Sonny Knight was just 17 when he recorded his first single.
He later joined the Twin Cities funk band Haze. Then his music career simply came to a halt.
Nearly 50 years later, he's back in the spotlight with Sonny Knight and the Lakers. The Twin Cities group has just released its debut album, "I'm Still Here," and on Saturday will celebrate with a show at First Avenue in Minneapolis.
Knight's retro-style R&B may have finally found its time, and at 66, the Mississippi-born singer is reclaiming the stage. These days, he's often rehearsing in the basement studio of Secret Stash Records, a Minneapolis-based label known for reissuing funk and soul albums. Turning to music production, the company is throwing its support behind Knight and his eight-piece band, the Lakers.
Knight still has a hard time believing the turn his life has taken.
"Sonny Knight and the Lakers. Oh, my God," he said. "That means they're talking about me. Certain fears just jumped all over my body, my head, everything. I was always in the background. Now they got me up front. It's like, 'Ok, here we go.'"
Though Knight long dreamed of making it in music, he put his career on hold to serve in the U.S. Army. But when he returned home three years later, he found that as a new veteran he had lost sight of his old aspirations.
"Of course, this was during the Vietnam War," Knight recalled. "Coming back there wasn't too many heroes during that time. It was kinda hard for me to find myself so I kinda ran away from a lot of things."
He returned home troubled and sought refuge behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler, becoming a long-distance truck driver.
"I've hauled eggs; I've hauled swinging beef," Knight said. "I've pretty much hauled it all."
For years, Knight spent his days spent crossing the country. But he reserved his nights for karaoke, especially during the 1990s, when Japan's popular pastime was taking over American bars. Knight saw it as an opportunity to perform again, even if he had to take turns with alcohol emboldened crooners and bachelorette party celebrants.
"I'd get up there and I'd just be all over the chart," he said. "I started out with the Christopher Cross song 'Sailing.' Then 'Me and Mrs. Jones' or 'Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy.' I was trying lots of different things to see what I could and couldn't do."
Soon bar-goers were tracking Knight's trucking schedule
"People were lookin' forward to me," he said. "They'd ask, 'When are you gonna be in town again? I wanna come hear you sing.'"
Knight has since retired from the road -- and the karaoke circuit -- and is back in the studio.
For someone with such a big singing voice, Knight is remarkably soft spoken. He's the kind of guy who tears up when singing sad songs. And he cringes at the very thought of self-promotion.
"It feels weird, like I'm blowing my own horn," Knight said. "It's like, 'Hey, I'm this, that and the other.' I don't think like that. It's like I'm getting a big head. A big head ain't for me."
But Knight is happy to have a second chance and said says there aren't enough words to express his gratitude to Secret Stash Records. After a lot of wandering, he's finally where he's supposed to be.
"This is my bonus in life," Knight said. "If I should leave this world tomorrow, I've had some fun. Now that this is here, I don't want to lose it. I wanna give all I can."