The reluctant star: Songwriter Chris Knight on building a career vs. being a flash in the pan

Posted by Chip Chandler on
Songwriter Chris Knight will perform Friday at the Tri-State Fair.

"It Ain't Easy Being Me," Chris Knight

By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer

"I've got a little more going on than just being the music guy."

That's singer-songwriter Chris Knight explaining why he's in no hurry to follow up on his 2012 album Little Victories.

But it's also a good summation of why Knight never broke through into the mainstream, despite widespread respect among his peers.

"I wanted to be a songwriter and just work," Knight said. "I never really wanted to be famous anyway."

That's no front. Like the average men and women he writes about, Knight is an ordinary guy — just one with an extraordinary talent.

"I live, you know, out in the country. I've got land, I've got three kids and a wife," Knight said. "My interest are varied. I don't live on a bus; I don't stay on the road all the time. I do 99 shows a year, and that works for me."

His next show brings him back to Amarillo for a 9:30 p.m. Friday performance at the Tri-State Fair & Rodeo. The concert is free with fair admission.

Though not interested in the fame game, Knight doesn't dismiss his success.

"Its a good thing, and I'm real glad to be able to do it, you know," Knight said. 

Knight first picked up a guitar at age 15, inspired by ZZ Top initially but finding himself irresistibly drawn to Steve Earle.

"That's how I learned to play and what got me wanting to be a songwriter," Knight said. "I'd write a handful of songs, but I knew they just weren't clicking."

So he kept his day job as a strip-mine inspector, the kind of career that made sense for a guy from a tiny town in the middle of coal country in Slaughters, Ky. He was 30 by the time he started performing, "32 before I got anywhere serious about it," he said.

"Then, you know, one day, I did write a song that I would actually play for people. I kind of got into it a little bit and decided to go to Nashville."

That's where he attracted the attention of producer Frank Liddell, who signed him to his first publishing and recording deal at age 36.

"I already had a career as a mine inspector. I could still be working for them right now and getting about ready to retire, but for some reason, I just felt like I could do it," said Knight, now 56. "I was way more confident then than I am now."

Initially, he wrote songs that were recorded by artists like Montgomery Gentry, Ty Herndon, Confederate Railroad and Cross Canadian Ragweed — "they weren't singles, just album cuts," Knight said.

"People talk to you, and they thought it might be a good idea for me to play my own songs," Knight said. "Frank encouraged me to do that: You'll be able to get out and instead of being a flash in the pan, you can build a career."

And that's what he did.

"I was going out playing for 15 people in a club by myself with a guitar, then the next time I drove up, it would be 30, then 50 or 60 and so on and so forth 'til I got to be a draw in some places," Knight said.

"I've always loved it. It's always been kind of a pipe dream, but I've got enough of just a regular work ethic or I don't know what you'd call it, being an everyday ordinary guy, to make sure I had my a-- covered, you know, as far as having a job and paying my own way."

"In the Mean Time," Chris Knight

 

Chip Chandler is a digital content producer for Panhandle PBS. He can be contacted at Chip.Chandler@actx.edu, at @chipchandler1 on Twitter and at www.facebook.com/chipchandlerwriter on Facebook.

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