Friday, June 27, 2014

Larry "Fuzzy" Knight Bringing Music From The Classics To Now

Several of you have asked what was going on at the Juke joint. While it’s been open and I’ve been appearing on Time For The Blues every week, I’ve posted no real blog reviews for over a year. For that you have my sincerest apologies.
The last 18 months or so have been an ever cascading waterfall of caca and the Professor has been standing directly underneath.
If you drop by the joint when I’m there, buy me a diet iced tea and I’ll tell you the story. If you happen to catch me at a show or festival (thank you River City Blues Society and EllerSoul Records for letting me get behind the microphone at your shows), I’ll be happy to fill you in.
Just look for the tall guy with the silver hair and a walking cane.
In the meantime, there are lots of CDs to review and emails from artists and their publicists to answer, so in the words of one of my favorite songs from Revenge Of The Nerds, “One Foot In Front Of The Other,” it’s time to get back in the swing of things.
One of my favorite publicists, Doug Deutsch, offered me a chance to talk with Larry “Fuzzy” Knight and at first I was having trouble placing the name. Swiss cheese memory you know – part of that long story.
Then I remembered where I had heard his name – he had played with the rock band Spirit for several years, and he had a strong blues background.

Sounds like the guy is right up my alley. Game on, let’s get a conversation going about where he has been and what has he done – and more importantly, what’s he up to now.
Professor Johnny P: You are from St. Louis – a place where the country comes together. How did that crossroads influence you musically?
Larry “Fuzzy” Knight:  Yes, I was born in St. Louis, Oct. 21st, 1944.  In 1959, I was 15 years old.  I had a great musical background provided by the school system, as I started learning music from the 4th grade all the way through college.  But at 15, I was listening to St. Louis' only Black radio station, KATZ-Sweet 16 at night when they would broadcast live bands playing at the local Black clubs (these were known as the chitlin' circuit).  I would listen to Albert King, Little Milton, Ike Turner, Chuck Berry and other bluesmen playing live with their bands.  The music hit a nerve inside my soul and I knew right then and there that I had to play this blues music so I talked my Mom into buying me my first Fender Stratocaster Guitar and Fender Jazz Bass (which I still play to this very day). I sat up at night playing along to the music on the radio and after almost a year I started to sneak into these clubs (because I was underage) with my guitar and bass in hand. Eventually I got the chance to sit in with the bands and soon I was asked to play gigs with each one of these legendary artists.  They weren't so legendary back in those days. In fact, none of them had crossed over into the white music buyers market yet. But here I was, learning the blues, and rhythm & blues, from the masters themselves.

St. Louis was one of the stopping points for the Delta and other Southern Black Blues Musicians as they migrated north to destinations such as Chicago and Detroit. St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit provided factory jobs for many of these bluesmen, who worked in the day and played their music in local Black bars and nightclubs at night.  It was my great fortune to have been born at that time so I could have the opportunity to meet, learn and eventually play for and with these unbelievable blues legends.

So from the classical music that I was trained to play in school (I played violin mostly but learned to play the Viola, Upright (Double) Bass, and French Horn) I jumped into the professional ranks at the ripe old age of 16 1/2 years by playing in the black nightclubs of St. Louis from 9:00 to 1:00 am and then across the Eads Bridge from St. Louis to East St. Louis, Ill. to after-hours clubs from 2:00 am to 6:00 am.  This is where I learned to “pay my dues” in the music business and it couldn't have made me happier because I loved every minute of these experiences.
Professor Johnny P: You were with the group “Spirit” for a number of years. How was that experience?
Knight:  I arrived in Los Angeles in late Nov. of 1969.  I had served (actually I was drafted) two years in the U.S. Army and had been in the Vietnam War from 1966-68. I had put together an original music group in St. Louis called PAX that was a psychedelic blues rock band that featured a black female vocalist, Gracie Dumas and me on vocals.  
Barry Goldberg, who at that time was a member of the band Electric Flag, heard the band and took us into a recording studio, where we recorded five demos. Barry told me that if I brought this group to L.A., he would get us a record deal and produce our album.  That brought me to Los Angeles.

Eventually I met Randy California and Ed Cassidy at some very intense outdoor music jams near an area called Topanga Canyon.  These jams would go on all day long and musicians from Canned Heat, Black Oak Arkansas, Booker T & the MG's, and Spirit would play on an outdoor stage and jam.  Randy, Cass and I really enjoyed playing together.  Quite frankly, it felt other-worldly and very magical.  I was asked to go out on the road and play some Spirit gigs with Randy, Ed Cassidy (Randy's stepdad) and John Locke, the Spirit keyboardist.  After we played those gigs, we then started playing all over Los Angeles at the various clubs; from the Topanga Corral to the Whiskey on Sunset.  Eventually Randy started recording his first solo album called Kapt. Kopter and the Fabulous Twirlybirds and I recorded on that album with him.  Well, one thing led to another and soon we were asked to tour extensively throughout Europe starting in 1973 and this went on (with some off time here and there) until 1981 for me.

