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Lonnie's Tune


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Lonnie Knight, a good friend of mine back in the Twin Cities -- and the best guitar player I've ever known personally -- died yesterday. Esophageal cancer. He gave it the good fight but we all know that deck is stacked. He died peacefully, at home, with family and friends and guitars around him. He was an icon in the Twin Cities music community, and one of those guys who could do it all -- write, sing, play, arrange. He was generous. Played on my last two albums and immediately raised the level of quality. He meant a lot to me, and meant a lot to others.


I sat down and wrote this for him:




Lonnie's Tune

© 2017 by David Hanners


Sting like barbed wire in the Iron Range wind

Or smooth as silk on curves made for sin

Some battles you lose even after you win

Some battles you lose even after you win


Like light 'round a black hole there is no escape

But every note was true, not one was fake

Wherever you're at I know you are safe

Wherever that is, I know you are safe



You're probably walking in Memphis, out of the storm

Blowing out those stars one by one

You deserved better but that's how it goes

Now just sit back and watch that river flow


Like a craftsman from the old Renaissance

Art from your soul inspires and haunts

Your light will guide us straight until dawn

Your light, it will guide us straight home until dawn




We'll meet again on some angel's wing

Make bronze on rosewood of that old Goodall ring

Last solo is yours, son, so make it sing

The last solo is yours, make Paradise sing

Last solo is yours, boy, make Paradise sing




The first two lines refer to his playing. He could make a guitar scream. He could make it purr. Like all the great players, there was a hint of danger in his playing. He had sped and he had taste. Any guitar slinger can shred, but Lonnie never played 16 notes when four great ones would do. He always found the great notes. Thelonius Monk said, "There's wrong notes and there's **** that sounds bad." Lonnie never sounded bad. If he hit a "wrong" note -- and who are we to tell a genius he's hit a "wrong" note? -- he made it work. He made you think it was just a slightly different shade from the pallette he was working with. It sounded great. That's what geniuses do.


The chorus is a nod to two songs Lonnie did that could send your soul flying or rip your heart out -- Marc Cohn's "Walking in Memphis," which Lonnie truly made his own, and, "Have a Drink With Me, Suzy," a song Lonnie wrote about lovers who had drifted apart sitting down for a drink. In it, he talks about how, at the end of the evening, they will "blow the stars out one by one." That line always got to me. If I wasn't feigning allergies to disguise the sniffles by the time he got to that line, I sure as hell was afterwards. Like all great artists, he had managed to create something that resonated, deeply, in me. Doc Watson did that. Bill Morrissey did that. And Lonnie Knight.


RIP, brother.

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Thanks. Lonnie meant a lot to me. He was generous and played with such great taste. If the song called for shredding, he could do that, but he'd rather play four great notes than 16 fast ones. But he had great hand speed.


He wasn't a Gibson guy, though. Acoustically, he played a Goodall and a beautiful Martin D-41 from the '60s. On electric, he usually brought out his Strat or a PRS.


He and I collaborated on a song once -- ironically it was a tribute to Cam Waters, another Twin Cities musician who died too soon. He did consult with me on one song, "Hero For Sale," seeking my opinion about some of the lines. I was honored that he asked, but it's kind of like James Jones asking some hack if he can think of any ways to improve, "From Here to Eternity." I gave him my thoughts, but the song is all Lonnie.


Lonnie's playing was fluid and beautiful and always a treat to listen to. Here he is doing, "Hero For Sale":



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