Earlier this spring, the powerhouse soul singer Sonny Knight announced that he would be canceling all of his scheduled tour dates so that he could undergo chemotherapy treatment for cancer. It was shocking news for a local community who had become accustomed to seeing Sonny command stages at the Fitzgerald Theater, First Avenue, and the Minnesota State Fair with his energetic live band, the Lakers, and who had just celebrated the release of his latest album with the Lakers, 2016’s Sooner or Later.
I reached out to Sonny to ask him how he’s been doing since his diagnosis, and he paid a visit to the Current’s studios to chat about his health and outlook on The Local Show.
Andrea Swensson: For those who are just hearing about your cancer diagnosis, can you catch them up on what’s been going on?
Sonny Knight: I guess it’s been there for a while. Because of the pain, I know it’s been there for a couple of years. It’s amazing; you get these X-rays and things, and people don’t see nothing until later on. As the pain progressed and kind of went down my back and wrapped around my rib cage, that’s when I said, “something’s wrong.” Because it was really painful. Then I went and had some more work done and they found this little nodule on my lung. The doctor told me it was cancer, and with that we started moving forward to what am I going to do, where do I do it at and now is this working?
It’s just like a ton of stuff. And the amount of people that came and joined in to help me understand it was truly amazing. Otherwise I would have missed it all, because I was still stuck on the fact that, “Sonny, you got cancer.” And my mind stopped. So the things that we can do to fix this, or that might happen like that — I ain’t heard nothin’. To go back and tell the guys everything of what was coming down that path, yeah it was difficult.
The guys being your band, The Lakers?
Yeah, my boys. So to go back and tell them everything that was going down, that was kind of hard to do, you know. And where do we go from here, you know. That was a pity bag, getting into that kind of thing, but the way they rallied together, they heard everything that I was missing and we started putting a little regiment together and getting things done.
I would say right now the best thing that’s come out of this situation is that they got it to shrink. So, with that it doesn’t take it away, but they got it to shrink. Everything just kind of came together and started working.
That’s great news. Can you talk about your decision to be open about your diagnosis, and to share this news with the fans? What was that like?
It was to make my life be peaceful. Because that’s a hard thing to carry around and then try and get on stage and pretend it’s not there. I need the air to sing, you know, and if I’m only working on one lung capacity — wait a minute, that’s not the way he used to do that kind of thing. But if you understand it and you know anything about the cancer, it’s going to take a moment to get it right. This is my profession, this is my job that I chose, and it really stands in the way of what I do; I gotta do what I gotta do to get it back right and to give to the people.
So yeah, I wanted the people to know, cause there’s a lot of other people out there going through the same thing and they may know something I don’t know. I’m reaching out for help cause I don’t wanna leave y’all. I wanna stay right here and continue what I’m doing. So for me it’s like, maybe there’s people out there that might know somebody that knows somebody that might know this, that can make this happen.
So build a wall? No, tear that wall down and let that man come in here and show me eat this, eat that, do this, do that and that will help. I reached out to the public not only to say that right now I’m not up to 100%, but if you got any information, please pass it on to anyone who needs it.
I think it’s so beautiful that you’re able to rely on your band mates in this time. I think it was almost five years ago now that I first visited the old Secret Stash Studios and I saw you getting ready for that first Secret Stash Soul Revue at the Cedar Cultural Center, and you guys went on to form The Lakers band a couple years later. I can imagine that over time it’s become something like a family for you.
It is a family. This is my family. I look forward to going to work. Why? Because of our experiences; of what we do in fun times, and the obstacles that we come across. And that’s the really fun part, because we find ways to get through them. Out of all the band I’ve played in, this is my family, my friends, my circle; people that I can truly say got my back. And it took me a long time to try and learn that. These cats are there for me and I’m good with that.
Have you had people come forward to share their own experiences and say that they appreciate being able to relate to you in this way?
Well I know with Facebook and other media there have been a lot of people who have reached out, and I was surprised with that. I don’t think I’ve touched nearly half the people who are out there that might know something. We haven’t really reached, nor do I sometimes wanna really reach to ask for help. Some people don’t wanna go to the doctor to find out that this is what’s really going on with you, but if something in your body ain’t working right, you gotta do something. And when you become as old as I am you definitely need to see doctors, because things ain’t like they used to be.
As you’ve been going through this experience, is there music you’ve turned to in this time that’s comforted you?
Yeah, gospel. Because it kind of reaches out and lets you know where you’re at. And like I said, death — you know we can’t get out of here alive. Nobody does. And gospel sings about your mother who has gone home and you’re still here, different things like that. Clean up around your backyard. It’s not telling you, “Oooh, baby, baby make love to me,” none of that crazy stuff. It’s just straight up, down home, take care of yourself. And I’ve relied on certain things that it was saying to me, or the way the beat was going; it makes people happy and they forget all their problems because they’re just bouncing. When the drummer is tearing it up in church and the ladies jump up and start hollering and screaming, that’s good stuff you know. So I related a lot to that, and a little jazz here and there to kinda calm things down.