Season at Sol Concludes
Newspaper article, 1970s
Date and publication unknown

Musician Lonnie Knight is appearing at the Sol Coffeehouse through Friday. Showtime is 8 p.m. and admission is free. Knight’s performance will be the last for this coffeehouse season.

Knight plays guitar and harp. He also composes much of his own material. “I learn and write things from walking around.”

The artist played in high school bands and later joined up with Chad Mitchell. He has appeared in clubs and at colleges in the Minnesota area.

“The original material he does is the best part of his show,” stated the University of Minnesota. A release from Wisconsin State said, “Good performer and excellent person to work with. Would like to have him back.”

“I became very bored playing rock,” Knight stated. “It was loud, redundant, pointless. So I began to play alone, where all I had was melody and lyrics and one guitar. I began in a coffeehouse called Head’s Together for $7 a night and a free sandwich.”

“I’m very happy to say things are better now. I do this because I don’t know how to do anything else, and I wouldn’t want to if I could.”

Performers who have influenced Knight’s style include John Sebastian, Randy Newman, Elton John and Jerry Jeff Walker. He is “in good company with all of them,” Knight said. Knight describes his music as “not really folk music, nor is it rock. The material I write is rock-influenced because I played rock for years, and it’s quiet now.”

In the future, Knight plans to add a piano to his act. He may record with a studio this summer.

Season at Sol Concludes
Newspaper article, 1970s
Date and publication unknown

Musician Lonnie Knight is appearing at the Sol Coffeehouse through Friday. Showtime is 8 p.m. and admission is free. Knight’s performance will be the last for this coffeehouse season.

Knight plays guitar and harp. He also composes much of his own material. “I learn and write things from walking around.”

The artist played in high school bands and later joined up with Chad Mitchell. He has appeared in clubs and at colleges in the Minnesota area.

“The original material he does is the best part of his show,” stated the University of Minnesota. A release from Wisconsin State said, “Good performer and excellent person to work with. Would like to have him back.”

“I became very bored playing rock,” Knight stated. “It was loud, redundant, pointless. So I began to play alone, where all I had was melody and lyrics and one guitar. I began in a coffeehouse called Head’s Together for $7 a night and a free sandwich.”

“I’m very happy to say things are better now. I do this because I don’t know how to do anything else, and I wouldn’t want to if I could.”

Performers who have influenced Knight’s style include John Sebastian, Randy Newman, Elton John and Jerry Jeff Walker. He is “in good company with all of them,” Knight said.

Knight describes his music as “not really folk music, nor is it rock. The material I write is rock-influenced because I played rock for years, and it’s quiet now.”

In the future, Knight plans to add a piano to his act. He may record with a studio this summer.

by Jeanne Andersen

On November 13, 1968, the Jokers Wild had been using the empty club as a rehearsal space.  At about 11:30 pm, a fire started under the stage, engulfing the west end of the building. The Robbinsdale and Crystal Fire Departments fought the fire for three hours.  The cause of the fire was never determined.

The Jokers Wild had left their instruments there, and lost $20,000 worth of musical equipment that they were using courtesy of Park Music in St. Louis Park.  There was no insurance coverage on the equipment and Sunn Amps refused to replace the destroyed equipment after the band drove it all back to the Sunn factory in Portland, Oregon.  The band switched to Custom Amps and a PA, through Park Music, but the band was not happy with the sound and decided to make a switch and go to Torp’s Music in Richfield and obtain Marshall Stacks for Denny and Lonnie (two stacks each).  David Anthony bought the band a Voice of the Theater PA system with cabinets and monitors.  (Thanks,

Someplace Else

The Indiana Penn
Indiana University of Pennsylvania

My first glimpse of Lonnie Knight was Iast Friday night at the coffeehouse in the Union. He was taking a picture of the “Crystal.” I didn’t know that he was the person I was supposed to interview. I just noticed a really, really tall man in a brown shirt and blue jeans, with a flaming orange beard, clicking away with his camera. Then, after the Crystal finished playing, he was on stage, and I was told that I could see him in 45 minutes. So I settled down and listened, and listened, and listened. He had the audience enraptured with his music, his personality and with the witty remarks with which he punctuated his songs.

The Youth Forum Fargo-Moorhead
By Nancy Edmonds, Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 27, 1968

It takes four, five, or six members for most area rock groups to produce the highly desirable hard rock trio sound.  Sometimes the final product just doesn’t seem worth the effort.

The Jokers Wild of Minneapolis, who played in Moorhead and in Valley City last week, prove that three members are more than adequate for a trio. As an added bonus for audiences observant enough to appreciate this, they make music that is much more than one would expect.

The three Jokers men provide originality as well as technique in their music, some of which is their own and the rest personal versions of underground regulars. Besides being the first rock trio to play for F-M teens (lounge performers excluded), they are without a doubt the best group to have played at the Amory in the past year. 

The three men, besides having top-quality equipment and far better than shoulder-length hair, have names. The lead guitarist is Lon Knight; Denny Johnson plays bass guitar; and Pete Huber attacks the drums. All sing, and all sing well.

They admit to no ages. “You have to be young to make the teenyboppers listen,” Lon explained, “and you have to be older to attract the older kids, who are more seriously interested.” Therefore, they are timeless.

Full-time serious musicians, they travel from 60,000 to 100,000 miles a year, according to Pete. He said they’ve played in Chicago a lot, in Iowa, and around the area in places like Crookston, Jamestown, and the L.R.C. at Halstad.

Though they still are working out of Minneapolis, a change is going to come. In the first part of September, they plan on moving to the West Coast, specifically Hollywood, in hopes of finding someone who knows what to do with them. This is their assessment of the major hang-up of being a Midwestern group hoping for better: no one here knows what to do with talent on more than a local scale.

“You can only go so far in Minneapolis,” Lon said. “Every good band there has gone that far. But after that you may as well beat your head against a brick wall, because there’s nowhere else to go.”

“There is no one in Minneapolis, Fargo, or the rest of this area who knows how to make you go farther. So we’re going to look somewhere else.”

Denny added, with conviction born of many van-crammed Midwestern miles, “We’ve been around here a long, long time.”

Van cramping is directly responsible for their being a trio, Pete said. When the group was formed (on November 18, 1966, Denny decided), it had been five members, one of which Lon wasn’t. He joined a little later.

But as the years and miles passed, people kept dropping out who couldn’t be replaced. Eventually, as of last March 3, there were only three Jokers left, so they decided to be a trio.

“It’s hard to find five people who can get along with each other, spending most of their lives riding in a van sitting on top of each other. So now they’re only three of us and we have two vans. We get along fine,” Pete said hopefully.

The two vans, recognizable by flowers and their collective name artistically smeared across the sides, contain other things besides cramped men. They carry, in addition to Pete’s triple set of Rodgers drums, eight powerful Sunn amplifiers supplied to them through an endorsement agreement with the company. The sound put out by their two guitars and three microphones through this system is awesome. They are loud, very loud; this is incidental to the fact that they are above all very, very good. 

