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Princeton native, Doobie Brother Keith Knudsen passes away at 56

PRINCETON -- Princeton family and friends remember Doobie Brother Keith Knudsen, not just as a musician but also as a friend and brother. Princeton native Keith Knudsen, vocalist/drummer for the award-winning Doobie Brothers rock band, died Tuesday of pneumonia in San Francisco. He was 56. Knudsen, a 1966 graduate of Princeton High School, joined the Doobie Brothers in 1974, one week after meeting the band's long-time manager Bruce Cohn. The Doobie Brothers won numerous awards, including three Grammy awards in 1980 for "What A Fool Believes" as Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Vocal Arrangement, and a fourth Grammy for "Minute By Minute," as Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo/Group. Kevin Knudsen of Princeton said he'll remember his brother not primarily as a musician but simply as his brother. Kevin, who is eight years younger than Keith, remembered his brother was always into music, bringing home different kinds of drum sets and playing them in the living room. As the brothers became adults, they grew closer, sharing lots of interests including their love for motorcycles, Kevin said. The entire family, including sisters Marcia Peddicrod of Pennsylvania; Gail Sanderson, Princeton; Kelly Hanna, Pekin; and brother Kent, also of Princeton, kept in close touch through the year, Kevin said. With his career as a Doobie Brother, Keith didn't get home to Illinois as often as he would have liked, Kevin said. He made sure to get home for family events. In between visits, he'd keep in touch and call, Kevin said. During the last month, the family was in frequent contact with Keith, his wife, Kate, and grown daughter, Dayna. In Kevin's eyes, Keith Knudsen the Doobie Brother was a different person when he wasn't performing. "On stage was when my brother's alter ego would come out," Kevin said. "At home, he was more quiet." Judy Green met Keith when they were sophomores at Princeton High School. The two high-schoolers struck a friendship that's lasted through the years, Green said Wednesday morning. "I think my first memory of Keith was of him grading my English paper," Judy said. "We had the same interests. We talked about music, but we talked about everything else, too. We both loved animals. I had dogs and cats. He had dogs and horses. We only lived about a block and a half apart, so we hung out together a lot." Green remembers when Keith and some of his friends, including Gary Swanson and Danny Morel, formed The Coachmen band, and Judy would go with the band to hear them play. They'd also go to LaSalle to a youth center to hear other bands play. Green said she and Keith didn't really talk much about him becoming a musician. He already was a musician; that was who he was, Green said. After high school, the two went to separate schools and moved away from Princeton but still kept in touch. When Keith would come home to visit his family, he would take time to see Green's family as well. "Keith will be remembered by everyone for his music. I'll remember him that way, too, but more than that, I'll remember him as a friend," Green said. In their high school days, Gary Swanson and Knudsen were members of the Surveys and then the Coachman bands. They both attended college in Platteville, Wis., where they continued their music. "Keith was always down-to-earth, a straight shooter," Swanson said Wednesday. "We were just young kids having a lot of fun together with our music." Knudsen always knew he wanted to make music his career, Swanson said. "He knew what he wanted, and he took the steps to make it happen," Swanson said. Swanson saw the Doobie Brothers in concert twice, once n Peoria about four years ago and then last summer in Clinton, Iowa. The last time he talked with Keith was after the Iowa concert. "Watching Keith in concert was an unbelievable experience. I was really happy for him. It was amazing to see him playing his music on stage like that," Swanson said. Knudsen played with the Doobies until the band's 1982 farewell tour. During the band's hiatus, Knudsen and bandmate John McFee formed the country rock group Southern Pacific, which released four albums and had several hits. Knudsen rejoined the Doobie Brothers full time in 1993. Doobie Brothers members Tom Johnston, Pat Simmons, Michael Hossack and John McFee and their manager, Bruce Cohn, issued a joint statement after Knudsen's death. "Keith epitomized what a Doobie Brother was -- a great musician and drummer, great singer, great songwriter and great guy," the men said. "These are awfully big shoes to fill. This is a sad day for the band and their fans."

Memorial arrangements are pending. Memorials may be made to Knudsen's favorite charity, the National Veterans Foundation.

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