He composed more than 800 songs. He has written songs for Hank Snow, Hank Williams Jr., Mickey Gilley, about a dozen tunes for Dean Martin, and fourteen for Ricky Nelson.
Thomas Baker Knight Jr. was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on July 4, 1933. He spent the early 1950s in the service, and formed a country band, Baker Knight & The Nightmares, when he returned home from overseas. For a couple of years, he juggled working in a factory by day and playing clubs by night. He took the group to Nashville where they recorded and released a few records. Bring My Cadillac Back was a minor hit. But no one was interested in any of Knight's original compositions except for one young lady who worked in publishing on the West Coast. Her name was Sharon Sheeley, she was the girlfriend of the late Eddie Cochran and a composer in her own right. For Cochran she wrote Somethin' Else, Lonely, Cherished Memories and Love Again in 1958. She was in the UK in 1960 with Eddie Cochran when he was killed in a car accident. (While training as a 16 year old police cadet, Dave Dee [real name David Harman, and soon to be leader of successful pop group Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich] was called to the scene of a car crash in April 1960 that resulted in the death of Eddie Cochran. Eddie was on a UK tour with Gene Vincent and the pair was being driven through Chippenham to London. When the car skidded into a lamp post, Eddie was thrown through the windscreen and died later in hospital. Dave Dee retrieved the singer's Gretsch guitar from the road and took it to the local police station, where he played it for a while before handing it over to Eddies mother a couple of weeks later).
In the early sixties Sharon Sheeley wrote a lot of songs, some of them together with her friend Jackie DeShannon, a singer/songwriter who would date Elvis in the mid-1960s (she also dated John Lennon when she was one of the opening acts on the Beatles' first US concert tour), and for the demos she used singers such as Glen Campbell, Delaney Bramlett, P.J.Proby and Mac Davis (who of course was the Davis who wrote In The Ghetto etc. for Elvis). In 1958 she wrote Poor Little Fool for Ricky Nelson.
Meanwhile, down on their luck, Baker Knight and his band broke up. Not long after that, the factory where Knight worked shut down. Behind on his rent and car payments, Knight sold everything he had except his car and his guitar and headed west in 1958. Since his arrival in Los Angeles, Knight had been knocking on doors, trying to find a publisher for his original songs. He was almost broke when he ran into Sharon Sheeley again, and she introduced him to Ricky Nelson.
'I was surprised when Ricky Nelson came knocking at my door', Knight recalls. 'He told me that he had heard from Sharon that I had some songs he might like. So I picked up my guitar and went to work'. Baker played the teen idol a couple of what he thought were his best numbers. Nelson offered no response. A few minutes later the singer thanked him and left. Thinking he had blown his final chance at success, a depressed knight sat on his and stared at the walls. Then a couple of hours later, he heard another knock at the door. This time it was the Nelson family attorney, carrying a two-thousand-dollar advance check and a publishing contract. A few months later, Nelson scored a major hit with Knight's Lonesome Town. Within a year the singer had placed several more of Knight's songs on the charts (a. o. I Got A Feeling, Never Be Anyone Else But You, Sweeter Than You, I Wanna Be Loved, Mighty Good, Right By My Side, and You Are The Only One), and a host of other performers were coming to him for songs. The writer's success paid for cars, food, and lodging, but it came so fast it all but overwhelmed the country boy. Fears and insecurities caused him to drink more and more each day. In early 1959 the writer found himself in an Alabama hospital trying to sort out if he wanted to live or die.
'I had an ulcer', Knight recalls, 'and was very disillusioned about things. I guess I was on a spiritual search, and while I was laying in my hospital bed, I just started writing a song, trying to sort out my relationship with God. In truth, the song was very poorly put together at that point, but it was a prayer of thanks for God not giving up on me. I finished it when I went back to L.A'.
The writer felt that the song, which had evolved from being a gospel number to being a love song rather, had a 'Perry Come feel' to it. Yet the first person to cut Knight's The Wonder Of You, was one of TV's favorite doctors, Vince Edwards. Edwards played the lead in the TV show 'Ben Casey'. Though the actor did not have a hit with the song, his version caught the ear of another singer, Ray Peterson. This Denton, Texas, native had just landed a contract with RCA Victor, and he needed a hit. The Wonder Of You (1959) put Peterson on the charts. It peaked at #25 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart (the record was reissued in 1964, but could get no higher than #70). His next single, Tell Laura I Love Her (1960), became a rock classic.
'Elvis really liked The Wonder Of You, Knight explains. 'In fact, Presley liked Ray Peterson's version so much that he asked Ray to visit a movie set and meet with him. Elvis took Ray out to lunch, almost asking permission to cut the number'. Elvis did not record the song then. But he never forgot it, either. A decade later, Knight got a call that sent him into the clouds. 'I had just gotten a divorce, was living in an apartment in Ventura. I was always a night person and slept during the day. Anyway, the phone rang 7:30 in the morning. I couldn't imagine who would be calling me at that time. On the line was one of the folks in Elvis's band, Glen Hardin. He asked me if I could give him the words to 'The Wonder Of You'. Elvis needed them because he had decided to the song on stage that very night'.
The lyrics were quickly transcribed over the phone and rushed back to Elvis. The singer spent the day learning them. That evening, in front of a sold-out crowd at the International Hotel in Ls Vegas, Elvis sang The wonder Of You for the very first time. For Baker Knight, hundreds of miles away in Ventura, this February 18, 1970, was one of the most wonderful evenings of his life. The biggest name in the business had just cut his song (first performance was the February 18 Midnight Show. First released recording was from the February 19 February Dinner Show). Whether Knight didn't remember the exact words to his song, or Glen Hardin didn't hear them right or Elvis himself messed them up is hard to tell. Anyway, Elvis's version deviates some from the wording in the sheet music. He changes some words and leaves out an entire verse (the third). Well, even Peterson's version wasn't word perfect. He leaves out the first half of the third verse - still according to the sheet music. So here follow the original lyrics:
The Wonder Of You
When no-one else can understand me,
When ev'rything I do is wrong,
You give me love and consolation.
You give me hope to carry on,
And you try to show your love for me
In ev'rything you do.
That's the wonder,
The wonder of you.
And when you smile, the world is brighter.
You touch my hand and I'm a king.
Your kiss to me is worth a fortune.
Your love to me is ev'rything,
And you're always to lend a hand
In all I try to do.
That's the wonder,
The wonder of you.
You'll never know how much I love you.
My love is yours and yours alone,
And it's so wonderful to have you,
To have you for my very own.
Guess I'll never know the reason why
You love me as you do.
That's the wonder,
The wonder of you.
Elvis, who insisted in releasing it as his next single, recorded The Wonder Of You at the International Hotel in Las Vegas on February 19, 1970. The record sold over two million copies and has a 12-week stay on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, reaching a high of #9.On the country chart it peaked at #37. The Wonder Of You was number one for six weeks in England. It was Elvis's first 'live' single release.
First single release (b/w Mama Liked The Roses): May 1970
First LP release: On Stage - February 1970, June 1970