Although he did not make enduring music, Terry Knight holds an important place in the history of 1960s and early-'70s Michigan rock as both a performer and an entrepreneur. In the mid-to-late '60s, often recording with the Pack, he had several big hits in Michigan (and smaller ones nationwide), which were usually covers of songs by major and more significant performers, or blatant attempts to ape such performers with derivative original material. Prior to trying his hand at singing and recording, he was also a popular disc jockey on several Michigan-area stations. He is most known, however, for assembling Grand Funk Railroad, which included two members of the Pack, bassist Mark Farner and drummer Don Brewer. In the late '60s and early '70s, Knight served as Grand Funk's producer and manager, although those relationships were severed in 1972.
Knight entered the music industry as a radio DJ while still a teenager in the early '60s, doing stints at Flint's WTAC and then building a big following at CKLW (based in Windsor, Ontario, though actually for the most part serving the Detroit audience). At CKLW he managed to get away with playing the Rolling Stones' "Little Red Rooster" over and over for an hour, in the days when you could still do such things on AM radio. During the early '60s he also began to play guitar, sing, and write music; then at the end of 1964, he quit his CKLW gig to concentrate on music. One account has it that he gave his reason for leaving as planning to move to England to become the sixth Rolling Stone. That didn't happen, and he struggled to build a career in Flint, teaming up with a local band, the Jazz Masters. The Jazz Masters -- with Farner, Brewer, and three other musicians -- became the Pack, who backed Knight on his debut 1965 single, "Tears Come Rollin'." Terry Knight and the Pack didn't ring up big local sales, however, until putting out a faithful cover of the Yardbirds' "Mr. You're a Better Than I."
Over the next year or two Terry Knight and the Pack had several big regional hits on the Lucky Eleven and Cameo-Parkway labels, making number 46 nationally with their biggest single, a cover of Ben E. King's "I (Who Have Nothing)"; there were also a couple of albums. Although Knight did write some of his own songs, these were such transparent rewrites of tunes and approaches used by Bob Dylan, Donovan, P.F. Sloan, the Yardbirds, the Count Five, the Rolling Stones, the Lovin' Spoonful, and others as to be laughable. Perhaps his experience as a radio announcer, which must have required him to cull through dozens of singles on a weekly basis, influenced him in this regard by making him a quick study of current trends. The best of the lot was the corny but moving folk-rock tune "A Change on the Way," another successful regional release.
Further problems that likely hindered a national breakout were Knight's own severe limitations as a vocalist. The anonymous liner notes to the bootleg '60s Michigan rock compilation Michigan Brand Nuggets put it best: "Knight spent the better part of his recording career trying to sound like other artists, having little personality of his own, at least not on record." The problem became especially acute when Knight affected a tough talking-blues or melodramatic narrative spoken delivery (as he did often). The stiff results sounded like nothing so much as a stage manager suddenly pressed into service as a sub for a missing leading man during rehearsal. As for his actual singing, in a similar vein, it sounded like a guide vocal laid down by a colorless producer or manager before the actual singer came in to do his bit.
It therefore made sense then that Knight's biggest success would actually come as a producer and manager. The Pack split from Knight around 1967 or 1968 to play as the Fabulous Pack, with Knight continuing to work for a while as a solo act. He told the Detroit Free Press that he went to London to talk to Paul McCartney about joining Apple Records, which didn't work out. Knight had, however, gained a lot of experience in the studio and also in other dimensions of the business as a songwriter and producer at Cameo-Parkway. In 1968, he put the Pack's Mark Farner and Don Brewer together with bassist Mel Schacher, who had been in ? & the Mysterians. With Farner taking guitar and vocals, Grand Funk Railroad were born.
Knight produced and managed Grand Funk with success until early 1972, when Grand Funk broke off with him. Knight sent the band $60 million worth of lawsuits, and eventually Grand Funk bought him out. Knight also had lesser success during this period as the producer of hard rock-horn band Bloodrock. ~ Richie Unterberger