By Carey Hereford
Chris Knight is a living reminder that it’s never too late to pursue a dream. A music enthusiast from an early age, the singer/songwriter worked in land reclamation after graduating from Western Kentucky University. Once he heard Steve Earle on the radio in 1986, Knight decided to try his own hand at songwriting. Knight landed his first record deal at age 37 and has built a career on honest songs that reflect his rural Kentucky roots. In addition to his own releases, Knight has found his songs recorded by Randy Travis, Blake Shelton and John Anderson among many others. On Friday, May 31, Knight will perform at Saturn. Recently, he spoke with us by phone.
Birmingham Stages: Chris, thank you for spending the time to talk with us. How did growing up in Kentucky affect your music career as a whole?
Chris Knight: There was a lot to write about – I had a pretty big family. There was a lot going on back at the time.
Birmingham Stages: What inspired you to move away from working in the coal mines in Kentucky to become a singer/songwriter?
Knight: It was always in the back of my mind to try to do something in the music business. I started writing songs and easing my way in. Then I started making trips to Nashville about five or six years later. I had good people helping me and felt like it was a good time to do it. If I didn’t do it then, I never would have.
Birmingham Stages: What made you want to start your own record label? What are the pros and cons of having your own label?
Knight: Well, you don’t have people telling you what to do. You know it’s started to work out better because we cut the middle man out. We had access to smaller publicity and distribution and all that. It was just time do it. I had been through Decca Records and Dualtone Records – they were good for me, but I had three records for Dualtone and I just thought it was time to move on.
Birmingham Stages: How does your writing process work? Where do you find inspiration?
Knight: I would just, you know grab a guitar and come up with a line or two and build it from there. I might be driving down the road and think of something, and just keep foolin’ with it. It comes around, some for me take four years, some songs I can get written in a day or maybe two hours.
Birmingham Stages: With such a large catalog of music, how do you keep your older songs fresh?
Knight: I just play them. I have set changes from time to time, but other than that I just play all of them. I just go out and tour on what I got, and it seems to work out okay. I mean a lot of people want a new record six months after you put one out. But I’ve toured on this one for seven years and it’s time to get one out. I just finished one and that will be released sometime this year.
Birmingham Stages: Which album of yours are most proud? Why?
Knight: I like [2001 release] Pretty Good Guy a lot. I got more used being in a studio and more used to singing. I just think it’s more me with the production and all that.
Birmingham Stages: What album by another musician is your favorite?
Knight: I don’t know, probably Running On Empty – Jackson Browne. I was just 17 or 18 when it came out and I think it had a lot of good songs on it. Some of the stuff was recorded on a bus, some of it in motel rooms, and it’s partly a live album, too. It just seems to be the one I tend to like the most.
Birmingham Stages: What was the inspiration behind your song ”It Ain’t Easy Being Me”?
Knight: I don’t know – I just started writing and I had pretty much the first verse written pretty quickly. I played it for a friend of mine I was writing with and he really liked it. It seemed to be a little quirky and different to me. But, even then, I still didn’t really want to even put it on the album.
Birmingham Stages: What do you think about Blake Shelton covering ”It Ain’t Easy Being Me”?
Knight: I’m glad to have anybody recording my songs. John Anderson – he also did a good cover of that song. That was part of the reason why I went to Nashville, to get people to record my songs. I met Blake a long time ago. I was writing with a friend of mine, but that was when he was working on getting a record deal.
Birmingham Stages: What makes you stand out from other singer/songwriters?
Knight: I don’t know – I just write what I write. I’m not trying to pull somebody’s leg with my music. When I record a song, I believe in the song. People like to hear the stories I tell at my shows, too.
Chris Knight will perform at Saturn on Friday, May 31. Kyle Kimbrell will open the 9 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $20 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.