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ARTIST PROFILE | Chris Knight
Chris Knight's talent for songwriting has served him well. He's won a loyal audience for his stories of the rocky emotional landscape of ordinary lives, expressed in the warm but rough-hewn tone of his Kentucky-accented voice. But he's also struck gold with other artists recording his tunes, and his work has been covered by country hitmakers like Blake Shelton, Randy Travis, Ty Herndon, Montgomery Gentry, and Confederate Railroad. In his own hands, Knight's music is as simple, direct, and heartfelt as his lyrics, short on polished production and long on a straightforward and evocative sound that blends no-frills country with a stripped-down variant on country-rock. 1998's Chris Knight, his first and only major-label release, was glossy by his standards but presented his music with coherence and respect. After turning to the indie music community, 2006's Enough Rope and 2008 Heart of Stone documented Knight's songs and performing style in unfiltered style, while 2019's Almost Daylight found him adding rough-hewn rock guitar to his arrangements.
Chris Knight was born in Slaughters, a small rural town in Western Kentucky on June 24, 1960. One of five siblings, Knight was introduced to music when his folks gave him a plastic guitar for Christmas when he was three years old. He eventually moved up to a better instrument he borrowed from his brother, and by the time he was 15, he'd become a serious John Prine fan and learned to play nearly 40 of his songs. After high school, Knight studied agriculture at Western Kentucky University; he earned his degree and spent a decade working with the Kentucky Department of Surface Mining. In 1986, Knight heard some songs by Steve Earle on the radio, then a rising star after the release of the album Guitar Town and, inspired by the honesty and swagger of Earle's music, he began writing songs himself. It was four years later, when Knight was 30, that he first performed his songs his songs for an audience, and he started recording rough demos of his tunes in the trailer he called home. Fans who had copies of Knight's demo tapes began dubbing copies for friends, and they spread a buzz that took him to Nashville for his first Music City gig in 1993. After playing several songwriter's showcases in Nashville, Frank Liddell saw potential in Knight's songs and signed him to a publishing deal with Bluewater Records. Several years later, Liddell was hired as an A&R man with Decca Records, which had been revived by MCA as a country label, and he added Knight to their roster. Chris Knight was released in 1998 to positive reviews, but several months after its release, corporate reorganizing at MCA led to Decca being phased out, while Knight was left waiting to see what would become of his contract.
Once he was free of his Decca/MCA deal, Knight began recording material he had written during his unplanned hiatus. Knight struck a licensing deal with the independent Dualtone label, who issued 2001's A Pretty Good Guy, produced by former Georgia Satellites guitarist Dan Baird. Baird and producer/engineer Joe Hardy (whose résumé included work with ZZ Top, the Replacements, and Steve Earle) teamed up to produce Knight's third LP, 2003's The Jealous Kind. After releasing two albums through Dualtone, Knight took full control of his recording career and formed his own label, Drifter's Church Productions, debuting the label with one of his strongest albums, 2006's Enough Rope. By this time, regular touring in the Southwest had earned Knight a sizable following in Texas, enough so that Governor Rick Perry declared him an Honorary Texan. 2007 saw the release of The Trailer Tapes, a collection of the home-recorded demos that had earned Knight his initial reputation in the mid-'90s; a second volume, Trailer II, followed in 2009. Dan Baird was back as producer for 2008's Heart of Stone, while frequent Steve Earle collaborator Ray Kennedy was at the controls for 2012's Little Victories, which included a guest appearance from Knight's songwriting hero John Prine. Touring, writing, and family commitments kept Knight occupied for the next several years, but after a five-year layoff, he re-emerged with 2019's Almost Daylight, whose big electric guitar sounds pushed his music farther into rock than he'd gone before in the studio. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi