Living Legends: Interviews with The Greats
By: Lisa “Sunshine” Svelnys
LA Rock Correspondent- Xombiewoof Magazine
Host of Hollywood Rock Underground TV
LARRY “FUZZY” KNIGHT has an illuminated history and has achieved a career that is the envy of many. LARRY “FUZZY” KNIGHT recorded with Peter Kaukonen on the Black Kangaroo album and played Bass for Ike Turner. He recorded "Tore Up" featuring vocalist, Billy Gayles , was heard on Delaney-Bonnie's song "Soul Shake" and of course, for those that know, he was a member of SPIRIT, and as known for his performances. Larry performed with Kapt Kopter and the Fabulous Twirly Birds (Randy California's first SOLO album), SPIRIT - Made in Germany, SPIRIT - Rock and Roll Planet (1977-1979) , SPIRIT - The Original POTATO LAND, SPIRIT - An Introduction The Archive, SPIRIT - West Coast legends VOL. #3, SPIRIT - Two Sides of A Rainbow (Rainbow Theatre London 1978) , The Blowin' Smoke Rhythm & Blues Band - "Beyond The Blues Horizon" , and of course, "Sky King" - Morose Tales From The Left Coast.
Our reporter with Hollywood Rock Underground TV, Lisa "Sunshine" Svelnys caught up with Larry to get some info and his personal story and she discovered the humble and quite whimsical man behind the music.
How long have you been creating music?
It seems that MUSIC has always been a part of my entire life. I remember as a very young child, I would listen to my Mom playing her 78’s by Al Jolson, the Harmonicats, and other artists of the 40's. When I was in 3rd Grade at school, we (the students) were given musical aptitude tests. I must have scored very high because my teacher called my parents and told them they should get me a musical instrument to play. Because we lived in a small apartment in St. Louis, (where I was born) my parents could not fit a piano in there so I wound up with a Violin, which I played all through grade school, high school and into college. Along the way i learned to play the Viola, Upright Bass and the French Horn. I was also taught how to read, listen to, and orchestrate music.
It wasn't until I was 15 years old that I finally talked my Mom into buying me a Fender Stratocaster Guitar and a Fender Jazz Bass. The year was 1959. (I was born on Oct. 21st, 1944 -- 12 days after John Entwhistle, bass player of the WHO) I listened to Black Radio Station KATZ-Sweet 16 at night. They would broadcast from the Black Nightclubs every night while the bands were actually playing in the bars. I listened to Albert King, Little Milton, Ike Turner & the Kings of Rhythm, Chuck Berry and other Black St. Louis Bluesmen. I practiced every night along with what I heard on the radio. By the time I was 16 1/2, I was sneaking into these clubs with my Guitar and Bass in hand. I sat in at first to show them that I could play on the same level as the other musicians. Having a musical background really helped but it was the soul and feeling that I brought to the stage that got me real professional gigs with these legendary musicians. (I also had my own music groups in school that played at school dances and park recreation halls, etc.)
One of my bands called Larry Knight & The Upsetters played in a famous area of St. Louis called Gaslight Square (which no longer exists due to a tornado that flattened the area). It was during 1964-65 that I started writing songs. I recorded for a record label in Detroit called Golden World Records, a subsidiary of Motown Records, when the only records being put out were singles at that time.
The song was titled "Hurt Me" and became a hit in St. Louis on the charts and in Chicago and Detroit. I also wrote the flip side called, "Everything's Gone Wrong". I've been playing, performing, touring and recording ever since, with my own bands and also with many other great artists of the blues, R&B, and rock. So depending on how you interpret 'creating music', you could say it began in school or when I started my true 'professional career in 1965. No matter how you look at it, it’s been a long time. And, I still love it as much today as when I first began to learn to play a musical instrument.
When you think about your career, is there a moment you feel defined you?
