REVIEWS

There is a burnished quality to Lonnie Knight’s music. His guitar playing — both acoustic and electric, both in his accompaniment and his linear excursions — displays a beautifully exacting feel. It’s like there’s nothing out of place. Not a note or a chord should be added or deleted, and that particular melodic phrase is precisely what the movement of the music needed.

His singing has that dark, reedy feel, like a tenor sax gliding through the changes. He’s telling his story as he dives and swerves, and it magnetically pulls you along.

Knight’s writing is deep. No featherweight pop fare here. It’s detailed and intricate. It doesn’t let you in immediately, but there is a satisfaction in scaling his wall and finding his grail.

“So We Jump” is the new release from an artist who, over his 30-plus years on the road, in the studio and behind the console, has produced or helped produce many outstanding recordings.

This is a collection of a few older tunes, some new ones and a couple of other writers’ songs that coalesce into a tightly packed whole, rich with imagery, love and affection.

“Broken Wing” has the vibe of a father talking to a newborn son, encouraging him to live life to the fullest without apology or regret. Michi Regier’s violin swirls around the melody creating smoke rings that twist up to the stars.

“Hero for Sale” begins with Knight’s liquid-toned guitar lines and uses the metaphor of a farm boy who becomes a small-time pugilist and the misery that accompanies that lifestyle.

“Miss Claudia” goes back to Knight’s days with his group Big Shoes. It gets a swingin’ little acoustic treatment here with some great guitar lines.

“Conversation with a Wrecking Ball” uses the destruction of the old Guthrie Theater as the focal point to the wider panorama of ignoring the wisdom of preserving our past.

“Homecoming” is a song Knight wrote in 1975 celebrating the West Bank of Minneapolis as an area as rich with creative artists over the years as any area in any city anywhere.

“Have a Drink with Me Suzy” colorfully chronicles what goes on in the kaleidoscope of an alcoholic’s mind as he bows to his addiction.

“In the Rain” has a solid little groove that speaks of chaos and inevitability. Knight describes our life journey eloquently and how it’s up, it’s down, but we all “end up here turning to slugs in the rain.”

Knight has been a studio guitarist (back in the heyday of the studios like Sound 80 in the Twin Cities). He has played in countless traveling bands from the Nielsen-White Band to the Hoopsnakes. He has traveled the college circuit as a singer-songwriter, and he has worked behind the console as a producer helping other artists for many, many years.

This new one is exceptional, both in its lyrical depth and its intricate musicianship. Check out this new creation, and his Duluth CD release show Oct. 9 at the Amazing Grace.

John Ziegler, Duluth News Tribune (September 30, 2010)

I’m writing this to introduce you to my old friend Lonnie Knight, a singer-songwriter I’ve admired as long as I’ve been in folk music. With the release of his convincing solo acoustic CD, “Better Days,” I think you can hear Lonnie coming home, back where he really belongs. For years now, he’s been one of the Midwest’s reigning guitar gods, playing in some of the most successful rock, blues, country and pop bands that region has produced.

But that’s not how I first knew him. When Lonnie and I were compadres, I was just starting my career in folk music, and he was becoming the biggest star in a Minneapolis folk scene just coming to a boil. He packed all the best coffeehouses, and became a leading headliner on the legendary Bitter End Coffeehouse Circuit. Back then, you could always tell when Lonnie had passed through somewhere, because all the local pickers were playing his arrangements of the current folk standards. Or trying to.

I think there have always been two distinct types of folk songwriters: songwriters who play guitar, and guitarists who write songs. Lonnie clearly fits the latter category.

But in that category, there are also two types. There are flashy, hot-licks pickers, who wrap incidental lyrics around their fretboard flash’n’dazzle. Then there are song guitarists, who mold rich, eloquent arrangements around clean melodies that live entirely on their own oxygen. Their guitar arrangements ripple with melodic detail, emotional counterpoint, color, and motion. The guitar is to them what a palette and brush are to a great painter.

Lonnie is a song guitarist of the first order. He never seems to be playing just to play, or to dazzle. Even his solos are smartly conceived comments on the lyrical intent of his songs. They are never “breaks” from the song, but musical statements that move the song forward as surely as the lyrics do. I would unhesitatingly 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.

On stage, Lonnie is unassumingly charismatic, droll, and innately cool, in the way many instinctive musicians are; but with an alluring something extra I could never put my finger on when I knew him years ago. I saw him play again recently, and knew instantly what that quality was: kindness. Underneath the awesome talent, the inviting cool, the probing intellect, is a deep, genuine kindness.

But it is an honest, unflinching kindness, one that sees life as it really is. It’s not that sugary songwriter-kindness that tries to please us by pretending life is something it’s not, but a kindness tempered by the hard life he’s led. As he searches through the clutter of our disappointments, failures, weaknesses, regrets, unhealed scars, and ailing dreams, that kindness lets him see our lives as we see them, but also as the stuff of song.

His unique blend of hard-won wisdom and kind-eyed empathy gives his writing an intimate credibility, and a redemptive grace. When he sings of “major truths in minor keys,” or warns that “this old house won’t stand another rain,” we know not only what he means, but how he feels. So when that same soft, slightly wrinkled voice whispers that he still knows how to turn his battered life toward “Better Days,” you’re sure he’s pointing the way for us, too.

I know if you hear Lonnie’s music, you’ll be awed by his guitar playing; but I think you’ll also be drawn to his closely observed, real-life poetry. And I’ll bet you end up feeling something else, too; something that cuts to the heart of why folk music continues to thrive in these fast, noisy, and often careless times. You’ll feel like you got to know someone worth knowing, someone who means the things he sings; and that in the kind, uncompromising vision of his music, you’ve heard a friend.

– Scott Alarik, Boston Globe

INTERVIEWS

MN 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 why this Minneapolis singer-songwriter with mutliple MN Music Awards rightly is a legend in MN music. Picking up his first guitar back in the 60’s, 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.

Hosted by Doug MacRostie (November 9, 2010)

Listen here.

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.

– Lillian Speakman

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There is not much known about your band, but thanks to Thomas Hartlage at Shadoks, we have a wonderful release. How did you feel when Thomas asked you if you are interested in having an album out after so many years?
 
Denny:  It was very flattering to have someone contact us after all this time, who had an interest in music from the 1960’s.  It gave me a warm feeling and of course made me smile.
 
Lonnie: I was definitely surprised by this. Denny and Pete and I
have remained friends over the years, we occasionally get together for reunion gigs, but we had no idea that there was any interest in the band outside of Minnesota. A couple of years ago I was contacted by a company in Asia to re-release two albums of solo material I had done in the 1970’s. As a result of that release, I was able to do a concert tour in Japan last March. It’s all exciting stuff.
 

We’ve talked in the past here at Blues On Stage about the wealth of musical talent residing in the Twin Cities area. One of those long time residents (more than 4 decades of playing) is Lonnie Knight. A guitarists who stands head and shoulders above many of his fellow musicians (both literally and figuratively since he is about 6’5″ and is one of those handful of exceptional players you don’t hear too much about). I overheard a musician at the Brewbaker’s guitar showcase recently comment about Lonnie’s guitar playing after seeing him for the first time, saying, “this guy is REALLY good.” That’s the type of comment you often hear when you see him play.

I caught up with Lonnie and his band, Big Shoes, at a recent Poodle Club show were we discussed doing an interview. The following is the result of that initial discussion.

-Ray Stiles (March 1, 2002)

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