Touring Dayton's New Funk Museum With SUN's Ernie Knisley

Feb 14, 2018

Dayton, Ohio – the birthplace of Funk Music will celebrate the opening of the Funk Center and Museum on Friday. Funk music started flowing out of Dayton in the 70s – and scores of hit records became part if the American soundtrack.  Groups like The Ohio Players, Heatwave and Parliament became household names.

Today on Culture Couch, Community Voices Producer Renee Wilde gets a private tour of the center with a local musician whose band, called SUN, was part of Dayton’s funky scene back in the day.

In the late 60’s, we had a neighbor behind us that used to practice the trumpet in his backyard. My mom, always referred to him as 'that hippie'.  His name is Ernie Knisley

"My one neighbor, who used to live right behind you, used to say ‘Ernie, put that horn away’. [laughs]"

Ernie toured all over the world during the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s, as a member of the band SUN.  On this day, Ernie and I have come to the Dayton Funk Museum for a private tour. We’re greeted at the door by David Webb, and as we enter the space the song “Wanna Make Love, (Come Flick My Bic)" plays over a speaker. That was SUN’s first hit.

"Yep, and if you had a cricket you could flick it," Ernie chimes in.

A monitor above a display of SUN memorabilia shows the band on the ‘70’s television show Soul Train.

"Yep, that’s me in the back in the back, and gosh, I was young," Ernie says. "I always knew that I wanted to be a recording artist. My first group was in the 6th grade at Fairbrook Elementary school in Beavercreek, and the name of the group was ‘Filet of Soul’. Soul was spelled S. O. U. L. instead of S.O.L.E. And we would play the 7th and 8th grade sock hops."

As a teenager, Ernie used to hitchhike to Yellow Springs so he could sit in on classes with musician and professor John Ronsheim.

"I was in the group The Crosstown Traffic Show, which was another big horn band in Dayton, and SUN had offered me a job with them," says Ernie.

SUN with their gold album Sunburn at Columbia Records. Ernie (then 24) is first row, second from left.
Credit courtesy of the Funk Center

SUN had a recording contract with Columbia.  They made nine records, toured the world, appeared on Soul Train three times, and received a gold record for the album Sunburn, which is hanging on the wall of the Funk Museum.

Ernie Looks around at the displays, knowing he was a part of something big.

"I feel blessed there was so much involvement with music in the whole the area. You know, I call the Dayton area the crossroads of America. And there was just something about the Dayton area that there were so many different musicians. I know all these people."

But the generation of musicians that Ernie Knisley grew up playing with is fading away.

As he passes a wheelchair that used to belong to fellow musician, and close friend, Johnnie Wilder, who died in 2006, Ernie pauses to rest his hand on the back of the chair, and his eyes tear up.

David Webb ask the final question that we’re all curious about, "You still play the horn like you do? You still pick it up sometimes?"

"The trumpet is one of those instruments that if you don’t play too much you lose your lip." says Ernie. "Renee was telling me on the way over that she used to listen to me practice in the backyard. I still, New Year’s Eve at twelve o’clock, I’ll pull my trumpet out and play the prelude of ‘Calling the Queen.'" 

He add, "I still do sure love the funk."

The Funk Center and Museum, at 133 E. Third Street in Downtown Dayton, will have a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, February 16th at 6:30 at the Downtown Dayton Metro Library, followed by tours of the center.  If you want to go, RSVP at info@thefunkcenter.org

Culture Couch is made possible through a grant from the Ohio Arts Council.