Aside from Lon‘s comment theat Minneapolis won’t do a thing for its groups and their general agreement that this is a ridiculous place to start from, they find things to appreciate all over the place. Like good audiences – and they emphasized that the Morehead Armory crowd was very good, though “it could’ve been a little bigger.”

They admitted that the spontaneous applause after and even during each number was not wholly unappreciated. “We just fall all over applause,” Pete said. “Like any other group, we play much better when the audience is with us.” Morehead was with them.

“We’re very ego-conscious,” Lon told The Forum apologetically.

But they are not so temperamental that an antagonistic audience turns them off altogether. They sounded almost as good when facing a small crowd of Valley City teenagers who thought they “didn’t play enough funky songs for dancing.”

Their material, which doesn’t make much room for “funkiness” and white R&B, is about three-fourths original material. All of them write, mostly separately. Denny explained, “We find it hard to stay in one room together long enough to collaborate.”

Using this material in a show takes discreet arrangement. “We play a song that everyone knows, so the kids can sing along or whatever; they’re not used to a group‘s own songs. Then we ram a couple of our own songs down their throats and retreat to a well-known song,” Lon said.

He feels that the reluctance of both groups and audiences to accept original material is the reason that no real, distinct sound has managed to emerge from the Midwest or even survive long in its own territory.

The well-known half of their repertoire isn’t top 40, but is underground rock. They do the Doors’ “Hello I Love You” with an ease usually foreign to non-psychotic groups; they are equally comfortable with “Purple Haze” and Sunshine of Your Love,” both trio standards along with “Seasons of the Witch“ and “Born to Be Wild.” Everything is a reworked Jokers Wild arrangement, not a Xerox copy.

Sam Cook’s classic “Shake” is a showcase for the most inspired quarter-hour drum solo in the history of long-haired virtuosity. Hair flying all over the place covering almost as much territory as drumsticks, Pete break sticks, loses sticks, covers every inch of his triple set of drums and five cymbals, bites his lips, breathes hard, and keeps going while Denny and Lon wander off the stage and watch from the back of the audience. Finally they amble back on and wind up the number, sometimes to thunderous applause and sometimes to polite clapping. As drummers go, Pete Henry is quite good. One of the very best, in fact. 

An original number called “Yourself” (I think) which Denny announces is a “freak-out number,” offers them all a chance to show off. Lon’s guitar work displays a variety of styles in quick succession from lightning-fast fingered riffs to “bottleneck” stylings with a metal tube on his left hand. He uses a few electronic effects, but relies mostly on his own technique, which is ample. Lon, a 6’7” wire thin image of the Cream’s Ginger Baker, shapes himself around his guitar and asks a lot of it.

Denny’s bass does everything a bass should do if the musician knows how to use everything his instrument can possibly produce. Denny walks aimlessly back-and-forth, maybe dancing a little to even things up, intently looking downward with his foot-and-a-half hair swinging around by itself. He watches the audience more than the others; you get the impression that he isn’t seeing them collectively, but individually.

Peter continues to make his presence felt, too.

When they finish their set, they just walk off. If the audience is interested, they excitedly crowd around the stage and dredge up superlatives. If they’re “lumps,” as Pete indicates they sometimes might be, they just walk off themselves. But something very beautiful has happened.

The Jokers Wild have recorded several times. Currently they have a song, an original called “Sunshine.” It has never been heard here, since it’s on a “yeah, well” type of label and is neither stocked by the stores nor played on the radio.

They will be in Wahpeton August 1 and in Rugby August 2. They need to be seen live to be heard, and hearing them is a necessity for those who like – or don’t like – Midwestern bands.

They are good.

Bayfront Blues
Duluth, MN
August 2015

Acoustic Stage, Saturday 6:30 PM
Lonnie Knight & Bobby Schnitzer

Guitar strings will come alive when Lonnie Knight and Bobby Schnitzer play for us! These two Twin Cities musicians are sure to create something special in the acoustic tent Saturday evening.

A guitarist since the age of 12, singer-songwriter Lonnie Knight has received multiple Minnesota Music Awards. He is also a Lifetime Achievement member of the Mid-America Music Hall of Fame. He has appeared at Bayfront Blues Festival several times as a soloist and as guitarist for the Hoopsnakes and Rene Austin. Lonnie recently returned from a tour of Japan, opening for and serving as lead guitarist for Memphis heavyweight Don Nix. He has three acclaimed solo CDs to his credit, and a new work will be released this fall.

“I would rank Lonnie’s guitar work alongside the best song guitarists in the modern folk world, including Richard Thompson, Patty Larkin, Richard Shindell and Brooks Williams,” wrote Scott Alarik of the Boston Globe.

Minnesota Music Hall of Famer Bobby Schnitzer is a critically acclaimed guitarist from the Twin Cities area. He has worked with a long list of well-known artists, including Al Jarreau, Taj Mahal, Mason Profit, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Doug Maynard. As an established studio musician, producer and artist, Bobby has performed most styles of music, covering everything from rhythm and blues in clubs to jazz and ambient music for restaurants and private events. He is also featured on a series of impeccable instrumental CDs, with some displaying Spanish guitar melodies. For the last several years, Bobby has returned to his roots, focusing on the blues as a vocalist, guitarist and harmonica player. Come see what happens when these two Minnesota favorites get together!

Star Tribune
Concert to Benefit Ailing Minnesota Music Legend Lonnie Knight
By Lillian Speakman
August 25, 2016

This Sunday, the Twin Cities community is gathering to support a Minnesota music legend’s fight against cancer. A concert fundraiser is
being held at the Minnesota Music Cafe to support Lonnie Knight’s battle with cancer and to celebrate the talented guitarist.

Lonnie Knight first began playing the guitar when he was only 12 years old. Today he is recognized as a truly talented guitarist – with several Minnesota Music Awards to prove it. Throughout his career he has released eight albums; the most recent, So We Jump, was released in 2010. Knight has also put extensive effort into other artists’ creations, serving as both a producer and studio musician. A man who for years has focused his energy on music unfortunately now has a new priority.

Knight was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer on April 1. Doctors informed him that not only is this type of cancer incurable, but that for him surgery was not an option. Ultimately for Knight this meant that all that could be done would be to work to prevent further growth and spreading of the tumor.

Despite the news, Knight and his wife Patti are refusing to accept that there is no hope for recovery. Along with chemotherapy, Knight has also been exploring alternative treatments. While they have managed to stay hopeful through this trying time, the cost of treatment has been an unforgiving burden.

The Lonnie Knight’s Cancer Fight benefit concert is an example of the community rallying to support Knight and his wife. However, to Knight the concert means so much more to him than just monetary help. When asked how it felt to know that friends, family and fans were coming together like this to support him, he had a very heartfelt response.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Knight. “I’ve sat and just started crying at times. It’s just an amazing feeling. I had no idea that so many would come to help out.”

Many of those people who are coming to help out are close friends and fellow musicians of Knight. The lineup for the benefit are all artists that Knight has close connections with – including Reid Papke, the Lisa Wenger Band, and Mary Jane Alm, to name a few.

