Shadows Of Knight

Released 1969 on Super-K
The Seth Man, October 2008ce
Oooh yeah!

“Oh Yeah”?

“Bad Little Woman”?
Turn out the lights!

“Someone Like Me”?
People like me lurve it!

The third album by the Shadows of Knight?
In every sense of the word: it’s incredible.

By the middle of 1967, The Shadows of Knight experienced major changes to their classic Dunwich-era lineup when several key members left to form or join other groups. Holding legal ownership of the group’s name, vocalist Jim Sohns took charge by firing off the remaining Knights, parting ways with Dunwich Records and signing with the production team of Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffrey Katz. Sohns agreed to record a single for Kasenetz-Katz under the Shadows of Knight banner backed by session players called “Shake”/“From Way Out To Way Under” with the music for a subsequent album handled by The Shadows of Knight themselves. Around his nasally and gruff voice, Sohns assembled Woody Woodruff on SG Gibson guitar, John Fisher on left-handed Hohner violin bass and Ken Turkin on drums. (Often credited as rhythm guitarist on the album, the extent of Dan Baughman’s role remains undeterminable: Aside from two co-writing credits on the album to ‘B. Baughman,’ no evidence of two separate guitarists performing simultaneously live or on overdubs can be detected anywhere on the album.)

Dropping the definite article from their name and calling the album the same, “Shadows of Knight” is an interesting album for several reasons. It illustrates not only one of several directions garage punk bands were forced into after their initial ‘66 flush of one-shot fame, but some of the pitfalls that beset such bands upon entering the new phase of Rock already in the process of passing them by. Furthermore, it was one of the few albums to be released on Super-K, a short-lived subsidiary of Buddah Records formed by the ever-entrepreneurial Kasenetz-Katz duo to handle their slew of bubblegum creations such as The 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Ohio Express and the preposterously named Kasenetz-Katz Orchestral Cirkus. Between The Shadows of Knight’s reputation of past years plus their recent respectable run in the charts with “Shake,” a follow up album on Super-K was viewed as only natural.

Only the album that finally emerged was not...natural. At all.

It was supernatural. As well as crudely produced and swept into a schizoid zone all its own where it barked and drooled while trying to behave. Which it did -- badly. It is one of the most incorrigible displays in a space and time renowned for incorrigibility. The album is a catalog of first takes, mistakes, outtakes and every-other-kinda-takes as well as how NOT to produce a record; let alone one to rescue a diminishing career with some semblance of a return to form. But as far as providing true con-o-sewers with enough fuzz, junk, kicks and yucks for its half an hour duration, it scores a big time punk “fuck, yeah!” Although not zackly up there with the likes of “Basic Blues Magoos” (let alone The Litter’s far more consistent “Emerge”) it is strange, unique and nonplussing-as-fuck enough to earn laurels galore from those starved for more rama-lama-fa-fa-fa from the twilight zone twixt garage, heavy Rock and points beyond (Namely: ‘people like me’ as Jim Sohns once sang in his usual gutsy, adenoidal and succinct manner.)

Suffice to say, the finished product was hardly what Kasenetz-Katz wanted nor expected from Shadows of Knight and perhaps the same was true of the group themselves because the album they delivered was possibly one of the most inept Rock records, ever. Not so much due to the performances as much as the manner in which those performances were recorded and how the elements were juxtaposed. The results were sonically lopsided towards the vocals that the ratio of attention to them outweighed the instrumentation five to one. Contributing to this imbalance was the use of super-separated stereo that left a large space of suspended silence right in the middle of the sonic field. It may have been reserved for overdubs because there’s a conspicuous absence of them on the album. Also, much of the album consists primarily of what sounds to be unvarnished, live run-throughs. Finally, it’s worth noting how the entire proceedings lack the characteristic Kasenetz-Katz production sheen consistently applied to their abundant procession of manufactured sugary pop hits. What happened here?

In short, “Shadows of Knight” is a compromise viewed from any angle. While the first two tracks written by the co-producers are the only ones adorned with brass and organ backing, the final two are cover versions the group demanded to include because of their in-concert popularity. And as for the middle part, well: now we’re talkin’ because that’s where the album tilts into a glorious train wreck as the instrumentalists remain at cross-purposes with Sohns’ nasally soulful vocals as they occupy a signal strength emanating from the studio next door. Although the balance is in Sohns’ favour as his vocals tower over the band on every song, Woodruff’s guitar playing refuses to be toned down or ignored. Displaying a strong fixation with Leigh Stephens as he comes roaring out on practically every song, ballads included, his playing often seems specifically inspired by the guitar intros and breakdowns on Blue Cheer’s “Doctor Please.” Although lacking the froth and thrust that exploded throughout Blue Cheer’s first two albums, Woodruff and the rhythm section are nonetheless a shambolic clatter-fest more sturm than drang to be reckoned with.

