Remembering John McKnight

Many area music fans and fellow musicians were hit hard by the news of the unexpected passing of John McKnight on February 15. He was 58.

I first met John during the weekly Wednesday jam nights at the U.S. Hotel in Hollidaysburg in the late 1980s and early 90s. John frequently played drums and sang with the U.S. Hotel House Band. It didn’t take long to realize his amazing talents behind the kit and on the microphone. And as I met him, his jovial personality radiated, and through the years, it was customary for him to greet me with one or two new jokes he had to share, often leading to a lot of good gut laughs. 

In the 1990s, John became the drummer for Felix & the Hurricanes for a few years, part of the memorable lineup of Felix Kos, John and Bill Nusom on bass. They began playing weekly at New Sebastiano’s in Altoona, and I was there nearly every week to enjoy them. A big part of that was enjoying John’s power and finesse behind the drum kit, and his soulful singing voice, and witnessing how he could execute both skills at the same time. 

John left the Hurricanes in the late 1990s and relocated south to Atlanta to test the waters of the music scene there. It didn’t take too long for John to establish a foothold, doing session work and playing live alongside some of the big names in southern rock, including members of the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker Band, the Outlaws and more, plus other projects along the way. He also became the drummer for Texas blues rocker Chris Duarte for several years. He recorded on more than 75 CD’s during his time in Atlanta. 

When John would come back to town to visit his family, he often would show up and play at a show or two (often with the Hurricanes), and for me that was “must-see” live music, and I tried to be in attendance as often as I could to witness the musical magic with John in the house.

I have quite a few enjoyable memories of seeing John making music. One of my favorites occurred at Peter C’s in December, 2001 during the Make A Wish “Wish Jam” benefit, and a young Halestorm was part of the event. John stepped up to play drums with the Hurricanes, and I remember another area drummer, Kevin Siegel, leading a young Arejay Hale up near the stage to let him see John in action; Arejay watched and studied with undivided attention. And I’ll fondly remember all of the opportunities where I got to see John performing alongside his father, Dewayne McKnight (who passed in December, 2019).

John, thanks for your friendship, your jokes, your jaw-dropping musical talents and all the happiness you brought to music lovers locally and elsewhere. You will indeed be missed, but your music and memories will live on.