“They’re all close friends,” said Knight. “We’ve done lots of benefits for other folks when they’ve hit hard times.”

Knight is also listed as one of the performers on Sunday night; however, whether he’s able to perform will ultimately depend on how he’s feeling on Sunday. He emphasized that as a musician, it was important to him to continue to perform. “There’s something about playing that revitalizes me,” he said. “This would be a lot harder to do without playing.”

When asked what it meant to him to be considered a Minnesota music legend, he had this very humble response: “It’s really an honor. There are so many incredibly talented artists in this town. Just to be one of them is an honor and even just to be considered one of them is flattering.” Then he added, jokingly, “Mostly it just means I’ve been playing for a long, long time.”

The concert takes place this Sunday, Aug. 28, from 1-7 p.m. The fundraiser will feature a host of musicians, as well as a live auction and raffle. For those interested in further helping Knight’s fight against cancer, friends and family have created a GoFundMe page: Lonnie Knight’s Cancer Fight.

Guy Drake

Unfortunately, Ms. Speakman came up short on her research for this news item. Had she looked into Lonnie’s history, she would have shared with her readers his affiliation with mid-to late-sixties acts like Jokers Wild and The Litter that set the stage for putting Minnesota on the map and goes a long way in explaining why this place enjoys the attention and respect it does today. It has never been and will never be just because of Prince. There’s a lot more to the story! Okay, I’ve gotten that out of my system.

I’ve been listening over and over to an excellent album Lonnie recorded in 2015, Portals.

The Onion
Vol. 41 Issue 33
18-24 August 2005

Saturday August 20
Lonnie Knight, Molly Quinn’s, 8 p.m., free

Local guitarist Lonnie Knight is best known as the six-string welder that powers bar-blues veterans The Hoopsnakes, but he’s quieted things down for his new solo disc, Better Days. On it, the accent is on acoustic folk and finger-picking: Knight displays his talents on a set of originals, including the beatnik-inspired’ “Angel Headed Hipsters,” and a few well-chosen covers, including Spider John Koerner and Willie Murphy’s “I Ain’t Blue.” He’ll play a release show tonight at East Lake Street Irish pub Molly Quinn’s.

Minnesota Music History Channel
December 2016
By Neal Bond

Special Series – “Holiday Lights Channel”
’s Featured Holiday Artists (from the ’80s): Lonnie Knight and Dale Strength

Lonnie and Dale were rivals back in the day. Each guy had his own unique guitar styling and they were both always in the discussion of who was the best guitarist Minnesota ever produced.

Well, I combed the YouTube vaults and found each of them had a Holiday video. So they will be the kickoff artists for this special Minnesota Holiday Channel. I saw them battle it out once before on stage with a band called the Walking Wounded and their guitar work together was nothing short of stupendous.

Tonight they will bring that “magic” to the stage once more with a band called SMOKIN’ SECTION. Aptly named because it is guaranteed when these two guitar giants trade solos the whole place will be ………. Smokin-n-n-n!!

Lonnie is battling cancer and should be sought out to hear whenever he plays….

But if there is any way you can make it out to see him make some honest to gosh GUITAR FIREWORKS with Dale you should drop everything to see this show. Hopefully, there will be more as 2017 unfolds. Normally, I’m scheduled to work on Thursday nights but I have rearranged my schedule so I can make it out to this “Once in a Lifetime” event.

Hope to see you there.

Center Stage Minnesota Podcast
Hosted by Doug MacRostie
November 9, 2010

Minnesota Music Legend Lonnie Knight

Lonnie Knight was there for the first digital recording. Yes, I’m serious. He was working as Staff Guitarist at Sound 80 when 3M built the first digital machine and he was on the very first recording sessions to test it. That’s just one of the numerous examples of why this Minneapolis singer-songwriter with mutliple Minnesota Music Awards rightly is a legend in Minnesota music. Picking up his first guitar back in the ‘60s when he was 12, Lonnie started out as a folkie, then played in some of the Midwest’s seminal bands like Jokers Wild, Neilson-White Band and The Hoopsnakes. His professional career went beyond being a studio musician – he was also a producer for a while in Nashville. His most recent work has gone back to his acoustic roots, and Lonnie Knight will be joining me on Centerstage MN to talk about his new album, “So We Jump,” which is an excellent release of clever acoustic music bringing together many of the best aspects of Lonnie’s music.

My Magazine
Vol. 1 No. 2
December 1981
by Gene Walden


They do a brisk business Sundays at the Rockford House. Afternoons are reserved for polka, and the legion of regulars who turn out are known to cut a wicked rug. But polka ends at six, leaving the night to rock and roll and rock, unlike polka, is not a big draw Sundays in Rockford.

This particular Sunday is no exception. Plenty of empty tables. Plenty of room on the dance floor. Plenty of reason for the Knight-Henley Band, featured attraction for the evening, to consider changing its act to polka.

Knight-Henley could be forgiven for giving a less-than-stirring performance, for succumbing to the after-all-these-years-what-am-I-still-doing-in-a-gig-like-this funk that vocalist and lead guitarist Lonnie Knight speaks of: “We’re very close to having something happening because of all the connections we’ve got, but at the same time we’re so far away from it, it’s painful. You play for thirty people, and you start to pull your hair out.”

Knight-Henley’s performance this night, however, does not reflect the uninspiring setting, and certainly does not mirror any of Knight’s frustration. It is a good, spirited, polished, professional rock act. Not your Holiday Inn lounge act, not your new wave, punk, crank-up-the-amps-and-jam jazz. No gimmicks, no orange hair, no bounding about the stage.

They bill it, appropriately, adult rock, and if the label appeals to you, so will the music. As a group of musicians—talented, accomplished professionals who can write, play, sing, harmonize and weave together a diverse evening of entertainment — Knight-Henley is better than the bands you’ll find in ninety percent of the night clubs on any given night in the Twin Cities.

“If I had to say one thing about our band,” noted Mark Henley, vocalist and acoustical guitarist, “I know we have a good idea of what the music is all about. We really don’t have a gimmick on the stage. We’re just trying to play music that we like, and we’re directing it toward people who are twenty-five and older.”

Blended with the predominately rock sound is a trace of blues, a hint of folk-country and an occasional keyboard-load of jazz, courtesy of keyboardist Bill Busch’s professional past. It is smooth, taut, no frills music. And no need for ear plugs. The group plays selections from Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, the Doors, Little Feat, James Taylor, Weather Report, Christopher Cross, Jimmy Buffet and the Rolling Stones, among others. But the highlight of a night with Knight-Henley is the band’s repertoire of outstanding original tunes. About ten of the forty songs in the three evening sets are written by Knight or Henley, and all are excellent.

Knight-Henley has been together just one year, although Knight, 32, has been playing professionally for fifteen years, and Henley, 35, has been in the business for a decade. Both have released albums locally and Henley has written several songs that have been released nationally by other artists. His selection “Two In Love” was the flip side to “Blue Rhythm Blue,” the number nine single in 1978 by Michael Johnson. Henley has toured extensively with Johnson, and also wrote the title cut on Johnson’s first album, “There is a Breeze.”

