Reunited Knitters Play Benefit In San Francisco

Country side project of X and Blasters will get tribute album in October.

The Knitters, a revered country side project started by members of

Los Angeles punks X and rockabilly revivalists the Blasters, are back.

The band reunited for two shows at Slim's in San Francisco on Monday

and Tuesday. Self-described "insurgent country" label Bloodshot

Records will release Poor Little Knitter on the Road (Oct. 5),

a track-by-track tribute to the Knitters' lone album, Poor Little

Critter on the Road (1985).

"The Knitters are all about covering great songs so people can go back

and find 'em," X singer/songwriter Exene Cervenkova — formerly

Exene Cervenka — said during Tuesday's show.

In late 1984, three of the four members of X — Cervenkova (born

Christine Cervenka), 43; singer/songwriter/bassist John Doe, 46; and

drummer D.J. Bonebrake, 43 — thought it might be fun to cover a

few of their favorite country songs as a side project for benefit

shows.

They formed the Knitters with standup bassist Johnny Ray Bartel and

Blasters guitarist Dave Alvin. "We made it so that it would be

truly fun," Cervenkova recalled. "No tensions and no rivalries and no

egos."

They played a few late-'80s dates in California, which Doe recalled as

"drunken ... that includes both the band and the audience." The

Knitters recorded Poor Little Critter on the Road, an album of

mostly cover songs, and then they dissolved in 1991 to pursue other

projects.

They re-formed this year partly to celebrate the upcoming tribute

album, partly to play Monday's benefit show — for friend Annie

Whiteside, 41, whose San Francisco apartment was destroyed by a fire

— and partly because they all were available and thought it would

be fun.

"The Knitters are the flag bearers for foot-draggers ... the people

that keep things from going too fast," Doe said over the phone before

Tuesday's show. "If people would have asked me two months ago if the

Knitters would play again, I wouldn't have believed it."

Monday and Tuesday night, the crowd of aging X and Blasters fans,

greased-up rockabilly boys and tattooed honky-tonk gals were treated

to a mix of country classics, including Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings"

(RealAudio excerpt of Knitters version),

and countrified X numbers, such as "The New World"

(RealAudio excerpt of Knitters version).

Other highlights of the shows included Helen Carter's "Poor Old

Heartsick Me" and the Stanley Brothers' "Rank Stranger."

John Stern, 32, one of many audience members wearing a cowboy hat,

said, "I've been waiting 15 years for this. I was a big X fan, and

when the Knitters played, it just all came together. I was a punk-rock

kid, and when I heard [Critter] I realized it wasn't that much

of a stretch from punk to country."

Kim Williams and Vince Martini, two members of Sacramento, Calif.'s

slide-guitar punk outfit 99 Tales who were in the audience, described

themselves as "suckers for melodies and guitars." Singer/bassist

Williams said, "To me, [the Knitters are] real musicians playing real

music, instead of all this electronica."

Their band opened one of the Knitters' last shows in 1991 and

contributed the track "Baby out of Jail" to the upcoming tribute.

Vocalist and lap-steel guitarist Martini said, "It was just great to

be playing with — and even just going to dinner with — people

that had such an influence on your music."

The Knitters also influenced the formation of Bloodshot Records,

according to co-founder Nan Warshaw, who claims the label wouldn't

have had the courage to start without the Knitters' paving "a lot of

dirt road."

"Coming from a punk background and releasing a country record, they

were really going out on a limb," Warshaw said.

"I'm sure we had our detractors, as anyone does, that thought we were

making fun of country music, or thought that punk bands shouldn't have

those kinds of interests," Cervenkova said. "I don't even remember, to

tell you the truth. It just was always really fun."

Poor Little Knitter on the Road will include tracks by

alt-country favorites Whiskeytown and Old 97's (with John Doe), as

well as the previously unreleased Knitters track "Why Don't We Try

Anymore?"