Given I collect Justice LPs, I probably shouldn't admit this, but the fact remains that much of the label's catalog is pretty plodding, pedestrian, and occasionally embarrassingly clumsy and low-tech (though I guess you could argue the latter make for some of the catalog's charm). So against that backdrop, The Knights 5 + 1 were interesting in a number of ways.
Based on George Winston Simpson's brief liner notes I'm guessing these guys were from Charlottesville, Virginia. Though the liner notes only named three of the six members, the original Knights 5 + 1 line up featured the talents of drummer Skinny Brown, lead guitarist Ronnie Cook, singer Ronnie Hughes, keyboard player Bing McCoy, and sax player Wilfred Wilson. Most were still in their teens (not sure about Wilson) when they formed what was originally The Knights 5.
The band went through a series of personnel changes and by the time they decided to record a self-financed vanity album of the Winston-Salem , North Carolina base Justice imprint the lineup featured Brown, Hughes, new sax player Festus Jackson, new bassist James ???, McCoy, and Wilson.
From a social standpoint these guys were definitely ground breaking. Imagine a bunch of southern kids, who in a pre-integration era (1966-67) were willing to buck social norms in order to form (and perform) as a racially integrated garage band (singer Hughes and sax player Wilson were African American, the rest of the band white) ... Almost unheard of. These guys were clearly taking some personal risks in the pursuit of rock and roll. I imagine there were plenty of Virginia venues where they simply were not welcomed ...
Also interesting was the fact that compared to most Justice bands, these guys were surprisingly accomplished and professional (even more impressive given their ages). Mind you, with four Wilson Pickett covers, 1967's "On the Move" wasn't the most original album you've ever heard. As with most album's in the Justice catalog there were plenty of blown chords, flat vocals, poor production, and other issues, but song for song there guys managed to slap together one of the more entertaining releases on the famed Justice label. As lead singer Hughes had his moments. Technically his voice was quite limited and any time he tried to stretch beyond his narrow comfort band the results were flat, or hysterical inept (check out his attempt to mimic Wilson Pickett's patented screeches on 'Mustang Sally'). The rest of the band were quite good with drummer Brown, guitarist Cook, and keyboard player McCoy each getting an opportunity to shine and as a unit they seemed to be having fun. To my ears there were only a couple of tracks where the performances seemed lackluster. Add to that they wrote some of their own material. Admittedly, of the three original instrumentals (two penned by McCoy, one by Cooke), one was horrible ('West Sun'), one was okay ('Tomatoes'), but the third was really good '(On the Move').
- I'll start off by saying I've heard far worse versions of Eddie Floyd's classic 'Knock On Wood'. The band actually stuck pretty close to the original arrangement, but Hughes voice simply didn't have the power to pull this one off. rating: ** stars
- The first of three band originals, keyboardist McCoy's 'West Sun' was a disappointing instrumental. A bland, bluesy ballad, the song was built around a plodding Jackson sax solo that seemed to drag on and on. I guess it was meant to be a make-out tune, but it was simply too dull to do anything other than lull you to sleep. rating: * star
- Another by the book cover, 'Mustang Sally' was fun, though nothing special. To my ears, the best part of the song was actually the pounding bass line. Whoever he was, it sounded like the bass player was hitting his strings with a hammer. rating: *** stars
- McCoy's second original, the instrumental 'Tomatoes' was a step in the right direction. Sporting a tasty, jazz-funk groove, the song essentially served as a platform for each member to showcase their technical prowess. The sequence saw McCoy take the spotlight first with some nice organ moves, followed by Jackson on sax, and Cook turning in a tasty jazzy solo. Shame the song faded out so early. rating: *** star
- Like their other Wilson Pickett covers, 'The Midnight Hour' was decent, though it added absolutely nothing to the original. Hughes sounded like he was singing through a bad head cold. That said, I bet they would have been a blast to see performing in a small, beer drenched club. rating: *** stars
- I've always loved Robert Parker's 'Barefootin'' but their cover was simply flat and uninspiring. Hughes sounded like he was reading a page out of the yellow pages. rating: ** stars
- While you have to admire any band willing to take on a Percy Sledge cover, the fact of the matter is that no matter how good your version was, it wasn't going to make the cut against the original. That was certainly the case with 'When a Man Loves a Woman'. While these guys stayed pretty close to the original, there simply wasn't any way for a 16-17 year old to give the song the same emotional punch Sledge had given it. rating: ** stars
- Okay, okay you weren't about to forget the original, but kicked along by Brown's frantic drumming and McCoy's skitterish organ, their cover of 'Land of a Thousand Dances' was actually quite energetic. You could even overlook the slightly flat vocals (love the end-of-song vamp section) and the unnecessary sax solo (though it only lasted a couple of seconds). Very nice ... rating: *** stars
- Penned by lead guitarist Cooke, the instrumental 'On the Move' was one of the standout performance. Showcasing a fantastic lead guitar/keyboard inter-play, this one's always reminded me of what The Zombies might have sounded like had they spent a couple of months living in the American South. rating: **** stars
- So read my comments about their Percy Sledge cover and they apply to this James Brown cover. On the positive side, Hughes made no effort to try to out-sing Brown, rather electing to give the song a cool, detached vibe. rating: *** stars
- The first couple of times I listened to the instrumental 'Don't Lose Your Cool' it didn't do a great deal for me. The track basically sounded like a half-hearted attempt to showcase sax player Jackson. All I can say is give the song a chance. Jackson's performance is great, but the swinging backing is even better. rating: *** stars
- Sounding like he'd just swallowed a jar of nails, Hughes turned in a fantastic performance on the band's last Wilson Pickett cover - I suspect Pickett himself would have been pleased to hear this blazing version of 'Ninety-Nine and a Half '. Nice way to end the set. rating: **** stars
Way too many covers, but a band that clearly had potential. Shame this is the only thing they recorded.
1.) When a Man Loves a Woman (Percy Sledge) - 2:16
2.) Land of a Thousand Dances (Wilson Pickett) - 3:18
3.) On the Move (instrumental) (Ronnie Cook) - 2:55
4.) Try Me (James Brown) - 1:43
5.) Don't Lose Your Cool (A. Collins) - 1:45
6.) Ninety-Nine and a Half (Wilson Pickett) - 2:34
McCoy seems to have remained active in music, playing with a host of groups including the late Roy Buchanan, Sageworth & Drums, Esther Mae Scott, Thirty Days Out