Once I began playing 6 nights a week, four to five sets a night in St. Louis nightclubs for the very first time, I felt like a true professional musician. Then, when my record hit the Midwest charts, my band performed at St. Louis's Kiel Auditorium on a show with Jan & Dean (who we backed), Freddy Cannon (who we backed), Paul Revere and the Raiders, Herman Hermits and Chuck Berry. Here I was for the very first time performing on stage alongside of all these recording stars in front of 1000's in the audience.
Then, my first big show outside of St. Louis, in Chicago, where we played on a big auditorium show with the Chicago Transit Authority (later known as Chicago), again with Chuck Berry, & Paul Cotton and Kal David's Band. There really have been some 'great moments' that define you many times over as you progress with your career in music.
When I became a member of the legendary band, SPIRIT and I went to Europe to tour for the first time and performed on English television's, Old Grey Whistle Test, the hottest rock show on English TV at that time and in later years, on Rock Palace, in Germany, where we were told that 8 million people across Europe watched us play for 2 1/2 hours 'live' on TV.
I guess I'm still trying to 'define' myself because I always have new goals to reach and as I find myself accomplishing those goals, it sort of redefines me. I still feel that there is a lot of 'defining' left to come.
My favorite moment on stage was when___________?
To be honest, I've had many favorite moments on stage with different bands and artists that I have played with over the course of my career but this one particular concert that I played with SPIRIT over in the U.K. kind of stands out in my memory. I was playing with Randy California; singer, songwriter and guitarist and Ed Cassidy, known by his nickname - Cass; drummer, both of the band 'SPIRIT'. It was end of spring, nearing summer and we were to perform at Oxford University, Oxford, England. Now, over the years Oxford was known as one of England's finest educational institutes. It seemed to me that it was conservative, a bit staid, upper crust and all that.
So, finally came the night of our gig there. We were playing in this large hall filled with music fans, the smell of hashish was very prevalent and LSD was filling the heads of many and the mood of the audience was extremely receptive to every little thing we did on stage. It was 1973 and just about every concert we played was a "love and peace festival". The concert was really great and as we neared the end of our show, we began to perform Spirit's hit recording, "I Got A Line On You". Midway through the song, after Randy had played an extended lead solo, he asked members of the audience to come up on stage to dance alongside the band. As soon as he said that, the audience rushed the stage and around 50 to 60 boys, men, ladies and girls climbed up of the stage filling all the performance space but we kept on playing. Before we could blink an eye, everyone started to take off their clothes, and I mean down to the nitty-gritty. There we were, playing an encore and all the people from the audience who came on stage were totally nude; dancing, jumping, bouncing, singing, and carrying on. Now, I've played shows where a girl or two would crash the stage and get up there and run around until the stagehands took them away but this was totally awesome. Sixty nude and stoned music lovers letting it all hang out. And, to tell you the absolute truth, everyone loved the scene, those out there in the audience, the band, the promoters, even representatives of the college. Who would of thought? This was Oxford University, one of the most conservative in England. What a night. When we finished, they all picked up their clothes, put most of them back on and the 'show' was over. It was a night to remember but there have been so many 'favorite moments' I could most probably write a book about them. Maybe I should. Maybe I will. Stay tuned!
MUSIC IS the sound of tones, scales and harmonies that occupy the infinite time and space of the entire Universe. It is the compelling positive force that brings together people of every race, religion and philosophical ideology to unite for the common good of mankind. It is the force that has the power to make us happy, sad, renewed, give us chills, take us on "out-of-body" experiences, make us feel ultra-sexual and sensual, teaches us, helps us to communicate, builds intelligence from our earliest age in life, gives us a path for understanding mathematics, makes us laugh, cry, feel empathy, sympathy, even anger (at times) and basically can provoke any of our 6 senses into response.
Music heals the sick, stimulates our imaginations. Ever notice that babies (especially from the time that a child can stand) will move around, appear to be dancing to the sound of music, even before they respond to communicative language. Music has been used by tribal people since the beginning of time for invoking the spiritual entities of their beliefs. Maybe, just maybe, someday scientists will discover that Music is in our genetic make-up, somewhere hidden in our DNA strand. Wouldn't it be grand, "IF" we could only use Music as our Weapons of Mass Construction that would and could UNITE every sector of the human species on this planet?
