Sonny Knight and the Lakers
The Knitting Factory
October 16, 2014
Soul music has seen quite a resurgence in popularity over the past decade or so, as a number of contemporary acts have revived and taken up the beloved old school sound. But perhaps more importantly, the soul revival has been directly responsible for the resurrection of the careers of several forgotten artists who had toiled about in obscurity or had quit music to work regular jobs, including the likes of Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley, Chuck Brown, Lee Fields and several others.
Adding to that list of long-forgotten soul artists is the Minneapolis, MN-based Sonny Knight, whose story bears an uncanny resemblance to those of both Bradley and Fields. Knight released a single with a backing band The Cymbols back in 1965 that was a regional hit but music took a back seat to three-year stint in the Army. He spent a few years in the Bay Area before returning back to Minnesota in the 70s when he joined the cult-favorite funk group Haze. When Haze broke up, Knight had considered himself retired form music and started a full-time job as a truck driver. And although he may have thought he was forgotten, that first single Knight recorded back in 1965 had become a prized collector’s items among R&B record collectors and old school soul/R&B DJs.
Back in the 90s, vocalists Monroe Wright and Maurice Young, original members of the Twin Cities area soul act, The Valdons, were revived in time to celebrate the release of Secret Stash Records’ Twin Cities Funk & Soul Compilation, and Young and Wright recruited Sonny Knight as a new member.
interestingly, after several months of working together on shows to support Twin Cities Funk & Soul, Knight and Secret Stash founder and in-house drummer Eric Foss formed Sonny Knight and the Lakers. Within a few weeks they had begun playing gigs and within a few months of playing together, Knight and his new backing band set to record a full-length album.
Recorded in a basement studio just a few blocks from the basement studio beneath the shuttered recorded store where he recorded his firs single almost 50 years ago, I’m Still Here, Knight’s debut full-length effort may have the Twin Cities-based soul singer joining his contemporaries in finally receiving the acclaim he should have had so long ago; in fact, the album was released to critical acclaim for not just it’s period specific retro soul sound but for the fact that much like the soul albums of G.E.D. Soul Records, I’m Still Here sounds as though it captures Knight and his backing band jamming at a live show, complete with Knight calling after his band to play loose but muscular solos that will likely bring to mind the sound of Muscle Shoals and Memphis.
Knight and his Lakers were in the middle of a lengthy tour that included a stop at the Knitting Factory last month, and despite the small crowd in attendance, it may have arguably been one of the most fun shows I’ve seen during the entire month of October, if not the entire fall. Knight manages to command a stage with an old school, larger-than-life charm and humility that was profoundly touching. Simply put, Knight seemed thrilled to be in front of audience; it didn’t matter if it was an audience of 30 or of 3,000, he was going to entertain folks. But he couldn’t be as entertaining without his Lakers, who could give the Daptones and the G.E.D Soul folks a run for their money – and with arguably one of the best bassists in the entire country. I spent about half their set just listening to their bassist.
Much like the recorded effort, their live show was loose and jam-like with Knight directing and commanding the band at points, including a playful call and response section in which he had the crowd jump up and down to the music. And thankfully, the crowd happily took part with smiles, while looking incredibly foolish.
More importantly, you must be a cynical and cold soul to not be moved by old school, sweet love songs about desperately missing a lover and wanting to be close to them — now.
Check out some photos from the show below.
For these photos and more, check out the Flickr set here: