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Baker Knight, 72; McCartney, Nelson and Presley Were Among Many Who Recorded His Songs

October 15, 2005|From a Times Staff Writer

Baker Knight, who wrote almost 1,000 songs from the late 1950s through the 1970s and whose "Lonesome Town" was recorded decades apart by Ricky Nelson and Paul McCartney, has died. He was 72.

Knight died Wednesday of natural causes at his home in Birmingham, Ala., according to his daughter.

When Knight came to Los Angeles in 1958, he met Nelson through a mutual friend. Within six months, Nelson's version of "Lonesome Town," a ballad about being lonely in Hollywood, was on Billboard's Top 10, as was its flip side, "I Got a Feeling," another Knight tune. In all, Nelson recorded 21 Knight originals.

"I loved 'Lonesome Town,' " McCartney wrote in the liner notes for "Run Devil Run," an album of covers released in 1999. "It's like 'Heartbreak Hotel,' it's a place we all know."

Also among the 40-plus artists to record Knight's tunes were Dean Martin, with "Somewhere There's a Someone" and "That Old Time Feelin'," and Elvis Presley with "The Wonder of You," which became a hit in 1970. Others included Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sammy Davis Jr. and Mickey Gilley.

Born Thomas Baker Knight Jr. in Birmingham, he learned to play guitar while in the Air Force. He formed a rock band, Baker Knight and the Knightmares, whose height of fame was opening for country stars Carl Perkins and Conway Twitty in a local auditorium in 1956.

After the band split up, Knight moved to L.A. for a movie role that never materialized. He returned to Birmingham in 1985 and began to suffer from agoraphobia and a condition similar to chronic fatigue syndrome, which put his songwriting career on hold.

In addition to his daughter, Tuesday Knight, an actress who lives in Studio City, Knight is survived by a brother, Robert; sister, Nonie; and son, Thomas Baker Knight, a veterinarian and taxidermist of Pensacola, Fla.

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