Y’all might not have heard of X. Y’all might not have heard of The Knitters. Y’all might not have heard of Jimmy Driftwood.
I was a newbie to X in the late ’80s, having missed them in their red-hot initial manifestation. It wasn’t until I hooked up with Hubby that I was introduced to them. I can’t say I ever took to them fully. Not that I don’t like a lot of their material, but I think the thing to do was to see them live in all their wild, Los Angeles-punk glory. I did not live in that world. I was still very attached to Classic Rock and British Invasion through college and beyond.
When X mixed themselves up a bit and released an album as The Knitters, I became immediately enamored of their blend of rock, country, punk, roots, rockabilly– it gets a little ridiculous to try to include all the different genres. You know this music, though; it became what’s known as the broadly-encompassing category alt country. It’s white; it’s post-punk; it’s played by a myriad of bands who had eschewed FM radio’s Classic Rock-dominated format and looked to earlier American roots music. Not quite the blues. Not quite the same roots that gave way to the British Invasion. It’s all so complex and interesting and far beyond my ken to write about, but I love the swirling of what came from Africa to the American South, mixed it up with white gospel, moved to Classic Country, bluegrass, Country and Western, the blues. And we shan’t talk about jazz, right? If I only know the tip of the iceberg on the history of alt rock, you don’t even want to know how far afield Jazz is for me (same goes for Classical music, yeesh!).
I love almost every Knitters’ song although they only put out 2 albums. There are a couple I might skip over and a few I don’t dig as much as others. But the ones I love, I love with a passion. Exene’s voice seems to have been made for country music. The rhythm, guitars, and bass are often modeled directly from bands like Johnny Cash’s circa “Folsom Prison Blues” (think of a boom-chicka-boom, chicka-boom two-beat*).
Here’s an original song being performed by John Doe and Exene. Its first manifestation was as an X song. It’s red hot and a fine example of their high art as singer-songwriters (I should insert here that John Doe has a voice that melts me AND he’s a tall drink of water to boot, so elegant. I swoon…).
As far as the covers on both Knitters’ albums: I love them. I love their version of “Walkin’ Cane.” I love “Rank Stranger.” I love the murder ballad “Little Margaret” (also Matty Groves; Sweet William; the same song referenced in the novel “Cold Mountain” and sung on the soundtrack for the film). I love “Give Me the Flowers While I’m Living,” which practically warrants a post of its own for its origins and related songs. The list goes on.
I love their version of Jimmy Driftwood’s Long Chain On, but I’monna post Mr. Driftwood himself singing it. I had a fellow Alexander Technique teacher tell me a story about meeting Jimmy Driftwood once down in Arkansas. Don’t you love America?
You still should check out The Knitters’ version because the driving guitar and Exene’s harmony to John Doe’s lead vocals do the song a great justice. Jimmy would be proud.
*I stole that from the liner notes to Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison
Also, a late-breaking edit here: I recommend poking around to listen and watch other live versions of The Knitters performing. I thought Exene and John were sort of sweet in that video up there. It’s not that it’s my favorite or anything. Mostly, this post should encourage you to listen to them, period, if you weren’t aware of them before. Ciao, my pets, ♥ twinkly