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Only two decades later...The Knitters return

By Jeffrey B. Remz, September 2005

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"Born to Be Wild," of course is the chestnut of Steppenwolf, while "Skin Deep Town" appeared only on a live X album.

Including a snarling version of "Born to Be Wild" was a case of Doe "just fooling around one day at rehearsal two or three years ago, and we tried to do it hillbilly fashion. At the point where it goes to the chorus, we just need to do it double time. It could go twice as fast, kind of like Sun Records rockabilly feel."

"It was all done in two times through."

The disc consists of three songs recorded by X, including "In This House That I Call Home," "Burning House of Love" and "Skin Deep Town."

Asked how the X songs were picked, Doe says, "It struck me one day how 'Home' could be done in a bluegrass fashion."

As for "Burning House of Love," Doe says he "always wished Johnny and June will do that, but that ain't going to happen."

"We don't (pick) the entire X catalogue and do it in The Knitters style," says Doe, who grew up in Baltimore listening to Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. "It's kind of random. We pick and choose. It either works, or it doesn't. Certain songs lend themselves to what we do. Others can't bend into that form. They're just resistant to it."

"It's not like a high school project where you say we're going to get a notebook and write down all the Carter family songs we might do. That's lame. If it works, great. If it doesn't, we'll try something else."

"Rank Stranger" was made famous by the Stanley Brothers.

"I got the idea for doing that off an old Bob Dylan record," says Doe. "I heard him do it, and then I remembered the Stanley Brothers version, and I hunted that one done. I wrote down the words and realized it would be a great one for us."

Alvin says recording "Modern Sounds" was not all that different from the process for making "Poor Little Critter."

"It was very similar in that we did the first record live," he says.

"When John and Exene and I were talking about doing The Knitters record, I said I've got a perfect studio where we could set up like Sun Records and just do the tracks. We did minimal overdubs. I put in a second electric guitar on one or two things. In general, what you hear is what happened in the studio."

"The biggest difference is I drank a lot of beer when we did the first record," says Alvin with a laugh. "On the first one you hear shouting in the background is maybe me having a little too much to drink. On the new one, I wasn't drinking."

Doe emphasizes that the band was not interested in overthinking during the recording of the disc.

"It takes on a life of its own, and it goes," he says of recording. "It starts up, and it goes. To pull that apart and see how it works would be stupid. What would we do that for?"

Interestingly enough, when The Knitters debut came out, they restricted their touring to the West Coast, something they have done intermittently over the years. But this year's summer tour was the first full-fledged outing by the band.

"Dave reaches some heights that very few guitar players (reach)," Doe says. "The Knitters is much more a live band than anything else."

And live during a Boston show, Alvin's steely, sharp guitar playing stood out time and again with short riffs that energized the songs.

One aspect that remains with The Knitters as with X is the vocal interplay between Exene and Doe, who has a lot of timbre in his voice. Each takes turns at leads, and they often share leads during songs.

When the current Knitters' dates end, band members will go back to their respective endeavors, including solo careers for Doe and Alvin, Latin jazz work and session vibraphone work for Bonebrake in Los Angeles, a side band project and working as an aide in her son's high school for Exene.

How long will Doe et al make fans wait for album number three?

"2025 my friend," says Doe. "I think we're going to cut it down to every 10 years. We want to be able to (do) one more album before we're dead."

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