Songwriter "Dirty Dancing" all the way to the bank

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - “Dirty Dancing” is the lottery ticket that keeps coming up with the winning numbers for Franke Previte.

The New Jersey musician, whose first name is pronounced “Frankie,” co-wrote the film’s climactic anthem “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” a tune that helped turn a small coming-of-age tale into one of the biggest movies of all time.

The scene where Jennifer Grey bumps and grinds with Patrick Swayze on stage and then soars through the air into his upstretched arms as the song crescendos never gets old.

Almost overnight, Previte went from being a struggling artist with $100 into his bank account to the Oscar-winning toast of Hollywood. The song, performed by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, topped Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart. The soundtrack album has sold almost 50 million copies.

“Time of My Life” is so big that it’s easy to forget Previte co-wrote another “Dirty Dancing” smash, “Hungry Eyes,” the ballad that Eric Carmen took to No. 4 on the Hot 100.

If you’re waiting for the bit where Previte ends up homeless after being spat out by the entertainment business, there isn’t one. He lives comfortably in New Jersey with his wife and son, cashing huge royalty checks and helping young songwriters get into the business.

“I’ve been in just about every one of the potholes they’re about to fall in,” he told Reuters in a recent interview.


Previte estimates that he gets quarterly checks of $10,000 to $30,000 for radio airplay, additional quarterly checks of $50,000 to $100,000 from the hit stage adaptation, and annual checks of $100,000-$125,000 when the song is used in commercials.

The checks are about to get even bigger. The Black Eyed Peas cover the song’s chorus on their new single, “The Time (The Dirty Bit),” and Previte has agreed to allow the hit TV show “Glee” to use the song in an upcoming episode and album.

On a more positive note, he is turning “Time of My Life” into a weapon against pancreatic cancer, the disease that claimed his friend Swayze last September.

He is selling downloads of four tracks, including the original demo versions of “Time Of My Life” and “Hungry Eyes,” on iTunes, CDBaby and other digital retailers.

Additionally, a “Dancing with the Demos” contest is in the works, where contestants create their own dance video for Youtube. All proceeds go to the Patrick Swayze Pancreas Cancer Research Fund, established by Swayze’s widow Lisa Niemi.

The demo version of “Time of My Life,” sung by Previte and duet partner Rachele Cappelli was played in the background as the “Dirty Dancing” scene was filmed. The Medley/Warnes version was recorded later.

The scene was one of the first shot and the cast and crew instantly realized that the song would define the movie, Swayze later told Previte.

Previte, who had enjoyed three top-40 hits in the early 1980s with his band Franke and the Knockouts, reluctantly agreed to write the song for the no-name, low-budget movie.

Like the limber dancers on the screen, Previte makes the creative process seem easy. “I wrote the song in the car, exit 140 on the Garden State Parkway, jamming to a cassette ... scribbling ‘time of my life’ on an envelope,” he said.

Was he thinking of someone in particular?

“I was thinking I had a hundred bucks in my bank account. Seriously,” he said with a laugh. “I had no idea what the movie was about.”

But he knew enough about the music industry to balk at the offer of $1,000 each for the licenses to “Time of My Life” and “Hungry Eyes,” a song he and DeNicola had been trying to sell for years. He negotiated $3,500 per song and retention of the lucrative copyrights with his co-writers.

His manager learned about the deal after it was done, and angrily said Previte could have sold all his rights for upwards of $25,000. Previte fired him, and patiently awaited an exponentially bigger payday.

Editing by Jill Serjeant