The roots of The Shadows of Knight can be traced back to early 1965 when five friends from Prospect High School in the Northwest Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights first got together. Calling themselves The Shadows, singer Jim Sohns was joined by rhythm guitarist Norm Gotch, lead guitarist Warren Rogers, bassist Wayne Pursell and drummer Tom Schiffour. Later in the year, Pursell departed and was replaced by Joe Kelly.
After months of rehearsing, the band organized a concert at Paul Sampson's Cellar Club, hoping to attract a record producer. During the show, they covered a song called "Gloria", originally recorded by the Irish band, Them, an early Van Morrison group. Impressed by the band's rendition of the tune, Bill Traut and George Badonsky offered to sign them to their newborn Dunwich Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. In December, guitarist Jerry McGeorge took the place of Norm Gotsch just before the band entered the recording studio to lay down "Gloria", along with a 'B' side called "Dark Side".
Record company executives now realized that the band had the same name as the back up group for English rocker Cliff Richard and a new moniker would have to be chosen. They suggested The Tyme, which was immediately rejected by the band, who had built up a sizeable following as The Shadows. Just before the record labels were printed, singer Jim Sohns suggested The Shadows of Knight, because it had and English sound to it at a time when everybody was emulating British bands. The rest of the group agreed and would later say that it was only coincidence that their high school varsity teams were called The Knights.
"Gloria" was released on the 31st of January, 1966 and immediately began to get air-play on local Chicago radio stations. Reaction was swift and the record sold over 100,000 copies in ten days. By the middle of April, the song had entered the Billboard Hot 100 where it climbed to number 10 a few weeks later. The Shadows of Knight were a hot commodity and quickly joined Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars, touring the United States with The Outsiders, Question Mark And The Mysterians and The Seeds.
For a follow-up to "Gloria", the band chose a Bo Diddley song called "Oh, Yeah", which also cracked the U.S. Top 40, peaking at #39 in the Summer of 1966, selling half a million copies. Dunwich also released two albums over a six month period. In November of that year, Dave 'The Hawk' Wolinski, a former keyboard session man with the band, took over for Warren Rogers who had been drafted.
By the Spring of 1967, internal strife began to tear the group apart. Jerry McGeorge left and later joined a band called H.P. Lovecraft. Soon after, Kelley and Schiffour split too, reappearing the next year with the Joe Kelley Blues Band, while Wolinski wound up with Bangor Flying Circus. All the while, singer Jimy Sohns and new members of The Shadows of Knight kept releasing new material, trying to duplicate the magic of "Gloria". They released "Bad Little Woman", which reached the upper levels of the Billboard Pop chart. The group had high hopes for a tune called "Gonna Make You Mine", which sold 100,000 copies in the first two weeks of release. Unfortunately the song was soon banned by most radio stations because the lyrics were deemed "too suggestive." The objectionable lines were "I believe in me, that's how I live, I'm gonna take, you're gonna give, I'm gonna make you". After three weeks, the record was pulled off all ABC Drake affiliates, which then accounted for about 75% of all the stations playing a rock format, and the song stalled at number 89.
By 1968, after a string of failures, Dunwich Records gave up on the band, selling their master tapes to Atlantic for $1. Jim Sohns was determined to keep the act going and moved the band to New York, where they signed with Team Records, a division of Buddah and joined the "bubble gum" empire of Jerry Kasentz and Jeff Katz. Here they recorded anonymously on tracks credited to Ohio Express, the 1910 Fruitgum Company and many others.
The Shadows of Knight found a gleam of success again with a single in their own name called "The Shake", which sold respectably, climbing to #46 on the Billboard Hot 100. The relationship with Team Records finally reached an end in 1969 over non-payment of royalties and the company's decision to release an album without the group's permission, assembling rejected pieces originally written for other bands.
Over the years, "Gloria" has sold over eight million copies, showing up on various compilation albums. Vocalist Jim Sohns had the fore site to copyright the band's name and as of 2006 was still on tour with The Shadows of Knight. In 2008, the band toured as part of The Psychedelic Shack Tour, which also featured Nazz, Vince Martell and Henry Gross. That same year, a new CD called "Rock 'n' Roll Survivors", containing a further reworking of "Gloria" was released.
Bassist Joe Kelley died on September 1, 2013, after a brief battle with lung cancer. He was 67.
As of 2016, Jim Sohns was still carrying on the legacy of the Shadows of Knight, performing at venues across the United States. A reunion of the original band was slated August 20th at the Q-Bar in Glendale Heights, Illinois.
For more, be sure to read Gary James' Interview With Jimy Sohns