The performer now known as Robert Knight was Tennessee-born Robert Peebles, who started his musical career as a member of the Paramounts. That group signed a contract with Dot Records, and Knight told me that although “we made a little noise with ‘When You Dance’ and ‘Why Do You Have to Go,’” the group wasn’t terribly successful, so their producer, Noel Ball, “convinced me to go out as a solo act.”
Ball also had him change his name to Robert Knight “because disc jockeys were always always pronouncing my name wrong, saying ‘Pebbles’ and things like that,” Knight said. Though technically still a member of the Paramounts, he also recorded some solo sides, of which 1962’s “Free Me” was the most noteworthy.
Eventually, the group broke up while Knight continued to work on a degree in chemistry at Tennessee State University and later at Vanderbilt. While in school, he formed another group, the Fairlanes, not with the intention of recording but simply “because I met these guys and we started singing — everybody was singing on street corners then.” But by the time Knight finished his degree, he had been “discovered” once again while singing in a nightclub.
“Buzz Cason had worked for Noel Ball, and Buzz was working with Mac Gayden. Cason was starting his new Rising Sons label and working on some material with Mac,” Knight said. They approached Knight about signing with them and put together a few tunes for him to record. In his autobiography, Cason said the idea behind “Everlasting Love” (its name taken from Jeremiah 31:3, which says, “Yea, I have loved you with an everlasting love”) was to do a Motown-type song, and Cason and Gayden cobbled together some material they already had to complete the track.
It didn’t get a lot of thought, however, because it was going to be used as the flip side of a track called “The Weeper.” In fact, Knight wouldn’t have access to the completed version of the song until the actual recording session, and he was fully aware of the song’s shortcomings.
“Buzz and Mac were country artists, and I was R&B, and so I had to make it more of an R&B song,” Knight said. “I practiced and practiced on it — it was a hard song to sing because, at the time, it was hard to sing a fast song slow. I didn’t sing it the way they had written it. I made some changes to fit my voice, and I didn’t do it note for note. They had the melody going too fast, and it was jamming, it wasn’t doing right, it wasn’t sounding right. So I started what you call a steady step. I start singing a beat and a half: ‘hearts-go-a-stray’ — like that. It wasn’t like that in the beginning, and I think that’s what got ‘Everlasting Love’ off the ground.”
Even with the completed product, Knight wasn’t convinced it was a great song, and nor was anyone else. He thought “Everlasting Love” was supposed to be the B-side and thought the song that was eventually released as the record’s B-side (“The Weeper” had been shelved and was never released), “Somebody’s Baby,” was better: “It was a good R&B song, and I think I did a better job on it!” But Knight remembers that “somebody turned it over and started playing ‘Everlasting Love,’ and that’s what we went with.”
As a result, the record that was twice destined to be a B-side before being flipped would be a classic. “Everlasting Love” would go to #13 on the Billboard pop charts during its 12-week run, and it would also reach #14 on the R&B charts. Unfortunately, its follow-up, “Blessed are the Lonely,” would barely crack the charts at #97, and only one more of Knight’s records, 1968’s “Isn’t it Lonely Together,” would chart, and it simply duplicated the marginal success of its predecessor (#97). It was Knight’s last chart record in this country.
Knight would go on to be very successful in England on the Northern Soul scene, however, and when re-released in 1973, his 1968 effort “Love on a Mountain Top” was a major UK hit. That prompted a re-release of “Everlasting Love” in England, and though it had originally only gone to #40 in 1968, in 1974, it went all the way to #19.
Covers of “Everlasting Love” by other artists have been popular as well, with Love Affair’s version going to #1 in England in 1968, while versions by Carl Carlton, Rex Smith and Rachel Sweet, Gloria Estefan, and others have all performed well. It’s one of only two songs to reach the US Top 40 in the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.
By the mid-1970s, Knight had moved away from recording, but unlike many artists, he had a career and a college education to fall back on. He went on to work at Vanderbilt University as a chemical lab technician and worked there until he retired just a few years ago. He still performs from time to time.
“The Story Behind” reveals the history of a well-known Top 40 hit based on interviews conducted with the artists behind some of the most familiar pop and soul hits of the 1960s and ’70s.