Knight Moves: K J Knight Tells All

“And the drummer, he’s so shattered trying to keep on time” - M. Jagger and K. Richards

Sex, drugs, rock and roll, and crime  - it’s the perfect combination for a fast and enjoyable read, and Knight Moves, K J Knight’s memoir of his days as a respected member of Michigan’s music scene, delivers the goods and then some. Born Kenny Mills, the author played drums in a number of bands as a youngster before forming K J Knight and The Knightriders and adopting the stage name that he still uses today. The Knightriders won the 1966 Michigan State Fair Battle of the Bands contest, and for the next two years the band was a popular attraction at teen clubs throughout the state.

Knight’s major claim to fame, however, rests with his time occupying the drum chair of Michigan’s mighty Amboy Dukes featuring legendary guitarist Ted Nugent. Knight Moves opens with an account of a memorable band performance at the Montreal Forum in 1970 opening for Grand Funk Railroad that describes in detail the “take no prisoners” stage show that made the ‘Dukes’ concert favorites.

The book moves quickly through Knight’s youth and focuses on his love/hate relationship with his father, the unforgettable Don Mills. The elder Mills was a musician, con artist, hustler, and cheater of epic proportions. A compulsive gambler who would bet on literally anything, Knight’s father believed that he always needed an edge in order to win. Knight describes how his father used marked decks to take money from relatives and the underhanded ways he came up with to cheat while bowling for a hundred dollars a game. Don Mills was so obsessed with winning that he even fixed some Little League baseball games while coaching K J’s team.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Mills introduced his son to gambling by letting him play a role in the card games and bowling matches. He also shared his love of playing the horses at the Detroit Race Course, and K J relates how he was hooked on playing the ponies after getting his first winning ticket.

Knight’s other obsession was music, and his father also played a large role in the early stages of his career. Don Mills purchased a teen night club and renamed it the Club Shangri-la. The club featured early Detroit-area bands including Rusty Day and The Midnighters, The Derringers, Billy Lee and The Rivieras, and all-girl groups such as The Pleasure Seekers and The Debutantes. Mills soon formed his own management company and booking agency and began handling the careers of both The Debutantes and K J and The Knightriders.

Knight’s home life was thrown into turmoil when his father started an affair with Jan McClellan, the teen-aged lead singer of The Debutantes. The accompanying scandal caused the break-up of his parents’ marriage and was the root of deep feelings of resentment and anger towards the father he once admired. It was around this time that K J was introduced to crime by a friend and discovered that he loved to steal. Knight pulls no punches in his book while describing in detail the wide variety of thefts he engaged in to help support both his music and his gambling.   

By the age of sixteen, Knight had quit school and was pursuing a career in music full-time.   Knight Moves gives an inside look at the sex, drugs, and excitement that were part of being in a band in the 60’s and 70’s, but also shines a light on its downside of venereal disease, addiction, money problems, failed record deals, and the grind of touring .

The war in Vietnam and the draft was hanging over the heads of all young men during this time period.   Like many Americans, Knight was opposed to the war, and he provides us with a hilarious account of the extreme lengths he went to get his draft classification changed from 1A to 1Y in order to avoid induction into the Armed Services.

Of greatest interest to most readers, however, are the many anecdotes involving the famous musicians that Knight came in contact with during his career. Besides Ted Nugent, these include Bob Seger and his manager Punch Andrews, Alice Cooper, Ike Turner, David and Angie Bowie, Ray Manzarek of the Doors, bluesmen Slim Harpo and Luther Allison, Iggy Pop and Ron Asheton of the Stooges, and Mitch Ryder. 

In addition, there are stories involving Michigan regional favorites such as Scott Richardson of SRC and the ill-fated Fallen Angels, John Coury of Sky, the Quatro sisters, Greg Arama and Andy Solomon of the Amboy Dukes, and the tragic tale of Knight’s mentor and close friend Rusty Day.

Although I would have liked Knight to go into greater detail in many parts of his story, I found Knight Moves to be a thoroughly entertaining and informative book; and I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in Michigan rock and roll.

Knight Moves was published by Trafford Publishing in 2011. It is available at major online book retailers.