Franke says. “He said, ‘I have to get that record placed. I still think that could be a smash.’”

You can get more information about Franke and the new releases, as well as purchase the Best Of CD, at frankeandtheknockouts.com.