I was very happy that Randy and Cass enjoyed playing with me.  As I said before, every time we played together, it felt special - magical.  During those years, Randy was exerting himself with his guitar playing and had great power, charisma, and allowed us to take the music into the stratosphere on stage. He had the power of an electric Hendrix and the acoustic soft touch of a classical, finger picking maestro. Ed Cassidy was perhaps, the most innovative drummer in Rock and Roll at that time, creating never before heard rhythm parts in all original music.  And I did my very best to bring the Bass playing and interplay with them, both, to a new high level of performance and recording.

Our concerts were magical.  One night, we played at the Rainbow Theatre in London.  We were called back by the audience for a record number of encores (9).  Sometimes when a band is finished with their show the audience will applaud until the band returns. Usually after 15 minutes and the band doesn't return the show is over.  This night, the audience wouldn't stop. We just had to keep going back on stage until we and they were totally exhausted.

Spirit will always be a great highlight of my career and playing with Randy and Cass will always be 'something very, very special'.  And, it just wasn't playing with them; it was the sharing of life and daily experiences that I will also cherish as well.   
Professor Johnny P: You’ve been fronting a top blues and rhythm and blues band on the West Coast for about 20 years. Many bands measure their time in months. How do you keep it fresh?
Knight:  Starting in 1997, here in Los Angeles, where I live, I decided to create a band like the many Black Artists and shows that I had the great fortune of seeing in St. Louis during the 60's like; Ray Charles , James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding,  early Sam and Dave,  Bobby Bland. When these Blues artists came to town, they played for the Black Audiences mainly.  Almost every artist came with a Revue. They had a MC to introduce the band, players, singers and star!!!  Each show had a full horn section, background vocalists, featured vocalists and everyone played BEFORE the star came out on stage to a screaming audience.  This was known as an R&B Revue, later this style turned into various road shows that featured a number of record company acts all together performing their recordings in concert.

This was the birth of my band, Larry “Fuzzy” Knight and the Blowin' Smoke Rhythm & Blues Band featuring the fabulous Smokettes.  It has turned into an 11 piece unit that features a four horn section, a four piece rhythm section and three fantastic female, lead vocalists.  Besides the three female vocalists, we also have two male lead vocalists, me and the lead guitarist. The band features five lead singers.

We perform a form of classic Rhythm & Blues, the Blues, and a little of my rock influences thrown in the mix for added power and intensity.  We are celebrating our 19th year of performing shows and are about to go into year 20.  The band has some similarities to the John Mayall bands that over the years changes musicians and singers but stays true to the genre of the music.  I am very fortunate to have had some of Los Angele's best musicians and most talented female vocalists be a part of the history of Blowin' Smoke.  That, in itself, has been one of the major factors of the band's extended life. There is always something new happening on the stage and I have tried, as time has gone by, to bring better talent to the band and stage as part of the band's history.  Of course, the music itself is glorious.  People never seem to tire of great R&B and Blues songs performed with great soul, heartfelt enthusiasm and intensity!!!  The song selection is huge and highly motivating when it comes to making people want to get up and dance all night long. And...I am always changing our song lists and adding new material.  So, there is always something new and exciting to experience at a Blowin' Smoke show.  Our performance format is based on the early R&B Revue shows that I experienced in St. Louis throughout the 60's.  It's amazing that so many people have never experienced these type of shows, especially today's younger generation but they seem to not only enjoy the band but to be blown away by the intensity and joy of the band's performances. 

Professor Johnny P: Now you’ve got a side project, “Morose Tales From The West Coast.” Can you describe that project?
Knight:  I am the Musical Director and Bandleader for both, the Blowin' Smoke Rhythm & Blues Band and my newest band venture, Sky King.  I am also the Producer of the groups’ CD's. 
Sky King started nearly four years ago, practically by fate.  I had been at a rehearsal studio practicing with another group of musicians and was on a break, standing in the hallway, when I heard another band rehearsing in another room. The music didn't do much for me but I liked the song that they were practicing especially the song's lyrics. When they were done, I approached the lead guitarist, whose name is Walter Morosko, and told him I liked the lyrics to the song and asked him if he had more original songs. He replied that he did so I invited him to my home to play them for me.  Once we got together we decided to reconstruct the music to each song's lyrics. For over 11 months we rewrote the music to 13 original songs and practiced them two times a week until we were ready to record.
This was the official birth of the Sky King Band, an all original song band.  We describe the music style as an Alternative Rock Blues, R&B, Folk Band.  The group consists of lead Vocalist, Guitarist - Walter Morosko; Rhythm Guitarist, Garth Farkas;  Drummer, Chris Ross; Keyboardist John "JT" Thomas, and me, Larry "Fuzzy" Knight bassist  and Producer. Of course we had a little help from my friends, Jimmy 'Z' on Tenor Sax, Harp and Flute and Lee Thornberg on trumpet and trombone.

The 13 Original songs were written about experiences that actually happened to the lyricist and lead vocalist, Walter Morosko since he has been transplanted to Los Angeles from Youngstown, Ohio. These 13 songs turned into the CD, Morose Tales From The Left Coast, which was released officially, in April, 2014.  It was actually designed as a 'concept' CD.
Now, we wait to see if the world can discover us in this myriad universe of new music CD's. We have been reviewed by many magazines and internet music shows and the reviews have been excellent. If anyone is curious about Sky King and wants to know more about us and the music, we have a website; www.skykingrockband.com and also have a Facebook Page at Facebook.com/Sky King Band.
Professor Johnny P: Has music become the Wild West? Has it become an open, almost lawless territory?
Knight:  From all the changes brought upon us by the digital age, the internet, and some very talented hackers I must say that it has fallen into an abyss of uncontrolled thievery on a universal level.  And unless you just happen to be an artist or band that is very wealthy or protected by a major record label with a slew of attorneys, somewhere along the way of releasing your music some music stealing thief is going to be selling your music, lifted directly from a website (either yours or a music sellers) for their own profit and not yours. There doesn't seem to be a way to prevent this from happening at this point in time.
Most bands or individual artists can no longer make a living selling their music. They must wait until the music goes viral and there is a demand from the music listeners and fans to actually see the band perform.  How many artists does this happen to??? Not many, compared to the amount of CD releases nowadays.  
It really is 'hit or miss' with a whole lot of misses and just a few 'hits' in today's music business. Unfortunately, with the advancement of computer program technology, practically anyone can put together something that they call 'music' to clutter up the paths to real artistic endeavors so that the 'quality' musical efforts are harder and harder to discover amongst the muck and mire, but fortunately many artists with real talent, at the very least, can expose their music to the Internet, whereas, in the past they might only receive a rejection letter from a major label.
As a final thought, it seems to me that Indie Bands get closer to national and international success by continuing to release as many as three or four CD's over a period of time and building their fan base. So stick with it if you believe in yourself and your music. Keep recording and placing your music wherever you think music fans might run across your music. It's tough out there but not insurmountable!!
Professor Johnny P: What Projects are driving you now?
Knight:  Currently, I am in the process of editing a Live recording; a performance of the Blowin' Smoke Rhythm and Blues Band that features three very talented Black Female Lead Vocalists, the Fabulous Smokettes. The music was recorded at the very end of last year at the venue the band has been performing at for the last 18 years, the world famous Harvelle's Blues Nightclub located in Santa Monica, CA.  After editing down the show, I will be mixing it all and then on to the mastering stage. When I produce my own CDs, I also design the packaging and write all the copy that accompanies the CD.

While this is going on, Sky King is writing songs for our second CD release.  We intend to put only 9 or 10 original songs on the next CD so we are already more than half way finished with the songs we want to record.

And finally, I have been planning on recording a studio CD with the Blowin' Smoke Band.  I am working on the music arrangements for the songs now and plan to start recording tracks in late August. And again, I will also be designing the packaging and writing the CD copy.

All the while, I will be performing live shows with both bands in and around the Southern California area. This should keep me very busy through the end of 2014 and possibly into 2015.

Plus, Sky King is still very active in promoting its Freshman CD, Morose Tales From The Left Coast. I also record session Bass for other artists and for those of you out there that might be interested, contact me at Facebook.com/LarryFuzzyKnight or you can always catch me at my email address
fuzzy@ktb.net.
Professor Johnny P: You have worked with a who’s who of musicians and groups including Ike Turner, Jefferson Airplane, and Bonnie and Delaney. What did you learn from these performers that you try to bring to the current generation of performers?
Knight:  I have spent a large part of my career, either playing lead guitar or bass, with many great musical artists and bands. Unless I am asked to be an equal member or a contributing writer, I play my gig as a professional support musician and I try to be a symbiotic musician, that helps the artist that I work with to fulfill their vision.  By doing this, you will ADD to your musical vocabulary, many perspectives into music that you might not have considered or experienced if you were to go it on your own. Each musician - artist has their own special approach and talents to what they do. In order for them to be at their best, you have to support them with your best efforts and feel yourself emerge into their world and vibe. And once this happens the experience becomes very fulfilling.

Some musician/artists communicate easily and some are more difficult to 'get deep' with but by being a good listener, a great observer and  a willingness to be open hearted, there is always something very valuable to lean and to carry with you into your next venture. A music career is very much like a book with chapter after chapter.  You want these chapters to be interesting and fun.

You may not always have a positive experience at that very moment but in retrospect, you will always realize that there was much to be learned that turns into a positive life experience, from each and every musician/artist that crosses your path in life.  You'll find that these experiences are what builds your
knowledge of music, how to play better, how to be more creative as an artist and more than anything, how to truly communicate with people in general.  It's not just a musical learning lesson but a life learning lesson.  Enjoy the moment and learn.

Never think you know all there is to know. That will never be the case.  I've been playing all my life and I still want to listen and learn new things each and every day....and I do!!!  Try going outside of the music you love and listen to things that you don't normally play. Sit there and try jamming to this other form of music. And before you know it, you'll be integrating something new and fresh into your own music that you might not have otherwise considered!! Live Long and Prosper!!



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