The Knitters

It wasn't pretty 20 years ago, and it ain't pretty now. Wasn't supposed to be, and it never will. And yet the Knitters -- this loose side project that was dedicated as much to drinking and friendship as to picking and art -- have had a profound effect on popular music.

Poor Little Critter on the Road, their only (until now) record, was intended as little more than target practice, and it never became a huge-selling mainstream classic. Still, that little varmint managed to turn a whole segment of the punk world upside down, presaging by a good five years what would become the Uncle Tupelo-spawned alternative-country movement. It hipped a whole turned-off, dropped-out audience to the relevance of country music. Little Critter sent hard-core punks from L.A. to NYC to record stores in search of Stanley Brothers records.

It was such an odd career move. John Doe, Exene Cervenka and D.J. Bonebrake were in X, the hottest, hippest, happenin'est band in L.A., or maybe the world. They had taken punk and added real songs and serious playing. Their concerts were religious events, and time would stop when they played "Call of the Wrecking Ball" or "Burning House of Love." All but one member of X decided to form the Knitters, and they recruited guitarist Dave Alvin of the Blasters to join them. Meanwhile, the Blasters were more like Teddy Boys than punks -- all leather and rockabilly and Johnny "Guitar" Watson attitude rolled into a joint of audio dynamite. Together, X and the Blasters (along with the Beat Farmers) already owned the West Coast underground.

Suddenly members from both were playing loving, back-porch, jug-band versions of X anthems and submerged country classics. And depending on whom you believe, they didn't even mean it. No one knew then how long the Knitters' legs would turn out to be. And now they're back with a new recording appropriately titled The Modern Sounds of the Knitters. Look for the Continental to be Houston's own burning house of love this Thursday.

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William Michael Smith