Mister, You're A Better Man Than I
Remembering Terry Knight & The Pack
by Barry Stoller
An excerpt from
I (Who Have Nothing): The Terry Knight Story
Real name Richard Terrance Knapp
Birthplace Flint, Mich.
Birthdate April 9, 1943
Instrument played Harmonica, tambourine
Height 5' 9˝"
Weight 155 lbs.
Color hair Brown
Color eyes Brown
Favorites Food: Southern Fried Chicken; Drink: Kool-Aid; Black Russians
Bands: Beatles, Rolling Stones; Clothes: Blue Jeans, loose T-shirt or sweat shirt
Likes Long, straight, blonde hair; Sincerity, good audience reaction; Butter and bread sticks
Dislikes Not signaling when turning left, loose nylons on women; bad breath and intolerance
Tastes in music R&B, Popular, Classical
Personal ambition "I don't have a desire to become one particular thing or another, but only to do to the best of my ability the thing I am doing at the moment."
So reads the teenie-boppin' fact sheet on Michigan, Detroit's newest neat-o singing sensation, former DJ and eternal hep cat, Terry Knight. The year is 1965 and American garages were filling up with amps, guitars and the will to rock.
Blasting the latest sounds of the British Invasion on mega-watt CKLW, Knight stormed the teen airwaves throughout Ohio, Michigan and New York. He was arguably the first American DJ to broadcast the Rolling Stones and, for the effort, had earned (or appropriated) the title of "The Sixth Stone." Within a year, however, he threw his radio career over to pursue the muse of folkie singer-songwriter. After a six month gig in a Buffalo, New York coffeehouse bottomed out, a starving yet determined Knight returned to his native stomping grounds in Flint, Michigan and sought out a little rock & roll muscle.
As he told Circus magazine years later, an up-and-coming local band, The Jazz Masters, was brought to his attention:A disc jockey had bet me that if I went to hear them I would like them. I hated local bands worse than anything in the world. But I went to hear them, and I lost the bet I thought they were fantastic. The next day I called a meeting with them and asked if they'd like to join forces in a new group.
Knight christened the new group The Pack after the Shangri-Las' 1964 smash "Leader Of The Pack." By his account, he rented an attic room in Flint for $12 a week; his earnings from The Pack were "usually thirty dollars a week, after expenses" not bad in dues-paying rock & roll terms, but meager indeed compared to his playboy's life when he was spinning platters at CKLW.
As Kristofer Engelhardt, Michigan native and author of Mark Farner's official biography From Grand Funk To Grace, informed me:The Jazz Masters, named after the Fender guitar, were a Top 40 bar band. When Terry joined and they became The Pack, they tried hard to be the Stones. Terry molded them, got them in mod shirts; they were more mod than the Stones.
He couldn't sing worth a damn, but he could perform onstage. Everyone else in the band was a veteran of the local scene. Don [Brewer, drummer], Curt [Johnson, guitarist], and Bobby [Caldwell, organist], were the tripod they had the talent. Herm [Jackson] originally played bass. Mark [Farner] was just coming up, first on bass, then on guitar after Curt left. Mark didn't play guitar so great then but he could really sing even then; and he was cute.
Terry had all the connections from being a DJ. He made them promises of airplay, of record deals and he delivered on those promises. They got on the radio, what we called the I-75 corridor, from Toledo to Bay City.
They had male fans as well as female fans, but Terry always tried to appeal to the female crowd; his sex appeal got them to the front of the stage.
Musically, he was a master thief; most of his songs were rip offs of Sloan-Barri style songs or the Stones with a little nick from the Byrds here and there, little phrases from other records.
Jim Atherton, manager for the Jazz Masters and subsequently The Pack, told me:It was an extremely great time, those very early days of the [music] industry. Terry Knight had a good rapport with his audience, gained from his extensive years as a DJ. The band was excellent live, that was their best forte. Some of their recordings weren't so great but they played some of the first major markets in the US Chicago, Detroit and Saginaw, Cleveland, New York and they were always brought back. They could open for anyone in those towns and handle the audience.
