The most striking new country song you might not hear on bigtime country radio in the coming months is “Framed,” Chris Knight’s gritty saga of an ex-truck driver and prison inmate who admits he shot the man who stole his wife but argues that the victim, not he, was the real guilty party.
Knight, the writer and singer of this anti-ditty, is currently generating a large buzz in Nashville despite the fact that his songs, which draw frequent comparisons to work by Steve Earle and John Prine, are expected to be a hard sell with the handful of play-it-safe consultants who control country radio’s major playlists.
For that reason, Decca Records is aiming Knight at both alternative and mainstream markets. The former seems a natural, but the latter may not be out of the question.
“A night jock in Sacramento, started playing ‘Framed,’ ” reports Knight’s manager, RickAlter, “and they added it (to the playlist) because the phones lit up to the point that the morning ..crew got calls the next day. They were asking where the new Steve Earle record was, because that’s what people thought It was.”
He worked in the mining industry for a decade after graduating from Western Kentucky University but had been “interested in gui-tars,” as he pronounces it, ever since seeing Cash play one on TV. He began learning to play the instrument himself while listening to Prine records a couple of years later, around “’72 or ’73,” and he started writing songs in 1986, around the time Earle’s landmark “Guitar Town” album debuted on the scene.
“That’s when I started going out and playing live a little bit”, he says. “My deal was, I just really enjoyed writing. The stuff just kind of poured out of me.”
What striking “stuff” it has been, too. There’s “It Ain’t Easy Being Me,” about a guy living in a mythical place called Sorryville that you can’t miss if you take enough wrong turns. There’s “Love And a .45 ” about a male cop and a female criminal who turn to each other out of mutual need for the two title items. There’s “William, ” an abused child who grows up to be a child abuser and who dies in a robbery, “survived by a wife, two hungry kids and a pool of blood on the floor.”
Although it isn’t on Knight’s just-released first album, there’s also a song about a homeless man robbing somebody because the victim is too selfish to comply with his request for a couple pie of bucks. That song, “If I Were You,” got Knight noticed by Liddell one evening in 1992 at the Bluebird Cafe, a Nashville songwriters’ showcase venue.
“I had a friend who came up from Texas to play writer’s night, and I went out to see him play,” Liddell recalls. “Right before (the friend] went on,’ Chris went on, and that was it.”
Although it took a while, Liddell got the songwriter signed to a publishing company and eventually to Decca.
And a year and a half ago, manager Rick Alter was in a song-pitch meeting with an act he represents, BlackHawk, when he heard Knight’s demo of “It Ain’t Easy Being Me.”
“It just punched my buttons,” Alter says. Knight’s destiny seems to be to punch many more.