Gary James' Interview With Jimy Sohns of
The Shadows of Knight
The Shadows of Knight rose to fame in 1966 with a song they recorded called "Gloria". That record sold over eight million copies. They were dubbed "The American Rolling Stones". Melody Maker said "The Shadows of Knight belong in the ranks of The Beatles, The Who and The Rolling Stones."
Lead singer Jimy Sohns talked to us about his group.
Q - Jimy, how many original members are in The Shadows of Knight?
A - Me...Lee (Brovitz - bassist) is from the third album. He's actually from the sixties, but not from the first two (albums). The Shadows of Knight that I have together now have been together almost four times as long as the original band.
Q - What happened to the guys in the original band?
A - One got drafted...different things. Things happen. We unfortunately were signed into a bad record deal where we didn't get paid like most of the bands, or we didn't get what we were expecting to be paid. Our strength were always our live performances and still is. We kind of drifted 'cause everyone knew they were getting screwed out of money. So, it was hard to keep them in it. We didn't rehearse. They didn't care much. I know it was a July 4th gig. We went on and we weren't like we usually were. I got upset and said "I don't know if I can do this, but - you're all fired!" And they were. Nobody cared 'cause like I said, it was a bad situation we were in. We weren't getting royalties. We weren't getting half the 'live' money. It really sucked.
Q - Did any of the members go on to other groups?
A - Oh sure.
Q - Anybody we would've heard of?
A - Well, Banger Flying Circus. It was Hawk who replaced Warren Rogers. On the second album, Warren got drafted. Dave Wallinsky went on to Banger Flying Circus with Tom Shapore. Then, he went on to a pretty good start with Rufus, with Chaka Kahn. then he also made movies. He was in a couple of movies. Jerry McGeorge was in H.P. Lovecraft. Joe Kelly had Joe Kelly's Blues Band. Everybody went on to play in other bands, except Warren, who after the draft, stayed in California and has never come back since.
Q - What's he doing in California?
A - He's living in the desert, seeking the meaning of life and working on Volkswagens. That's what he told me. That was four years ago. That was the first time he called back here in thirty-five years.
Q - You were inducted into the Chicago Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame in September, 2005?
A - Yeah. September twenty-fourth. I was in the '60s museum Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame.
Q - What did that mean to you?
A - When I was really young, and you're growing up and the relatives come over at Thanksgiving and Christmas and always ask you what you're gonna be when you grow up. I always told them a baseball star or a rock 'n roll singer. And, it was weird that it happened. So, it's been like a life-long dream of mine to not only be a rock 'n roll singer, but of course to be a really good one and to be appreciated for it. So, it was quite an honor for me. People will say, well, it's not the Cleveland Hall of Fame. You know what - I'm from Chicago. Sure, I'd like to be in the Cleveland Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. I know that we have the number forty-one song of all time. The Shadows of Knight. We're featured in their five hundred songs that shaped Rock 'n Roll. Not Van Morrison. Not Them...Shadows of Knight. Our version is recognized by the Hall of Fame. If it comes down to it, if I had to choose, I'm pretty pleased about being in the Chicago one.
Q - And who else is in this Chicago Hall of Fame?
A - It's not just rock 'n roll, it's people who shaped Chicago in the sixties. I'm the first voted in class. It was John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, John Glenn, Bobby Scala, Bobby Rush, Betty Friedan, Ernie Banks, Herman's Hermits, Country Joe McDonald, The Beatles and me.
Q - You're in some great company there!
A - They told me about this thing about a year and a half ago. They said you're on the ballot and I thought that's cool. That's some recognition. I thought I probably won't win, but it's nice to be thought of. Then, I get those final twelve names and I was floored by it. I'm not used to being on the same page as John F. Kennedy.
Q - You're planning a 2006 Anniversary Tour? You're going back on the road again?
A - Well, we've been playing all along, but we're hoping to play a lot more because of the forty year anniversary of "Gloria". That, we hope will spark up some more things. We've got some dates coming up on a package tour with The Boxtops. We do a lot of stuff with The Cryin' Shames.
Q - Where did this name "The Shadows of Knight" come from?
