The Overnight Success of Kenny Knight’s Long-Forgotten Masterpiece
by Adam Perry for Westword, 9/2/2015
Kenny Knight is a 62-year-old Parker man who put out a country/psych-rock album called Crossroads in 1980. It was not a success, and disappeared into obscurity until it was discovered by a record collector earlier this year. Now, Crossroads is the subject of glowing reviews in national music publications like Stereogum.
Knight — a former Marine whose image as a long-haired, handsome young man is suddenly ubiquitous on music displays at Urban Outfitters and Twist & Shout — was fairly demoralized by the lack of interest in Crossroads when it was self-released during the Carter administration, and subsequently took up auto-body painting. Sometime in the 1990s, he even threw all the remaining copies of Crossroads into a dumpster. Knight and his wife, Pam, now run a “puppy resort” in their back yard.
As fate would have it, Crossroads — a mellow, haunting mixture of Gram Parsons and early Leonard Cohen recorded in Denver with a TEAC four-track — was rediscovered by Longmont record collector Michael Klausman, who bought it at Twist & Shout for $3. After contacting Rob Sevier of the Numero Group, Klausman found Knight and helped secure a re-release of the album on North Carolina label Paradise of Bachelors.
The result has been near-universal praise, with glowing reviews of the touching LP (which sounds unbelievably fresh) appearing all over the world, and the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson calling it “a classic.” This feel-good story is one nobody could make up, and Knight is thrilled about it.
Adam Perry: What does your family think about all this?
Kenny Knight: Oh, they’re tickled. I wish my mom and dad could’ve seen it. I started [playing music] when I was eleven or twelve, and they really supported me. I think they would’ve been just tickled by what’s happened.
What do you remember about recording Crossroads 35 years ago?
My cousin Sylvia [produced] it in a garage behind her house — we set up a studio there. I found a guy named Sandy Dodge in a club in Denver and asked him if he’d play [pedal steel] on it. And then a girl named Becky did some flute. Then my friend Connie did the layout and the photo.
Why had you decided to go solo? [Knight had played in several bands in the ’60s.]
When I was eighteen or nineteen, I stopped playing. I went in the Marine Corps, and when I got out, my parents couldn’t make a living, so we started a body shop. So I had just been playing and writing songs and stuff, and my cousin said, “You write some really good songs. I think you ought to do an album.” I said, “Okay.”
Who were your musical heroes at the time?
Kind of everybody. I have so many influences: the Yardbirds, the Beatles, the Youngbloods. I listen to a lot of music, but I can’t listen to just one genre and be satisfied. I can listen to some for a while, but then I have to move on. I could even listen to heavy metal, but not too much.
What was it like growing up in the Denver music scene back then?
I wanted to play guitar and was taking lessons from Bob Webber, who you probably know from Sugarloaf. He was in a band back then called the Moonrakers. Those guys and Candy Store Prophets, and a band called the Higher Elevation — all of those guys, to me, were showmen. You’d go to Roller City, and they’d just put on a show. Those guys influenced my performing art. There weren’t really songwriters back then. I can’t remember why I started writing, but I just felt like I wanted to try it. I would start out with a little song, and it’d just grow.
That’s what I always wanted to be, a songwriter.
Why did you stop making music?
I took a leave of absence. It was so tough to get people to listen. I would try to get people to listen, send stuff out and all of that, but I would meet with obstacles and then say, “Forget about this.” I would get energized and try again, but it just went like that for years. I had a friend who was a country singer, and he’d say, “There aren’t enough guys for the talent show. Would you play?” I’d say, “Yeah.” So I’d get up and do something, and I would win the contest. But it was just stuff like that I did. I really didn’t want to be [a star], because I don’t really handle attention well.
How does this sudden appreciation feel after all these years?
It does feel really good. I’ve been reading some of the reviews, and it’s nice to get recognized. You have people who find something new every time they listen to it, something that I said, and that makes me feel really good — that somebody gets what I’m saying.
Crossroads’ lyrics have a lot of unanswered questions, such as “What’s a man sing when there’s nothing left to be sung?” and “How’s a man live when there’s nothing left to believe in?” Have you answered any of those questions for yourself?
Yeah, I think every day you might get up depressed or something, and somehow life turns and it becomes a good day — then you begin to live again. I think it’s about not giving up. People say, “Well, I should really give this up,” and then you get stories like, man, an album getting heard 35 years later. That’s life.
A lot of things that were made a long time ago — especially things that were made in the ’80s — have lost their resonance. Why do you thinkCrossroads still has power today?
I don’t know. I really don’t. When Michael heard something in it that everybody else didn’t — he said that he saw the album and then he saw the date and he thought, “This sounds like it’s gonna be a big-hair album” — ’80s stuff. And then he put it on and it was nowhere near that, and he really enjoyed it. Maybe it was different back then and people didn’t see it or whatever, or maybe I just didn’t get it to the right people.
Do you feel like a little bit of a rock star?
[He laughs.] My daughter really is excited about that. She says, “I tell everybody my dad’s a rock star.” My biggest fan lives near Vail. She got stopped by the state patrol, and my song was blaring. The patrolman heard it and said, “Isn’t that the Crossroads guy?” She said, “If you won’t give me a ticket, I’ll give you the CD.” He said, “I wasn’t gonna give you a ticket, but I will take the CD.”
Becoming famous in your sixties, do you feel like you missed out on being a young man with girls knocking down your door?
I had that anyway, ever since I was a kid. I don’t know why, but I did.
Now that you have an audience, are you planning any shows?
No. They’ve asked me if I wanted to do that, but I said no. It’s just not something I want to pursue. I would do a show here and there, maybe, but I really want to concentrate on writing.
So a new album is in the works?
Yeah, I’ve been cataloguing all my songs and trying to see what I want to come to. That’s taking a while, but I’m looking forward to it.
Do you still have the same guitar you played onCrossroads?
Yeah, my dad bought me that guitar in 1966. It’s a ’65 Epiphone Sierra. I really wanted to have that guitar because Bob Webber had one and the Beatles had two of them. It’s a great guitar, and I’ve had it ever since.
A lot of people would love to see you play a concert of those old songs with that guitar.
I’ll work on it. I’ll let you know first.