Soul singer Eddie Floyd’s new autobiography is a real page-turner

Knock! Knock! Knock! On Wood – My Life in Soul – Eddie Floyd with Tony Fletcher (BMG Books)

One of the most interesting music biographies I’ve read in a very long time

Eddie Floyd is best known for his 1966 soul hit “Knock on Wood,” which also got covered by Amii Stewart in a disco version in 1979.  But, as we find out from Knock! Knock! Knock! On Wood, his new autobiography, he’s had a front-seat view of soul music, from its humble beginnings to its present day revival.

Floyd was signed to the legendary Stax Records and had success both as a solo artist with songs like “Raise Your Hand,” “I’ve Never Found a Girl,” “Big Bird,” and the aforementioned “Knock on Wood,” and as a songwriter, penning Wilson Pickett’s “634-5789,” and “99 1/2 Won’t Do,” as well as countless others.  

The thing I really like about Floyd is that this book is about the music.  He was at the center of one of the most successful R&B labels of all time, yet doesn’t dwell on the negatives.  Sure, we still get glimpses of just how crazy Wilson Pickett or how eccentric Isaac Hayes really were, but he tends to give the information and let the reader make their own inference.  

Interacting with Hayes, Pickett, along with Otis Redding, Booker T & the MG’s, Carla & Rufus Thomas, William Bell and the Staple Singers would certainly lend Floyd enough credibility for a book’s worth of material.  But there’s so much more to his story.  His early misadventures and subsequent time in reform school are painted not with regret, but with gratitude for the opportunity to start over, and to introduce him to performing.  

Once released, Floyd had a desire to do music, moving to Detroit, and hooking up with his uncle, Robert West.  Oh, one of his uncle’s good friends just happened to be Berry Gordy, Jr – this gave Floyd the opportunity to witness the birth of Motown.  Floyd was also a member of one of the first racially-integrated doo wop groups, the Falcons, who had the classic “You’re So Fine.” That combo also saw the arrival of Pickett, who showed up cocky and never let down his entire career.

After the demise of the Falcons, Floyd went solo and was able to share the stage with the likes of Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and James Brown.  There’s also a great story about how he met Carla Thomas, while both were living in Washington, DC, before they both relocated to Memphis.

His account of the ups and downs of Stax Records are worth the price alone.  How the label got totally screwed by the bigger and more legal savvy Atlantic Records is truly one of the ugliest tales in all of music.  The fact that Stax survived and managed to soar to even bigger heights for several years after that is a testament to the spirit of the artists involved, including Floyd.  

Another highlight is Floyd’s stories of the Blues Brothers Band, which helped reignite interest in classic soul.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how conversational the text is.  Floyd really tells his story in a way a friend sitting on the backporch with a glass of your favorite beverage might.  He’s done a great deal with his long musical career, yet he always seems humble and thankful for the people surrounding him that helped make it all possible.

Those looking for a tell-all book full of scintillating gossip are going to be disappointed.  What Eddie Floyd gives us is a glimpse of what it’s been like living a long life as an acclaimed songwriter and performer of one of America’s greatest art forms – soul.  If you’re a fan of soul, this book is a must.  —Tony Peters