You might want to sit for a spell because this is going to get confusing right quick.
In 1983, three members of LA punk pioneers X—John Doe, Exene Cervenka and D.J. Bonebrake—formed a side project known as the Knitters, with ex-Blaster guitarist Dave Alvin and Johnny Ray Bartel, who's thumped the bass for the Red Devils and Mike Ness.
X was always tinged with psychobilly, thanks to Billy Zoom's amazing guitar licks, but the Knitters were a straight-up, irony-free tribute to roots and country music. The name of the band was a takeoff on the popular '60s folk group the Weavers (just like Doe's stage name was respectfully ripped off from Songs for John Doe, the 1941 debut album by Woody Guthrie's band the Almanac Singers).
The Knitters cut just one album, 1985's surprisingly engaging Poor Little Critter on the Road. At times cornier than an episode of Hee Haw (like the title tune and “The Call of the Wreckin' Ball”), the album's standout tracks were the ones that showed Doe could sing like the best country crooners, especially on Merle Haggard's “Silver Wings” and “Cryin' but My Tears Are Far Away,” which sounds like a classic country tune but was actually penned by Doe and Cervenka. Critter also proved that Cervenka could sing, period, something X's detractors never quite believed.
The album and the band—like X itself—received much critical acclaim but not enough widespread public support. After a few shows (including a memorable Coach House evening in December 1991, highlighted by Bonebrake's bone-breaking drumming on a lone snare), the Knitters fizzled.
Then, last year, something amazing happened. Chicago's Bloodshot label, which has cultivated an impressive roster of alterna-country artists, put out a tribute album to the one-album tribute band: Poor Little Knitter on the Road: A Tribute to the Knitters. On Poor Little Knitter, Trailer Bride, Whiskeytown, the Blacks and a host of others recorded the same songs in the same order as they appeared on Poor Little Critters—Doe even sat in with Old 97s for a vocal turn on “Cryin' but My Tears Are Far Away.” The Knitters also re-formed for a bonus track on the tribute “Why Don't We Try Anymore.”
The experience was so positive that the Knitters decided to indeed try once more and play some live dates, including Saturday's Hootenanny 2000. Put your quid on them to provide the most sparks. And don't say we didn't warn you when Lonesome Johnny has you crying in your beer. (Matt Coker)
THE KNITTERS PLAY HOOTENANNY 2000 AT OAK CANYON RANCH AT IRVINE LAKE, 5305 SANTIAGO CANYON RD., IRVINE, (714) 740-2000. SAT., NOON (DOORS OPEN AT 11 A.M.). $40. SEE POP N ROCK LISTINGS FOR FULL FEST LINEUP.
OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.