Terry Knight: Detroit’s Singing Deejay

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Everybody can name a singing cowboy, but how about a singing deejay? Willie Nelson is among the most successful of the singing D.J’s; however, the first name that popped into my head was Terry Knight from Michigan. Back in the sixties, Terry Knight & The Pack had six singles that made it into Joel Whitburn’s book of Billboard’s Top Pop Singles. Most of their releases were regional hits, confined to the Motor City or the Midwest, but the single I Who Have Nothing, a remake of a Ben E. King song, reached #46 nationally. It did even better in Detroit, rising into CKLW’s Top 10.

Terry Knight (Richard Terrance Knapp), born in Lepeer, MI in 1943, graduated from high school in 1961. Shortly thereafter, he took a job at WFYC in Alma, MI. A year later, Knight relocated to Flint, MI to jock at Top 40 station WTAC. He moved into major market Detroit in 1963 as Terry Knight/ “Jack the Bellboy” at Storer Broadcasting owned WJBK.  The concept of promoting a deejay called “Jack the Bellboy” was intriguing, so I did some research into it (click here to learn more).  Storer retained ownership of the moniker “Jack the Bellboy,” because it was valuable to the company. Over the years, the station had half a dozen jocks who played the role of “Jack the Bellboy.” When Terry was hired by WJBK, station management was underwhelmed with his last name “Knapp.” He worked the evening or night shift, so Terry changed his air-name to Terry “Knight.” In an aircheck included with this article, he refers to himself as both “Jack the Bellboy” and as Terry Knight — all in the same show and sometimes in the same break.

CKLW survey, Sept. ’64. Knight is 2nd from the right

Knight exited WJBK six months later — due to a disagreement with management over his acceptance of a promotional incentive. Knight went back to Flint, WTRX radio this time, for a short while. Then, in summer ’64, Knight landed the deejay gig of a lifetime: 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. at CKLW-Windsor, ON. The 50,000 watt signal from the Canadian border town blasted into Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo, and 18 states, and much of Canada, too. (CKLW was a rock station at the time, but this was prior to it switching to the Drake format). Knight’s evening show was a prime teen attraction. He played the latest British Invasion songs. On a weekly schedule, CKLW and the U.K. pirate station Radio Caroline jointly aired a cooperative music show: Jocks on both sides of the ocean would exchange information on the popular music, artists and trends in their respective countries. Knight told his listeners and the Brits that he learned to play the guitar in 1962 and that he was a singer. Legend has it that Knight was the first American DJ to play a Rolling Stones record on the radio. That story goes that his early support for the band led to Knight receiving the honorary title “The Sixth Stone.”  Knight was a tireless self-promoter, and it is hard to distinguish between fact and fiction, so he might have given himself that title. It is factual that Terry Knight met and hobnobbed with the Stones during their 1964 North American tour.

Terry Knight, circa ’63

Terry Knight wanted more freedom, fame and money than radio offered. Working as a DJ in a major market didn’t satisfy his craving for an extravagant lifestyle. At CKLW, he met some of the biggest names in entertainment, but radio was too confining. Knight couldn’t do what he wanted to do on-air: radio programmers imposed too many rules and format restrictions. Knight’s dissatisfaction with radio was not surprising to his coworkers. They said that throughout his radio days, Terry dreamed of becoming a recording artist, or maybe a songwriter and/or a record producer. After seven months at CKLW, Knight left radio for good — determined to carve out a personal career in the music business. Knight was a female magnet: In December ’64, when he resigned from CKLW, Detroit newspapers reported: “Girls in Detroit sobbed the night Terry Knight announced he was quitting CKLW.”

Detroit Free Press, Nov. ’66
Detroit Free Press, Nov. ’66

In 1965, Knight was focused on becoming a rock ‘n’ roll star, but he needed a band. He had heard of a group called the Jazz Masters. They were playing a local gig and he liked their sound. He persuaded the band members to accept him as their front man, promoter, singer and sometimes songwriter. (Years later, band members said Knight wasn’t much of a singer, but he was a flamboyant front man who attracted lots of attention). The band’s name was changed first to The Pack, and before long, it becane Terry Knight & The Pack. The group appeared on Dick Clark’s nationally syndicated show Where the Action Is. The band opened for big name acts — The Rolling Stones, Dave Clark 5, and The Yardbirds. Actually, of their single releases, Terry Knight & The Pack scored their second most popular regional hit by covering the flip side of a Yardbirds’ single. In early ’66 that song, Better Man than I, topped the charts at Detroit and Flint radio stations.

