Copied in full from MuzikMan's Sound Script

THE KNIGHTS INTERVIEW

 
Are you ready for a trip down memory lane? The 60s was an exciting time for music. Dick Stewart and The Knights were on the edge of breaking it big, then things changed with arrival of those guys from England. 

This interview will give you some insight into the life and times of Dick and his groups. We start in the beginning and bring you right up to speed to the present day. This is a fascinating interview. Dick was a pleasure to work with and made it very easy to get this together. Some of the photos used for this interview are very rare and are being viewed for the first time. Sit back and take it all in.

MuzikMan

MuzikMan: What are your thoughts on the new CD "Surfin' the Southwest, Santa Fe Style"?.

Dick: After the reformation of the '60s instrumental Knights in 1998, we weren't sure if we could build a fan base, and if we did, would it only be comprised of senior citizens.  Our live performances and the release of "Surfin' the Web" in the Spring of '99 gave us the answer.  It seems that our expressions appeal to all ages and there's more early '60s trad guitar instro fans (both old and new)out there than we had imagined.  That prompted us to rush back into the studio and record, "Surfin' the Southwest, Santa Fe Style" and we gave it our best.

MuzikMan:  Dick,  What is your background and upbringing? What got you started playing the guitar and how did you end up playing Surf music?

Dick:I was born in Albuquerque, N.M. in 1940 and before rock made its appearance in 1954, I spent hours listening to classical music and progressive jazz.  But when Fats Domino, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and a number of other great artists came on the scene during the birth of rock’n’roll, I was blown away.  My interest in playing the guitar, however, didn’t come until the late ‘50s when I heard the guitar riff in Del Shannon’s “Runaway.”  A short time later, “Apache” hit the airways and I was mesmerized!  I couldn’t get enough of it!  But it was the Fireballs’ Southwestern guitar instrumental style and the Ventures’ bridge tremolo effects during a time when guitar instros ruled (they weren’t called surf then) that really got me to pick up the guitar.  I was 20-years old then so I guess I started late in life.   But guitar rock instros became my passion and it remains that way to this day.

Dick Stewart performs in a 1987 concert at the famous Madrid Ball Park, in Madrid, N.M. during a time when The Knights were known as The Jyck Monkey Band. The guitar was borrowed from his son, because his Jazzmaster was in the shop.

MuzikMan: Dick, What was it like for you and the Knights in the 60's? Whom did you have the opportunity to play with?

Dick: The original Knights (1961 to 1964), who played 99% guitar rock instros, was by far the most exciting time of my musical life.  Everything was new.  The Ventures and The Fireballs had introduced lots of new guitar progressions with dominating minor chords. I’ve always loved minor chords and, in fact, have written few songs without them.  Learning Venture and Fireball covers was exciting especially during the time when their music was in.  The Knights back then was the only Albuquerque band that had a playlist of nearly 100% instrumentals which was cool too.  In 1964, we developed an identity and released a song called “Precision” that became a hit in New Mexico and other parts of the Southwest.

Unfortunately, it was short-lived because of the arrival of The Beatles in that same year who quickly killed off rock guitar instrumentals worldwide.  It was a low point of my musical life!  We just couldn’t believe that their music would be accepted the way it was.  Anyway, we were forced to add vocals and even included a few Beatle tunes (although reluctantly), but frat rock vocals did become our specialty from 1965 to 1967 when The Knights were known as King Richard and The Knights.   Of course, the original members of the instrumental Knights (with the exception of myself) became discouraged over all this and dropped out of the band which was a bummer.  I hired four new musicians and from 1965 to 1967, we played mostly vocals with the exception of a few classics like “Green Onions” and “Tequila.”  We were now a five-piece band with the addition of a keyboardist and saxophonist.  The Knights disbanded in 1967 when I formed Lance Records so I could promote local psychedelic and R&B bands that I thought had promise.   Oh, and I hate to admit it, but as popular as The Knights were, we never had an opportunity to perform with anyone big!  We were close though with the release of “Precision” but the Beatles came on the scene too damn quick.

MuzikMan: Dick, Do you feel that the Knights were given ample opportunity as far as recording and gigs?

