For a so-called one-hit wonder, Frederick Knight has been involved in a lot of hits. Still best known for the title track of this superb album, I’ve Been Lonely For So Long, Knight emerged from Birmingham, Alabama, in the early 70s, with a mostly gentle, intelligent soulful style. He released three singles before signing with Stax in ’72 and dropping the bombshell that was ‘I’ve Been Lonely For So Long’ – though this was one warm, nice-to-be-near explosion. As close to singer-songwriter territory as it was to soul, the song immediately made him a name, and, from this point on, his songs would be noticed by other artists.
Listen to I’ve Been Lonely For So Long right now.
The curiosity of this situation was that Knight’s breakthrough record was in fact written by his wife, Posie, in collaboration with Jerry Weaver, whose credits include songs for Joe Tex and Joe Simon. But ʻI’ve Been Lonely For So Long’ was entirely of a piece with Knight’s often understated style. He looked funky as hell, with ice-cool tinted glasses and a patchwork leather coat with a furry collar any Bronx pimp would kill to wear. On the single, however, his falsetto sounded weary and more mature than that of a man in his mid-20s, and the record was as country as a cattle auction, with slide guitar and a dusty, acoustic feel. ‘I’ve Been Lonely For So Long’ was an outlier for sure, but it caught a mood and made No.22 on the Billboard Hot 100 and put Knight on the map.
A many-sided talent…
There was far more to the parent album than a Xerox replica of the single’s rural style. ʻThis Is My Song of Love To You’ performed the same (mostly) two-chord trick as the single, but this time the arrangement was sophisticated, an orchestra adding a lush setting, patenting a kind of uptown down-south sound. ʻNow That I’ve Found You’ offered a sincere but sentimental doo-wop aspect allied to a stripped-back, down-home feel, as if The Chi-Lites had ditched the Windy City in favour of an Alabama porch. ʻPick Um Up, Put Um Down’ suits the singer’s coat, being superbad, and Knight reveals a strong streak of Bobby Womack’s influence here, particularly in the semi-spoken asides. Knight’s talent is many-sided, then, but somehow he remains himself, thanks to that distinctive, airily light high voice.
ʻYour Love’s All Over Me’ is not a request for shower gel, but another funky cut with buzzing guitar from Jesse Carr, taking time off from sessions with Betty Wright and Swamp Dogg. ʻTake Me On Home Witcha’ is steady midtempo stuff with Knight, for the most part, avoiding his high register, resulting in a pleading song that loosely resembles a less lusty Clarence Carter. His top end is in full effect on ʻTrouble’, another highly quirky offering that became the follow-up single to the eccentric title hit; its B-side, ʻFriend’, is far more conventional and sounds more sincere. The wailing ʻI Let My Chance Go By’ is the best straight soul tune here, with throbbing piano and a faintly Latin feel, Knight beautifully handling Harrison Calloway’s tale of regret. The album says farewell with another song of lost love, ʻSomeday We’ll Be Together’, a fired-up, building-up version that’s as dissimilar to Diana Ross & The Supremes’ sign-off single as grits are to caviar.
… who should have been a bigger star
When I’ve Been Lonely For So Long ends, you realise it is a great soul album – which makes you wonder why Knight was not a bigger star, scoring just one more decent R&B hit, ʻI Betcha Didn’t Know That’, on another Stax imprint, Truth. Maybe his style of soul was just a little too leftfield to build a loyal audience. But on this album, Knight had found a writing partner in Sam Dees on two tunes, and the collaboration would serve him well: like Dees, Knight earned most of his bread with his pen. He wrote for Aretha Franklin, Gwen McCrae, Major Lance and many more, making major money with sole authorship of Anita Ward’s global disco smash ʻRing My Bell’ in 1979. Nice work if you can get it.
As for ʻI’ve Been Lonely For So Long’, it’s been covered by everyone from Mick Jagger to Rita Marley to Graham Central Station. But if you want to really feel its soul, the original version is the only place to go.
I’ve Been Lonely For So Long can be bought here.