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Chris Knight gives himself enough rope

By Brian Baker, July 2006

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In the bio that accompanies the new album, Knight claims that he's "not as pissed off as I used to be." While there could be several reasons in Knight's life for that relative contentment, they could all fit under one umbrella.

"Just getting older, probably," says Knight. "There's nothing to get pissed off about, really. It'll shine when it shines. There's all kinds of stuff that still pisses me off, but it's not being pissed off for the sake of being pissed off. So there's nothing that comes to mind right now. I'm okay."

Like most other singer/songwriters as they progress through their lives and careers, the things that inspire Knight to put pen to paper and pick up the guitar have changed over the years.

"When I first started, I had my whole life to write about," says Knight. "I had a real good raising growing up. It was interesting to me, growing up in a real rural area in a big family in a small town. So, I got a lot of inspiration off of that. Now it's a little harder to dig and find those things to write songs about because I don't want to keep rewriting ideas. It's the here and now; I gotta look out the window and pick something to write about. Things that inspire me now are everyday things. And I can write a song around a hook now, which I didn't used to do."

If there's anything that hasn't changed for Knight, it's in the influences that he draws from to create his own songs. When he began playing the guitar as a teenager in tiny Slaughters, Ky., his learning curve was populated with dozens of John Prine songs, and his subsequent discovery of Steve Earle led him to the epiphany that he should write his own material. Those two remain firmly entrenched in Knight's creative soul, but there are plenty of influences rattling around in his attic.

"John Prine was a big influence on me, and that'd be the folk/country thing," says Knight. "For the real country, I listened to Hank Williams when I was a little big kid; my aunt had his records. On the rock side, I keep remembering this stuff I listened to. Prior to 'Hot Legs,' I listened to Rod Stewart's 'Every Picture Tells a Story.' I was like 12 years old, and I remember wearing that record out. It's a real rough rockin' record, and I loved that. I listened to Skynyrd a lot when I was a kid. I don't know if Jackson Browne's influence comes through or not, but I listened to him religiously. And Steve Earle was a big influence in the '80s."

The other influence on Knight is, quite simply, the guitar itself. "I was always fascinated by guitars when I was a little kid," recalls Knight. "My brother brought one home when I was 15, and he worked second shift in the coal mines, and when he was gone, I was home with his guitar. Man, I just ate it up. I'd stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning. My mother drove a school bus, and she'd come back home after running around in the morning, and I'd still be sitting on the couch playing the guitar instead of going to school. I just ate (it) up. I learned a lot of songs and played to friends and family in high school and college, and I always wanted to write, but I couldn't write. Then 1 day, I wrote a song that I'd sing for somebody, and in the next year I wrote 50 or 60 songs."

After high school, Knight enrolled at Western Kentucky University and graduated with an agriculture degree that led him to a five-year position as a land reclamation inspector with his home state. In the meantime, he learned more songs and continued to use his guitar as little more than party entertainment. Hearing Steve Earle helped move him away from that mindset.

"I just told myself, 'I gotta do this now, or I'm probably never gonna do it," says Knight. "I was 30 years old before I went to Nashville. I went and got my foot in the door. Three years after I first come down here, I got a publishing deal, and people told me I needed to make a record because my songs were so edgy and personal - I was getting some cuts, but the songs were better coming out of me. I wasn't married at the time, so I quit my job and came down here. It seemed easy and the most natural thing to take a $12,000 cut in pay and come down here to be a songwriter. It never crossed my mind that it wouldn't work out. I've never hit it big, but I've never quit. And I've never had to take another job other than music."

Perhaps the single most important reason that Knight's music resonates with people who have experienced it is because they sense his connection to real life. Knight is a singer/songwriter and a committed performer, but music is not the sole focus of his life.

He is a dedicated husband and father, an avid hunter and fisherman, and he still lives on property outside of his Kentucky hometown. Even when he invents stories and characters and situations in his songs, they come from real life experiences, and his audience can identify with them because of that reality.

"I'm happy with the way things are because I know if I stay out here, they'll get better."There's been a continual improvement over eight years. I made my first record in '98, and everywhere I go, there's more people coming to the shows, and my name's getting out there more and more. It's not discouraging for me at all. If I wanted to be a country star, I'd have changed my mode of operation a long time ago. If I wanted to do it right now, I would probably reinvent myself. I'd get me a personal trainer, and get me some tight Wrangler jeans and some wife beater shirts and wear a do-rag and start recording different types of songs that they'd play on the radio. Right now, I just want to record the good songs that I write and be appreciated."

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