Dick: Yes, in a local sense. We played heavily throughout New Mexico and southern Colorado and were one of the few local bands that had recording contracts (Red Feather Records - instros and Delta Records - vocals) but our time just ran out.  The British Invasion was responsible for that.

MuzikMan: Dick, What has it been like getting the Knights back together in this new age of technology as opposed to the "old" days?

Dick: It’s way different now.  When Gary Snow, who is my brother-in-law and one of the original bass players for The Knights, and I decided to get back to our instrumental roots, we were turned on with the idea of picking up where the instrumental Knights left off in 1964.  Now at our age, ego has disappeared and so it no longer stands in the way of the group’s performances as well as my writings and arrangements for the band.  Being put on a pedestal is no longer our priority, but good musical productions are.  That’s what gives us our high now.  Also what’s really cool are the advancements in sound productions due to the arrival of DAT etc.  Of course, you still have to have a good engineer and fortunately, our drummer, Steve Hudgins, knows his stuff.  Steve was barely in this world when The Knights originally formed in 1961 and he had never heard of surf instros until we met in 1998.  I might add that, aside from his superior skills as an engineer, his timing as a drummer is impeccable which is a must in laying down tracks.

MuzikMan: How does it feel playing with your sons?

Dick: My sons share an apartment in Austin, Texas. We played quite a bit between the early ‘80s and ‘90s under  names like Knee Deep, The Rocky Mountain Riff-Raff U.S.A. Rock Band, and Jyck Monkeys (pronounced “jick”).  That’s when we were into a sort of glorified frat rock thing flavored with classical rock and performing mostly material which we all wrote, produced, and released under the album names of “We’re the Mountain Riff-Raff,” “Bar Dog’s a’Comin’,” “Jyck Monkey Time,” and “Lobo Power.”   I really think we were kick-ass together but father and son acts are hard to keep together especially when they each have their own ideas of how their material should be expressed.  So there were good times and bad; however, the good that came out of it by far outweighed the bad.  We all learned a lot from each other.

MuzikMan: Who do you feel has been making the most advances and inroads in technology and sound as of late?

Dick: For quite some time melodies have taken a back seat.  I believe most of the top 40 stuff has become popular due primarily to effects.  I don’t see much in the way of melodic verses and bridges in today’s rock. Also, with the exception of the early ‘60s, instrumental guitar rock groups have never ruled in comparison to the vocal acts.  Nowadays you have to be an exceptional guitarist like Satriani, Eric Johnson or Steve Vai to turn heads and even then they really don’t get their due. 

Gary Snow (left) and Dick Stewart make their first appearance as a dual act in 1998 at Molly’s Class Action Suite in Tijeras, Canyon just east of Albuquerque, N.M.

Now I’m not a speed guitarist by any stretch of the imagination, nor one who relies on heavy reverb and distortion effects.  I try to compensate by writing moving melodies and creating catchy arrangements with unforgettable hooks that build continuously throughout the song.  Fortunately, Steve and Gary believe whole heartedly in what I’m writing and because of that, we’re cookin’ right now.  That’s the key to any band’s success really.  We’re working together amicably as one

MuzikMan: Did you ever think about creating a supergroup consisting of three or more guitar players combining the old school with the young and the restless? Now that would be quite a sound, don't you think?

Dick: That’s always tough to do.  It’s difficult to find guitar players who are unselfish.  They all want to be heard over the other and before you know it, everyone is playing on level 10.  However, we did have some success at it with my sons and another kick-ass guitarist named Martin Howard. We did that frequently during the ‘80s and those who weren’t affected by the volume loved it.  But it’s tough to write and arrange material for a band that has three guitarists!  That’s why The Knights are a trio now.  No one in the band really wants another guitarist although if we could find the right person on rhythm who is willing to play his parts at a volume that would compliment The Knights’ efforts, that could be a consideration.

MuzikMan: Do you feel Surf/Instrumental music has made a strong comeback and the genre is on the brink of creating an entirely new genre and cutting edge sound? If so, who do you feel would be the first to break through with a "new" sound?