The next logical step for Knight-Henley would be a national album release. “We’re geared up almost to do it now,” said Henley. “We just need a little more definable package as to what the Knight-Henley Band is. It’s still evolving. Up until now we’ve been five guys who got together with their varied backgrounds. We’ve got a jazz player, an early rocker, some Johnny-come-lately folk singers. It takes more than a year to sift out where everybody’s coming from so the different points of view come together. We’re just starting to come up with a group we can feel comfortable with.”

“When this band is ready to go,” Henley added, “we will go. In that sense we are a little different from other bands in town. That’s because we’ve spent ten, twelve years at this, and we’ve made some real good connections in the recording industry.”

Don’t look for a locally released Knight-Henley album, though. “We could put out a local record now if we wanted to,” said Henley, “but Lonnie and I have both done that. Next time I get involved in another album, it’s not going to be a local album. I want it to shoot out so people in other parts of the country can hear me.”

“If I had a million songs in me,” said Knight, “I’d do another local album, but you might waste your best stuff on an album that’s only going to sell 4,000 copies, and when that big connection comes, you don’t have anything left.”

In the meantime, Knight-Henley will continue to refine its act, adding some new songs, weeding out some old, and traveling the Minnesota night spot circuit. “I don’t personally think bars are the way to make a living in this business,” said Henley. “We’re doing it now because we don’t have enough of a name or a product to go out and book concerts.”

When that day comes, you can expect a slightly different sound from Knight-Henley. “We can’t go down here to this bar and do anything very out of the ordinary,” Henley explained. “If you want these people to stay here and drink, you’ve got to keep them dancing and keep them happy. They’re not going to listen to too much white fleecy clouds. Whether we like it or not, we are a bar band.”

Added Knight: “It’s very frustrating to try to develop your craft as a writer, as a more artful performer, and then to have to go in and pound out the dance tempo for four hours a night.”

But it is a routine the band is committed to pursuing until the bright lights of the recording and concert industry illuminate the Knight-Henley name. “At least ten times in the last five years I’ve decided to give it up, to stop pursuing a musical career.” said Knight. “That lasts about a week and then I find myself pursuing it again. I don’t know what else I would do. You get older in the business and the realities start to hit home a little more. I know I’ll always be able to make a living in the music business. I don’t know if that dream — if the pie in the sky is really going to be there the way I thought it was going to be ten years ago.”

Henley is convinced that, with patience, their slice of the pie is within reach. “I feel things are going according to plan. I’m still learning. I’m not about to quit. I can’t walk past my guitar in the house without pinging it. My father worked until he was sixty-five. I’m sure not ready to retire yet.”

Along with Knight, Henley, and keyboardist Busch, the band includes Tom Eckhoff, drummer and vocalist formerly with City Mouse; Reid Papke, bass and vocalist; Tom “the Zeeth” Klugherz, sound man and bass vocalist, and Greg Duffy, lights.

“The best thing about this band is that it’s tight,” Henley said. “The musicians play together. It’s a good pleasing sound. That’s what we’re shooting for, just a good solid package that, with the right song, has a good shot at making it.”

My Magazine is a monthly Twin Cities sports, entertainment, and travel publication.

Blue Monday Monthly Online
September 3, 2016
by John Hammer

One of the truly gifted and renowned musicians of the Twin City music scene is Lonnie Knight. He found out just how respected he is when fans, friends and a musical fellowship gathered at Minnesota Music Café in support of Lonnie’s medical situation. The local music world came out in strength for Lonnie who’s been racking up major out-of-pocket expenses while meeting cancer head on, and the show of support was phenomenal.

Smokin’ Section with the flawless duo of Knight and Paul Mayasich led off a day of top-notch music that included Andy Boterman and his Pops, Mike, as Smokin’s rhythm section. Highlighting the first set was Lonnie’s inspiring vocals on Buddy Guy’s “Feels Like Rain” and crowd favorite “Sultans of Swing.”

Adding some punch was James Loney and Lolo’s Ghost as they ushered in a revolving door of guests with Curtiss A and Mick Sterling. This was followed by Mary Jane Alm, Reid Papke, Lisa Wenger, John Franken, Larry Weigand, Bruce McCabe (who sang a funked up version of the Stones “Satisfaction”), Scott Sansby, Greg Inhofer, Dan Neale, Dylan Salfer and too many more to keep track of. Plus, finding another calling was Dee Miller who ‘live’ auctioned a couple dozen items with the help of a hardworking and dedicated volunteer staff.

Before handing off the MC duties to Sterling, Lonnie introduced James Loney as one of the best kept secrets in the Twin Cities. That may be true, but he only needs to look in a mirror to see another best kept secret, and they came out in force to support him…

At the Nightclub 1969
Hard Rock Sound Hits Phone Booth
By Bob Linder

If you like hard, acid rock sounds, the Phone Booth, 1622 Parkwood Lane, has some of the best in a group called Flash Tuesday. The name Flash Tuesday is an update for the group’s old name, Jokers Wild.

“We used to kind of mimic all the teeny bopper groups but then one day we just decided to do our own thing. We’ve never seen a good group make it with imitations of someone else,” Johnson said.

Knight now writes most of the group’s tunes with Johnson running second in production and Gent third.

“We made about five singles with Metro Beat records in Minneapolis,” Johnson said, “but nothing ever happened to them.”

On the stage, Johnson and Knight perform in a kind of free-wheeling, audience participation style that seems to get everyone into the music. Knight is hard-hitting on those slow, loud, jamming blues numbers that are standard with acid rock. He frequently turns down the giant electronic boxes for some harmonica work.

Johnson’s bass is talented and blends well with the guitar although it would be much too loud for the average nightclub. And Gent’s drums are a complete set with at least eight cymbals and two huge base drums, all amplified through the sound system.

Flash Tuesday has a rapport with the generation that is typical of rock groups with a free stage style and wild experimentation (Gent is prone to peeling off his shirt when the action gets heavy).

Johnson said Flash Tuesday will be playing at the Phone Booth for the next four weeks.

The Whole Coffeehouse Presents Lonnie Knight
December 3, 1971
Minnesota Daily
Vol. 73, No. 68

With his low but somewhat raspy voice blending perfectly with his guitar, Lonnie Knight plays music that is a style that’s all his own. Being influenced by rock and folk, he writes most of his own songs, but enjoys singing others’ as well. He himself says that his style is like that of several performers, but he also says that he doesn’t sound like any of them because he can’t play very well. If you have heard his music, you know he is one of the best, so why don’t you come and tell him so and then just sit back and listen.

Coffee Shop Musicians Sing Protest Song
Minneapolis Star Tribune
By Chris Riemenschneider
November 6, 2007

Don’t mess with those folk musicians.

After a small coffee shop in south Minneapolis, Tillie’s Bean, got a cease-and-desist order from the city for having live acoustic music, a group of folk singers raised their voices — or rather, in a sign of the ever a-changing times, their e-mail accounts.

As a result, an ordinance was proposed at the Minneapolis City Council meeting Friday that would allow coffee houses to host minimal acoustic music without an entertainment license.

