While growing up in Slaughters, Ky., country rocker Chris Knight got the opportunity to take a few guitar lessons from John Prine.
He didn't get any face time with the singer until years later, so the way he got those lessons was by sitting next to the record player all the while trying to pick out the chords and notes of Prine's songs by ear. Some of the Prine songs Knight was trying to best were "Sam Stone," "Saddle in the Rain" and "Paradise." Knight eventually got to where he could play more than 20 of Prine's songs.
"I've been listening to John Prine since I was 13 years old," Knight says. "I introduced a bunch of people to his music. I'd be playing his songs in study hall or on the street corner and these kids would be like, 'Where do you get them songs?'
"You know they had never heard any songs like that," he adds. "They were into Kiss but I started converting them to John Prine."
One of the highlights of Knight's career occurred recently when Prine came in to record with him for Knight's latest release, Little Victories, which is scheduled to be released today. Knight had opened a few shows for Prine, so he was familiar with Knight's work.
The one who really made the connection with Prine concerning the project was the album's producer, Ray Kennedy, who suggested Prine would be a good fit for the album and for Knight.
Kennedy is well-known for his 1991 hit country single "What a Way to Go."
"I've opened a few shows for John Prine so it wasn't like he was unfamiliar with my music," Knight says. "It was great to have him come down and sing on it. It was pretty cool."
Knight, who earned a degree in agriculture from Western Kentucky University, spent the next ten years as a mine reclamation inspector. When he was 26, Knight heard a sound coming through his AM radio that was a Bluegrass-meets-country-meets-hard-rock sound. The song her heard was Steve Earle's "Guitar Town." The vibe Earle had nailed together hit a chord in the upstart songwriter.
"It lit a fire under me, Knight says. "It made me really want to start writing songs and living that life."
Once Knight had put together enough material, he headed off to Nashville and earned a spot on a songwriters set at the famed Bluebird Café. Knight met with producer Frank Liddell, who signed him to Bluewater Music. He later got Knight a deal with Decca Records, which released his self-titled debut album.
Knight has released seven albums on his own and has also written several hits over the years for other artists, including a co-writing credit for country duo Montgomery Gentry's "She Couldn't Change Me."
Knight did finally get to meet Earle, and has also opened for him. And while meeting his musical hero was also another highlight, it wasn't at all intimidating for Knight.
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"I'm a grown man," Knight says and laughs. "I can't be intimidated."
John Prine plays U of H's Cullen Performance Hall with Alejandro Escovedo Friday, Sept. 21.