Despite gaining some traction, the band was financially struggling. They achieved a few regional hits in the Midwest and on the East Coast, but they were not getting airplay on the West Coast. (An exception would be the single I Who Have Nothing, which received national exposure). In late ’66, Knight quit the group to pursue a solo career. The Pack continued on without him, but their mere existence was threatened by Knight’s departure. The man was a promoter. Terry Knight & The Pack is probably best remembered as an innovative garage rock band.

Apple Studios London

As part of finding himself, Knight ventured to London with thoughts of acquiring a job as a producer or performer at Apple Records. We are told that Knight met with Paul McCartney and he sat in on a Beatles’ recording session. Knight returned to the U.S. when it became apparent that he had no future with Apple Records. Terry went to NYC and became a record producer. His client list included ? & The Mysterians — a Michigan band that had recorded the #1 smash 96 Tears. Knight’s connections with The Mysterians and The Pack later became of great importance to all parties involved. Knight, as a producer, became affiliated with Capitol Records in the late sixties. His contract with Capitol was flexible. He was allowed to release his own recordings or those of others. One such song, written and performed by Knight, was Saint Paul — an odd Beatles-esque tune about Paul McCartney. Knight’s record sputtered and died, but a cover by another artist was a hit in New Zealand.

Producer/Artist with Capitol Records

In the meantime, two members of The Pack, singer-guitarist Mark Farner and drummer Don Brewer, were struggling to keep band members from starving. In desperation but with doubts, they signed a contract with Knight. He became their manager, producer, press spokesman, and musical mentor. The band needed a third member. With Knight’s assistance, they persuaded former Mysterians’ bass player, Mel Shacher, to join the group. If those names sound familiar, the three men morphed into the super group Grand Funk Railroad. Knight’s music biz knowledge was crucial to their success. Initially, they failed to obtain a record contract. Then Knight worked some promotional magic: Grand Funk would become the opening act at the 1969 Atlanta International Pop Festival. That appearance led to a not so straightforward record contract. The band thought they had a contract with Capitol Records, actually the deal was with Terry Knight’s production company. Knight was the middle man and Terry designed the album covers, selected the songs, and helped mold the band’s “populist” image. Grand Funk became the biggest rock music attraction in the United States. In less than three years, seven of their singles had charted. Plus, they had five gold and/or platinum albums that in total sold more than 20 million copies. In ’71, Grand Funk sold-out Shea Stadium in record time, beating the box office record previously held by the Fab Four. In addition to his deal with Grand Funk, Knight produced and managed a Texas band called Bloodrock. They had a Top 40 hit with the song Children’s Heritage/D.O.A.  Between the two acts, Knight was manager and producer of eight gold and/or platinum releases.

Grand Funk Railroad

Come 1972, almost everything related to Knight’s business was going to hell.  Both Grand Funk and Bloodrock were unhappy with their financial arrangements. Grand Funk band member Mark Farner said: “We knew that a lot of money was being generated by our band. We also knew that our bank account was seeing very little of it.” Grand Funk band members confronted Knight. He said most of the money was directed into a corporate fund and that was invested in non-music enterprises. Closer scrutiny revealed that Knight’s production company owned the rights to the band’s master tapes — their recordings were simply leased to Capitol. Capitol paid Knight 16% on record sales and he passed 6% of that on to the band. Knight’s revenue stream was impressive: a manager’s cut, a share of royalties, 21% of GFR Enterprises (a Knight owned company that collected Grand Funk’s revenues). Band members were angry and hired an entertainment lawyer (Linda McCartney’s brother). Knight was canned and several multi-million dollar lawsuits and counter-suits were filed. Knight sued Grand Funk’s lawyer, citing interference with a contract and he sued the band for breach of contract and fraud. Those claims totaled about $57 million. Grand Funk counter-sued Knight for $8 million, arguing that he misused their monies and defrauded them of their rightful revenues. Knight then filed lawsuits against those parties who were still doing business with Grand Funk. Defendants in those lawsuits included Capitol Records (royalties dispute), assorted retail stores and even concert venues. Knight argued that his contracts were all legally binding and that he’d personally bankrolled Grand Funk when the band was struggling. It was ugly: At one point, prior to a benefit concert at Madison Square Garden, Knight planned to legally seize Grand Funk’s equipment.  Authorities worried that such an action could lead to a riot. Therefore, the concert was allowed to proceed, but after the show Knight’s agents took possession of all of the band’s gear.

