Live Album with Secret Stash Records Just Out
By Blurt Staff
Last year we sang the praises of I’m Still Here by Minneapolis soulman Sonny Knight, so it’s pretty damn sweet to get the news of a new platter from Knight and his band the Lakers. Read Sonny’s recent interview with the Chicago Tribune, “Sonny Knight Trucks from Karaoke Circuit to International Stage”, then check out this killer live version of “When You’re Gone”:
Sonny Knight and the Lakers Do It Live just dropped via Secret Stash as a double LP or CD, and it’s a monster. Some details:
Sonny Knight and the Lakers exist in the afterglow that soul luminaries like Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin created with their raucous, kinetic, and supreme live performances. Sonny Knight and the Lakers Do It Live, from the eponymous group, is a loving return to the height of live Rhythm and Blues, with Knight and his band perfectly capturing the uproarious vibe and rebellious musicianship of an era long gone in their first live album release. A year of steady touring through the US and Europe has allowed the group to create a seamless set, mixing songs from their critically-acclaimed debut studio album, I’m Still Here, with a couple covers of classic soul songs from their native Minneapolis, and re-imagined bits from Led Zeppelin and James Brown. Recorded in their hometown of Minneapolis at the Dakota Jazz Club over two nights and four performances, Sonny Knight and the Lakers aim to bring a new focus on the art of the live record. Hoping to add to the rich history of live albums rather than producing something merely derivative, they set out to reconstruct the ephemeral experience of a live concert and earn a permanent place on your record shelf.
Being devoted collectors of classic R&B and soul records, creating a live album was something the band always thought about, but never had any solid plans for. The Dakota Jazz Club was a welcome stop after touring throughout Europe, and after securing the booking, Secret Stash Records founder and Lakers drummer, Eric Foss, realized that it would be one of the final opportunities to capture the show before tearing it apart and building a new one. Sonny Knight recalls, “We played that show for such a long time that things were just right. Things had already been tweaked, everything was there, and everything was ready to go.” Lots of jumping through logistical hoops ensued in the days leading up to the shows. The club’s staff, already supporters of the band and Secret Stash, was fortunately game for the procedure. They allowed the label to transform the artist green room into a fully functional, 100% analog recording studio control room, drilling holes through the walls to run cables in order to get a live feed. After that, all that was left was the actual performing part. Since they were recording directly to 2 track tape, there was no room for error; there is no ability to go back and fix a take.
Secret Stash Chief Engineer, John Miller, mixed the record live, essentially making John the 9th member of the band that night. Not only did they need solid takes from each player, they needed solid takes from the engineer.
Sonny Knight and the Lakers were ready to show their fans just how their live show had evolved and how different it had become from their studio recordings. Knight explains, “We’re very proud of the studio work we do, and we will continue to do it. But, we want to share the raw energy of our live show with more people.” He adds, “We want to set ourselves apart from some of the other acts out there playing soul music today.”
In preparation for the recording, every band member immersed themselves in live records. From Johnny Cash to Aretha Franklin to Fela Kuti, they consumed each piece as education and inspiration. Foss recalls, “One record that we all geeked out on was Sam Cooke Live at Harlem Square. It’s a great example of an artist who cut silky smooth records putting on a raucous show.” He adds, “If you watch videos of James Brown performing in the 60s, that band is sweating their asses off. I have this image burned into my mind of Clyde Stubblefield dripping sweat and looking exhausted while playing the baddest drum break ever.”
The band also wanted to dramatize and enhance audience interaction for the recording, much like their R&B predecessors did. From the moment the Lakers introduce the 66-year old Sonny Knight on stage during an instrumental groove, he affectionately provokes the audience with “Where that noise at?” and doesn’t slow down for the entire 16-track set list. He wastes no time jumping right into up-tempo favorites from 2014’s I’m Still Here such as “Juicy Lucy” and “Get Up and Dance”. Highlights from the second half of the set include the ferocious quickness of “Caveman”, and the title track from their debut release, which effectively slows down the pace and focuses on Sonny’s journey from an Army man and semi-truck driver to his second life as a vigorous rhythm and blues showman. Knight and the band certainly gave the hometown crowd the raw, high energy, rambunctious show they set out to deliver: “To give you an idea of the energy, I think I broke 3 drum sticks during set 4. We’re digging all the way in and none of it is sweetened, overdubbed, or even remixed,” Foss reveals.
Asked what he thought about his latest achievement of recording a live album after many years outside of the music industry, Sonny Knight muses: “Doing this record took away a lot of fears. There is always something to learn. But I’m not afraid anymore… I feel like we can do anything right now.” Knight’s optimism coincides with the band heading back to the studio this summer to record their second studio album.