In the early ‘80s, you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing the Top 5 hit “Sweetheart”, or the Top 20 songs “You’re My Girl” and “Without You.” Most people don’t realize they came from New Jersey based singer/songwriter Frankie Previtt, with his band Frankie & The Knockouts.
Frankie started the band in 1980, and by 1981 the band had a record deal. Along with Frankie, the group featured Lee Fox on bass, Billy Elworthy on guitar, Claude Lehenoff on drums, and Blake Levinson and Tommy Ayres on Keyboards. After the release of the first album, Tico Torres took over on drums.
The group did extensive touring during that time period, hitting the road with acts such as April Wine, Toto and the Tubes. They occasionally made stops in New Jersey, playing gin Red Bank, Orange, and the Beacon Theater in New York.
In 1984, the head of the band’s label decided to close down the RCA associated imprint and sell off the acts. After a year of negotiations, Frankie & The Knockouts ended up on MCA Records, which had its own ideas fro the group.
“After a year went by, styles of music changed,” recalls Frankie. “They wanted the band to be like Nightranger. We didn’t want that.” The label took the recordings and remixed the album in a heavier mode. The reaction to the album was less than enthusiastic. “Radio stations listened to the album, and asked ‘Where’s Frankie & The Knockouts?’,” says Frankie.
At the same time, Tico told Frankie he was going to work on some demos with a new kid, Jon Bon Jovi. The group disbanded, and Frankie set off on his own. “It turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” says Frankie. Jimmy Lenner was working on soundtracks. He called Frankie for some songs for an upcoming movie, Dirty Dancing. Since Frankie was still trying to get another record deal, he wasn’t that interested at first in the movie. But Jimmy kept pushing, and gave Frankie two weeks to write a song for it. Frankie remembers scribbling the words down on an envelope while riding down the Garden State Parkway, not far from exit 40.
The rest, as they say, is history. “The Time of My Life” and “Hungry Eyes” both ended up on the soundtrack, and Frankie walked away with an Academy Award. Since that time, he has earned a respected place among American songwriters, and even went to Russia as part of a delegation, which represented the U.S. in collaboration with Russian songwriters. An album resulted, Music Speaks Louder Than Words, and although on 10 of the 50 songs written mare it to the album, Frankie had two of the album tracks.
Some of the present projects Frankie is working on include a song on the new Fleetwood Mac album; acting as music director, as well as songwriter, on a new movie entitled St. Patrick’s Day, a follow up to the Dirty Dancing movie coming up in June and acting as musical director of the new Heavy Metal II soundtrack for Mercury Records, which will include a lot of new alternative bands.
Lee Fox also went on to a successful musical career, playing with the likes of Yoko Ono ad Blondie. Claude and Tommy continue to play and write, having moved back to their original home base in upstate New York. Billy lives in Chicago, while Blake relocated to Florida.
Tico, as any fan of the New Jersey music scene is aware, became part of Bon Jovi, and recently had a celebrated wedding to a supermodel on the beach in Sea Bright. He has also become somewhat successful in the art world, and has had some showings of his paintings in prestigious Soho art galleries.
Frankie continues to make his home in central New Jersey. And like so many of the world’s greatest songwriters, he continues to make music that keeps the Garden State a major source of rock and roll for the rest of the world.
Copyright © Hal B. Selzer/The Aquarian/East Coast Rocker and transcribed with permission.