Controversial manager of Grand Funk Railroad
Wednesday 10 November 2004
The trio Grand Funk Railroad were the American grassroots rock sensation of the early Seventies, in 1971 selling out Shea Stadium in New York faster than the Beatles. That year, they had their only UK Top Forty single - a cover of "Inside Looking Out" by the Animals. However, they were not loved by the critics and were tagged "the worst band in the world" by
Rolling Stone magazine.
Richard Terrance Knapp (Terry Knight), singer, songwriter and manager: born Flint, Michigan 9 April 1943; married (one daughter); died Killeen, Texas 1 November 2004.
The trio Grand Funk Railroad were the American grassroots rock sensation of the early Seventies, in 1971 selling out Shea Stadium in New York faster than the Beatles. That year, they had their only UK Top Forty single - a cover of "Inside Looking Out" by the Animals. However, they were not loved by the critics and were tagged "the worst band in the world" by Rolling Stone magazine.
The entrepreneur Terry Knight, their manager, was the driving force behind the group's rise to US superstardom and album sales of 20 million plus. He designed their album sleeves, helped them pick cover versions, encouraged the group's frontman Mark Farner to write about the issues of the day, and created a mean and moody image which made the boogie of Grand Funk irresistible to American teenagers. "The critics don't count, the kids do," Knight famously said.
However, the musicians eventually tired of his schemes and fired Knight in March 1972, starting a series of multi-million lawsuits lasting over three years. "The group had just three months to wait until their contract with me expired. They could have just walked. How stupid can you get?" said Knight. He had bankrolled the band in the early days and signed them directly to his company, Good Knight Productions, subsequently leasing their recording masters to Capitol. Knight claimed,
My commission was only 15 per cent, after all expenses. Most managers today make upwards of 25 per cent. Now I get 50 per cent of what they get on what they call the bad, old, Terry Knight days records. That's what the 1974 Federal Settlement Agreement gave me.
Born in Flint, Michigan, in 1943, Richard Terrance Knapp changed his name to the hipper Terry Knight when he began broadcasting first on WTAC in Flint and then on CKLW, a radio station based in Windsor, Ontario, but serving the lucrative Detroit market. The budding DJ fancied himself as a singer and began fronting Terry Knight & The Pack, covering The Yardbirds' "You're a Better Man Than I" and scoring a Top Fifty US hit in 1966 with a dramatic rendition of "I (Who Have Nothing)", the English adaptation of an Italian song, " Uno Dei Tanti".
Terry Knight & The Pack appeared on Dick Clark's television show Where The Action Is, opened for the Rolling Stones in Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago and Knight met everybody from Andrew Loog Oldham to Phil Spector. He claimed to have started the "Paul McCarney is dead" rumours by writing a song called "Saint Paul" after witnessing the Beatles arguing during the recording of The White Album at Abbey Road during a trip to London.
After an unsuccessful attempt at a solo career, in early 1969 he put together the singer and guitarist Mark Farner and the drummer Don Brewer, who had backed him in the Pack, and the bassist Mel Schacher, naming them Grand Funk Railroad, after the Grand Truck Railroad line. Knight had a consultancy agreement with Capitol Records and felt the label should have a power trio like Cream or Jimi Hendrix Experience on its books, but he made sure they signed the band via his production company.
Three weeks after Woodstock, Grand Funk Railroad opened the Atlanta Pop Festival and made a strong impression on the 125,000 people waiting to see Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin. Word of mouth and constant touring helped their début single, the bluesy "Time Machine" and their first album, On Time, into the charts in the autumn of 1969. The follow-up, Grand Funk, made the Top Ten in February 1970 and went gold.
Knight explained, "Grand Funk Railroad had a basic, uneducated, visceral style. People wanted to return to the hard-rock roots of music and we were among the first to recognise it." Knight could afford to spend $100,000 on a block-long billboard in Times Square, New York, to promote their third album, Closer To Home, throughout the summer of 1970.
He relished being the enfant terrible of the heavy-duty managers. He even took out advertisements in Rolling Stone magazine in order to wind up its writers. One depicted Knight making an obscene gesture. "That was just a snapshot of me goofing off. For all the critics, it was a big 1-800-FUCK-YOU. I ran it in Billboard and Cashbox as well," he recalled. He antagonised the press to such an extent that, out of 150 journalists invited to a press conference announcing Grand Funk Railroad's Shea Stadium concert, only six turned up. Knight claimed that
the kids distrusted whatever the media said to them. That included Rolling Stone: if the critics said Grand Funk was bad, I knew the kids would go for them. That was the Grand Funk strategy: distrust the media.
In 1970, Grand Funk Railroad issued Live Album and a further two multi-million selling studio efforts - Survival and the proto-grunge E Pluribus Funk - within 13 months, before falling out with Knight. He sued them, famously showing up at a charity concert in December 1972 with two deputy sheriffs and a court order enabling him to seize his former charges' equipment. He boasted,
I was their mentor, their manager, their publisher, as well as being their producer, and in effect the record company. I produced all those multi-platinum albums for them, the ones that are still selling.
Don Brewer, the drummer, certainly conceded that "the group changed in 1972. After leaving Terry, it was sink or swim time." In an attempt to circumvent legal moves, they shortened their name to Grand Funk, but Knight threw a further spanner in the works by compiling a hits album, Mark, Don & Mel, 1969-1971, without their approval. The trio eventually settled the dispute with him, regaining the rights to their full name and their mechanical royalties, but having to hand over 50 per cent of everything else on the six albums he had been involved with.
Now managed by their former roadie Andy Cavaliere, they recruited a keyboard player, Craig Frost, and worked with the producer Todd Rundgren on We're An American Band (1973) and Frank Zappa on Good Singin' Good Playin' (1976). They broke up in 1977, then reformed in 1996, with Brewer and Schacher the only original members of what is now a five-piece Grand Funk Railroad.
Knight also fell out with Bloodrock, the other rock group he had signed to his production company, and flopped with Mom's Apple Pie and Wild Cherry, the two pop acts on his Brown Bag label. He retired from the music business in the mid-Seventies, although in 1999 he took part in a VH-1 Behind The Music documentary about Grand Funk Railroad.
Knight was stabbed to death during a domestic dispute at the apartment he shared with his daughter and her boyfriend in Temple, Texas.
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