Book Review: “Knock! Knock! Knock! On Wood. My Life In Soul” by Eddie Floyd and Tony Fletcher
I haven’t written a book review since high school, but I just finished a book about one of the biggest hit makers from Stax Records golden age, Eddie Floyd. Floyd, along with co-author, Tony Fletcher, trace the Floyd’s life story. Told primarily in the first person, it feels as if you’re listening to Floyd reminiscing. From his early childhood bouncing from Montgmery Alabama and Detroit and back, Floyd doesn’t pull any punches. He speaks candidly about his troubled youth and how a teacher at a detention center designed for African American boys under 15 years old, Mt Meigs, turned him around by helping him develop his love of singing and set him on the path to stardom.
As he tells his story, he weaves a tale of meeting, and working with such well known artists as Bo Diddley, Bill Wyman and one of the best studio backing bands Booker T & The MGs. And as you read these names, it isn’t done as if he’s name dropping, but more as a story line trying to be as complete as possible. He saves most of his glowing praise for the people who he co-wrote with at Stax, especially Steve Cropper who was co-writer on songs such as “634-5789” and his first big hit as a solo artist, and title of the book, “Knock On Wood” as well as Booker T Jones, as in Booker T and the MGs (the backing band at Stax). In fact, he loved working with all the musicians and writers at Stax.
If you’re looking for salacious, behind-the-scenes stories, you won’t find any. In fact, early on in the book he states emphatically, and I paraphrase, if you want to learn about the music, keep reading, if you want the dirt, don’t bother. When speaking about the turmoil in Memphis after The Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated and the rifts that were occurring at Stax, all he would say was Isaac Hayes hired a couple of body guards of ill repute, but that he didn’t have much interaction, other than saying hi in the hallway. As close to any problems he may have encountered was his history with Wilson Pickett. They knew each other from Floyd’s first band, The Falcons, where Wilson spent a short time as lead singer. They had an altercation over “634-5789” when Stax gave the song to him to record and he didn’t want to do it. Cropper described it as Floyd came at Wilson ready to fight, although Floyd remembers it a little less confrontational (on a side note, it became a huge hit for Wilson). There were other run-ins, over the years, but Floyd still loved him as a brother.
Over the years, Floyd has recorded or performed with a who’s who of R&B/Soul and Rock Royalty. Bo Diddley played guitar on an early recording of Floyd’s in DC, “Will I Be The One” and “Set My Soul On Fire.” He toured around Europe with Bill Wyman’s post Rolling Stones group Rhythm Kings. And even played with up-and-coming artist Paul Young (“Every Time You Go Away”). He also talks about The Blues Brothers Band and how he began touring with them. As with Wyman’s and Young’s he didn’t want to be listed as part of the band, but instead listed as special guest. Which brings up another slight angry exchange with musical director Blue Lou Marini. Marini chalked it up to problems with the tour manager.
As I mentioned, most of the book is written in the first person from Floyd’s perspective, co-author Fletcher was able to add comments, and recollections from many of the people who Floyd worked with. From Cropper and Marini to Wyman and Young, their recollections jibed quite a bit with Floyds memory, and all generally acknowledged Floyd was a genuine, nice person. He still returns to Otis Redding’s hometown for their annual festival held in his memory.
If you are interested in the path of a true gentleman in the world of R&B and soul music, or if you would like to know about the camaraderie that pumped out hit after hit for Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding and others at Stax, as well as the downfall of the label, from a well-established insider, this is the book for you. His is a true American Story of determination and hard work, and how far that will get you. For the most part, each chapter is based around one of his hits and the story around how it was developed.
He also speaks candidly on what songs did well and which ones didn’t. He speaks of the lean times with the same attention as the boom times as one who realizes he is a sum of the whole, rather than just brag about the hits. It’s also apparent from the book how much emphasis he places on friendships. Floyd and Fletcher Fletcher have put together a story of a true gentleman who made it.