Ed­die Floyd

On a stormy night in Mem­phis, two mem­bers of the Stax fam­ily sum­moned up the el­e­ments for an in­stant R&B clas­sic

UNCUT - - Contents - by Ed­die Floyd

The Mak­ing Of “Knock On Wood”

Mem­phis’ Lor­raine mo­tel is in­fa­mous as the place where martin Luther King was shot on April 4, 1968. Be­fore the tragedy, how­ever, the mo­tel was the birth­place of a host of clas­sic songs on the city’s stax la­bel.

“A lot of times i would try to get the bridal suite to write in,” re­mem­bers ed­die Floyd. “it was there in the mid­dle, where Dr King

[was as­sas­si­nated in 1968]. We ac­tu­ally wrote quite a few songs, steve Crop­per and i, in al­most ev­ery room of the mo­tel.”

One of the songs the pair wrote at Lor­raine was “Knock On Wood”; in­spired by storms and su­per­sti­tions, it was recorded just hours af­ter be­ing writ­ten, with help on the ar­range­ment from top mu­si­cians such as drum­mer Al Jack­son Jr and pi­ano player isaac hayes.

“it just re­ally all came to­gether, and ab­so­lutely ev­ery one of them con­trib­uted some­thing to that song,” says Floyd of the ses­sion. “if you get a good groove, and ev­ery­body feel­ing it, that’s it. so when it sounded like a record, we went for it!” stax was it­self a bea­con of racial in­te­gra­tion, with white mu­si­cians, such as Crop­per and Don­ald ‘Duck’ Dunn work­ing day-in­day-out with black mu­si­cians such as Booker T Jones and hayes. “ev­ery­body worked as a team,” says Crop­per.

2017 sees a wave of stax reis­sues, boxsets and com­pi­la­tions to cel­e­brate the 60th an­niver­sary of the la­bel – then, on septem­ber 1, ed­die Floyd, steve Crop­per and Wil­liam Bell will play Lon­don’s Royal Al­bert hall as part of the proms.

“how is it play­ing ‘Knock On Wood’ now?” says Floyd. “it never changes.” TOM PINNOCK

ED­DIE FLOYD: i came down to mem­phis with Al Bell [Stax co-owner] from Wash­ing­ton DC and that’s how i got there

[to Stax], re­ally to be a writer, but my aim was to be an artist.

STEVE CROP­PER: Al Bell said to me, “i’ve got a guy, a friend, that writes re­ally good, and you guys would re­ally hit it off.” And we did. We’ve been friends ever since.

FLOYD: When i first went to mem­phis we stayed at the Lor­raine. it was a very ap­pro­pri­ate place to write songs, even in the mid­dle of the night.

CROP­PER: We wrote some songs at the stu­dio, but the mo­tel was al­ways a qui­eter place to write. We wrote “Ninety-Nine And A half (Won’t Do)”, and a whole bunch of oth­ers. When the man­ager of the ho­tel, Old man Bai­ley – mr Bai­ley – had the bridal suite open, he’d put us back there if he knew he wasn’t gonna book it. FLOYD: it wasn’t that room [ for “Knock On Wood”]. i think that would be 302, which was right on the cor­ner, on top of the of­fice.

CROP­PER: i’d have just my reg­u­lar Tele­caster un­am­pli­fied. in a closed room with no noise it sounds pretty good! i know we wrote well over 100 songs to­gether, but prob­a­bly only 10 or 15 were recorded.

FLOYD: We put it all to­gether one night. it was rain­ing, storm­ing, and we were just try­ing to come up with an idea. We would al­ways sit and talk about dif­fer­ent sub­jects. There was thun­der and light­ning and i was telling steve about my brother and i be­ing so fright­ened of thun­der and light­ning here in Alabama.

CROP­PER: it was storm­ing like crazy that night. Big storms move over from Arkansas; they al­ways moved east from west. mem­phis is known as the Bluff City; it’s on a bluff – one bank on the Arkansas side is lower than the bank on the

“We were try­ing to write a song about su­per­sti­tions – that’s what it was about” STEVE CROP­PER

Ten­nessee side, so a lot of storms come in, come across the mis­sis­sippi, hit that bluff, bounce up, and they don’t come down un­til 50 or 60 miles east of mem­phis.