Dick: That’s really a tough question.  I would like to think so but really I don’t know if there’s a large fan base or not for surf rock guitar instro bands.  Has it made a come back?  I think so.  But big?  Probably not.   The third wave surf bands tend to play the Dick Dale style . . . you know, double picking and dripping reverb.  Although I don’t play that style and never did, I do like it and there are a lot of bands out there that do it well.  But I really believe it has a limited audience.   The Knights, on the other hand, are trying to deliver a milder, trad surf guitar instro sound that we hope will have a broader appeal.  Whether we’ll be successful at it or not is unknown but at least we’ll always be proud of what we’re putting on tape.  To compete in a world that’s dominated by vocals is always tough for instrumentalists no matter what the genre.

MuzikMan: Are you heavily involved in your website development or do you have web gurus to take care of everything? I know from personal experience how time consuming a startup and continued maintenance on a site can be. Do have the time for all of that?

Dick: My son is my web master.  I tell him what I want on my site and he creates it.  He’s doing a great job although using free hosts can be a problem especially with broken link page errors.  But then both my son and I have only had our web sites for less than a year and there’s a lot to learn.  The Internet is where it’s at though and yes, it’s very time consuming especially when you’re constantly trying to promote it.  But it’s a much better and certainly cheaper promotional tool than the expensive long distance phone calls and snail mails in the ‘60s.  The thought of worldwide promotion in the ‘60s for a little label was out of the question.  I wouldn’t even have considered getting back into the business if wasn’t for the Internet.

MuzikMan: Are you active on the live circuit?

Dick: Yes!  Our bookings around the state of New Mexico are strong at present, however, we limit them to special engagements.  We don’t like playing bars with the exception of one: Molly’s in Tijeras, Canyon which is just east of Albuquerque.  The owner, Romeo Dilallo and I are Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers and he’s followed The Knights since the band’s creation.

Dick Stewart (center) sets in on bass with some unidentified mountain rockers in the Sandia Mountains just east of Albuquerque, N.M. where he has lived with his family for twenty years.  (Photo snapped in the summer of 1988)

In fact, Romeo, who played for a popular Albuquerque group in the ‘60s (Romeo and the Playboys), taught me my first three chords on the guitar in 1959 which were E, A, and B.  He said that if I master that progression then I could play 90% of the top 40 play list.  He was right about the majority of the vocals but not so with the instros.  I fanatically learned those progressions on my own.

MuzikMan: Any closing comments or anything you would like to comment on or convey to the cyber community?

Dick: You know, after more than three decades since The Knights reformed, I’m grateful that I still have the desire and good health to continue with my instrumental guitar efforts.  Of course, to have The Knights’ original bass player, Gary Snow, feel the same way as me and to have met ace drummer, Steve Hudgins, certainly was a blessing as those were the necessary ingredients to make it all happen once again.  I’m also proud of my son's musical accomplishments and their willingness to never give up.   Being creative musically is a healthy venture, but presenting your works to the public can be very stressful if things don’t go your way.  So I try and keep everything in perspective and stress to my sons (as well as to myself and the rest of The Knights) that it’s the effort that really counts.  Because if you have what it takes, feel good about your musical achievements, and use good judgements,  something positive will eventually come of it even if it’s not monetarily.  So in short, don’t sweat the situation! Life’s too damn short!

Judi Stewart snaps a photo of Dick in his practice room.

Finally, I would like to thank those incredible fans from around the world (including you, Keith), as well as those great business associates of mine  like Lee Joseph (Dionysus Records), Michael Greisman (Cicadelic Records), Harry Vee (D.C. Records), Barry Barnet (Zorrila Llc), Mike Dugo (“Lance Monthly” staff writer) and Mike Stax (Ugly Things mag) to name a few, who like what The Knights are accomplishing on tape.  It’s cats like you and them who are the ones that really keep us motivated.

Later on,

Dick Stewart

Make sure you visit The Knights website and check out the Lance Monthly here

1999 MuzikMan Productions, All rights reserved.

The Knights were interviewed by MuzikMan for MuzikMan's Sound Script Zine from November-December 1999. Interview granted and published with permission of the artist. Photos are the property of Dick Stewart and have been reproduced with his permission.

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