Currently, a little coffee shop with a quietly strumming guitarist falls under the same city licensing requirement as a large bar hosting a 23-member rock band from Texas.

“Almost everyone agrees it’s an archaic, outdated system but nobody was doing anything about it,” said Leo Whitebird, one of the singer/songwriters who got vocal on the issue.

“At $410 annually, plus a one-time $115 application fee, the license is an expense that small coffee shops cannot afford,” said Tillie’s Bean owner Maggie Turner. She recalled with a pained laugh the day she received the order from city licensing staff, Oct. 16, after almost three years in business.

The city acknowledged that the order was brought on by a sign she put up advertising a children’s sing for National Kids Day outside her shop at 38th Avenue S. and E. 28th Street in the Standish-Ericsson neighborhood.

“Otherwise, I never really advertised when we had music. People in the community just knew about it,” said Turner, who claims she has never heard any complaints from neighbors over the music. “That’s who it affects, the people in this neighborhood who want to get out at night but don’t want to go to a bar.”

Turner said she included live music in the business plan she submitted to the city three years ago but was never told she needed an entertainment license.

“I just paid another $400 to get a license for outdoor seating, and all I have are eight seats out there,” she said.

Ricardo Cervantes, the city’s deputy director of licensing, said the letter to Tillie’s Bean was the result of a routine inspection and “was more about educating businesses on how to operate in compliance.” There was no penalty, he said.

Other shop owners are nonetheless nervous. “It’s hard enough competing with the Starbucks and the Caribous,” said Jerry Nelson at Java Jack’s in south Minneapolis, which doesn’t have an entertainment license but has hosted a popular Friday night “unplugged” showcase, the Mad Ripple Hootenanny.

Diane Ingram, co-owner of the E.P. Atelier coffeehouse and book store in downtown Minneapolis, does get a license each year, but she said, ”it’s a lot of money to swallow for a place like ours that doesn’t really make any money off music.”

Blues/folk singer Lonnie Knight hosts a Tuesday open-mic night there. “More and more people who grew up with our kind of music don’t want to go to bars or nightclubs anymore,” he said. “The city needs to understand the difference between those kinds of places and a little coffee shop that’s not big enough to negatively impact a neighborhood.”

Schiff takes up the cause.

City Council Member Gary Schiff read the musicians’ emails to council members and reacted with an ordinance called Coffee Unplugged Ordinance.

Coffee shops and restaurants that don’t serve alcohol would not need an entertainment license if they have three musicians or fewer without amplifiers. Schiff expects about a dozen businesses to benefit right away from the ordinance, which he believes has solid support from other council members. The proposal will hold a hearing by the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee on Nov. 28.

“The city should still regulate dance clubs that open in neighborhoods and the sound levels of amplified music,” Schiff said, “but I don’t think the city needs to worry about acoustic musicians in coffee shops.”

Even the deputy director of licensing agrees. Exempting the smallest of coffee shops “could be an opportunity to better promote all the great musicians in this city,” said Cervantes.

St. Paul has two of the Twin Cities’ most popular musical coffeehouses, Ginkgo and the Dunn Bros. on Grand Avenue, but it does not seem to have the same problems. “Entertainment licenses start at $164 in the capital city and,” said Ginkgo owner Kathy Sundberg, “it’s all fairly standard and trouble-free.”

Even if the trouble is eased in Minneapolis, folk musicians are not completely satisfied. They think the proposal’s three-musician limit is arcane.

“What if there’s an a cappella group with four members who are quieter than one guy with a guitar?” Whitebird asked.

But the folkies at least seem content that they can still make a difference.  

“Maybe it’s left over from the Vietnam era, but many of us acoustic musicians still have that rabble-rouser side,” said Don Fitzwater, whose email prompted Schiff to act. “I think it did some good in this case.”

Five the Hard Way
By Tom Surowicz
Twin Cities Reader
August 2-8, 1995

Even after losing guitarist Charlie Bingham veteran Twin Cities rockers the Hoopsnakes keep rolling along gigging three nights a week and not giving a shit about being geezers.

Despite what the national press might try to force-feed you, the most popular band in the Twin Cities isn’t Soul Asylum, with Winona Ryder waiting in the wings. Hell, those guys barely live here. Nor is it Sugar, which contains all of one Minnesota member. Or the Jayhawks, who play a couple times a year locally. Or even the New Power Generation, with that short fellow formerly known as a hitmaker. The latter band’s hometown gigs are all attended by private invite, and the words popular and private simply don’t go together. And while reams of press are expended on such up-and-comers as Polara, the Blue Up?, Balloon Guy, Pleasure and Phull Surkle, don’t be snowed by the hype or even the occasional major-label contract. The above are still opening acts. Or 7th Street Entry headliners, at best. Such groups might rise above cur status, and then again, they may not.

The real soundtrack of the Land O’ Lakes includes other bands that seldom ring critics’ chimes, but consistently fill up bars and outdoor fests. These groups don’t reap the glamour of MTV clips, and their CDs sell in the thousands, not the millions. But sell they do, to local fans who are loyal to the point of devotion, filling up venues not just occasionally, but nearly every week of the year. Like it or not, these are the genuine stalwarts of Minnesota music culture. I’m talking about ubiquitous moneymakers such as Tina & the B-Sides, Marin Zellar and GB. Leighton. Plus some house bands that really turn out a house, starting with Dr. Mambos Combo and Trailer Trash. And the oldest and best group of the bunch middle-aged blues-rockin’ heroes, the Hoopsnakes.

Week in and week out, year in and year out, the Hoopsnakes draw rowdy throngs virtually everywhere they play. From funky blues bars to glistening shopping malls…from mammoth outdoor festivals and tent shows to noisy bowling alleys and suburban line-dancing emporiums, the Hoopsnakes are omnipresent and reliable. The heartbeat of the Twin Towns is in Bruce McCabe’s rollicking, two-fisted upright piano. It’s in Jim Novak’s rock-’em, sock-’em aerobic drumming. It’s in Mick Massof’s bouncing bass lines. And until recently, it was also found in Charlie Bingham’s fiery, flag-waving electric guitar, clearly the main solo voice of the Hoopsnakes first decade.

But times change and sounds change. If a band is like a marriage, then the Hoopsnakes are enjoying their second honeymoon. Bingham’s mighty guitar is gone, and that musical divorce had its share of trauma. Founding Hoopsnakes McCabe and Novak both considered throwing in the towel.

But wait: In place of one hot axe man, there are now two. In place of one local legend, barflies now get a pair: Lonnie Davis Knight and David Eiland. The latter gent also brandishes a hot saxophone. Suddenly life is good again. The Hoopsnakes are happy, rejuvenated and still pulling the big crowds of dancers and well-wishers.

“A whole lot of the Hoopsnakes enduring popularity was just people coming out to see Charlie play guitar,” bandleader McCabe maintains. “He was our main soloist. I hardly took any solos in the old days, and I still don’t play that many. But Charlie just basically got tired of the band, and tried to do something new. You can’t blame him for that. He was simply burnt out. For the last few years Charlie was in the Hoopsnakes, he didn’t really want to be in it. I think he’s just a nice guy and didn’t want to see us people with families going through a struggle. But things could get a little tense.”

