Look-Ka Py Py Podcast (ep 20): Jean Knight, Sister Big Stuff

“Let me tell you something: They tried to shop that song to so many people, and nobody wanted it,” says New Orleans soulstress Jean Knight of her signature tune “Mr. Big Stuff,” a song which would skyrocket to the top of the R&B charts, to number two on the pop charts and score the singer a Grammy nomination upon its 1971 Stax Records release. The Wardell Quezergue produced crossover smash, which sold two million copies in its first year, instantly became — and has since remained — one of the iconic labels most celebrated hits. Jean Knight, podcast photo, Greg MilesFor the then 28-year-old cafeteria employee Knight, born Jean Castille, the single’s success wasn’t so much a surprise as it was a shot to hang up her apron and step into the spotlight. In the Eighties, Knight struck gold again with her rendition of Zydeco stalwart Rockin’ Sidney’s “My Toot Toot.” Tomorrow night (January 18), Knight, now 69, will return to her hometown stage to will pick up a Best of the Beat Lifetime Achievement Award as well as to perform alongside a cast of fellow New Orleans R&B legends in a revue led by guitarist Ernie Vincent. “I sang with Ernie Vincent before I ever even made a record,” she says. “He’ll tell you that.” In last week’s episode of OffBeat’s Look-Ka Py-Py Podcast, that much, Vincent did. This week, Knight shares her stories, telling of her humble beginnings on the stage of Laura’s Playhouse to the sassy-go-lucky swagger that took her to the top.

  • Will Porter

    Concord Records (owner of the Stax catalog) says that “Mr Big Stuff” is the biggest selling, most successful release on the Stax label; outselling otis, Sam &Dave and all.; selling 3 million copies BEFORE digital. Wardell Quezergue, the arranger and producer, also did the biggest sellers on Malaco (Dorothy Moore and “Misty Blue”) and Red Bird (“going to the Chapel”), as well as dozens more for other labels…