The Doobie Brothers, announced Wednesday as part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Class of 2020, have a key central Illinois connection.
Though 29 musicians have played with the band, only nine are going into the Hall by name — including late drummer Keith Knudsen, who graduated from Princeton High School. In 2005, he died at age 56 and was buried Princeton.
The band, which formed in 1970, brought Knudsen aboard in 1974 as part of its twin-drummer lineup. Guitarist-singer Patrick Simmons, the lone musician with the Doobies for all of their 50 years, told Rolling Stone on Wednesday that Knudsen and the other eight honorees made for solid choices.
"Those were the guys that were there for lengthy moments throughout our career," Simmons said. "They definitely deserve recognition. They definitely contributed to the songs and the records."
Knudsen was born in 1948 in LeMars, in northwestern Iowa. There, at age 5, he contracted polio, which weakened his entire body, especially his lungs.
"Those lungs were weak all his life," his father, Charles Knudsen., told the Journal Star in 2005.
As part of Keith Knudsen's physical rehabilitation, a neighbor who taught music showed the boy how to play drums. After years of practice, he got his first drum kit at age 14, when his parents bought him a small set featuring only a bass, snare and cymbal.
"After that, he just played, played, played," his father once recalled with a laugh. "He drove the neighbors crazy. He drove his parents crazy."
In 1964, his father, a cemetery-plot salesman, bought Elm Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Princeton, home to about 7,500 residents about 45 miles north of Peoria. As the family relocated there, Knudsen soon found comradeship among several other budding musicians.
He had his first professional gig at a honky-tonk outside town. To bolster his limited drum kit for the show, Knudsen — who had been playing in the Princeton High School band — borrowed some dusty old drums stored in the school basement. His father was in the audience.
"I had to go with him," his father said. "He was too young to play in a bar."
Later, Knudsen would join several area teen bands, playing wherever they could get a gig. Once, one of his outfits opened for Paul Revere & the Raiders at a show in LaSalle
After graduating high school, Knudsen decided to become a professional drummer. He went to study music at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. He learned, but not in a classroom: he spent many late nights at bars, listening to blues bands."
In 1970, his band-of-the-moment, the Mendlebaums, left Wisconsin for the West Coast. But his bandmates quickly grew impatient with crowded housing and low pay. They headed back to Wisconsin, but Knudsen kept slapping the skins in San Francisco. There, his playing had caught the attention of Bruce Cohn, manager of the Doobie Brothers.
By 1973, the band had released its third album, "The Captain & Me," and Doobies singles had begun trickling onto the radio. Michael Hossack, one of the band's drummers — the Doobies went with two drummers for a fuller rhythm section — decided to leave the band. (Hossack would later rejoin the Doobies; Hossack, who died in 2012, is also among the nine Hall honorees.)
With a sudden hole in the Doobies' line-up, manager Cohn asked Knudsen to try out. A week of rehearsals later, Knudsen hit the road for his first Doobies tour.
He would play and sing on the next nine Doobies albums: six originals, two greatest-hits collections and a live LP. In 1982, after the band's farewell tour, Knudsen and bandmate John McFee formed the country-rock outfit Southern Pacific, which had four albums and several hits.
In 1991, the Doobies re-formed to record a new album. Knudsen rejoined the band in 1993 and continued even while undergoing successful treatment for nasal cancer in 1995.
He kept drumming into the Doobies' 2004 summer tour, including a stop in Galesburg. But in August, Knudsen's health took a sharp dive. He came down with pneumonia for the second time that year, severely straining his polio-damaged lungs. Pneumonia came back months later, and he died in California on Feb. 8, 2005.
He was buried at Elm Lawn Memorial Park in Princeton, the cemetery that his father (who died last year) had bought years earlier and brought Knudsen to town.
PHIL LUCIANO is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter.com/LucianoPhil.