“Knock On Wood” By Eddie Floyd
May 3, 2021
This was Eddie Floyd's biggest hit. He wrote the song with Stax Records guitarist Steve Cropper in the Lorraine Motel, which is where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Working late at night, they came up with the famous line, "It's like thunder, lightning, the way you love me is frightening" when Floyd told Cropper a story about how he and his brother would ride out the storms in Alabama. "In Alabama, man, there's like thunder and lightning," he told Cropper. "We'd hide under the bed because we'd be frightened of the thunder and lightning." Cropper liked this phrase and came up with the famous line.
The saying "Knock On Wood" is used to express gratitude for good fortune while humbly acknowledging that it might not continue: "My back has been feeling better ever since I gave up spearfishing... knock on wood." This is often accompanied by the speaker actually tapping on any nearby (and preferably wooden) surface. In the song, Eddie Floyd is knocking on wood because he's so lucky to have found the girl of his dreams. Steve Cropper recalled to Mojo magazine: "We were trying to write a song about superstitions, and after we'd exhausted about every superstition known to man at that time, from cats to umbrellas, you name it, we said, what do people do for good luck? And Ed tapped on the chair and said, 'knock on wood, there it is.' So basically the whole theme of the song changed, and we started to sing about, I'd better knock on wood for good luck, that I can keep this girl that I got, because she's the greatest - and that's what it was about."
This song has one of the most effective pauses in music history: After Floyd sings, "I better knock," there's some space before drummer Al Jackson comes in with with his drumbeats and Floyd completes the line with "on wood." This section wasn't planned - Jackson came up with the idea of putting the pause in and simulating the sound of knocking on a door to break up the line. This little flourish made the song very memorable.
A disco version by Amii Stewart was a #1 hit in 1979. It was the only hit for Stewart, who was also a dancer and actress - she starred in the Broadway musical Bubbling Brown Sugar. The innovative arrangement of her version inspired Jay Graydon's production of The Manhattan Transfer's "The Boy From New York City." Says Graydon: "There was a re-release of 'Knock On Wood' that was fantastic. And some guy played a triplet guitar part in it. I decided to borrow the idea because professionals borrow where amateurs steal. (laughs) So I was borrowing the concept… with different notes that I played, of course, And that was the secondary hook of the song." (read more in our interview with Jay Graydon)
The intro, with horns and guitar, is similar to another hit for Stax Records: "In The Midnight Hour" by Wilson Pickett. The guitar lines in both songs are deceptively simple. Steve Cropper explained on his website: "It's a little school-of-guitar thought that I called 'follow the dots.' Basically, you look down on the front markers of the guitar and just kind of follow them out and you can come up with the intro of either 'In The Midnight Hour' or the intro of 'Knock On Wood' depending on where you start. It was kind of funny that sometime after 'In The Midnight Hour' had been a hit, I was laughing that we had always put a lot of pride in our intros at Stax, and you could tell it meant a lot because the hits were pretty identifiable - the old game of name that song in one note, and usually you'd get it right off of the intro before the lyrics start. This is one of those cases. We just thought it was funny and I hit it. Eddie said, 'man, that's it!' That's how the intro to 'Knock on Wood' came about."
After Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper wrote this song at the Lorraine Motel, they called trumpet player Wayne Jackson, who was doing a gig 10 minutes away in West Memphis, and asked him to come by to work on the horn lines before their session the next morning. He came by around 2 a.m., and an hour later they had the horn lines written and ready to go. At the session, they didn't have to spend time working up the song because it was already prepared.
This song confused British listeners a bit, as the phrase "knock on wood" in not in their vernacular. In England, the expression is "touch wood."
According to Eddie Floyd, it was Isaac Hayes, a regular at Stax Records, who came up with the bridge, which ended up being played on a saxophone.
Stax Records boss Jim Stewart wasn't a fan of this song, as he thought it was too similar to "In The Midnight Hour." He didn't release it until about six months after it was recorded. When he did, Cropper and Floyd did much of the promotion themselves, visiting radio stations to try to get airplay for the song.
The soul singer Tyrone Davis released a slower version of this song in 1969 on his album Can I Change My Mind.
Otis Redding recorded the song as a duet with Carla Thomas (credited to "Otis & Carla"). Their version went to #30 in 1967.
The Stax house band - Booker T. & the MG's - provided backing on this track. Isaac Hayes played the piano.
Ringo Starr said at the 2011 Mojo Awards this is his favorite song ever.