The arguments and litigation lasted two years. In February 1974, all lawsuits (30+) were settled. The band got to keep the name Grand Funk Railroad. Knight received large sums of money, publishing rights, and ownership of any associated investments that were contractually his property. As background, in 1972 when everything blew up between Grand Funk and Knight, the band negotiated their own deal with Capitol Records. That was good fortune for Grand Funk. Some of their best selling records were released in the early ’70s — after Knight had been fired. With Knight out of the picture, Grand Funk worked with legendary producer Todd Rundgren,

After the legal settlement, Capitol dropped Knight as a producer/artist. Furthermore, Knight’s deal with Bloodrock went sour. On the positive side, Terry Knight wasn’t exactly hurting for money. He continued to independently produce a few bands, but his future prospects were dim. In ’74, he shut his label, Brown Bag Records, and abandoned the music business. Career problems didn’t derail his social life: Terry dated Twiggy, one of the first super models, and raced cars with Paul Newman. In the mid-’70s Knight battled chemical dependency, but he got straight in the ’80s. At one point, Knight peddled newspaper advertising in Yuma AZ.

Terry Knight’s life ended tragically in 2004. He was living in Temple, TX with his daughter and her boyfriend. Knight was stabbed to death when he intervened in a domestic dispute involving his daughter and her abusive and violent boyfriend. Knight was 61 years-old. Based on the testimony of Knight’s daughter, her lethal boyfriend was sentenced to life in prison.

Below the graphic of the WJBK banner (Knight is second from the right in the jock lineup) are three airchecks featuring Terry Knight. First it’s Terry as “Jack the Bellboy” at WJBK in Detroit. The second track is Dave Shafer introducing Terry on Knight’s first day at CKLW. The last track has Terry back at CKLW, a little more than a year after he resigned from the station. He’s being interviewed by Tom Shannon and promoting his new single Better Man Than I.

WJBK, Jack the Bellboy: Summer 1963 (edited composite of 2 days, running time 6:31)

CKLW, Knight’s first shift: Dave Shafer introduces. July 1964 (edited, running time 1:07)

Knight back at CKLW: Promoting new record on Tom Shannon’s show 1966 (edited with vintage jingle and Terry Knight & The Pack’s single added. Running time 5:13)

Since Terry Knight & The Pack appeared on Where the Action Is, let’s finish this biographical sketch with a performance video. Here’s “I Who Have Nothing.” This was the band’s highest charting song nationally, back in November ’66.

 

Story Credit/Archival Materials: Big 8 Radio.com and Motor City Radio Flashbacks

 

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Author: Steven Smith

Presently editor and historical writer with Puget Sound Media in Seattle. Former radio broadcaster and radio station owner, 1970-1999. Journalism and speech communications degrees. I enjoy researching articles and online reporting that allows me to meld together words, audio and video. P.S. I appreciate and encourage reader comments and opinions.

14 thoughts on “Terry Knight: Detroit’s Singing Deejay

  1. There were a few singing djs in Seattle way back when, Gerry andal and RC Bannon. RC had a somewhat successful recording career
    Andal did lots of local gigs and owned a car dealership in burien

  2. I remember both of those names. Were they both country artists? Pretty sure I played R.C. at KBFW in Bellingham early 70s. Would need to do as search to ‘tickle my memory gland’ as Charlie Brown said when he was Harvey Brown at KPUG.

    1. Yes, country. Bannon was at KAYO for some time before charting some hits
      Andal did some work at daytimer KQIN in Burien, if I remember correctly.

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