The first-ever reissue of the private-press country-rock rarity by Colorado auto body painter, Marine, and garage band lifer Kenny Knight—he played in the original ’60s Black Flag—Crossroads recalls a homebrew American Beauty-era Grateful Dead in its world-weary, low-key mood and indelible songwriting. Faded, anxious, melancholy, and beautifully woozy, this out-of-time document belies its 1980 release date. Produced in cooperation with Numero Group, it features liner notes by writer and collector Michael Klausman and Kenny himself.
I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the fifth of six children. In 1959, my family moved to Denver, and when I was eleven years old, I saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. That did it for me; I had to have a guitar. After a lot of begging, my dad went to a pawnshop in Denver and bought me a flattop box. He thought it would sit in a corner somewhere; it did not. Not long after, I was approached by one of the better bands, the 13th Street Exit, who asked me to play bass for them. It was also about this same time, age eleven, when I began writing my own songs.
The 13th Street Exit guys and I used to go see this popular local band called the Moonrakers, who became Sugarloaf in later years. I wanted to play guitar like the lead player, Bob Webber, so I ended up taking lessons from him. Bob had a friend, Gene Chalk, and they both worked at Phillips Music, at 7th and Sheridan in Lakewood, Colorado. I’d take lessons from Gene when Bob wasn’t around. Gene was best friends with Randy Meisner of the Eagles. Bob, Gene, and Randy were in several bands together—Gene once told me, “every band I was in made it … after I left the band,” the most famous being Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band. I kept in touch with Gene through the years until his death in 2009. He was a great guy and musician.
While with the 13th Street Exit, we played for George Romney at a campaign rally in 1967 when he was running for president. I was fourteen years old. The next garage band I was in, Black Flag, made national news when we played at the Brown Palace Hotel for Nelson Rockefeller in 1968 when he ran for President. Black Flag also did studio work for local label Band Box Records in Denver. While in Black Flag we would work local clubs, but only after having to get a work permit from the junior high school principal. Since we were all under age, a parent had to be with us at each gig, and the chaperone was primarily my dad. I remember that I told him I needed an electric bass, and the next day he bought me a 1963 Fender Jazz Bass from a pawnshop, and a Silvertone bass amp from Sears. In 1966, when I needed a guitar, he bought me a 1965 Epiphone Riviera ($1200), which I still have and love to play. To this day I have no idea how he came up with the money to buy that, as we were far from wealthy.
In 1968, my older brother sent me a Youngbloods album from Vietnam. This was before the Youngbloods were famous. I played that album until I wore it out. I used to hang out at all the clubs in Denver to listen to all the music I could; I didn’t have a favorite genre, I just liked it all. Because I was there so often, I even had my own table at local hangout Dirty John’s. My favorite club, though, was the Family Dog, on Evans in Denver, which featured all the big groups such as Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane, Allman Joy (who went on to be the Allman Brothers), the Doors, and Jimi Hendrix.
In 1972, I joined the Marine Corps and was stationed in California at Camp Pendleton. I bought a guitar while there and would record songs on a small cassette player. Every once in a while I would take songs up to L.A. to try to find a publisher; I got close a few times, but not close enough. A guy from United Artists told me not to give up, to stay in California and keep going. However, I had to go back to Denver to help my parents, so music took a big vacation. I did buy a TEAC and recorded my own stuff as much as I could though, as often as I could.
My cousins had a duet group called Bev and Sylvia back in the ’50s and ’60s. They played pop and country, lived in Hollywood, played all over the world, and were friends with people like Buck Owens and the Ventures. When they came back to Denver, Sylvia (whose photo is on the album) bought an old home with a carriage house in the back. She fixed it up as a studio, and is the one who talked me into recording Crossroads. For months I would work twelve to fourteen hours as a painter at the auto-body shop I ran with my dad, then go to her place after work and record for hours. It was brutal. As we recorded, she would say, “maybe this needs a flute; I know just the person for that,” and would contact a musician to play on the album. On one song on the album I wanted a banjo part. Sylvia didn’t know anyone who played banjo, so I bought a banjo and a book and learned how to play it for that one song. Sandy Dodge, pictured on the album, played steel guitar. I’d seen him playing with a country band at a club in Denver called Pistol Pete’s and thought he was good, so after the set I asked if he would do some studio work. I think he did an excellent job.
I have continued to write and record songs from home studios through the years. I have always had a home studio, and I spend time there because I love to play. I have never really been interested in being a performer; my interest has always been to be a writer, and I cannot think of a time since I was eleven years old when a song was not running through my head. I have written and forgotten more songs than I can remember.
I would like to thank everyone involved in letting this album be heard. And most of all, thank YOU for wanting to listen to it.
- Goodbye, Goat; Hello, Monkey.
- Happy Release Day to The Weather Station and Kenny Knight.
- The Weather Station + Kenny Knight Albums Premiere via The NY Times + Stereogum.