If not for the fact that two-thirds of the founding fathers of Grand Funk Railroad were alumni of Terry Knight and the Pack, would anyone care about the Knight-led group? Yes, Knight was a former DJ who fronted the Pack from 1965 to ’67 before managing the power trio featuring former Pack bandmates Mark Farner (guitar) and Don Brewer (drums). As it happened, Grand Funk’s original lineup also included bassist Mel Schacher who had been with ? and the Mysterians, another outfit Knight had worked with. But other than the historical connections, the music of the Pack and GFR are as dissimilar as that of Abba and Zappa.
While publicity for the new single CD release of the Pack’s two albums implies a kinship with other Michigan bands like MC5, the Stooges, the Frost, the Amboy Dukes, and Bob Seger, the main commonality is geography. Often described as garage rock and neo-psychedelic, Flint, Michigan’s Terry Knight and the Pack were more akin to the Blues Magoos, the Seeds, and the many one-hit wonders collected in anthologies like Rhino’s Nuggets. But with Knight’s boyish vocals and fluffy songs, Terry Knight and the Pack and /Reflections (both 1966) seem more proto-power pop than proto-punk.
While some call attention to the occasional fuzz guitar on Terry Knight and the Pack, Bobby Caldwell’s organ is the most dominant instrument supporting Knight. Recorded for the local Lucky Eleven Records, part of the Cameo-Parkway Records group, the material is somewhat “garage” as the production values did not reflect a top-flight studio. Considering the times, this is not a criticism. Countless regional hits came from small independent labels. For many acts, in fact, the more primitive the sound, the better it suited their performance.
For Knight, despite some songs with a rougher edge, much of the material is better described as folk rock than the other labels attached to the group. Examples would include the echoing vocals on Sonny Bono’s “Where Do You Go,” Knight’s anthem to his generation, “A Change on the Way,” and the soft album filler, “What’s on Your Mind.” “Lovin’ Kind” has better than average country folk lyrics sung and We Five-style harmonies.
There are many nods to their contemporaries. Their cover of The Yardbirds’ “You’re a Better Man Than I” is a more gentle version of the song, with the lead guitarist doing his best early Jeff Beck imitation. They shoot for psychedelic-period Beatlesque verses with violin and harpsichord support on “The Shut-In.” Knight tries out some storytelling vocal stylings in the above average “Sleep Talkin’.” (I wonder if Van Morrison knew his “Gloria” riff would be reworked so many times in so many ways ever after.) Musically, “Dimestore Debutante” is an out-and-out rip-off of “Like A Rolling Stone.”
During his disc jockey days, Knight was credited with being an early supporter of the Rolling Stones. Appropriately the most overt proto-punk song is the Pack’s version of “Got Love if You Want It.” Then there’s the note-for-note reworking of “Lady Jane,” and the would-be soulful version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” All this being said, there are flashes of originality throughout the two albums.
For example, the Pack has fun with a brass band and comic lines about life on the road in “One Monkey (Don’t Stop No Show).” Jazzy brushes on the snare drum are part of the “Anybody’s Apple Tree,” a throwback to pre-rock pop. Though perhaps not the most energetic of stompers, Brownsville Station covered Knight’s composition, “Love, Love, Love, Love, Love” in 1973. The song was also recorded by the fellow garage rock ensemble Music Explosion (“Little Bit O’ Soul”), who used the same backing track.
To be fair, the collection has its quota of out-and-out stinkers. Perhaps one of the most annoying shouters of the period was “Love Goddess of the Sunset Strip.” Also coming in close to the bottom of the barrel is “Forever and a Day,” where Knight is high in the tree and “hah, hah, you can’t see me.” If this is garage rock, so too were the Cowsills.
I suspect if the rather out-of-step Ben E. King cover “I (Who Have Nothing)” had been a bigger hit, or other songs could have cracked into national airplay, more of us would be more familiar with the Pack. Still, there are those who want everything produced in the ‘60s and find delights in obscure corners because the sounds are very much of an era.
You have to really love that era, or were a fan back in the day, to love Terry Knight and the Pack/Reflections. Apparently, many want to keep the Pack’s music available as Collector’s Choice put out the same material in 2010 before discontinuing the release. In whatever edition you like, most listeners will likely play this one once for curiosity and move on to the real classics.