Matthew Knights



SHJ 07/27/2014

Carolina Mixer

Sptbg. Herald Journal

Mountain Express

Sound Observations

As I spun some vinyl LPs by a few artists included on the Spartanburg Music Trail last night, I was inspired to pull out my copy of “Hub City Music Makers,” Peter Cooper’s 1997 book that documented Spartanburg’s rich musical heritage.

I thumbed through the pages and eventually stopped on the chapter about Matthew Knights. I then re-read Cooper’s profile on the Spartanburg-based singer-songwriter from start to finish.

Written when Knights was in his mid-30s, Cooper’s portrait is of a man with unlimited potential who had too often let inner-turmoil stand in the way of fulfilling his rock ‘n’ roll dreams. To put it mildly, Knights was a self-admitted wild child.

Fortunately, that’s not the Knights I know. I’m lucky to have met him at a time in his life that was seemingly less anguished, and I can honestly say that I’ve had nothing but pleasant experiences with him.

That’s not to say that Knights is perfect. None of us are. And I’m fully aware that not everyone will share my enthusiasm for promoting Knights’ musical artistry.

But you’ve got to give the guy credit. He’s still out there doing what he loves even though it’s unlikely that music will ever be his exclusive means of making a living.

The fact that the man Cooper described in his 1997 book as “the Patron Sinner of Spartanburg Rock and Roll” is still bringing joy to lots of people through his music is reason enough to celebrate.

And what better way to celebrate than by attending a special concert in honor of Knights’ 50th birthday? Such a show is being held Wednesday in the intimate lounge area of The Peddler Steakhouse in Spartanburg.

Sure, Knights has had some issues with self-discipline over the years, but you don’t make it to 50 and still have so many friends without being somewhat of a caring soul. And you certainly don’t write songs with as much emotional depth and thoughtfulness as Knights does without having some semblance of a warm heart.

Several of Knights’ friends will be on hand for Wednesday’s show. Among them, Knights’ cohorts in a new project he’s involved in called Mill Billy Blues – Shane Pruitt, Brandon Turner and Freddie Vanderford. And don’t be surprised if such Spartanburg favorites as David Ezell and Fayssoux McLean also join in the festivities.

Can we perhaps get Baker Maultsby in the house, too? You’ve got to love his modeling contribution to the cover of Knights’ fabulous 2008 album, “Cottonwood.”

In his live performances these days, Knights – whose original sound blends the earnestness of traditional folk and country with the urgency of vintage punk rock – often includes a heart-wrenching rendition of “Choices,” a song made popular by country music legend George Jones in 1999.

Re-reading that chapter in Cooper’s book gives me even greater appreciation for Knights’ interpretation of the song. For better or worse, Knights has lived those lyrics, and an attentive listener can practically feel his scars whenever he performs it.

As much as it might sound like heresy for me to say it, I think I’m even fonder of Knights’ version of “Choices” than I am of Jones’. And that, my friends, is no small compliment.

I won’t be requesting “Choices” at Wednesday’s show, as I can’t imagine Knights not performing it on such a milestone birthday as No. 50.

Instead, my request is for another cover tune. Last week, during his own set at The Peddler, Ezell gave Knights the opportunity to take the stage for a couple of songs. I was pleasantly surprised that one of them was “What’ll I Do If I Don’t Have You,” a song that its writer, Spartanburg native David Ball, believes to be the best he’s ever penned.

Unlike “Choices,” I can’t really compare Knights’ version of “What’ll I Do” with Ball’s original. The two of them are just different. Ball is one of the most outstanding vocalists I’ve ever heard, and you can’t top hearing such an extraordinary talent sing the song for which he is most proud.

But Knights certainly impressed me with his rendition last week, injecting a world-weary sadness into the song that made it sound like his own. That’s as much of a testament to the strength of Ball’s songwriting as it is to Knights’ unique interpretation. Simply put, Ball has created a masterpiece that deserves to be shared and enjoyed by the entire world.

With that, I bid adieu and wish Knights the happiest birthday yet. He might not be a world-renowned rock star, but his music has brought happiness to more people than he’ll ever know. In that regard, mission accomplished. Let’s hope he keeps it up for another 50.


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