Organist Bobby Caldwell shared with me his recollections of how the band worked with Knight:Terry brought in a lyric sheet, chords on acoustic guitar and a general idea of the melody line. The whole band developed the song and arranged harmonies. We would practice for hours and we loved it. Terry was a real artist and we all enjoyed working together on getting the full picture in place. Terry never considered himself small-time even when he was only getting $30 a night. He always projected himself into the big-time. The music part always came easy for [the guys in the band] but we all learned a lot about entertaining from Terry.
Don Brewer shared with me his recollections:That was an interesting time, kind of weird the Stones were going on and R&B was coming up big. There was a meshing of the music then, it was getting experimental. This was when AM radio was turning into FM "underground" radio, it wasn't quite ready yet things were still pre-drugs, yet it was happening.
I remember Terry as a folk singer, playing the coffee houses in Flint. He was always talking about how he was a good friend with Brian Jones.
He was real flamboyant; his clothes were outrageous. He used to go to the women's places to get that look he wanted, not to look like a girl, but to get clothes with the English fashion kind of effeminate and colorful. You couldn't get that look in Michigan in the men's department. His look didn't go over that well in Flint- he really stood out, and that's what he wanted.
He had a big ego; he had what it took to get it moving. Terry Knight made a big splash around Flint saying he was the "Sixth Stone" and, when he heard the Jazz Masters at the Mount Holly teen club, he said he wanted to get a band going so we did.
We always rehearsed Terry was on it. We first rehearsed first in my basement in Swartz Creek, and then we used the Union Hall in Flint where, later, GFR first rehearsed. We played sock hops, school auditoriums, [the local VFW hall] Riviera Terrace all the time and all around Michigan.
He wasn't really a great singer, but he was a great front man. He was a great entertainer.
Knight addressed his singing limitations and the band in his 2000 Discoveries interview:What young turk anywhere has singing experience when they start a group? You start a group because you've got a wild ego, or you've got a need, or whatever. And in my case, it was just this constant need to express myself.
The Pack was based on a mold from the Rolling Stones there was a wild abandon. I copied a lot of Mick's moves on stage. We did a lot of Stones material. Nobody was doing that at the time. We were one of the first groups nationwide to cover a mood or a sensation.
Detroit's Wingate label, a subsidiary of Golden World Records, released the group's debut in the summer of '65. John Rhys, a record promoter pal of Knight's, acted as producer. "Tears Come Rollin'," the A-side, written by Rhys, features the entire group on vocals and alternates Animals-styled R&B verses with tuneful, if somewhat nondescript, pop choruses. The B-side "Colour Of Our Love," composed by Terry Knapp (as the label credit reads), is an uneventful attempt to conjure forth a Yardbirds groove.
The Pack fared better live and, soon enough, a shrewd set list of British Invasion stompers, rollickin' good showmanship and the occasional lucky break earned them a spot as top teen entertainers throughout an ever-expanding regional circle. They opened shows for all the big attractions passing through town, such as the Dave Clark Five (who drew 17,000 youngsters into Flint's Cobo Hall). Increased experience and growing audiences went hand-in-hand to feed their renown; the gigs multiplied and The Pack, now renamed Terry Knight & The Pack, scored a televised performance on Cleveland's gear Upbeat show.
Don Brewer shared with me his memories of performing on the Upbeat show:We always played in Cleveland, we were a mainstay on the Upbeat TV show they wanted unusual bands from out of town. Terry was great at getting in places; he really could talk his way into opportunities. And he was flamboyant in front of cameras with his faggy clothes and big sense of style. Here was this American band simulating English bands people really liked that.
Upbeat was broadcast all the way into New York, so we'd go to New York to play. We'd travel in cars and play, maybe, three or four places a night. Fifty miles here, then we'd go on to another club fifty miles from there. We'd appear as the "Special guests from the Upbeat show." During the days, we'd hit the local TV and radio stations. It was real bottom-up promotions and it worked because, in those days, there was a good connection between radio and bands.
Jim Atherton succeeded in landing a singles deal with Lucky Eleven Records, owned and operated by Flint businessman Otis Ellis (who named his label after a bar he owned).
