“Im 68 years old. And the way things are happening right now, I mean its very cool.” Sonny Knight smiled. “To have the recognition I do now” he continued “I mean, I owe it all to the cats that I play with. They motivate me to do what i do. I watch them play, and see how they do things and there’s a part of me that isn’t used to it, but they’re teaching me as I go. Not just musically, I mean it’s everything from using the phones to different ways we travel.” Sonny Knight’s been all over the place. He fell in love with music at an early age. After releasing a 45rpm single in 1964, he played with many different bands from Mississippi to California and back home in Minnesota. Now, two months off the release of their sophomore album Sooner or Later, Sonny Knight and the Lakers found themselves back in the welcoming arms of the Dakota Jazz Club for their annual run of holiday shows, Two shows a night, two nights in a row.
The Dakota is a tricky venue to spot. It’s nestled in the corner of the Target plaza along Nicollet mall, sharing a lobby with a set of revolving doors and a couple of escalators. Its unique in its size, an intimate venue compared to the stadiums and theaters just blocks away. The stage is lower than the height of the dining tables, and there truly isn’t a spot in the house that isn’t a good view. It’s in these types of settings that Sonny Knight really seems to shine. “We aren’t gonna let you sit down. we’ll keep it going.” he told me. “The people make us special. I know I work off the people. I do my best to get them involved with us by getting them up dancing, and making sure they’re having just as good a time as we are. The band makes things happen, and the people bring the energy.” Energy is something the band never seems to be lacking. “we try to keep the energy tuned up.” Sonny laughed. “I mean, The Lakers are all young cats, and I’m the old cat. you’ll find that in the crowd too, you’ll see mom and dad out there AND their kids. it’s great to have all these different types of people together.”
It’s been a busy year for the band. 2016 began back at The Dakota playing with former members of James Brown’s band. In between many shows, including the Secret Stash Soul Revue, Sonny Knight and The Lakers recorded and released Sooner or Later and began a small tour around Minnesota and the upper Midwest. “We’ve been doing quite a bit of that [touring] lately. We’ve got people in the band with families and all that, and we do a good job of making it work. We look forward to having time off to do the things we want to do, and be with families and friends. We do a lot of moving around, and it’s a lot more than I thought it would be, especially now that we’re really into this. But that’s a good thing. It doesn’t let me sit around, ya know? I’m still busy doing what I need to do.”
Long tours often mean playing the same songs night after night, which can get very tiring for the band. Fortunately, everyone knows how to keep it fresh. “A lot of the people in the band are wrapped all around in music. We listen to everything. Sometimes at home I’ll find myself listening to smooth jazz, or I’ll put on Pachelbel – Canon In D Major” Sonny said. “You kinda gotta be all over the place, especially when you’re performing for people. You can’t just be locked into one thing, you know? I mean, Its wide open for us. We don’t know where we’re gonna go next. We’ve got country fills, Otis Redding fills, James Brown fills, we’re still asking where we’re gonna end up at, and we’re still in the mix of it all.”
Later in the night, The Lakers took to the stage for a night of fun, with Sonny getting everyone up out of their seats and dancing, some for the entire night. Each Laker got a chance to show off their skills, most notably saxophonist Cole Pulice, whose funky solos were a hit with the crowd and the band; the Lakers cheering him on when he played. “I’m so happy with the cats that I play with” Sonny told me about his band. “They’re like family. They’ve been rallying behind me as i’m rallying behind them, and pushing me to different heights, even more than I imagined that I could be. I couldn’t ask for a better family than the Lakers. It’s fun, I’m taking this ride and enjoying what I got while i’m still here.”
Sonny Knight and the Lakers play another two shows tonight, December 17th, at The Dakota Jazz Club. a 7:00 early show and 9:00 late show.
Their Latest release Sooner or later Can be found wherever music is sold.
Special thanks to Sonny Knight and Eric Foss for their time for an interview, and more importantly, for the music.