A - Oh, God, that's a funny thing. OK, the original band, we all went to Prospect High School, which a little bit further into the story I'll tell you what that means. We were called The Shadows, period. We had the first teen club around the Chicago area in The Cellar. It opened by myself and my original manager, Paul Samson. There was no other bands. There was no other place to go. And, we kind of did that. So, when we signed this record contract with the original management, we got screwed. They paid me, amongst other things, for 1 1/2 million copies of the backside of "Gloria" - "Dark Side", that I wrote with Warren Rogers. They tried to tell us "Gloria" wasn't a million seller. I said I know I'm just a dumb little nineteen year old and I'm supposed to shut up and play, but how does one side sell more than another? They said that's easy. We overpaid you! (laughs) We had this huge following around the Chicago area. We used to open up for everybody from Paul Revere and The Raiders to Lovin' Spoonful to The Beach Boys. We would just blow them off the stage. That was the era where the crowds would charge the stage and grab you. So, we had all this going for us and we had all these requests - when are The Shadows going to put out a record? We finally got done recording it and they decided we were going to have to change our name. They decided we would be called "The Tyme", and we said no, this is really stupid. This is dumb. We have this huge fan base following within a fifty mile radius of Chicago. This is stupid. In reality, all they would've had to have done, and they never checked into it, was change the name to The American Shadows, 'cause there was Cliff Richards' back-up band, The Shadows. So, for foreign releases, we would've had to have been called The American Shadows. But at the last minute, I said, "I got it, why don't we be The Shadows of Knight". It sounds really English. Everybody at that time was emulating British bands. They said, OK, that's cool, be The Shadows of Knight. It never dawned on me the Prospect High School Knights. That's how it came about.
Q - Before "Gloria" hit, were you a bar band?
A - There were no bars. We were a teen club band. Teen clubs and concerts. We had this huge following. The record was taken over to the radio station before there was any printed acetates of it. It was taken over on a reel-to-reel tape and it sold over 100,000 copies in ten days. The rest is rock 'n roll history.
Q - Who wrote "Gloria"?
A - Van Morrison. It was the "B" side of his English hit "Baby Please Don't Go". We changed it somewhat. It's three chords, E, D, A and we added the open strum, which is actually a forth chord, to not make the opening as hesitated as theirs was. That was one of the reasons ours was a hit and theirs was a "B" side. It became super rhythmic, danceable. So, that's how that came about.
Q - That record sold eight million copies for you?
A - Yup, through the years. It sold more in the last twenty years than it did in the first twenty, because it's been included in a lot of the conglomeration things - the Time-Life infomercial from 1964 - 1968. It counts as your sales. You don't get money from it, 'cause you've got eight years of discs with forty artists in each disc, but it does rack up the sales.
Q - What did you follow up "Gloria" with?
A - Our second national chart record was "Oh, Yeah". It was a Bo Diddley song. It sold half a million copies. When you follow a block buster like "Gloria"...in retrospect, if we would've put "Oh, Yeah" out first and sell half a million copies and then "Gloria" be the blockbuster it was, we would've really, really been huge. The next record after that was "Bad Little Woman". It was also a national chart record. The next one after that was that was gonna be as big as "Gloria" - "Gonna Make You Mine", which sold 100,000 records in the first two weeks. But, it was banned off the radio because..."I believe in me, that's how I live, I'm gonna take, you're gonna give, I'm gonna make you". I didn't say "mine", so they got all bent out of shape about it. It got played for three weeks, charted at number 89. The first week on, "Gloria" was 91. The it was pulled off all ABC Drake stations. That was about 75% of the stations. Then "The Shake" came out in late '68, bordering '69 and that was a million seller.
Q - Who called The Shadows of Knight the "American Rolling Stones"?
A - Rolling Stone Magazine. Tiger Beat. That's how we were referred to in all of the publications back then.
Q - Were you comfortable with that comparison?
A - The Stones were always my favorite band, so it was quite a nice thing for me. We did opening dates for The Stones in '66. I know Jagger and Richards and all those boys and Ronnie Wood from when he was in Faces.
Q - When "Gloria" became a hit, how did life change for the band?
A - I've thought about this many times. We were "it". We were the Chicago darlings before the record. And of course it hit and we were super huge. Before the record, I was driving a brand new '65 Ford that I bought cash. I had a big Triumph motorcycle...two of 'em. I had all kinds of stuff. We were making like $400 a week. That was big money in '65.
Q - $400 a piece?
A - Yeah. For playing two nights. We had a lot of money. We were independently...financially independent. We had what ever amps, guitars we wanted. Then we had the record and we were making more after the record. It was great to go on all the TV shows and meet Dick Clark. We were kind of a blues band. We had the original White version of "Hoochie Koochie Man", "Spoonful"...years before there was Cream. All those standard Blues songs. That was one of the reasons The Stones picked us to open for them, because the harder-edge English bands were into the Blues a lot sooner than other people were. And here we were, a band from Chicago doing the Blues. That helped us quite a bit. Then one of the first cities we went to with them was Detroit. We're on the road. This is cool. It hit me so fast. We played three hundred dates in a year's time from the time the record came out. That doesn't mean we were off sixty-five days. We were off maybe twenty days in the whole year. We would use these as travel days. We went on a Dick Clark tour right away with ? and The Mysterians, The Outsiders and half way through that tour, Sky Saxon of The Seeds joined that tour, so that was kind of a cool tour. We went to Europe. We went all over the place. About a year and a half of playing like that and beating ourselves up...at age eighteen, nineteen, a young musician who is trying to make it, you say you want to be rich and famous...you don't give a damn about being rich, you want to be famous. Mostly you want recognition. You want to get into the tour bus or the van or whatever you're traveling in, or climb into the airplane, go to Detroit, go to Cleveland and play, go to Pittsburg and play. Every time you get there, it freaks you out. We're a thousand miles away from home here in New York, who the hell is gonna come and see us play? But, they came. They came out of the woodwork. Another thing I think you go through with the band is first off, it's like a bunch of brothers going on the road, having to be together all the time. You have ups and downs, fights and arguments, grudges, things that happen. You have to never over estimate your self value. I was always the front man for the Shadows. I was the focal point, but when you show up to play, I'm no better than any other player in the band. That was hard on some of 'em and some of the reason why we broke up. But, you have to do what you have to do. I decided that's what I wanted to do my whole life and that's pretty much what I've done. I've been in music, one way or the other, I've been a sound engineer for many, many bands. Our problem has always been that we're so good "live" that we cause a reaction. We go out feeling our pulse, We make people forget about their problems for a while. If I can, with all the crap that's going on in the world today, take the stage and make people forget about their problems for a little while, you get that energy out and you feel it come back to you, that's what I love about singing, and when I can't do that as well, is when I'll hang up my microphone and go away.
Q - If only every singer felt that way.
A - There was a time when you'd do five or six nights in a bar in a city. You'd go five or six weeks, playing five or six nights where it's all sold out. I don't care if there's five people or five thousand or fifty thousand. I try to do the same show all the time whether I'm feeling bad, have a cold, or I haven't slept enough from the travel, I always try to put on the same amount of energy no matter what. The way I figure it, if I'm performing and those people are there, I owe them a good performance. If there's fifteen people that see me, that means there's fifteen more people who are gonna like us.
Q - When you were on tour with The Rolling Stones, did you get to talk with Brian Jones?
A - Me and Brian and Jagger used to go to the bars after hours. We were quite the unscrupulous bunch of guys. (laughs) We liked to meet the local ladies.
Q - And you'll notice throughout this interview I never asked you about "groupies".
A - I didn't drink or do drugs until I was twenty-four years old. In the whole time we were going through that "big rock star stuff", females...sex was my drug and it's a lot healthier for you. (laughs)
Q - What kind of guy was Brian Jones?
A - He was quiet, compared to Jagger and Richards...but he was a partier. We...we were all partiers. I've always been allergic to pot. I never got into that phase. We all know that I got into cocaine and all that stuff later on, as a lot of us did. It was sort of a necessity to try and stay awake. We used to go from Indiana to Iowa, through Illinois. You're traveling fifteen, sixteen hours and you gotta put a show on that night. It's not a good excuse for it. But, it does wake you up and that's part of the early fascination of whether you could do a lot of things you shouldn't. I'm not here to preach on anything, but it was a phase that a lot of people got into. A lot of people want to say it's Rock 'n Roll people. Athletes, plumbers, car salesmen...they do drugs. They have "groupies." There's women that like the uniform.
Q - You would travel by bus for your tours?
A - Tour buses weren't in vogue. The Dick Clark Cavalcade of Stars Tour, we were on a Greyhound bus. But, all five bands were on the bus. It was mostly they had reclining seats and that was it. It was just a bus that was chartered for the tour. They didn't ride real well. Me and Rick Derringer were short, so we used to sleep up in the luggage racks 'cause we could lay down flat and have the support post that was every so often right between our legs. But, you learn to sleep where you can when you're on the road, on top of the equipment, in back of the van, somewhere under the stage.
Q - Did you ever meet The Beatles?
A - I met Ringo. I was in a room with John Lennon, but I didn't approach him 'cause everybody was approaching him.
Q - Did you ever meet Jim Morrison?
A - The Doors were playing a place called Ondine's in New York City. The first time we went to New York City, we played a place called The Phone Booth, which was the place were the Young Rascals held all the attendance records, which was the club they broke out of. We were busy breaking their attendance record. The bar right across the street was called Ondine's. The Doors were there, finishing up their recording. The owners were smart enough to keep one band on while the other band was off, and alternate so you could keep the people in block, 'cause there were many places of entertainment in New York City. They used to come in and stare at us and give us this hard stare when we were on. And we'd go across the street when they were on and look at them like they were nuts. After about the first week of that, I was walking through the crowd and Jim Morrison grabbed me by the arm and goes "You're quite insane you know." I said "Well, thank you. I've seen your act and you wouldn't know insane." Then we laughed and had a few drinks and talked about music.
Q - Did you ever meet Jimi Hendrix?
A - Jimi Hendrix I knew. I talked with him maybe fifteen or twenty times. We were staying at the Royal Albert Hotel in New York where most of the bands stayed. After that, I met Janis Joplin wandering through the hallways. She had no room or place to stay. I bopped her. But, I don't feel like The Lone Ranger. She was pretty attainable there for a while. She was wandering through the hallways saying "I'm Janis Joplin and I'm a rock 'n roll star." And I said "That's funny, so am I. But, I gotta go do this gig now." She was still wandering around at the end of the night. I said "You don't have any place to sleep do you?" She said "Well, I do, but I don't know where it is." She was a little messed up. I gave her shelter from the storm, shall we say.
Q - What year would that have been?
A - '68, '67 maybe. Probably closer to '67.
Q - See, what's nice about being Jimy Sohns is you met the stars of the day. Most of us only know these people through a song on the radio or a photo in a book
A - I gotta tell you, when I first met The Rolling Stones, I was kind of awed. Then I found out they were just as nuts and sloppy was we were...crazy and had every complex that everybody goes through. Jagger told me he was always freaked out by the sound of his voice when he heard a record, just like I am today. If you think back to the first time you ever heard yourself trying to sing something, you never think that's what you sound like. I think everybody goes through that. A lot of the things were the same. You talk about guitar players, blues songs, women. Everybody's the same. Everybody puts their shoes on one at a time. They're no different. There are degrees to that.
Q - How'd you get that record deal with Dunwich Records?
A - Dunwich was just our original manager and two other guys that came out and had some record ties. They were jazz musicians and had done some recording. They just decided we'll sign these guys up. We got no money and they sold the master of the record to Atlantic (Records) for $1 after it sold 100,000 copies. They were just pretty stupid. We happened like a hot potato and the next thing they do was sign up like twenty other bands around Chicago and say "Look what we did for The Shadows" and really they didn't do anything. They passed on "I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone" by Boyce and Hart. Before the Monkees version was out, it was done by Paul Revere and The Raiders on a demo. Mark Lindsay said "This song is you. You need to do this song." "Hey Joe" was on our second L.P. It sold 100,000 records when albums didn't sell that well. You had to have three or four hits on an album to sell that many. There was no hit on the second album. It sold on our version of "Hey Joe", which was three years before Hendrix. They passed on everything. They told us to shut up and sing and they would think. We would do the performing.
Q - That wouldn't fly today.
A - Nope. The only thing that I did right was trademark "The Shadows of Knight". That was the only reason they didn't put another band on the road without me. I've owned that trademark all along.