As for me, Music is my life. It has been a part of my existence since my earliest years of being a human being. It has always been a 'natural feeling' that I was supposed to be a part of. There is no one in my entire family that has ever played a musical instrument as a profession. I am the only one out of, at least, four generations of relatives. Why me? I don't know. Only that I have always followed my natural instincts and they have led me down the path of playing music. I wouldn't trade one minute of this life experience for anything else and I intend to keep playing, writing, singing, recording and performing until my mind and body won't let me do it anymore or I die, hopefully playing on stage with my instrument in my hand. I'm not sure whether I have covered all that "MUSIC IS”, although I do know that for me, Music is a Life Force that fulfills my very existence.
For any of you that may find my reading material more than informative, I recommend two books that I have in my library on this subject matter; “The Musical Scale and the Scheme of Evolution" written by Max Heindel , copyright 1949 by The Rosicrucian Fellowship. Published by The Rosicrucian Fellowship. The Music of The Spheres - Music, Science and The Natural Order of The Universe by Jamie James, Copyright 1995 Published by Copernicus, New York, N. Y.
In my free time I love to ___________?
In my 'free' time I like to read Sci-Fi Books and reading in general, watch the Palladia Music Channel for Live Concerts, work at fixing up planters of Flowers, Succulents and House Plants for the inside and outside of my home, go for walks with my Old English Sheepdog, 'Jazzy', listen to music, write lyrics and compose songs, practice my playing on Bass and Guitar , follow my Los Angeles Sport teams; Dodgers, Lakers, Clippers, and Kings and in-between all that have fun and fulfilling sex with the ladies!
What music can we find in your car right now?
When I am driving in my 1986 Chevrolet Silverado K-5 Blazer, I listen to 98.7 FM Indie Rock Radio. I prefer listening to entire an entire CD by an Artist as opposed to single tracks. Right now, my current batches of CD music artists are (and I turn them over about every two months with new replacements);
Black Keys, Tedeschi-Trucks Band, Kings of Leon, Paul McCartney, Gary Clark, Jr., Bruno Mars, and, of course, Sky King!
Most underrated musician/why?
Most underrated musician? That's really a difficult question for me to answer. Being 'underrated' is really a subjective point of view. There are many so called 'underrated' artists that are very well known in the lesser known genres of music style that now have an audience worldwide, thanks to the new age of the Internet. That audience may be small however as fans of those artists, they have discovered their talents and music.
I always thought that songwriter and performer, John Prine, should be better known than he is. He is one of America's finest song craftsman and when he records and sings his own songs, he does so with a tremendous personal conviction. There is a huge list of artists out there that are extremely talented that no one really knows about.
I was fortunate, as part of my musical career, to be a member of the legendary rock group, SPIRIT. I have been told (ever since I first heard the early recordings of the band) that this band was one of the most "underrated bands" of the late 60's and 70's. The band had a 'cult following' all over the world but never enjoyed the financial and chart sales success of other top bands of that era. Why? No one seems to really know the answer but many rock writers have speculated that the record company (Epic) was at fault for not promoting the band when the Albums were released. Some have speculated that the lack of proper management and booking agency was the problem. I'm sure that these two or three speculations could apply to many individual artists and bands that have a great deal of talent.
All any artist can do is to keep putting their music out so that it is accessible to the public. With the glut of Cd's released each month, there are certainly going to be many underrated Artists that are going to stay that way UNTIL..... The music writers of magazines and internet sights scour the Internet for new gems to be unearthed. And that goes for DJ's as well. So many Cd's are sent out for review that I would only hope that the reviewers actually take the time to listen to what is sent to them without rushing through the music so quickly that they really don't hear what they're listening to or worse yet, don't listen to them at all because they're too concerned with and their time is devoted to established artist releases. Besides all that, I don't think the problem is to be so concerned with 'underrated artistry' but with 'overrated artistry'. There are a lot of 'one-hit' wonders out there who will most certainly disappear within a few years of their success. These overrated artists do take up time and space from the truly talented 'underrated' artists. I think, how to balance the scales.........well, it hasn't happened so far in the music business and I doubt that it will happen anytime soon.
