Jean Knight's San Francisco Connection
"What One Man Won't Do Another Man Will" (James A. Canes)
Jean Knight, Open, 1976
Just five years after her huge 1971 Stax hit (recorded at Malaco in Jackson, Ms), “Mr. Big Stuff”, Jean Knight had skyrocketed to obscurity. Stax’s interest in her evaporated after just a few records despite some other good songs that producer Wardell Quezegue had in the can on her, mainly, it seems, because he would not let Knight record any material the label sent to her. In 1973, she made a good, nicely produced single (one side of which, “Jessie Joe”, I featured on the blog March 8) for Dial in Nashville that was not successful. Then she signed with Chelsea Records, which saw fit to let out only two singles that attained near instant oblivion. That brings us pretty much to our feature, released in 1976 and recorded at producer Traci Borges’ coincidentally named Knight Studio in Metairie, LA. Borges’ sold the session masters to Walter Stone, who had grown up in the New Orleans area and owned the Loadstone label in San Francisco. Stone released “What One Man Won’t Do Another Man Will” b/w “Rudy Blue” on his subsidiary label, Open. I first learned of the single through the appearance of “Rudy Blue” on the fine Kent Soul CD, Stone Soul: San Francisco’s Loadstone Label; and I recently found the 45 among a large number of records I bought out of an old store around here.
Although Ms Knight and Quezergue had parted ways shortly after the Stax debacle, his influence is still felt in Eric Dunbar’s arrangement, which asserts some of the simple, funky, effective Malaco feel and even has the background girls sing “oh, yeah” at the start. It’s a bit more edgy; and the mix is not great, as the drums and bass are sort of buried; but the song still kicks and gives good groove. I think that’s mainly due to the punchy, rhythmic horns and the strong, up-front guitar riffing (wonder whose?), which reminds me in places of Joe Walsh’s more distorted chord chopping in “Funk 49”. As she sings about the merits of that Jody-man, Knight’s vocal advice has attitude to spare, also recalling her Stax work. The flip side, “Rudy Blue”, which may have been meant as a follow-up to “Jessie Joe”, is pretty good, too, but doesn’t quite have the moves, seeming more of a throwback to Sixties soul/pop. While the middle right of the label on both sides says, “HOT DISCO SOUND”, pay no attention to that mere sales ploy. Thankfully, neither side was something to do the Hustle to.
Working with Borges again, Jean Knight later cut “Humpin’ To Please” b/w “Love Me Slowy”, released to no avail on the local Ola label. Borges’ Knight Studio most likely was a lower cost alternative to New Orleans’ major studio and production house of the period, Sea-Saint. Eddie Bo did some work at Knight, as did other local bands and producers. But, because Borges and the others worked in the shadow of that more successful recording complex and its related Sansu Enterprises, their commercial chances were marginalized.
As I mentioned in my other piece on Jean, she found brief recording fame again in the 1980’s with her version of “My Toot Toot”, Rockin’ Sydney’s incredibly over-played, over-covered, zydeco-flavored hit. Today, she is still popular on the oldies casino circuit and at festivals, singing her most famous numbers. So she probably won’t do, “What One Man Won’t Do”; but I think she for sure should.