Bobby Caldwell recalls Ellis:Now, there was a character! Otis hailed from Mississippi and had all the mannerisms of a riverboat gambler. He owned a bar in Flint. In 1959 he started the "Lucky 11" Record Company as a country label. Otis was of the old school of record moguls. He went around to lobby radio stations and did record distribution from the trunk of his car. I believe he was one of the last of the true independent label owners. He was not only a mogul-type, he was also interested in our music and developing our careers. With his cigar and deep southern accent, he would remind you of Col. Tom Parker. Otis was very colorful and I was personally very fond of him.
Terry Knight & The Pack recorded and released their second 45, "How Much More" backed with "I've Been Told." Both tracks were Knight originals, once submitted as demos for the Stones, and both displayed remarkable growth for the band. Punchy production, now handled by Knight, and aggressive performances characterize the record. On the A-side, Curt Johnson lays down a gruff guitar riff while Don Brewer gleefully pounds away on booming drums; Knight rips it up with harmonica and a brash confessional:People laugh at my long hair and try to put me down
My funny clothes and way-out ways are the talk of this old town
Nobody tries to understand why I'm the way I am
Just tryin' to make a livin' doin' what I know I can!
The B-side, reminiscent of the Stones' "Play With Fire," introduces tinkling acoustic guitar, Spectoresque drum punctuations and a spooky vocal. The single failed to net airplay outside of Flint, but it provided the increasingly growing fan base a totally respectable document to take home after digging the show. It now plays like the garage treasure it is (following this track, bassist Herm Jackson, receiving a draft notice from the military, was replaced by Mark Farner).
The pressure was on when the band began contemplating their third 45. It became necessary to capture on vinyl the band's live success and build upon it. As the Detroit Free Press reported (in 1966), "[T]he time had come, Terry decided, to do or die on a third record. He had amassed a large debt over the years."
Knight went into detail when he spoke to the same paper in 1968:I had already decided that maybe I wasn't good enough to make it… or maybe we were working on the wrong combination. [The band] had a meeting late one night in our hotel room in Cleveland and pretty much decided to break up and go our separate ways.
We were all terribly depressed so to take our minds off everything we started playing a new Yardbirds LP that one of the guys had picked up that afternoon. All of a sudden we found ourselves raving about one of the tracks! We looked at each other, and knew right there that we had finally found the song for us!
"Better Man Than I" is Terry Knight & The Pack's first bona fide classic. With a surprisingly subtle delivery, basic electric guitar chords supported gently with organ and rhythm section, Knight brilliantly finds (admittedly in lyrics he did not write) a perfect narrative in which to grow from teeniebopper heartthrob to social voice of conscience:Can you judge a man by the way he wears his hair?
Can you read his mind by the clothes that he wears?
Or can you see a bad man by the tack on his tie?
Well then, Mister, you're a better man than I.
...You condemn a man if your faith he does not hold
Say the color of his skin is the color of his soul
But could you say a man for Queen or country he must die?
Well then, Mister, you're a better man than I.
"Mister, You're A Better Man Than I" demonstrates the sharpness of Knight's DJ instincts. Originally issued as the B-side to the Yardbirds' smash single "Shapes of Things," Knight and company got their version recorded and released the same month (there can be little doubt the Yardbirds, a hot guitar outfit fronted by a unanimously considered "weak" vocalist, Keith Relf, provided Terry Knight & The Pack with a model of confidence).
The B-side "Got Love" rewrites the Yardbirds' "Got Love If You Want It" as a Stones tune, bettering the original. The performance offers up a boogying brew of salacious grooves and unfettered fun. With fiery organ, insouciant cowbell and impassioned bad harmonica, it undoubtedly sounded great where it belonged on stage, near the end of a sexy late set.
"Better Man Than I" was a breakout hit, reaching 125 on the national charts. Its ascent began, appropriately enough, at WTRX (the final resting place for Knight's DJ career) where it hit number 1. As the Detroit Free Press reported, from there the tune caught fire:They recorded it last Valentine's Day and it quickly shot up to No. 5 in Detroit, No. 3 in Cleveland and No. 1 in outstate Michigan and Ohio. And it broke the group into the national charts, selling a healthy 150,000 copies.
Major record companies then rushed to sign the group, but Terry decided to stick with Lucky Eleven. They signed a deal with Cameo-Parkway in Philadelphia to distribute Lucky Eleven worldwide, but Lucky Eleven retains all production rights. This arrangement allows Terry to do what he wants.
"We're more proud of our work than a major company would be," Terry explains. "With us doing everything, it's us. They say pride comes before the fall but I've never been so proud of anything. I hope the old saying isn't true."
(The Philadelphia Cameo-Parkway label was a small-time outfit with a questionable pop pedigree. Congenial teen-throb Bobby Rydell was its biggest LP artist at the onset of the '60s while Chubby Checker provided their biggest hit single with "The Twist." After a chart run of "dance craze" throwaways "The Wah-Watusi" by the Orlons and "Mashed Potato Time" by Dee Dee Sharp the label atrophied into easy listening mediocrity with acts such as Merv Griffin, Clint Eastwood (Sings Cowboy Favorites) and Ed McMahon. Terry Knight & The Pack led the label's first rock acts in 1966; they were signed by Cameo-Parkway general manager Neil Bogart soon to be Buddah Records' "Bubblegum King.")
The next 45 proved a commercial misstep and, partially, an artistic move forward for the band.
Sometime in May 1966, Knight got his hands on a Rolling Stones demo for "Lady Jane" before the Stones released the song (Andrew Loog Oldham groomed Jagger & Richards as a songwriting hit factory capable of sustaining the careers of lesser artists, such as Marianne Faithful, and often hired studio musicians to back up Mick and Keith on their newest compositions before the Stones recorded definitive versions). Presumably someone in the Stones' organization thought it would be a shrewd move to send an advance off to Detroit where the "Sixth Stone" would be certain to plug it over the airwaves.
Apparently, the Stones hadn't paid very close attention to all those Knight demos they weren't listening to over the last year. Had they bothered to notice, Terry Knight was fashioning a singing career on copying them. The former DJ quickly moved to exploit the serendipitous package he received and got The Pack into the studio, pronto, where they proceeded to mimic the original with suitable aplomb.
Knight's radio instincts failed him here. Overcome by the lust for a breakout hit, he didn't notice the song, which posits bad boy Mick as a supplicating "olde timey" English lord, was as ridiculous as its premise. Nevertheless, Terry Knight & The Pack got the song out a month prior to the Stones' version (issued as the B-side to "Mother's Little Helper"). Knight's carbon-copy take on "Lady Jane" failed to seduce the charts and, soon enough, was withdrawn.
As Bobby Caldwell recalls:Terry was sent a demo copy of new Stones material by Brian Jones. We jumped the gun and recorded "Lady Jane" without permission. A big no-no! We were threatened with a lawsuit, so we pulled the record.
Of considerable more interest is the B-side, "Lovin' Kind" the first Knight composition to transcend his infatuation with the Stones and present him as a cool songsmith in his own right.
Launched by a forlorn harmonica figure which dramatically morphs into a sunny splash of guitar chords, the arrangement places Knight inside a California pop setting, complete with bright harmonies, where he delivers some sneering bad news to a presumably unlucky liaison:You drove a great big car when I met you on that rainy day
You wore a great big smile when you said, "Am I going your way?"
You held a great big grudge ‘cause I left you on life's highway
Certainly, Knight's formula here is simple enough placing a Dylan put-down within the context of a Mamas & Papas' good vibration yet he wins points for originality by singing with far more restraint than Dylan ever did (when Dylan was in his put-down phase) while employing a metaphor far more violent than anything Dylan would permit:I ought to be thanking you, girl, for teaching me about my wayward life
Yes, and I ought to be thanking you, girl, for offerin' to be my wife
But I never did agree to let ‘cha cut wild oats out of me with a paring knife.
Toss in some brooding organ and a ripping harmonica solo and you have one snappy little number (this song would be re-recorded, with considerable refinement, for the LP version).
