Chris Knight

by Dan MacIntosh

When Chris Knight sang, "There ought to be a town somewhere/Named for how I feel" on his song "It Ain't Easy Being Me" off his debut album, it was obvious from the get-go this man was something special. Over the years, Knight has continued to write wonderful, personal songs. As he puts it, he always writes from his gut. And it shows.

His Little Victories album is one of the finest reflections of America's difficult economic times. With John Prine on the album's title track, it's a reminder that both men are cut from the same cloth; they both have an eye for human emotional detail.

One of Little Victories' pleasant surprises is a song about romantic betrayal, which Knight co-wrote with the "I Hope You Dance" diva (in the best sense of the term) Lee Ann Womack. (Who knew this great singer was also such a fine writer?)

Knight is a humble, friendly guy who speaks with a thick Southern accent. As we learned, he's not afraid to question our questions.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): Let's dig right in and talk about some of your songs and songwriting. I wanted to start with a song off the new album, which is the one that you wrote with Lee Ann Womack, "You Lie." Is it rare for you to write with other songwriters?

Chris Knight: No, not really. I've co written quite a few songs. It's just whatever's going on. If I've got somebody I can write a song with, I'll sit down and write with them.

Songfacts: Can you tell me about writing that song, did one of you write the music and the other one wrote the lyrics, or did you work on both together?

Knight: We wrote it all together.

Songfacts: And who came up with the idea?

Knight: What difference does it make? Songwriters usually don't talk about that. Sometimes you're just in the room and you still have the song, and other times somebody else is in the room and you write the whole song. But everybody gets half.

Songfacts: I see.

Knight: You understand? I'm not going to sit and pick apart every song that I've written and tell you what parts I did and what parts they did.

Songfacts: That's perfectly fine. I think of her as a great singer.

Knight: Oh, yeah.

Songfacts: But you got to see a side of her that's a songwriter. Do you think she's underrated as a songwriter?

Knight: Yeah. Probably. Yeah, I'd say she is.

Songfacts: There are some other interesting folks that appear on this new album. You sing with John Prine on "Little Victories." And you've been compared to him in the best possible way. I think you have a lot of the same great characteristics as a songwriter. Describe the feeling that you felt when you were able to have him sing on your album.

Knight: You know what, I've always admired John Prine, he was a great guy in the studio, would come and sing on my album, you know. As far as the feeling I had, it's pretty cool. That's the guy I listened to and idolized when I was 13 years old just picking up a guitar, learning how to play and sing and discovering myself. And I copied his style when I first started playing. So it was a good deal to have him come down. I was really glad to have him. Glad he thought enough of the song to come down and sing on it.

I mean, I wasn't giddy as a 13 year old girl at a Justin Bieber concert. [Laughing] I can't tell you that. I just was glad to have him. He's a great guy. He's just like you'd think he would be.

Songfacts: Since you're a songwriter, what is it do you think makes John Prine such a great songwriter?

Knight: What do I think makes John Prine a great songwriter? I don't know. I mean, I'd say that he thinks more than most people do. I'd say it's what songwriters do, go around thinking about stuff that other people don't think about. And they find that stuff that they're thinking about to be important.

I think John Prine wrote a lot from his heart and his gut. And I kind of think that's the same way I did. That's the reason I didn't have a lot of Top 40 success- because I can only write from my gut and my heart. And that might be why he is.

Songfacts: Well, it's interesting that the song "She Couldn't Change Me," I didn't even realize it was your song when I first heard it on the radio. And it really sounds different from the way that you did it. Were you happy with how Montgomery Gentry recorded your song?

Knight: Absolutely. That was the 7th most played song in 2002. It only went to #2. So that's got to tell you something. So evidently they did a bang up job on it.

Songfacts: Do you have any favorites of other people that have done your songs that you like particularly well?

Knight: I like 'em all. Yeah, anytime anybody records one of my songs, I'm happy. That's what I started writing songs for, actually. You know, these songs, they're not my kids. I hear people say that they're like kids, you like all of them. They're just songs. I write 'em and I've wished somebody else would record every song that I ever did.

Songfacts: The new album, Little Victories, kind of reflects the hard economic times that we've been through. Do you agree with me that maybe because if you listen to country radio, you're not really going to get the impression that we're still in a recession. They tend to kind of sugarcoat the way things are.

Knight: Yeah. Well, they've always done that. Any popular music, it's going to get played on major radio stations, can't really say anything. You can't upset anybody. That's the way it's always been basically. Except for maybe late '60s when all the hippies were recording music. But I don't know. I have no idea. That's what they think they've got to do to sell records. And, you know, they're selling records to 13 year old girls. A 13 year old girl don't want to hear about hard times.

