I am surprised it has taken six years since Terry Knight’s death for these recordings to make their first appearance on CD. For fans of unhinged garage rock and/or Grand Funk Railroad, this 24-track collection is long overdue.
Terry Knight’s principle claim to fame is as manager/producer of GFR. As sort of a Midwest Brian Epstein, Knight took Mark, Don, and Mel out of the Michigan bars and onto stages in front of 100,000 people –practically overnight. The rapid ascent was shocking, and their early career peak saw the band selling out Shea Stadium, which only The Beatles had managed to do previously.
Critics were appalled by GFR, a situation Knight exploited to the hilt. He reveled in all of the negative press, the bad reviews became a badge of honor. Suddenly those oh so hip writers at Rolling Stone looked hopelessly out of touch with what the teenagers were listening to. But like every great Behind The Music story, the massive initial success was soon overshadowed by events backstage. The band filed lawsuits against Knight for unpaid royalties, he countersued, and the legal ordeal dragged on for two years.
Grand Funk rallied admirably, and afterward wrote their most memorable hit, “We’re An American Band.” Terry Knight did not fare so well. Very little was heard from him over the next 30 years, until that fateful day in 2004.
All of this later drama imparts a historical significance to these early recordings. For one thing, members of The Pack included Don Brewer and Mark Farner, two-thirds of the future GFR. But the real reason to listen to this set is the music. What these guys laid down in those Mid-West studios is as down and dirty as anything on Nuggets, and some of it is weird beyond belief.
In their brief career, Terry Knight And The Pack recorded two albums. Their self-titled debut came in 1966, followed by Reflections, in 1967. “Numbers” is the opening track on the first album, and you could not ask for a better introduction. The guitar of Curt Johnson just sounds malevolent, like some Flint, Michigan cousin of The Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction.” Their stoner anthem “What’s On Your Mind” seems like the blueprint for Spinal Tap’s “Gimme Some Money.”
Terry Knight wrote nearly all of the songs here, but the covers that were chosen are interesting to say the least. Sonny Bono’s overwrought “Where Do You Go” comes complete with strings and even bells. The version of the Rolling Stones’ “Lady Jane” is similarly mannered. But it was The Pack’s take on Ben E. King’s “I (Who Have Nothing)” that provided their biggest hit, reaching number 46 on the national Billboard charts that year. It opens with a “rap” straight out of Isaac Hayes, and is adorned with the most cloying strings imaginable.
Things get truly strange on LP number two. Reflections is an amazingly whacked set of tunes. It is hard to believe this one hasn’t been recognized as a definitive garage/psych classic like the 13th Floor Elevators or something. Reflections is nuts.
The album kicks off with the vaudeville sounds of “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show.” This gives way to the local hit “Love, Love, Love, Love,” which was later covered by Brownsville Station. Next is “Come With Me,” Knight’s very own “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon.” Then “Got To Find My Baby,” possibly the first cowpunk tune ever. Talk about front-loading a side!
But flip the original LP over, and things get even better. “The Train” is a nice nod to Northwest heroes The Sonics, featuring a classic Gerry Rosalie-inspired scream as the introduction. Upping the ante a bit, Knight next offers up his version of “Like A Rolling Stone” with “Dimestore Debutante.” This one has to be heard to be believed. Hearing him channel Bob Dylan right there in Flint is as beautifully weird as anything I have ever heard.
It seems as if Forever Changes was being played around the garage a lot that year. Both “Dirty Lady,” and “Love Goddess Of The Sunset Strip,” have a distinct Arthur Lee feel to them, which Knight pulls off much better than Dylan.
The clearest indication of what Mark, Don, and Terry’s next direction would be is contained on the final cut. The Pack’s version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is as brutal as it gets. Four years later, GFR’s take on the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” would be described as “sledgehammer”. That hammer was forged right here, “Satisfaction” is classic Grand Funk Railroad in every way except for the name.
Having spent 30 years gleefully wearing the black hat as the one who got all of GFR’s early earnings (which was patently false), Terry Knight loved to play the unrepentant villain. But there was another side to him. Terry Knight was killed protecting his daughter from her meth-crazed boyfriend in November 2004, in the most selfless act of his life.
The contradictory impulses of a true rock and roll character are never more apparent than in the songs he wrote and recorded with The Pack. Forget about the historical aspect of it though, if you like truly crazed mid-sixties garage rock, the music of Terry Knight And The Pack is a must.