Knight felt his songwriting ability coming into focus at this point. The next 45, released in July 1966, featured an original on both sides and both of them are among the best recordings by Terry Knight & The Pack. The A-side, "A Change On The Way," is a prime piece of generation gap propaganda gentle yet firm, didactic yet melodious, perfectly performed:Is it true what the people say about the way things are going today
That the young generation is bad, that the purity has all been had
That the poets don't know how to rhyme, that the children are ahead of their time
That the speakers don't know what to say, that the seekers have all lost their way
Don't believe it, don't believe it, don't believe it,
There's a change on the way
If the mothers and the fathers cry when they hear their sons and daughters lie
If the books of a nation burn in the fires of a nation that won't learn
If you think you've already been told that you'll never live to grow old
If you play their game but never win and you feel like you've got to give in
Don't believe it, don't believe it, don't believe it,
There's a change on the way
If the ears of the people hear the sound of feet that are marching near
If the eyes of the people see that the sound comes from you and from me
If the shouts of the young men ring and the voices of the young girls sing
If the hearts of the children cry to take control of the world or die
Then you'll believe it, yes you'll believe it, ah my friends believe it!
There's a change on the way!
John Lennon couldn't have much improved on this.
Publicizing the single, Knight told the Detroit Free Press:We are doing meaning songs. "A Change On The Way" is what I've been trying to say for so long. It evolved out of four years of experience.
The B-side, "What's On Your Mind" is a breezy boogie, upon which Knight croons a good-natured litany of pick-up lines. Bobby Caldwell's bubbling organ runs add melodic interest throughout while Knight throws in a "zany" kazoo solo to keep the proceedings felicitous. It's catchy.
"A Change On The Way" reached the Top 20 in Detroit and received airplay throughout the Cleveland area, making it as far as 111 on the national charts (at this point, Farner left The Pack and Jackson, evading the draft due to a leg injury, returned to the band).
Two months later Terry Knight & The Pack put together the 45 that immortalized their modest place in pop history. Choosing the Leiber-Stoller standard, "I (Who Have Nothing)" (a 1963 hit for Ben E. King), Knight found his most powerful performance formula a spoken-word tear-jerker dramatically enhanced with Philly strings and maxed-out echo. The intro, drawing upon his broadcasting expertise, is spine-tingling:You know, everybody, no matter who they are,
And no matter how different they might be
Always runs across the same problem at least once
And that's the problem of love
Knight's singing has the necessary desperation to field the lines, "he can take you anyplace he wants, to fancy clubs and restaurants, while I can only watch you with my nose pressed up against the window pane" no small accomplishment. The modest orchestra blends magically with the basement hum of a bass drum. Behind the smoke of overheated amplifiers, the otherworldly spectre of Elvis can be faintly detected. But there's too heavy a hand on the reverb when Knight belts out the payoff line, "I love you" and the distortion transmogrifies the emotion, revealing the apparition as merely... the black velvet Elvis (for postmodern tastes, this is a plus).
Meanwhile on the B-side "Numbers," the Pack raise an almighty ruckus behind Knight's Dylanesque flurry of accusations addressed to some indolent princess ("You had 16 years of learnin' at the finest schools / They gave ya 26 teachers and you made them all look like fools"). With arrogant fuzz riffing, relentless snare drumming and a merciless double-time feedback breakdown, this track is the garage pinnacle of Knight's career. "Numbers" is a Nuggets-styled classic positively snotty.
"I (Who Have Nothing)" burned up regional charts throughout Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburg, New York City, even Boston, then made the national charts, peaking at number 46. The phone started ringing for Terry Knight. From there, the band appeared on Dick Clark's Where The Action Is TV show and, touring with The Dick Clark Caravan, performed to large audiences in luxurious L.A. and, returning triumphantly to Michigan, got themselves a deal for their first LP.
The album's release was publicized lavishly in a Detroit Free Press' weekend section article, "Flint's Terry Knight and his Pack: There's More There Than Hair." "Teen Beat" writer Lorraine Alterman, portraying Knight with both reverence and verve, allowed the singer plenty of column inches in which to promulgate his pop cogitations:Presenting Terry Knight long hair worn Prince Valiant style, mod clothes, no tie, much less a tie-tack. Immediately 99 per cent of the adult population pokes fun or decides the decline of western civilization is at hand.
But in the song "Better Man Than I," which was Terry Knight & The Pack's first big hit, he says that you can't judge a man by his appearance; you must look into the man himself. And he likes this quote from a magazine article about the Beatles: "There's more there than hair."