Songfacts: I wonder if the fact that you still live in a small town, that if you think that helps you better connect with how, let's say, the common man feels about the world today?

Knight: It probably does. People like my music, there's a lot of them, I've got a wide demographic. I've got little kids all the way up to 75 year old, 80 year old people come to my shows. I guess in some ways I'd say they all identify with it. There may be some that just hear it and think, 'Oh, that so and so likes this, so I guess I like it, too.' You know what I mean? One of my favorite artists likes this guy, or whatever. So I guess I like it too, then. Instead of actually identifying with the music. So I don't know how that works.

Songfacts: Let's go back to your early career. There are some really great songs. And one of them that's been covered quite a bit is "It Ain't Easy Being Me." Do you remember writing that song and maybe what inspired you to write it?

Knight: I don't know what inspired me to write it, but I remember sitting down and hollering out the first couple of lines one morning before I went to work. I'd get up early in the morning and I'd get me a cup of coffee and I'd start writing. And I remember hollering out saying the first couple of lines of "Ain't Easy Being Me," and then setting it aside. And then I took it down and showed it to Craig Wiseman and then we just took off from there. He liked the idea and everything, so we went from there.

Songfacts: The new album is produced by Ray Kennedy. What was it like to work with him?

Knight: It was good. I always wanted to do a record with him. He actually engineered half of my previous record, Heart of Stone. He recorded half of that record, or maybe even more than that. And he mastered the whole record. So I've been in the studio with him and working with him, and we just got to talking. And I told him, "I'd like to just cut a record here, a solo acoustic record." Or cut one with my road band, you know. And he was all for it. Just took a while to get hooked back up. But I've been working with him off and on all during the period between Heart of Stone and Little Victories. Been going in doing guitar, vocals, and just talking to him about this and that. And it finally all came together. Everybody got their heads together we got the time schedule figured out and made it happen.

I met Ray way back in '98 or '99. And we hit it off pretty good. But I didn't see a lot of him. I always admired the records that he did with Steve Earle and all that. I just felt like I could work with him pretty good.

Songfacts: What kind of a producer is he? Does he kind of let you do your thing and just try to capture it, or does he give you a lot of input and give you suggestions?

Knight: Well, he'll give you input when he thinks it's necessary. He's more bare bones kind of guy. If you're doing your thing, he'll get it. But if you're not doing your thing, he gets that, too, and he'll tell you what he thinks. But for the most part, he just wants to capture what the artist is doing. But he's got a lot of good ideas and I got a lot of input on this. Because I asked him a lot of times, "What are we going to do here?" Just steer, steer this guy in the right direction, or steer me in the right direction.

Songfacts: Was it his idea to bring in Buddy Miller to sing some of the harmony vocals?

Knight: It probably was. But I'd worked with Buddy before. I don't know whether Ray absolutely come up with that idea or whether I threw it out. Because Buddy sang on my first album, and he actually did some tracking on my second album, which didn't get released when I first started cutting it. And he played a couple of shows with me, played guitar on my first record. I think he went to Farm Aid with me, played on stage with me at Farm Aid. I've been to festivals and stuff that he was on. Buddy, he's excellent. He's like an unbelievable singer.

Songfacts: Yeah. He's one of those guys that unfortunately the general populace doesn't really know his work. But those that have worked with him love him.

Knight: Yeah. Frank Liddell knew Buddy, when we were working on my first album, he come in and sing on it, because he sang high harmonies on "Afraid," and so Frank knew him for a good while, I guess.

Songfacts: You mentioned Steve Earle earlier. And I wonder, have you guys ever crossed paths and has there ever been talk about maybe you guys writing together?

Knight: No. Not really. We did a festival in Eastern Kentucky. I played right before him and we met. And my guitar player was an original Duke, Mike McAdam, and so I've had guys playing with me who know him real well. We hadn't really talked about writing or doing any shows or anything. I mean, he's a huge influence on me, but I don't know. I don't know how cool that would be, really. It might be extremely cool.

Songfacts: Well, I wanted to wind things up and talk more about the Little Victories album. Did it come together quickly for you? Did you have songs written quickly or did it take a while to come up with the songs that eventually made the album?

Knight: I had the songs ready. I had to just pick and choose over 13, 14 songs about which I was going to put on there. But I was ready to record a year before we recorded. I picked up some older songs that I had already passed by and they sounded pretty good to me at the time, so we went on and put those on there, too. As far as new songs, I wrote those in between Heart of Stone and Little Victories.

