Much like soul singers Charles Bradley and Lee Fields, Sonny Knight has been making music for nearly fifty years, but recently the 66-year-old performer has found a new zest for the stage with the help of his young whipper snapper band The Lakers. Together the group released their aptly titled debut album I’m Still Here earlier this year, and since then they’ve been gaining constant momentum. This week Sonny Knight & the Lakers are recording their first ever live album, a two-night stand at the Dakota Jazz Club in their home base of Minneapolis. To celebrate, the band decided to share their personal favorite live albums and videos with Glide Magazine.
Eric Foss, the Lakers’ drummer and founder of Minneapolis’ Secret Stash Records, says, “Heading into the recording of our first live album, we thought it’d be fun to share with each other what some of our favorite live albums and performances are. Then we got to thinking, it’d be even more fun to put it out there for anyone who might be interested. At the end of the day, we all just love talking about music.”
Sonny Knight (Vocals)
Artist: James Brown
Live album/Performance: Live at the Boston Garden: April 5, 1968
I don’t think they ever made an album of this. But there is a DVD of it, and a documentary about that night. The concert took place the night after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There was talk about cancelling the show, but instead they televised it. Instead of going out and getting in trouble, everyone stayed home and watched the show on TV. That show has become a big influence for me.
Cole Pulice (Saxophones)
Artist: Fela Kuti and The Africa 70 with Ginger Baker
Live album/Performance: Live! (1971)
The myth surrounding how outrageous Fela’s live performances were sets the bar for any live Fela recording incredibly high. Add in cheap recording rigs paired with the enormous size of Fela’s band, and you are bound to find a few warts on each of his live records. All things considered, I had to pick one of them, and this one inches above the rest (Knitting Factory’s archival reissue of Fela and the Egypt 80 live in Detroit in 1986 is a close second, but I have always liked Fela’s 70s band more). The first side of Live! is Fela doing Fela at his best – he and his band absolutely slay. Ginger Baker sits in for Side Two, and he sounds surprisingly good for not being Tony Allen.
Artist: Ray Charles
Live album/Performance: Live
Two stunning performances, Newport Jazz Festival in 1958 and Herndon Stadium in Atlanta in 1959, on one record. Both had been previously released separately (Ray Charles in Newport & Ray Charles in Person) and are both among the great live shows in their own right. Ray’s band is tight as a drum with the perfect amount of grit, like a jazz big band with some street smarts. The version of “Drown in My Own Tears” at Herndon Stadium is maybe the best one in existence—Ray Charles counts it off so slow, and his band plays it with such a heart-broken lurch, that it sounds like the whole operation might grind to a halt.
Artist: Pharoah Sanders
Album: Live at the East (1971)
Pharoah at his most fervent and feverish. The spiritual vigor of his playing comes across better than ever. Sure, he squeals his heart out on all of his records, but it’s here, amidst the shouting and howling of the impassioned crowd that Pharoah as mystic preacher is best realized. Cosmic, ethereal, and nightmarish.
Artist: Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
Album: Ugetsu (1963)
The first AB&TJM record I ever picked up (ended up being the first of many), and I did so only because I saw Wayne Shorter’s name on it. The Messengers were absolutely unbeatable when both Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard held court. Shorter’s compositions on this record are top-notch, particularly the album opener, “One by One,” which is among Shorter’s best. Art Blakey sounds COLOSSAL on this record. The walls of Birdland must have reverberated for a week after this show was done.
Eric Foss (Drums)
Artist: Aretha Franklin
Live album/Performance: Aretha In Paris
Video from is the ’68 Amsterdam show…
One night the misses and I came home form the bar and started cruising youtube for concerts to watch. I think we may have actually just come back from watching some shitty cover band take a dump on some of our favorite R&B tunes. Anyhow, we stumbled over an Aretha in Amsterdam concert from ’68. Without exaggeration, I actually began tearing up at one point. I was just totally overwhelmed by how powerful her and her band were (okay, and a little drunk). Anyhow, like a year later I stumbled over this Live in Paris record (also recorded in ’68) at Down In The Valley (awesome place to get great soul records for dirt cheap). I brought it back to the office and put it on. Once again, I was knocked flat on my ass. I remember finishing the record, flipping it back over to the A-side and starting it right over again. I took it home and played again for my wife. What I love about it is how much her and the band all dig in. They play fast and hard. I feel like a lot of bands playing soul music today (even some really good ones) have this really weak approach to playing live. I don’t go in for that. I get making the record sound very controlled, but there is nothing wrong with giving this stuff some teeth on stage. It worked for the Queen of Soul!