Terry, on stage, seems to feel every word he sings. Girls in the audience scream, sometimes faint. Guys listen. Whether Terry is singing or playing the harmonica or shaking the maracas to the beat, he generates excitement from deep within himself.
Let Terry, 23, explain: "Everything that we do is what we feel. In shows, we do a lot of real rhythm and blues Howling Wolf, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and we do our own stuff, which we like to interpret as R&B. But I'm the first to admit it's not real R&B. The Negro has R&B wrapped up. That's where soul comes from. It's real difficult for a white person to carry it off. Whites can have their own soul but once they try to sound like a Negro, it just doesn't happen.
"It's our own soul material we do. If people don't want to call it soul, that's their hang-up. To us it's soul because it comes right from our hearts.
"Soul is not just a sound. Soul is a happening, and if you feel like you've got to be on your hands and knees at this split second, you've got to do it.
"When girls cry, I wouldn't want to think they were crying just because their idol was on stage. When we do a sad song, we want to feel it and we want our audience to feel it. We're not doing it to make them cry, but to share an experience."
Offstage, Terry's feelings are just as intense.
Terry, the man who was unhappy about not being permitted to express himself on the radio, now has a way to tell people what he thinks. "I don't feel I'm a singer per se," Terry points out. "Just a person with things to say and now a medium in which to say them. We're doing, I think, meaningful songs."
"Song writing was always my big thing," Terry says. "I had a difficult time finding people I could talk to who wouldn't laugh, so I put what I had to say on paper." In the songs, he says things about intolerance ("I can't stomach someone who makes fun of anyone else for his appearance or ideas"), love, friendship, sex, injury, happiness.
"Someday I hope to write a novel, but in writing a song, I can say what I mean using symbolism. It separates the men from the boys whether the listener says ‘Gee, I loved that song' or ‘I loved what you had to say in that song.'
"I like to put people on. I don't believe in handing it to them on a silver platter. A song doesn't come in five minutes, but from 23 years. And, if it's from 23 years, I want it to take more than two minutes and 35 seconds for people to figure out what it's about."
Zipping from one-night stand to one-night stand makes it rough for Terry to establish any strong friendships, any strong roots. "This business," he says, "is probably one of the loneliest businesses in the world. You may have 50,000 people in front of you, and you're still alone. Then you go back to your hotel room and you're alone again."
Terry's solitude is partly his own choice. He's in the process of "trying to figure out the thing called me."
"No person in this world knows what I'm made of," Terry says. "I have to find out and I don't want anyone to know until I do. If it takes just a little bit longer to be an entire human being, I have time. It's just my life and nobody else's.
"I have the feeling I can be just whatever I want to be within reason, within time."
While the gigs kept rolling, Terry Knight & The Pack's next move was fashioning a proper follow-up to their hit single. Curt Johnson left the Pack (due to personality conflicts with Knight, it has been reported by Bobby Caldwell). Into the guitar spot moved Mark Farner, a far less endowed musician. This development, coupled with the success of the orchestrated ballad "I (Who Have Nothing)," encouraged Knight to incorporate more pop elements into the Pack's sound. His primary influence was folk-rock with a smattering of swing, psychedelic and classical seasonings.
Terry Knight and the Pack's next 45 was a P.F. Sloan cover, "This Precious Time" (Sloan is remembered today as the composer of Barry McGuire's notorious AM interloper "Eve Of Destruction"). According to Bobby Caldwell, "P.F. Sloan was at the session, taught us the song and played acoustic six-string on the recording. He actually produced it."
A lachrymose breakup ballad that builds to an operatic outpouring of emotion, the song resembles "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" arranged for Roy Orbison. It's an intense listen. Although Knight didn't benefit from having the Mamas & Papas harmonize behind him (as McGuire did on his version, issued the same season), The Pack's background vocals sound fine and Knight's tentative singing conveys the composition's inherent pathos far more accurately than McGuire's brow-beating delivery.
The tune was a smart choice and a great opportunity for Knight. "This Precious Time" remained in the Detroit and New York City Top 40's throughout the early winter of 1967. Nevertheless, it failed to go further than 120 on the national charts (a disappointing showing after hitting 46 with the previous single); it flopped for McGuire, too.
