John ‘Knocker’ Knowles, a revered and much-beloved British music industry figure, who worked with artists including Bob Marley and The Wailers and Chris Rea, passed away last week at the age of 73, in Berkshire, UK.
Described as “a big personality and big-hearted man who will be much missed”, he is survived by his siblings Joe and Valerie, his sons Ben and Jack, their mothers Maxine and Jill, and his many, many friends in the music industry and beyond.
His funeral will be held at All Saints Church, Marlow in the UK, on Wednesday, November 16 at 12:30pm, followed by a reception at The Two Brewers, Marlow. As ever with John, the more the merrier. Please find more details here.
Born in Post-War London in 1949, Knowles grew up in very difficult circumstances, in and out of various care homes, alongside his siblings Carol, Fred, Valerie and Joe.
He developed a love of boxing as a young man, from Fred, his elder brother, who was a successful amateur boxer.
This love of boxing continued throughout his life, including his work with the annual Nordoff Robins Boxing Dinner, raising money for the music therapy charity, and this lifetime passion contributed to his synonymous “Knocker” nickname.
His unconventional entry into the music business in the 1970’s followed stints as a bellboy in a London Hotel, and as a milkman.
The turning point in his life came after a chance meeting with Fred Cantrell, GM of Island Records whilst selling life insurance door-to-door in New Zealand. Cantrell offered him a job as a sales van rep back in London, and so the unlikeliest of music industry careers was born.
Knowles quickly gained a reputation as a brilliant salesman and an unforgettable presence. Having distinguished himself selling reggae records around the country, he was noticed by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, and MD, Tim Clark.
This prompted a move into marketing and John worked with the cream of Island’s heyday roster – including Bob Marley and the Wailers, Musical Youth and many more. The accompanying photo shows a 28-year-old John playing football with Bob and the Wailers in March 1977.
After leaving Island Records, Knowles established himself as a formidable music marketeer and label manager, with stints at MCA and Eagle Rock. It was at MCA that a lifelong friendship was forged with Universal Music Group Chairman & CEO, Sir Lucian Grainge.
Later he joined the team at Magnet Records under Lord Michael Levy.
It was at Magnet, where he first met Chris Rea, whom he would go on to form a long friendship with and later became his manager.
From the unlikeliest beginnings, John ‘Knocker’ Knowles became one of the most well-known and loved figures in the UK music industry. His irreverent sense of humour and his ability to get on with anyone, meant there were few people in the British record business he didn’t either know or know of him. And very many were touched by his immense generosity and kindness.
As Joe Munns, who got his start in the industry under Knocker sums it up: “Knocker was a larger-than-life character, but he was also one of the most kind, generous and caring people I have ever met. The only thing bigger than his reputation was his huge heart.”
“Always there when you really needed a friend and never expecting anything in return. I will forever be grateful for his love and support – and I will miss him terribly.”
Added Munns: “Always there when you really needed a friend and never expecting anything in return. I will forever be grateful for his love and support – and I will miss him terribly.”
“Knocker Knowles was one of the most important people on the Island Records team and was most loved and respected by all who met him.”
Chris Blackwell, founder Island Records, said: “Knocker Knowles was one of the most important people on the Island Records team and was most loved and respected by all who met him.
“He was always full of fun and very hardworking over many years. He was also not someone to pick a fight with! He will be sadly missed.”
“The music industry has lost one of its truly great characters, and I have lost one of my dearest friends. From the day I started at MCA Records nearly 40 years ago, Knocker and I formed what would become a life-long friendship.”
Sir Lucian Grainge
Sir Lucian Grainge, said: “The music industry has lost one of its truly great characters, and I have lost one of my dearest friends. From the day I started at MCA Records nearly 40 years ago, Knocker and I formed what would become a life-long friendship.
“While most people knew Knocker for his larger-than-life personality, behind that was a man who was insightful, irreverent, thoughtful, generous and kind. His loyalty was absolute, and he helped me get through some of life’s most difficult times by providing perspective and uproarious laughter.
“What Knocker meant to me, Caroline and our family is beyond words. We extend our deepest condolences to Jill, Ben and Jack and the entire family.”
“John Knowles was an exceptional man. John had vision, passion, and an amazing personality. When you were with John it was a real experience as he was a larger-than-life character.”
Lord Michael Levy
Lord Michael Levy said: “John Knowles was an exceptional man. John had vision, passion, and an amazing personality. When you were with John it was a real experience as he was a larger-than-life character.
“Above all John’s love of music and artistes was so very special and he added so much to the music industry. It was great to have John working at Magnet and M&G and he made a real difference to the lives of so many people.
“Gilda and Michael, together with Daniel and Juliet, regarded John as a true and loyal friend.”
“Considering where he came from, he was already a winner in my book by the time I met him.”
Chris Rea said: “Considering where he came from, he was already a winner in my book by the time I met him. He was my first phone call every morning for over 25 years. I loved him.”
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