Artist: James Brown
Live album/Performance: Say It Live and Loud: Live in Dallas 08.26.68
This is a weird one for me. I have spent hundreds of hours watching and listening to James Brown live. Obviously Live At The Apollo 1-3 are essential. They changed everything (for me and the rest of the world). They’re brilliantly crafted shows, and brilliantly crafted RECORDS! But, I truly believe that 1968 was the best year for James Brown. Apollo 2 was recorded in ’67. The album I’m talking about was recorded in ’68 but not even released until the 90s. Again, it’s another example of the band digging in. They’re hitting hard and not holding anything back. If there has ever been a question in your mind about the fact that Clyde Stubblefield is the baddest motherfucker to ever pick up a pair of drum sticks, just listen to this record.
Live album/ Performance: Heartworn Highways
First things first, I totally copped this one from Blair. We were staying in some shit bag motel in Virginia and he said, “you gotta see this Townes Van Zandt video tonight.” After eating some Ramen I made in a coffee pot, we sat on the flea infested bed and watched this video on youtube (Townes’ first appearance in the film). It was like someone reached right down inside of me and ripped my heart clear out of my body. It literally haunted me for the next month or so. That’s not a joke. So obviously this one doesn’t show off the craft of making a live album, or even a full concert. But, what I love about every single performance in this film, is that it’s raw as hell. The first performance in the film is Guy Clark doing “Old Time Feeling.” It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve EVER heard. There are a bunch of clams in it.
Bryan “Lumpy” Highhill (Trumpet)
Artist: Al Hirt and Pete Fountain
Live album/Performance: Super Jazz 1
One of my favorite all-around trumpet players. Incredible tone and makes playing the trumpet seem like the easiest possible thing you could do. Great New Orleans jazz album with a lot of banter. Perfect sets from both groups, then the groups play together.
Artist: Max Roach and Clifford Brown
Live album/Performance: Live at the Bee Hive
Jazz man, rough recording, rough lives, jam sesh, halitosis, awesome solos.
Blair Krivanek (Guitar)
Artist: Johnny Cash
Live album/Performance: Live at Folsom Prison
This record is badass. To entertain a crowd of inmates and still come off as the baddest motherfucker in the room is truly incredible. Songs about killing, songs about drugs, songs about killing while on drugs, songs about doing time, songs about dying to cover up infidelity, all performed with a band that sounds so deceivingly simple, yet perfectly dynamic and razor sharp. One of my favorite moments on the album happens during the second verse of “Dark As The Dungeon” when Johnny calls out an inmate for laughing and jokingly tells the audience that the album is being recorded. The crowd applauds loudly and the dynamics of the band completely mirror the intensity of the crowd noise. It gives me chills every time I hear it!
Fuck modern country!
Sam Harvey-Carlson (Organ)
Artist: Otis Redding
Live album/Performance: Historic Performances Recorded at the Monterey International Pop Festival (Split LP w/ Hendrix)
Pretty much my favorite Otis live set. The MGs put so much more behind these tunes than on the records. Booker T performs a pretty fucking awesome organ transition around 6:17.
Artist: Sam Cooke
Live album/Performance: Live At The Harlem Square Club
Sam Cooke normally sounds polished and clean on his recordings. This record is very very loose. I’m not positive, but I think King Curtis was the bandleader. Its sounds like they maybe rehearsed this set twice before cutting a record? The rough edges show off Sam’s showmanship and the band prowess. Respect to the intro of “It’s All Right/Sentimental Reasons.”
Artist: Jimmy Smith
Live album/Performance: Live in 65
The first tune in this set taught me more about playing a hammond than anything else I’ve seen or heard. There is no one in history that can play a hammond like this. No one. It’s not even close. The tune is called “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” There is an album of the same name with a huge orchestral arrangement by Oliver Nelson. This live version has sort of a soul jazz feel and opens up a bit more.
Tony Beaderstadt (Trombone)
Artist: Johnny Cash
Live album/Performance: Johnny Cash Live at San Quentin
What I like most about this is the interaction between Johnny and the crowd. While he banters with them, the crowd provides a buzzing energy to the show. You can really get a sense of the size of the room where it was large enough to fit a decent amount of people but not too large where you can’t really hear the crowd in the recording.
John (Chief Engineer)
Artist: James Booker
Live album/Performance: Resurrection of the Bayou Maharajah
I first heard this record on Sept. 4 2010, the day I got married, we were dancing in my friend’s living room and Sam H-C pulled this record off the shelf and I was floored. Booker was a talented, but very mentally ill dude who had an amazing take on New Orleans piano. On this record he’s playing to 30-40 equally inebriated fans at The Maple Leaf Bar.
Artist: Black Sabbath
Live album/Performance: Paris 1970
My favorite thing about live records is that they capture a band at a moment in time, and this video does just that. I don’t know if this was ever released, I only know it in youtube form. I end up watching this whole thing late some night every winter quietly whispering HOLY SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT to myself. Insane, dumb muscle from one of the best bands ever.
Sonny Knight & the Lakers play December 18 & 19 at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis! For more info visit sonnyknight.com.