“I just basically got bored,” Bingham confirms, with a chuckle. “It was time to move on and try something else. And I didn’t like the direction the band was taking, when we were down in Nashville recording with Gary Tallent. I quit in spirit probably a couple years ago. But finally last fall, I just couldn’t take it any more.”

“Then Molly and the Heymakers came along and offered me a gig. I didn’t leave the band to go play with Molly. I left ’cause I didn’t want to do it anymore. And it’s not fair to the other guys just to hang in when your heart’s not in it.”

Bingham made little hay with the Heymakers. He was in and out of that band in a heartbeat, but landed firmly on his feet. Currently, he’s playing with the Revelators, making demos for Rolling Stones sound engineer Chris Kimsey. And he’s part of the straight-ahead blues group the James Solberg Band, who’ll be recording an album soon in Memphis with super producer Jim Gaines. Bingham is also featured on a posthumous release by blues giant Albert King, and on Luther Allison’s forthcoming CD for Alligator Records. In two words, he’s busy and content.

“I miss Charlie quite a lot,” McCabe sighs. “But it’s actually more fun, and feels like more of a band, with these new guys.”

While new to the Hoopsnakes, Lonnie Knight and David Eiland are no rookies —they’re two of the most familiar, respected names in Twin Cities bar music.

Knight fronted two locally popular rock outfits in the ’60’s —the Rave-Ons and Joker’s Wild. In his folk phase, he toured the college coffeehouse circuit as an acoustic solo act, releasing two mid-’70s albums Family in the Wind and Song For a City Mouse on Symposium Records, the label that also discovered Leo Kottke. As a staff musician at Sound 80 Studios, Knight played on hundreds of sessions with Midwest artists. “Michael Johnson, Flim & the BB’s, Bonnie Koloc, Jim Post people of that ilk, regional favorites,” he recalls.

Later, as a Nashville-based producer for Wrensong Publishing, Knight oversaw scads of songwriter demos, often using such future stars as T. Graham Brown and Judy Rodman to bring out the best in the material. Knight also had two stints fronting the popular Mankato band City Mouse. But somewhere along the line, he fell into a country hole and could barely crawl out.

“I got into a real country rut,” Knight says. “The reason I got into country music in the first place was when I was doing the solo tours and looking for cover material. I found that country music, certain parts of it—Waylon Jennings stuff, Merle Haggard’s stuff—was really adaptable to the solo medium. But I started to really burn out on it in the last couple years. I was doin’ a house gig in Eden Prairie with a band called City Slickers, nothing to write home about. So I took a year off and decided I really wanted to get back into rock and blues, which is where I started.”

The Hoopsnakes offered Knight a ticket back to rockin’ respectability. For the charismatic and versatile Eiland, one of the sexier gentlemen ever to grace a Twin Cities bar stage, the Hoopsnakes offered, among other things, a chance to play a lot more guitar.

“Everyone’s always typecast me as a saxophone player, and I just wanted to play more guitar,” Eiland says. “The Hoopsnakes appealed to me because of the steady income and the peace of mind. You know, it’s refreshing to be in a band with guys who are real nice and down-to-earth. A lot of bands I’ve been in lately have big-time ego problems. I’ve worked with some real mean-spirited people who looked down on other musicians. And the feeling of being in a rut could get intense. But I can sit back and laugh at some of the nonsense now. This is a great band, and there’s none of that ego bullshit. I’m more happy and I’m making more money.”

Eiland has certainly spent his share of time around people with big egos. He’s been an on-again, off-again member of Dr. Mambos Combo. And he’s a TV fixture of Vikings coach Dennis Green’s bland faux jazz group, the Sunset Music Band. Eiland’s also done a lot of work for millionaires Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. “Yeah, I was on the last Janet Jackson album,” he says. “Plus her Rhythm Nation CD. And all the Cherelle stuff. And Alexander O’Neal. There was a David Bowie cut, too—a whole bunch of stuff that they did. I mostly work if Jellybean Johnson brings me in on projects.”

None of those gigs has turned out to be as lucrative as you might imagine. Eiland has collected some reasonable though unspectacular ‘double union scale’ studio paychecks, plus plenty of free food and free Vikings tickets. But you can’t pay the rent with perks.

Eiland’s also known around town as the man who turned down Prince not once, but several times. “Oh, Kazoo? That’s what I knew him as when we were kids,” Eiland laughs, recalling teenage days spent with the purple guy. “We used to call him Kazoo because he was really, really tiny back then. And he had a huge, huge Afro. Remember Kazoo from The Flintstones? A little alien guy from Mars or somewhere that every now and then used to come down and bug Fred? He had a huge head and a little body.”

“I like Prince. I really do. I wasn’t real crazy about him back then, though. I didn’t respect him that much. Because I sensed that he was trying to humiliate people he grew up with. So I turned down a couple things he offered me, yeah. The Time, in particular.”

Back then, around the time of Prince’s Dirty Mind album, Eiland was camped out in Atlanta, where he had his own band that he thought might be a ticket to stardom. “I was in a group down South called Baby and the Pacifiers. That was one of the hottest bands I’ve ever been in in my life. And I thought that band was really gonna make some noise. A lot of people thought so. But nothing happened. Still, it was the hippest band in Atlanta at the time we even had our own club.”

So Prince’s initial offer held little appeal. “He wasn’t gonna pay very much money at all $100 a week to go on tour with the Time,” Eiland recalls. “It seemed to me like he was just tryin’ to show that he was in a position of power. There was no way I was gonna leave Atlanta for Prince’s weak offer.”

Eiland also said no when Prince wanted him to join The Family. And though tempted, he never followed up on an offer to play with Sheila E., either.

“I guess I thought at the time that I could have the same opportunities Prince had. You see, I’ve had people saying they were interested in me and my songwriting for a long while. But nothing’s come of it. I don’t know what’s going on with the music business. But I know I’ve gotta get something out soon. I’ve been writing since the ’40s,” Eiland wisecracks.

Though a bit tarnished, Prince is still a superstar. And Eiland remains a bar warrior. Still, he has no regrets. “I’m pursuing this independent record label avenue now. I’m pretty close to getting a studio finished. And I’m gonna just go ahead and record a bunch of CDs. If they take off or not, that’ll be fine. I’m grateful to the Hoopsnakes for the opportunity, for the steady income, the good vibes and the chance to do my guitar thing.”

For now, both Knight and Eiland are happy as clams to be sharing guitar duties in a Twin Cities institution. “We usually play packed houses, and virtually everything is cool about it”, Knight says. “This band really does have fun playin’. And Bruce has told me that was something which was starting to drift, just through time. Now the good times are back and it feels like a new group again.”

Known as a good lead singer, Knight mans the microphone only once a set in the Hoopsnakes. “This is the first band I’ve ever been in where I’m content to just stand there and play guitar. There’s plenty to do with that chair,” he says.