What was the first song you wrote, what was your inspiration?
I started writing my first original songs in 1964 while living and playing in clubs in St. Louis. My band, at that time, was called, Larry Knight and the Upsetters and we were playing 6 nights a week in an area of St. Louis called Gaslight Square. We were headliners at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go. One night when we were performing, a representative of the subsidiary record label to Motown, Golden World Records in Detroit, offered to take us into the recording studio if I would write the songs to record. At that time, I was influenced by the recordings of Chuck Berry, and many of the English Rock bands that were popular, especially the Kinks, the Animals featuring Eric Burden, not to mention all the soul- R&B artists of the day. So I set out to write songs that were a cross between English rock and R&B. This became my very first professional recorded release. The song was titled, "Hurt Me” and the B-side was titled, "Everything's Gone Wrong". The single was released on Golden World Records and became a hit record in the Midwest, climbing the St. Louis charts into the top ten and hitting the charts in lower positions on WLS in Chicago and in Detroit as well. And what a blast it was, hearing my recording on the car Radio for the first time while driving around town.
I would have been nervous if I had known ________ was in the audience when I performed? (When did that happen for you the first time, who was it and when?)
I can tell you that, in total truthfulness, I have NEVER been nervous or had stage fright EVER, at any time, throughout my entire career performing on stage in any circumstance, whether there has been a celebrity or famous musician in the audience or not. I have a tremendous competitive spirit and generally can't wait to get 'out there' on stage and perform. I always want to play better and be received with more enthusiasm by the audience than all the other bands on the show. Over the years, many well- known rock musicians have been on shows with us (Spirit) (Blowin' Smoke) (Albert Collins) (Delaney, Bonnie & Friends) (Chuck Berry) (and many more) that have watched us playing from backstage but I was never nervous, only wanting to blow them away by our show!
I suppose that I might have done a double take if John Lennon was sitting in front of me or Marvin Gaye, or President John F. Kennedy.
What advice would you give a kid with a ton of talent that wants to move to LA to peruse their dreams in music?
The Music Industry scene here in Los Angeles today is not the one that existed in the late 60's, 70's, or 80's. It started changing radically in the 90's and has continued to do so up to today. If you are a talented newbie and want to move to Los Angeles to pursue your dream in music, you had better do some intense 'due diligence' before you make the move. First and foremost, don't even consider coming out here unless you bring a large bankroll with you. There may be a lot of clubs or venues where you can showcase (along with 4 other acts for the night) but you're not going to make any money. The other factor is that many clubs that used to be in business out here are gone due to the poor economic situation that has gripped the country over the last 6 years. If you've done your homework, you should have established contacts BEFORE you ever come out here. Hopefully it's with a Record Label or Manager/Management Company and/or Booking Agent/Agency. Without having those connections, it's going to be a struggle.
There is one very good reason for coming out to L.A. If you're looking for other musicians to form a band with or to support your music and play with you, I'm sure that you will find someone that fits the bill. There are more unemployed musicians out here than, most probably, in any city in the United States. My advice, stay home until you know what you're getting into. The Internet is for contacting good connections with Industry people who ARE INTERESTED in your music and talents. Use your telephone to call people. Eventually, if you don't get discouraged, you'll get the opportunity to speak with the person you've been trying to reach. Keep publishing your music on your own webpage, Facebook page, etc., etc. There's nothing wrong with having stars in your eyes as long as it doesn't make you blind to obvious reality. In other words, get your, proverbial, 'shit together' before you make any moves to the land of dreams because if you don't, that move could end up as a nightmare.......and you don't want to go through that scenario.