Songfacts: Are you a pretty fast writer when it comes to writing songs?

Knight: It just depends. I mean, I write some of them in 30 minutes. Hang on, man.

(Yelling at someone/thing.)

Songfacts: I hope that's a pet and not a person.

Knight: It's a horse.

Songfacts: Oh, it's a horse?

Knight: It's a horse and my eight year old daughter is out there bugging him. She won't leave him alone and I'm just trying to get her to put a little distance between them. I think he loves her, but I'd feel a little safer right now with her on this side of the fence. But anyway, what we were oh, yeah. Some of the songs come really quick. I've written songs in an hour or 30 minutes, even, and some of them take three months or six months, or some of them is even like you got an idea, you might have a verse, but you can't go anywhere with it. And then all of a sudden a year later you finish it up. I think that's probably the way a lot of songwriters work.

Songfacts: I would be remiss if I didn't focus a little bit on the single, the first single I think is "In The Meantime," is that right?

Knight: Yeah. They released that to Americana radio, I guess, of Texas.

Songfacts: And can you tell me about how that song came together?

Knight: We had a new president inaugurated, everybody was flipping out over the economy and politicians and also we had a terrible ice storm here in western Kentucky that shut everything down for a month or two here. We were out of electricity for three weeks. A lot of people out here were out for a month. And people were standing in lines outside of the hardware stores, because they didn't have anything, they weren't prepared. They didn't have nothing. They had to go to church gymnasiums and live, because they didn't have any way to take care of themselves when a disaster struck. And it's like, what the heck, people?

And then two months after the ice storm all these generators started showing up in the classifieds for sale. People went out and bought generators to get through the ice storm and then two months later they go and sell them. Like it's never going to happen again. So it's like dadgum, people.

Songfacts: Get prepared and stay prepared.

Knight: Yeah. And you don't have to be radical about it. But good lord, at least be able to cover your ass when the electricity goes out.

Songfacts: I'll bet you have a generator.

Knight: Yes, I do. I was ready to go. When our electricity went off, I already had the fireplace going and had the generator all oiled up and ready to go.

Songfacts: I'm glad you're prepared.

Knight: We couldn't even get out our drive, we couldn't really get out for about a week. We live out in the real wooded area and there were trees down. I had to take a chainsaw and cut about three tenths of a mile down one way with the chainsaw to clear the road out. And then still couldn't get out once we went on down the road another half mile, it was all blocked off, too. So after about a week we got all that cleared up. You go up and down the road, get out and go 30 miles down the road and get some gasoline or something, if you need it, wash your clothes.

Songfacts: So all of those experiences inspired you to write the song?

Knight: Yeah. It was kind of like what I was thinking about and what I was feeling at the time. What I thought maybe other people were feeling, too. A lot of other people.

Songfacts: You said in the past that there's a little bit of you in a lot of the songs. Like you may be one of the characters. Do you try to put yourself in the heads of other people when you write songs?

Knight: Yeah. Well, it's kind of like I can identify with anything that I've written. There's a piece of me that can identify with all of that stuff. Just one bad decision or one rash decision that you make, or getting revenge on somebody. I think everybody feels stuff like that, but I don't know if other people want to feel it. But Johnny Cash didn't have no problem writing from that, even though he never shot a man just to watch him die, he probably identified with the dude that did. I would say that. These people think that you just write stuff, you're way back away from everything you write, but you've got to know a little bit about it, or at least how it feels, even identify a little bit.

Songfacts: It's better to write a song about it than do it.

Knight: Yes, it is. Yeah.

Songfacts: And maybe do you think writing songs has kept you out of trouble?

Knight: I don't know. That's a possibility that it did. But I probably could have avoided killing anybody even if I hadn't written about it, you know. (Laughing) I probably wouldn't be in jail right now if I hadn't written those songs.

Songfacts: That's good to know. I'm glad to know that you're a peaceful man and that you're not a killer.

Knight: No, I'm not a killer. Just only in my mind. Yeah, only in my head.

January 4, 2013. Get more at
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Comments: 2

  • Orah Rose from Brooklyn, NyChris Knight is my favorite songwriter bar none. I think of him as the Country Bruce Springsteen only more unspoiled. Love his mini- stories -- they're so visual -- each one could be a full-length film -- and I especially love his "bring-it-on/get-'er-done/don't run SOB" characters who to me embody the brave independent spirit that made this country of ours great. G-d bless him and them, and o G-d please save America from these crazy head-in-the-sand before they run our now-limping land completely into the ground!!
  • Dayton from VegasGreat job, a wonderful songwriter and performer.
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