Contentment seems to be the password in the land of the Hoopsnakes, and that good feeling starts with singer, songwriter and bandleader Bruce McCabe. An unassuming, shy, soft-spoken guy, McCabe seems to be the antithesis of a rock star. Ask him to pinpoint the reasons for the Snakes quick rise to the top of the local bar landscape, and their persistent popularity in a fickle business, and McCabe is at a loss. “I’ve thought about it, but I don’t understand it at all,” he says. “If you come see us, there’s not much of a show. We just play.”

Yet when the Hoopsnakes play, fans invariably respond. They storm the dance floor and sing out the punch lines of McCabe originals such as “Doctor Doctor,” “Three Shots,” and the steamrolling and catchy “Blues Attack.” These fellas know how to hot-wire a crowd. At the recent Twin Cities Blues and Rib Fest in St. Paul’s Mears Park, even the capital city’s resident street wackos were shuffling along and singing on the choruses of the R&B oldies “Next Time You See Me” and “I Can Tell.”

“I don’t have the pipes to get histrionic,” McCabe smiles. “And I’m certainly not flamboyant. The few times I tried to fake it, it was too obvious to everyone, myself included. Maybe that’s why we can keep goin’. I’m not fakin’ it every night. I’m laid back, and I think everybody can kinda sense that. But we do keep the tunes rollin’. We don’t have a lot of dead time between songs. We keep crankin’ ’em out. That’s something I learned from Pat Hayes in the Lamont Cranston Band.”

The classic model Lamont Cranston Band of the ’70s featured McCabe, Bingham, Novak and occasionally Massof. Any history of the Hoopsnakes rightly begins with their bluesier Lamont forebears, and a transitional group called the Bingham-McCabe Band.

“The first time we did the Bingham-McCabe routine was right before that Upper Mississippi Shakedown record came out,” McCabe recalls. “Pat Hayes had pretty much broken up the Cranstons, but the rest of us didn’t know it. He just canceled all the gigs and went out to California. I think Pat was hanging out at some place Bonnie Raitt had. I can’t remember exactly—it was a long time ago. All I knew was, we had to keep workin’, because my wife just had a kid.”

So the Bingham-McCabe band was born out of necessity. And a lot of the tunes the spin-off band created while Lamont Cranston was in limbo eventually turned up on Upper Mississippi Shakedown. “None of the club owners could spell the Bingham-McCabe name right. So we had a different marquee every show. And then they’d always put ‘Formerly Lamont Cranston’ in the newspaper ads, which was embarrassing. The whole thing was embarrassing, actually. But it was over quickly.”

Lamont Cranston eventually regrouped and in 1981 signed with RCA Records. Their big-label experience was a brief, exciting debacle. No new album ever got issued. “Anybody who had had anything to do with signing us got fired in a big RCA company shake-up. Then we were dropped immediately. Thank God the record never came out. It was terrible,” McCabe laughs.

Unlike the Hoopsnakes, Lamont Cranston was an avowed blues band. And major-label folks rarely know what to do with America’s bedrock music, the blues. “One fallout of that aborted RCA/Cranstons experience is that the Hoopsnakes, from the very beginning, were looked at as another blues band,” McCabe says. “Obviously we came out of the Cranstons, and we like blues, so it wasn’t completely unfair. But the Hoopsnakes aren’t a blues band—we’d never describe ourselves that way. And nearly anytime you get called blues, it’s a commercial liability. Not with bargoers and fans, of course, but with major-label record company people. Only a few blues guys have ever got to slip through the cracks and sign with big labels. You’ve got Robert Cray, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and a handful of other guys. But it’ll always be a pretty short list.”

Around the same time, the future Hoopsnakes boys got a chance to tour with the Rolling Stones—a fondly remembered experience, to judge from the band’s current killer version of the Stones hit The Last Time.

“It was pretty exciting,” says McCabe. “It all happened so fast. We all got a surprise phone call. If there hadn’t have been a snowstorm, nobody would have probably been home. But we just got a phone call in the afternoon saying, if you can get on a plane and get to St. Louis, you can play a few opening deals with the Rolling Stones. So we got most of the band together in about an hour, got on a plane and did it.”

No such rock superstars have dialed McCabe’s phone line lately. The closest the Hoopsnakes have gotten to the glitterati is working in Nashville with producer Gary Tallent, of Bruce Springsteens E Street Band. He remixed their debut album, then manned the control board for Jump In and Hang On and part of the fine new CD, Ten the Hard Way. But if the Hoopsnakes’ current life is hardly glamorous, it’s still plenty enviable. And nobody in the band has a day job.

“I tried working at the ICO store in my neighborhood for about three weeks,” drummer Novak confesses. “But I didn’t care for the responsibility of having a cash register come out right every day.”

Somewhat better with numbers, Massof is trying his hand at managing the Hoops’ business affairs. “We’re keeping it all in the family right now,” he says.

It’s an extended family. Not only do the Hoopsnakes fully support themselves with music—something a lot of higher-profile Twin Cities bands have not managed to do in years past—but the ‘Snakes also gainfully employ a full-time crew of five staffers. Mike Nichols runs their sound, Dan Rolfer shines their lights, Dave Hill and Bill Bushey set up their stage, while Randi Hari peddles their T-shirts and CDs. Cities ’97 still faithfully plays those discs, by the way. And crowds have responded warmly to the new lineup.

“The new band’s sound is a little quieter, a little warmer and less aggressive,” says booking agent and former Hoopsnakes bassist Steve York. “It’s less macho. Plus I really like the addition of sax.”

“Adding horns is something we talked about for a long time,” Novak explains. “We’d hire horn players for New Year’s shows, and other big events, but having somebody permanent is a nice luxury. I think David sounds great.”

Eiland is just as ready to praise his new bandmate. “I went to see the Hoopsnakes a couple of times before I joined, and I’ve always been a fan of Jim Novak’s drumming. The stamina he has when he plays is remarkable.”

“I think Jim’s an unsung guy around town,” McCabe agrees. “The way he hits really hard and rides the cymbals—he just crashes those cymbals. Jim’s got an instantly recognizable sound. He’s our Charlie Watts, you might say. I guess he’s got his limitations. Jim can’t play jazz, But then, who cares? I can’t, either.”

So you’ve got a bunch of regular guys, talented pros with fanatical following. You’ve got some pedigreed new blood, full of valuable experience. Plus a renewed sense of collective excitement, purpose and discovery. In short, a happy band that makes fine music and decent money.

Can such a low-key bunch perhaps take things to the next level and become genuine stars? Bob ‘Bobo’ Bingham, now living in Arizona, has a realistic, well- researched answer.

“To my mind, the Hoopsnakes are as good a rock ‘n roll band as anybody in the country. Better than most,” Bingham says. “And Bruce is a first-rate songwriter. When you go to one of their shows, you walk away wondering, Why aren’t these guys signed?’ I just think they’re too old.”

