A memorial services was held in Saugerties, New York on Sunday for Dick Kniss, a bassist who accompanied Peter, Paul and Mary for decades and co-wrote “Sunshine On My Shoulders” with John Denver. Kniss died Jan. 25 of pulmonary disease. He was 74.
Kniss began performing with Peter, Paul and Mary in 1964 and became bassist for John Denver in the 1970s when the legendary folk trio stopped touring regularly. After an eight-year stint with Denver, during which he also co-wrote songs with him, Kniss resumed performing with a reunited Peter, Paul & Mary in 1978 and continued to do so until Mary Travers’ death in 2009. Over the years, Kniss, a self-taught musician, also played with such jazz greats as Herbie Hancock, Woody Herman, Donald Byrd and Zoot Sims.
Kniss was “our intrepid bass player for almost as long as we performed together,” said Peter Yarrow in a statement reported by The Associated Press. “He was a dear and beloved part of our closest family circle, and his bass playing was always a great fourth voice in our music as well as, conceptually, an original and delightfully surprising new statement added to our vocal arrangements.”
Reflecting on Kniss, Noel Paul Stookey has noted that the late bassist continually re-invented approaches to Peter, Paul & Mary’s songs and said “I can’t name another bass player who improvises so tastefully within the framework of folk music.” Stookey recently told The New York Times: “In folk music, we’re telling a story. The guitars would begin it, but Dick was an orchestrator, and his entry often signified a particular turning point in a song.”