Posts Tagged ‘The Knitters’

two steps forward, don’t say I didn’t warn you….

Is this a modern murder ballad? Not exactly, but I do think of it sometimes on this day.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Tim Eriksen lately, having heard him play last week and having bought his latest CD in the latest manifestation of who he’s been playing with this time around.

Back in July, when I was on the Cape doing a poetry workshop with Dorianne Laux and Joe Millar (so Beat, that Joe! You gotta check out his stuff), I left them with a parting gift of Tim’s CD Soul of the January Hills.* Finally, last Friday night, I re-bought it and have been playing it in my car. It’s got at least 2 (off the top of my head) murder ballads and I’ve been thinking about Lady Margaret, aka, Sweet William, too, lately. I’ve used a link to the wiki page for Sweet William, a little lame, I know, but there must be hundreds of places to look up more thorough information on that particular Child Ballad. You’ll have to do your own research and discover your own personal favorite version. There are lots. I love The Knitters doing it, but it’s no where to be found so I can share it here. I just love that John Doe and Exene singing that old timey stuff together.

Here’s the modern murder ballad for today, courtesy of The Dream Syndicate and youtube:

* if you can buy only one of Tim’s CDs, this is the one I recommend. But maybe that’s just me, lover of a capella and haunting ballads about love and death. When you read the liner notes, you also realize what an amazing tour de force it is. One take, not rehearsed. Damn.

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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 Rockdominated 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

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