As the Knight-penned B-side, "Love, Love, Love, Love, Love," began to air over Detroit airwaves, Lucky Eleven quickly issued the tune as a single in its own right. "Love, Love, Love, Love, Love" is a great rocker, a thumping bit of bump and grind, which takes Knight's veneration of the early Stones to a new level by adding to it the stamp of his own personality a jivin' Vegas crooner forced to keep up with an unexpectedly rowdy house band locking on to a smoldering groove. The 45 charted throughout Ohio and went as far as Omaha, Nebraska, making it to 117 nationally before stalling.
The band kept up with the gigs. Dick Wagner, ace Michigan music veteran, shared with me some of his recollections of Terry Knight:My band The Bossmen played on many live dates with Terry Knight & The Pack in the 1960s. Terry and I always got along very well and there was a mutual respect and admiration. I remember him in these times as a very focused individual determined to be a star, and always with the business mind going.
In March 1967, the second Terry Knight & The Pack LP, Reflections, was released promoted by the 45 "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show." The album is more assured, eclectic and original than the first; The Pack still does its own "soul" music but it's now burnished with a smart-alecky sense of burlesque. One of the great unsung, albeit outré, long-playing classics of 1966-'67, Reflections make the argument for pop on a budget: Knight indulges in songwriting liberties simply impermissible on a major label.
The opening track, "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show," is a show-bizzy soul-brother razz-ma-tazz rap. A Joe Tex cover from ‘65, Knight raided the wrong side of the tracks for a crossover upper and found himself the perfect vehicle: a slangy spoken-word R&B workout highlighted by Broadway-styled choruses. Sammy Davis Jr. would have killed for this track. Unfortunately, it charted only throughout Michigan and Ohio.
"Come With Me," the centerpiece of side one, is a tambourine-slinging, hippy-dippy, folkie-pop masterpiece the sort of rapturous melody only romantic young men still in thrall to major chords strummed on nylon strings can compose. Local Breck girls, their Maybelline eyelashes a-flutter, no doubt swooned appreciatively. A cross between Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" and the Star Trek episode "The Way To Eden," this earnest ditty is one of Knight's best melodies.
"Got To Find My Baby" is a winsome folk-rocker in the fresh-scrubbed Seekers vein. The hook "I'll keep breachin' every river that I'm reachin' ‘cause I got to find my baby before I'm dead and gone" suggests a hint of parody, if not out-and-out opportunism, on the sun-shiny "new traditional" formula ("Georgy Girl" was racing up the charts as Reflections was being recorded).
"Anybody's Apple Tree," another Knight original, is a lazy bit of Young Rascals-inspired fluff; Knight even dares to cop the count-off gimmick from "Good Lovin'" for his track. With gently plunking piano, swelling organ, and a slighty tipsy beat, Knight takes a crooner's delight in mellifluous lyrics such as, "I've got no immediate plans, you see, of making love underneath anybody's apple tree." Easy on the ears.
Then, there's "Dimestore Debutante." With the exact structure of "Like A Rolling Stone," a passable approximation of Dylan's clumsy electric guitar and expert Al Kooper organ runs throughout, Knight certainly isn't hiding the obvious. With preposterous rhymes like "Ah, you split your family in half / When you became their fatted calf" and "I hate to take your head off with my sickle / But you're a ten-cent dimestore ring that I bought for a nickel," Knight is clearly consciously pushing the boundary of good taste.
I asked Bobby Caldwell if the tune was a parody, a tribute or an imitation. He replied:All of the above! It was just a play on everything going on at the time it was his own put-down song. We worked pretty hard on that one it was a blast.
"Dirty Lady," next up, is another spoofy song. This one puts Harry Belafonte's bland export of native exotica between the crosshairs:Dirty Lady who sells bananas on the corner beneath Campinas
Most assuredly does not know who I am
Dirty Lady who sells soft peaches on the corner from which she reaches
Most assuredly does not know who I am
And if she did most assuredly she would not give
Dirty lady with the pretty fingers has no use for terrific singers
Or anybody else who will not buy.