FLOYD: We were just talk­ing about it, and we came up with the idea – “It’s like

thun­der and light­ning,” but we still had to put some­thing to­gether any­way.

CROP­PER: We were try­ing to write a song about su­per­sti­tions, and af­ter we’d ex­hausted about ev­ery su­per­sti­tion known to man at that time, from cats to um­brel­las, you name it, we said, “What do peo­ple do for good luck?” And ed­die tapped on the chair and said, “Knock on wood, there it is.” so ba­si­cally the whole theme of the song changed, and we started to sing about, i’d bet­ter knock on wood for good luck, that i can keep this girl that i got, ’cos she’s the great­est – and that’s what it was about.

FLOYD: i think steve men­tioned “Knock On Wood” be­ing a ti­tle we could work on.

CROP­PER: i re­mem­ber ed­die and i both agreed that we re­ally did have a good song. i called Wayne Jack­son, who had a night­club gig over in West mem­phis. They were on­stage, but i said, “have him call me at the Lor­raine mo­tel when he takes a break.” And he did. i said, “When you’re done with your gig, come on over with the horns, ’cos we’re gonna cut this to­mor­row.” he came over about 1.30am when he got off his gig, and we worked on the horns.

DAVID PORTER: Oc­ca­sion­ally the horn play­ers would be there at the Lor­raine – not loud, but there.

FLOYD: Did any other guests com­plain? No, not re­ally. We went down to the stu­dio in mem­phis, stax Records, the next morn­ing and tried to [cut it].

CROP­PER: i was pro­duc­ing. same band we had on ev­ery­thing. Don­ald ‘Duck’ Dunn, Al Jack­son Jr… i know Wayne played on it, and Floyd New­man, but i don’t re­mem­ber which tenor player was on it.

FLOYD: The mGs would al­ways come in ev­ery morn­ing, and if you’d got a song they could work it out. They said, “We’re think­ing about Otis Red­ding, be­cause he’s com­ing into town soon, and maybe we could get this song to­gether for him.”

PORTER: Gen­er­ally it would take an hour or so to come up with the ar­range­ments, so i would think we were there maybe three hours. it was not quick, but it was quick com­pared to to­day.

CROP­PER: it was all def­i­nitely recorded live. We didn’t have the fa­cil­i­ties to over­dub in those days. You’d give the band some changes or a rhythm feel and they’d come up with a line, or some­times you’d have a line. On the Otis Red­ding stuff, Otis would al­ways have in his mind melodies for his horn lines, and i think the horn play­ers re­ally en­joyed putting har­mony to them.

FLOYD: We had “Knock On Wood” go­ing, but it didn’t have that stop: “I’d bet­ter

knock –” [boom boom] “– on wood…” The rhythm would con­tinue, but Al Jack­son be­ing the drum­mer, he men­tioned, “Let me try some­thing… let me make a lit­tle stop,” so we thought it was just gonna be a stop, but i guess him know­ing that the ti­tle was gonna be “Knock On Wood”, some­thing like that, he did the drum­beat – boom boom boom! An­other amaz­ing part of it was isaac. he said, “Let me play some­thing in the bridge…” [sings line] And ev­ery­body laughed and said, “Wow, this sounds like a soap opera or some­thing, that’s great! We love it!”

PORTER: isaac and i were just there. isaac cre­ated the whole ar­range­ment in that bridge sec­tion of the song.

FLOYD: Don­ald ‘Duck’ Dunn – well, it wouldn’t have been any­thing with­out him play­ing his type of bass, the way Duck played. All this is hap­pen­ing that morn­ing, though, just in the mat­ter of

“It was sup­posed to be the demo for Otis Red­ding, but Otis don’t come” ED­DIE FLOYD

a cou­ple of hours… But I didn’t have any back­ground vo­cals.

PORTER: I sup­ported Ed­die, so I was in there and saw that it needed back­ground on it, and I sug­gested some parts. Wil­liam Bell was around – I asked Wil­liam to sing – but we needed a third voice. So the third voice was a guy by the name of Quincy Phillips. Af­ter we’d cre­ated the part, we laid it all down live.

