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