Nowhere is ageism more rampant than in the capricious, teen-driven world of rock ‘n’ roll. “What label’s gonna sign guys that old?” Bingham continues. “The cult of youth is even taking over the country and western scene now, and that’s the last frontier. People used to follow the country stars until they were puttin’ them in the box and layin’ them in the grave. But these days, a Waylon Jennings can’t even get a record deal. All the companies want are young hunks. I think there’s a control factor that’s part of it. Record labels know that it’s easier to push kids around.”

Bingham offers a few more reasons why the Hoopsnakes may never break out of their regional big-fish-in-small-pond status. “I think the Hoopsnakes are kind of a cult thing,” he says. “They’re not ‘alternative’ at all. You know, Willie Murphy told me once that ‘The shittier music sounds, the more chance you have of makin’ big money with it.’ Judging by chose standards, I’m afraid the Hoopsnakes are a real long shot.”

Self-effacing McCabe is just as skeptical when the subject of big-league success comes up. The 42 year-old pianist is more excited to talk about teenage blues guitar phenom Kid Johnny Lang’s chances of making it big than his own. McCabe coaxed producer David Rivkin into checking out Lang’s act, and he’ll soon be recording demos with the youngster down in Memphis.

And even though Massof and Eiland still look like young heartthrobs, both men are 38, near-geezers by record biz standards. That could be a big liability with major-label scouts. “I totally understand the mentality of record company people,” McCabe says. “If I was in their shoes, I might do the same thing. If you’re gonna invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to break an act, you wanna make sure they’re not in a wheelchair before the money comes back.”

Yet around town, the Hoopsnakes’ age is just as often a plus, and a calling card. “I think a lot of older people don’t feel real comfortable in a place like the 7th Street Entry, checking out new acts. But they know if they come see one of our shows, somebody in the band’s probably older than them,” McCabe laughs. “They can feel real cozy with the Hoopsnakes.”

On the Town
August 10-23, 2005

‘Better Days’ ahead
As a solo act, veteran rocker Lonnie Knight’s star is still rising
by Bill Stieger

Lonnie Knight at 57 still looks like a rock star with his hoop earring and diamond stud. He keeps his hair long and blonde and wears immaculate white slip-on shoes that sparkle with sequins.

After 40 years of club dates, you’d expect his singing voice to grind like gravel, but on “Angel Headed Hipsters,” the first cut of his new solo CD, Better Days, his vocals are guileless and expectant and as dear as the mountain air. He sounds like a young man with a bright future.

The self-taught singer and guitarist grew up in Richfield and still lives in South Minneapolis’ Standish neighborhood “In high school I played in a band called the Rave-Ons,” he said, “but I had to quit after my junior year when my dad was transferred to Detroit.”

In the Motor City, Knight hung out at a club called the Chessmate Coffeehouse. “Going to the Chessmate exposed me to a lot of great folk acts,” he said, “people like Cedric Smith and David Bleu and a Canadian girl named Joni Mitchell who used to drive over from Windsor.”

The day Knight graduated from high school, he was on a plane back to Minneapolis. “I wanted to play in the Rave-Ons more than anything, he said. “I’ve lived in Minneapolis ever since.”

The Rave-Ons then became Jokers Wild, a power trio of guitar, bass and drums and the Twin Cities’ first psychedelic band. Knight, the guitarist and lead singer, was known for using feedback from his amplifier. “That was a creative period for me,” said Knight, who cites Jeff Beck and the Yardbirds as early inspirations. “Musically, we were exploring a lot of new territory.”

After that band broke up, Knight spent a few years touring the US, playing college coffeehouses and an occasional auditorium as a solo acoustic act. He once gigged at a New York City pub called the Back Porch and slept in a Greenwich Village hotel where “there was one bathroom on each floor and you always found someone sleeping next to the urinal.”

Knight made pilgrimages to the folk meccas of the Gaslight and the Bitter End clubs that factored in the rise of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, John Prine, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. But being a solo act had a price.

“It got pretty lonely on the road, so I moved back to Minneapolis and joined City Mouse,” Knight said, referring to the electric folk and blues group. “We were working with a company called Symposium Records. They booked us for a concert in Chicago, but didn’t bother with publicity. So I quit City Mouse and went back to playing solo. I ended up working suburban places like the Ground Round. I hated it.”

Lonnie Knight acknowledged his artistic restlessness. I’ll do something for a few years,” he said, “then I’ll change horses, pick up the acoustic, play the electric, join and quit a band. That’s the only way I know to keep from getting musically stale.”

Former City Mouse bandmate Billy Steiner put it another way. “You just can’t take Lonnie and turn him into a machine and make him play one style forever” he said. “Lonnie is a very intelligent, introspective person, a deep thinker and very, very creative. There’s a price that comes with that.”

There’s also work. Knight became the first-call guitarist for Herb Pilhoffer’s Sound 80 recording studio, where Dylan recorded many of the songs on his seminal “Blood on the Tracks” album. “I worked with guys like Bill Berg, Billy Peterson, Dave Karr and Bill Barber — all master musicians,” Knight said. “Technically, I felt like I was in over my head, but Herb always called me to record. And he paid well.”

At the outset of the 1980s, the Nashville sound began to dominate popular music, and Knight teamed up with songwriter Mark Henley to form the Knight-Henley Band. The duo traveled to Nashville and found work with Wrensong Publishing. They wrote and produced audition tapes for fledgling country singers looking to snatch the gold ring. “I liked Nashville for a while,” Knight said, “but the music soon became formulaic, and that good ol’ boy thing is phony. The musical environment of Nashville was more cutthroat than any place I’ve worked.” Knight returned to Minneapolis and spent the rest of the 1980s playing with the Neilsen-White Band and a two-guitar quartet called Wild Horses.

“We intended Wild Horses to be a country group,” Knight said, “but stylistically we were all over the map. People didn’t know what to make of us.” The chance to rock again presented itself when Knight was asked to join what became the final incarnation of the Hoopsnakes, replacing guitarist Charlie Bingham. The Hoopsnakes disbanded after pianist and bandleader Bruce McCabe joined up with Jonny Lang, so Knight formed Big Shoes, which released a self-titled CD on Aquarium Records and followed it with “Cain’s Blood.” Though Knight continues to assemble Big Shoes for a gig now and then, his focus has returned to playing solo.

Local folk and blues artist Dakota Dave Hull encouraged Knight to forgo the studio musicians and record solo. “Showcasing Lonnie’s acoustic talent is long overdue,” said Hull, the producer of Better Days. The new songs that he played seemed to stand together on their own. As we got going, we kept paring the music down. And Lonnie just sounded incredible.”

“Lonnie is a guitarist of the first order,” said Scott Alarik, the folk music critic for the Boston Globe. “His solos are smartly conceived comments on the lyrical intent of his songs. They’re never breaks from the song, but musical statements that move the song forward as surely as the lyrics do.”

“I’ll overdo things,” Knight said. “I’m the type who’ll lay down 12 guitar tracks. But Dave has kept at me to keep it simple, and I’m grateful for it.”

Knight will mark the release of Better Days with a public concert and party on Saturday, August 20, at Molly Quinn’s, 3300 E. Lake St., Minneapolis. The music begins at 8.00 p.m.