FLOYD: The way we did things at Stax, if I hap­pened to walk through and some­one’s do­ing some­thing, I’ll run in and sing back­ground! Johnny Tay­lor did that on “Raise Your Hand” when I recorded that song. Like a fam­ily thing.

PORTER: You’d have to have the en­ergy – ev­ery­one would have to be in sync with the right amount of en­ergy. That was ex­tremely im­por­tant for the feel. For­tu­nately for us, we had an ex­cep­tional drum­mer in Al Jack­son Jr. Steve had a great sense of rhythm… he was most ef­fec­tive as a rhythm gui­tarist. So from that per­spec­tive, he would al­ways know what to do for the sake of the rhythm on his projects. He had a sense rhyth­mi­cally of where he wanted the mu­sic to be, and he was good at that.

FLOYD: This was sup­posed to be the demo for Otis, but Otis don’t come. And then ev­ery­body started say­ing it sounded like a record like this. CROP­PER: We were pretty sure it would be a hit, but the pow­ers that be – [Stax co-founder] Jim Ste­wart – wouldn’t put it out. We got to­gether with Al Bell and [la­bel co-founder] Estelle Ax­ton and said, “We wanna put this record out, we think it’s gonna be a hit.” And Estelle said, “Well, you can put it out, but you gotta spend your own money.” Jim had a way, where if he op­posed you he just wanted to see how se­ri­ous you were about your be­liefs. If you were se­ri­ous enough, you’d do some­thing about it. He’d tell you a song wasn’t any good, but he knew if you fought for it, it prob­a­bly was good! He had a way of pulling the best out of peo­ple.

FLOYD: I wasn’t re­ally play­ing live then; it be­gan with “Knock On Wood”. As soon as it was re­leased, we started get­ting dif­fer­ent re­ports on it. They played it in the States, they played it in Lon­don also.

CROP­PER: “Knock On Wood” was a smash, No 1 [on the Bill­board R&B chart]. It could just as eas­ily have been a flop – then we’d all have been eat­ing dirt!

FLOYD: We went over to Lon­don in ’67 and it was great, it re­ally was! We were see­ing The Bea­tles and The Rolling Stones com­ing over here, get­ting off the plane in New York – and we got to Lon­don and got ba­si­cally the same re­cep­tion. Not quite as big, but you know. Then at the the­atres where we played, ev­ery­body was there like they re­ally knew them songs. They were lik­ing the style of it. I’ve played Eng­land ev­ery year since ’67.

CROP­PER: Amii Ste­wart’s ver­sion is a re­ally nice ver­sion, and that went to No 1. I think the David Bowie ver­sion is great. The big artists were such fans of Stax, and a lot of them took a chance and were brave enough to cover some of them.

FLOYD: Bruce Spring­steen’s man­ager called Stax to see if I was in town – I think he had just re­leased his first al­bum. So I went down to the sound­check and he was telling me, “I do five of your songs.” I said, “Re­ally?” He named the first one and I said, “No, I don’t do that one…”, second one, “No, I don’t do that one…” Third one – “No…” They were just on the al­bum to fill them up, you know? He was lik­ing all of them. Then the fourth song he came up with was “Raise Your Hand” – I was like, “Yeah, I do that!” And then he named “Knock On Wood”. So I went back down that night and he an­nounced me, and we did both songs. The Eric Clap­ton ver­sion is ex­act! I was once with Don­ald ‘Duck’ Dunn; we were play­ing with the Blues Broth­ers band. I said, “Duck, have you ever heard ‘Knock On Wood’ by Eric Clap­ton?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Man, it sounds real close to our ver­sion.” And he’s a sweet­heart – he says, “That’s me, big dummy, play­ing bass!” I said, “Well, no won­der it sounds like that!”

CROP­PER: It’s hard to be­lieve that “Knock On Wood” be­came a big hit in ’67 and here we are, 2017… It’s nice to be do­ing a trib­ute to those days. The Stax cel­e­bra­tion Prom takes place at Lon­don’s Royal Al­bert Hall on Septem­ber 1, 2017; Stax reis­sues and boxsets will be re­leased through­out this year.

Ed­die Floyd in 1967: “My aim was to be an artist”

isaac Hayes (left) and David Porter at Stax Records in 1967

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