Knight and company go for broke with the following track, "Love Goddess Of The Sunset Strip," a garish piece of grooviness as unabashedly ersatz as Roger Corman's hippie flicks and Iron Butterfly's Ban deodorant commercial. While The Pack does the audio equivalent of the Frug through a foggy echo "yeah yeah!" Knight narrates with the faux stoned insouciance of Laugh In's Dick Martin:With her sun-bleached hair and her sky-blue eyes (yeah yeah)
Her lips just hang there to tantalize (yeah yeah)
She looks like a child only five foot two (yeah yeah)
But if there's something wrong she's done she'll hang it on you (yeah yeah)
Her bangs on her forehead are held there with tape (yeah yeah)
But her mind underneath can assume any shape (yeah yeah)
When I met her she was breathing on a magazine (yeah yeah)
All she said was "Hi, let's have a scene" and I said (yeah yeah)
Of course I had to say (yeah yeah)
I made my first mistake
The middle "mind blowing" section is a travesty of party guffaws, blue movie grunts and cheap effects so cheap the requisite theremin is simply Knight whistling into a bottomless can of reverb. The Pack out-Zappas Zappa on this vaudevillian puff of catnip (released a full year before We're Only In It For The Money).
Asked about this absurd triad of tracks, Bobby Caldwell told me:Anyone who says Terry didn't have a sense of humor did not even know Terry. He was very quick witted and could do some great accents. In the early days, he would have the band in stitches. In the mid-'60's, Terry could easily have been a stand up comic. He was that good. He was highly responsible for the success of our live performances. He had a gift of gab between songs and could keep the audience listening and laughing.
The second-to-last track on Reflections, "Forever And A Day," is the most surprising. A pull-out-the-stops classical tour-de-force, Knight (with ample assistance from arranger Richard Rome) fuses the comic compression of Chopin's "Minute Waltz" with the highbrow smaltz of Burt Bacharach and ends up with something resembling an outtake from Carl Orf's Carmina Burana. It's impressive. "Ha ha, can't see me, I am hiding in my tree," Knight broadcasts maniacally, perhaps taking a cue from "Strawberry Fields Forever." "Forever And A Day" is quite a few screws looser than any chirpy Beatle confection, however it's Freudian.
From there, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" raises the stakes and, miraculously meeting the challenge, ends the LP with a thunderclap. Combining the Go-Go soul of James Brown with the slo-mo grunge of the Vanilla Fudge, Knight positively gets it on thanks in no small part to Mark Farner's grandstanding "backing" vocals, which must have had the effect of a pitchfork in the bandleader's ass. The group's performance is tortured euphoria full of bristling rivalry all the way to the intoxicated, delicious finish line. They make the song the song that defined the Stones, some would even say the Sixties all theirs.
And then they called it splitsville!
As Jim Atherton told me:The beginning of the end for the band came when Neil Bogart left Cameo-Parkway to start Buddah Records. The whole camaraderie we had split up at that point. The band was already having difficulties when Terry made a deal with whoever was then running Cameo-Parkway to go into production. The band was a family situation, it had really evolved; everybody pulled together and then Terry stopped pulling his share and that's what made it such a bad deal.
Recalling the break, Don Brewer told me:We were falling apart after Reflections. Terry Knight was making overtures about being a big star on his own. He really wanted to go into lounge music, with the horns and all that. I think he noticed Frankie Vallie & The Four Seasons was making a lot of money. He saw that as his style, so the band split.
Herm Jackson added:The years with The Pack were the best of Terry's life. The day he walked into the Rivera Terrace (our first meeting) I could tell he had a plan for Terry Knight and the Pack. Terry brought to the band what was missing: material and one of the best front men to stand in front of a rock & roll band. What the band gave to Terry was everything he needed to proceed with his plan: a young talented band with a monster following. It all worked because both the band and Terry wanted the same things. To close, as I said in the beginning: the best of Terry's life was when he joined the band, the worst was when he left the band.
Finally, Bobby Caldwell:Herm and I knew that it was the end of the fame that we had enjoyed. Everyone involved suffered. We lost the drawing power we once had, and so did Terry. I think Terry suffered the most because he lived for the adoration of the fans more than we did. He never again in his life got to be an entertainer and feel the love of the fans. We may have suffered monetarily, but we all still perform and have made a good living at it. Many times I have felt sorry for Terry for not continuing as an entertainer. He was born to entertain, but never really fulfilled his calling.