Why We Picked This
Theda Berry: You actually wrote the Listening Notes for this one yourself, so you’ve already written a whole essay essentially answering why we picked Knock on Wood. But, if you had to sum it up, what makes Eddie Floyd, and this album specifically, a great pick for Classics?
Andrew Winistorfer: This is the first record where I am 100 percent responsible for picking it. I am the Classics A&R now at VMP, which means that I’m deciding every month which record comes out for Classics, with input from our team, obviously, but I’m programming it now. And, if you know me personally, you know I am a person who is obsessed with Stax Records; I literally have a Stax Records tattoo. Stax is just this vitally important record label in American music history, where it was this random confluence of Memphis musicians who happened to go to a high school that valued them getting a musical education that all these people came out of — like William Bell, Booker T and most of the M.G.’s.
And Eddie Floyd is a gigantic part of the Stax story. He first appeared as a songwriter for Stax on Carla Thomas’ Comfort Me, which was Classics Number 5. And I have been responsible for all of the Stax picks we've done for Classics. So, since back then, I was like, “We need to do an Eddie Floyd record.” He is an important part of Stax and I realized that his first record, Knock on Wood, is arguably — outside of Otis Redding — maybe the most well-known Stax record. And this hasn’t been reissued in a while, and if you wanna know what soul music sounded like in 1967, it is an incredibly important record for your record collection.
Selecting this one was the most no-brainer of picks, maybe, because it’s a really good record and it’s a classic record, so it makes sense. How we picked it doesn't have a super interesting story beyond the fact that I think it’s an incredible record that everybody needs to own.
I was struck reading your Listening Notes by how Floyd’s career at Stax started in songwriting, and “Knock on Wood” actually wasn’t meant to be recorded by him, yet later in life he ended up performing it at the White House for Obama. What about Floyd in particular — rather than Otis Redding, who he recorded the demo track for — do you think made this song such an enduring hit?
The easy answer is that you can really dance to this, and Otis Redding, his best songs were ballads. He had a lot of upbeat numbers, but I think he was best when he was singing like, “Cigarettes and Coffee,” or “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.” Eddie Floyd recorded this as a reference track for Otis to record it, and Otis heard it and was just like, “Why would I do anything with this?” Eddie Floyd did a lot of ballads, too, but I think he was ultimately an entertainer. He was ready to hop up and kind of ham it, and this song is really served by somebody just going all-in on the performance part of it. And I think you can really see that, like, even in that Obama video, when he’s performing in his early 80s or late 70s, just like, that dude is still just doing it. Like, I don’t think it was that dissimilar from if you had seen him in 1968 doing that.
It seems like all his moves haven’t changed much over time. (Laughs)
Right, seeing him punching the mic, and when the backbeat comes in right before the chorus when he like, counts them in.
Yeah. Switching gears a little bit, last month, in the context of Donald Byrd and Fancy Free, you talked about the ’70s being the peak of cheesy, pun-driven album covers. Even though Knock on Wood came out a bit earlier in ’67, would you agree this cover has a little bit of that same kind of endearing cheesiness?
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a really unique cover. And he’s not even really knocking on wood, it’s kind of a pun but he’s out with an ax, just like, chopping a tree. When I went to Atlanta to interview William Bell in January for that Classics release, the way that it was presented to me when he was telling me about how artwork worked at Stax was just like, there was somebody in the office — and it could've been a secretary for a while — who would just decide like, “OK, this is what the cover is,” and that’s how he ended up with his like, weird James Bond cover for The Soul Of A Bell. And I wonder how much of that was just like, somebody was like, “OK, there’s wood in the title, take him out to the forest outside of Memphis and have him take an ax,” I guess, because having him knock on a tree makes no sense? Nobody has the gall to be that corny anymore in an album cover. It’s a good era for that I think in the ’60s and ’70s, and I think nobody really knew what LP art should or could be at that point. They were still figuring it out. We forget that at that point, the LP was like 20 years old. (Laughs)
They were experimenting with like, how cheesy they could go.
And I don’t know if they thought it was cheesy, they were just, “This makes sense,” like, “This works.”
Aside from that really wonderful cover, can you tell us more about the package details?
Like all of our Classics releases, this comes with a tip-on jacket, on 180-gram vinyl, this is 33 1/3 RPM just like it was when it was released in the ’60s. It comes with a little Classics booklet, where my Liner Notes are. This one was remastered by Kevin Gray, who's about the best guy in the business at remastering old albums like this who we've used a bunch in the past on Classics releases.
The main goal with Classics records is to try to make like the high-end version of what it would have looked like in the ’60s or ’70s. We have done that for all 17 of the Classics records so far, and did it here as well.