November 5, 2017 – Robert Knight, born Robert Peebles on April 24, 1945 grew up in Franklin Tennessee, just south of Nashville’s Music scene. Knight made his professional vocal debut with the Paramounts, a quintet consisting of school friends. Signed to Dot Records in 1960, they recorded “Free Me” in 1961, a US R&B hit single that was somewhat noteworthy as it outsold a rival version by Johnny Preston.
After this initial success, their subsequent releases flopped, resulting in a breakup of the group, which prompted Dot to file a breach of contract lawsuit. The subsequent legal wranglings effectively shelved Knight’s musical aspirations for close to five years, during which time he studied chemistry at Tennessee State University. Noel Ball, their producer at DOT had convinced him to go out as a solo act and also had him change his name to Robert Knight “because disc jockeys were always always pronouncing my name wrong, saying ‘Pebbles’ and things like that,” Knight said once in an interview.
While studying for his chemistry degree, he formed another group, the Fairlanes, a vocal trio, performing on street corners not with the intention of recording, but simply for the fun and the music (“because I met these guys and we started singing — everybody was singing on street corners then”).
In 1967, by the time Knight finished his degree, he was seen performing with the Fairlanes in Nashville at a Vanderbilt University fraternity, and was offered a contract as a solo artist by the Rising Sons label.
“Buzz Cason had worked for Noel Ball, and Buzz was working with Mac Gayden. Cason was starting his new Rising Sons label and working on some material with Mac,” Knight said in an interview. They approached Knight about signing with them and they would put together a few tunes for him to record. In his autobiography, Cason said the idea behind “Everlasting Love” (its name taken from Jeremiah 31:3, which says, “Yea, I have loved you with an everlasting love”) was to do a Motown-type song, and Cason and Gayden cobbled together some material they already had to complete the track.
It didn’t get a lot of thought, however, because it was going to be used as the flip side of a track called “The Weeper.” In fact, Knight wouldn’t have access to the completed version of the song until the actual recording session, and he was fully aware of the song’s shortcomings.
“Buzz and Mac were country artists, and I was R&B, and so I had to make it more of an R&B song,” Knight said. “I practiced and practiced on it — it was a hard song to sing because, at the time, it was hard to sing a fast song slow. I didn’t sing it the way they had written it. I made some changes to fit my voice, and I didn’t do it note for note. They had the melody going too fast, and it was jamming, it wasn’t doing right, it wasn’t sounding right. So I started what you call a steady step. I start singing a beat and a half: ‘hearts-go-a-stray’ — like that. It wasn’t like that in the beginning, and I think that’s what got ‘Everlasting Love’ off the ground.”
Even with the completed product, Knight wasn’t convinced it was a great song, and nor was anyone else. He thought “Everlasting Love” was supposed to be the B-side and thought the song that was eventually released as the record’s B-side (“The Weeper” had been shelved and was never released), “Somebody’s Baby,” was better: “It was a good R&B song, and I think I did a better job on it!” But Knight remembers that “somebody turned it over and started playing ‘Everlasting Love,’ and that’s what we went with.”
As a result, the record that was twice destined to be a B-side before being flipped would be a classic. “Everlasting Love” would go to #13 on the Billboard pop charts during its 12-week run, and it would also reach #14 on the R&B charts.
It was an even bigger success in the UK and Western Europe the following year when a version by the British group Love Affair reached number 1, ironically preventing Knight’s version from progressing further than No. 40.
Knight scored two further pop hits at home, “Blessed Are The Lonely” and “Isn’t It Lonely Together”. In 1973/1974, thanks to heavy rotation by Northern soul music admiring deejays he hit the UK Singles Chart again with the re-issue of his late 1968 recording “Love on a Mountain Top”, reaching number 10 in early 1974 in the UK Singles Chart. This song was also written by Cason and Gayden. The re-issued “Everlasting Love” went even higher in the UK in 1974, reaching the Top 20. His final UK chart record was “Better Get Ready For Love” which reached number 53 in May 1974.
Robert Knight died on Sunday November the 5th, 2017 after a short illness, according to longtime friend (and ‘Everlasting Love’ co-writer) Mac Gayden. He was 72.
Knight is destined to remain classified as a one-hit wonder, but what a hit — his radiant 1967 blockbuster “Everlasting Love” endures among the finest soul records of its era. It’s one of only two songs to reach the US Top 40 in the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.After the highlights of the sixties and seventies, Knight shifted his focus away from music in the decades to follow, continuing his career in chemical research. “Everlasting Love” remains a perennial, covered by a number of singers and groups over the years such as Carl Carlton, Rex Smith/Rachel Sweet, and Gloria Estefan.