Not much has been written about Jamie Principle, the Chicago artist whose dark brooding voice haunted us with songs such as “Baby Wants to Ride”, “I’ll Take You There” and “Cold World.” His early collaboration with Frankie Knuckles was one of those magical partnerships that created unforgettable songs still relevant today.
And now, 14 years later, Jamie and Frankie have once again reignited their partnership releasing new versions of “I’ll Take You There” and “Your Love”. Jamie is now wiser, more discerning, and hungrier than ever to present the music he feels so passionately about.
There really hasn’t been a whole lot written about you in the past 25 plus years, so much of your persona is veiled in mystery. Can you give us a brief rundown on your background?
Well, one thing I want to say is that I never was a DJ, and a lot of people seem to have that confused. I was a musician, I’m a clarinetist, I played drums in church, I dabbled in keyboards, but I was never a DJ!
The songs I was writing were pretty much for myself, playing them in my home because those were the things I wanted to hear. I had a basic 4-track situation at my house. When I did “Your Love”, I had one keyboard at that time. I played live drums; the bass line was being played live.
A DJ friend of mine, Jose Gomez, heard “Your Love” and wanted to do a mix of it and wound up taking it to Frankie [Knuckles] without my knowledge. Frankie later called me and told me that he loved the song. When the song became really popular, I wasn’t going to the clubs. I couldn’t go – I had to be at church at a certain time to play drums! So I wasn’t able to get into the Powerplant then. Plus my parents were very strict I couldn’t be out like that.
And pretty much from then on, that’s when you began your famed collaboration with Frankie…
When I did “Your Love”, there were actually four other songs that went with that package. One was “I’m Gonna Make You Scream”, “Cold World”, “Bad Boy” and “Waiting on My Angel.” The last song was technically the only song that came out on vinyl. Everything else was on cassettes and reel-to-reel at the time.
Frankie took me to his friend’s studio and I did a demo version of “Cold World”, “Baby Wants to Ride” and “Bad Boy.” That’s the one that Trax wound up releasing, and they never had the rights to release any of my stuff.
I was writing those songs for the love of my life. It’s like taking a baby and just ripping it apart… All the special things it meant to me, they just destroyed all that stuff.
I know Trax has a long history, some good, some not so good. There are so many different stories and versions circulating all depending on who you’re talking to. What was your personal experience with them?
From what I understand of the stuff that happened to some of the artists at Trax, they were signed to them. I’ve never been signed to Trax! So they literally just stole my stuff. They released everything that I’ve done!
I was writing those songs for the love of my life at that particular time. It’s like taking a baby and just ripping it apart… All the special things it meant to me, they just destroyed all that stuff. They were only in it for the money. I wrote those songs from my heart!
I wrote all these songs. Frankie produced them. When I write a song, my song is 4 minutes. Frankie had a vision when he heard it and it came out to be what “Your Love” is known as now. I was pretty much a writer and a musician; he was the producer.
So this most recent collaboration you both have with “I’ll Take You There” from early spring of this year, the performances like the one at WMC and Circuit, and now “Your Love” about to be released…What got you both together again?
Frankie felt like I’ve never been given my due. And he wanted to put me back out there to let everybody know the truth of the matter and to showcase me as an artist. Because technically, even though I worked with Steve Hurley and other people, the only person that really understood what I do is Frankie. Like when I work with Frankie, he would never put any type of restrictions on me. That’s why I was able to write how I wrote back in the day – it was just free!
He’s also able to hear things that I can’t. Because I write so much, he can hear things that I’m writing that he knows will be perfect for what he needs to do – just like when he heard “I’ll Take You There” and wanted to use it.
But when I started getting into these other situations (such as working with ID Productions), I was pretty much being told how to write. And then I started becoming unsure of who I was.
You said you had a job with the stock exchange initially, yes? Talk about polar opposites in career choices! What eventually made you do music full time?
When I worked for Frankie at the beginning, I was working my day job and making a lot of money, so it wasn’t about that. He never made me feel like I had to quit my job. When I started working with other people, I had to make a choice. When I did music at home and just starting out, I was doing it for the love of it. That’s what I needed. Then when I quit my job, I had to rely on music to support me so I was in a catch-22.
I’ve always thought of you as the Robert Smith of House music in a way. Usually when I think of earlier House, especially in the ’90s, I think of happy, uplifting, big chorus hands-in-the-air type deals.
I was really dark, because of the things that were happening in my life at that particular time. That was my life. And I think when I did this one project for Smash, a lot of people didn’t like it because they were used to my dark sound. My manager at the time felt that it shouldn’t be that way.
Personally I think I got suckered in into thinking one thing when I wasn’t really feeling that. At that time I wasn’t so sure of myself anymore because I was being molded into something I wasn’t. Like when I did “Date With the Rain”…that was not me! [laughs]
I love your performance energy, and I know that was a big part of your life when your music started getting big. Where was your first performance for this music? And I’ve heard many stories about the dress…
I started performing at the Powerplant, that was pretty much my home. I didn’t go anywhere else but the Powerplant. It was there that started the transition of my flamboyant persona. It just gave me the freedom for whatever I wanted to do. Each song for me was a different character. I was pretty much portraying the character in that song. Like in “Cold World” – my character was someone called Baby Boy, and that was the one that wore the dress at Mendel. My reality was a little bit different from everybody’s else’s. A lot of people didn’t know how to take me!
It was so funny, but I was singing this one song and I reached out to grab someone and normally when I reach out to grab someone they’ll reach back but this person pulled back! It was so funny to me. But people remember that show!
But then when I got with ID, they wanted me to calm that stuff down. They wanted me to get more of a mainstream kind of look.
Everybody accepts it because they want to all be friends. Nobody wants to tell the truth! Everybody is trying to be everybody’s friend, and no one wants to call out, “Hey you’re wrong!”
That seems so crazy to me because during that time you had groups like Culture Club and all those glam bands that had tons of makeup and elaborate clothing! Why in the heck would they want to push you to be so cookie cutter clean?
I think once everybody started getting into the whole remixing thing, a lot of the artistry suffered.
Today you’re clearly older and wiser and can reflect on all the craziness of those early years, which was a big learning experience. It’s great to see you back. However there’s so much dirty business still being swept underneath the rug… Is it best to just keep it that way and move on?
The problem that I have is that artists in this industry know that there are certain people that aren’t running business right. Nobody wants to confront them about that. Everybody accepts it because they want to all be friends. Nobody wants to tell the truth! Everybody is trying to be everybody’s friend, and no one wants to call out, “Hey you’re wrong!”
That’s being phony. You’ve got to take care of your business.
I’ve always sort of seen you as being taken other peoples’ wings and being taken care of (or advantage of depending on which case)… Have you switched roles and are now mentoring anyone?
I’m actually mentoring two individuals right now whose names I won’t mention right now until their product is out. I have mentored Ashley Garland, she’s in LA and holding her own out there. You’re going to be hearing from her soon.
It’s been an absolute pleasure to finally interview you, get some of the stories straight and most of all just to see you back in action! What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
Well “Your Love” will be coming out Sept. 7th for the digital release, and the vinyl promo will come out at the end of the month. The record is hot – I really like what’s been done with the new version. Besides that, I’ve been dabbling in DJing. I’m doing it at home right now, but that’s going to be something under a whole different name if I decide to do that. Right now I’m just doing it for my own enjoyment.