With that said, it feels as though conflicts over material and direction came to a head sometime during recording and resulted in Kasenetz-Katz washing their hands of the whole unintended mess by instructing co-producers Joe Levine and Arthur Resnick to halt the session and just mix what they had into an album. Although ‘mix’ may be crowning the proceedings with a little too much dignity for the resulting album sounds like they just let the tapes run on various studio run-throughs while waiting for the horn and keyboard session players to turn up and add bubblegum geegaws on two tracks written by the co-producers (“Follow” and “Alone.”) These were also conveniently listed on the front cover, along with “Shake” (another composition by Joe Levine written with Kris Resnick, Arthur’s wife) but technically, it wasn’t “Shake” at all but a re-recording re-named “Shake Revisited ’69”... on the back sleeve. (The original single version was unavailable for the K-K Team had already sold off the rights.) There’s even a theory that Kasenetz-Katz issued the album without the group’s consent. But despite the machinations behind its release, what was left for the ages is the most important part -- the music.

“Follow” and “Alone” begin the album on simultaneously overdone and unfinished bubblegum footing. “Alone” is bubblegum, but only in construction not execution and is about as ham fisted and harsh as the rendering of “Alone.” Both songs are a just too rough and ready, too light for proto-metal and just too weird to be classified as either. In the context of the rest of the album, they are hard songs to categorise but easy to hear the twin set of cross-purposes already at play in the studio: Sohns’ vocal treatment dwarfs the band while the projected bubblegum instructions left with the producers are beginning to be sidestepped and soon to be abandoned altogether. At first, “Time & Places” seems to continue the trend of the previous tracks until the bouncy verse and choruses pass when Sohns brays out “TIIIIME-IIIME-IIME-IME...!” with stentorian fake vocal echo. As if the signal to throw a switch, what follows navigates the album unevenly into Blue Cheer territory -- specifically, those lurching guitar breaks in “Doctor Please.” It is completely out of the blue and one heavy curveball that snowballs greatly until without warning -- the song shifts back into the bouncy pop verses that hint at The Blues Magoos’ “All The Better To See You With.” Once again, Sohns ends a verse with the strident cry of “TIME!” and immediately the musicians rush into another intense, shorter garaged-up, proto-metal rave up capped off with a well-rehearsed crescendo ending.

The muffled paces of “I Am What I Am” commence the best and most wayward part of the album with an introductory guitar imitating the chiming of Big Ben. When the band comes in, it’s at minimum recording level with the V.U. needles peaking permanently in black. The drums are great but are reduced to a background tippy-tap while the guitar and bass are a midrange blur as Sohns’ vocals are at nighttime beacon strength as he boasts: “I know I could/But I think I better not/Cause if I did/It would tie your mind in knots...” I don’t even think he was singing about this song, but here is where the album starts to kick in with some of the most perplexing music Shadows of Knight ever recorded. Woodruff is going round the bend with abrasive proto metal thunder while the rhythm section is running about as furiously as the signal strength it was captured at is infuriatingly flat. The song, along with its accompanying tape hiss, cuts off abruptly the moment they stop playing.

The absurdly-titled “Uncle Wiggley’s Airship” roars in with an extended feedback preface and proceeds into a series of lumbering, rough-hewn power surges set within ridiculously abrupt stops and starts. About as ridiculous are the lyrics, which describe said air vessel being “like a watermelon with wings” then halts for Sohns to muse:

“Is it plant or matter?
Is it growing fatter?
Does it really matter?”

Apropos of nothing, Sohns then barks out: “And I think you’re...WEIRD!”

Weird is nothing compared to the middle instrumental section where the band goes for broke all nutzoid like the tempestuous break in Blue Cheer’s “Summertime Blues.” This is the culmination of an album in crisis, SG Gibson under stressful conditions and a punk band taking their frustration out on a song rejected by the powers that be. Once the smoke clears, there another mannered series of breaks and then...well, it’s like Uncle Wiggley’s airship just took a puncture somewhere cuz the song just kinda trails off into light feedback stuttering and detuning bass. Jim Sohns laughs over this and then sneers: “Right...” Huh? Then chuckles some more and utters “Right” again. What the...Hey, did the song just end? Like that?! Yup.

“I Wanna Make You All Mine” ends side one with explicit Troggs and Kinks influences refracted through a tight, razor-sharp formation of snarling Leigh Stephens-esque SG Gibson switching-between-rhythm-and-lead behind Sohns’ double snotty vox. Although not a remake of the Shads previous “I’m Gonna Make You Mine,” it is a track that probably comes closest to the new-look Shadows of Knight approximating their Dunwich Records-era approach and attitude. A blaring guitar solo breaks out from the fanning out waves of fuzztone rhythm guitar as if in cue for the usual quick fade to quickly curtail yet another extended instrumental improvisation.

Most people who bought this album at the time for the single “Shake” were destined to be disappointed. For although it was listed on the front cover, what they discovered opening up side two was a entirely different pus pocket retitled on the back sleeve as “Shake Revisited ’69.” A double helping of white soul bubble-gum garage proto-metal, it’s far rawer than the single version but still a great mover. The fuzz guitar inserted in place of the “96 Tears” organ, Ken Turkin’s drum patterns are steady even as he steps out with funky drum breaks behind the repeating fist raising chant of the title and of course: Woodruff continues onwards with a full-blown guitar solo at the coda with additional wah-wah. For some reason, there’s no predictably quick fade out but it just jarringly screeches to a halt.

“I’ll Set You Free” is the most primitive moment of the album, which is saying something. The rhythm section breaks into uncalibrated funk measures suggestive of Captain Beefheart’s “Mirror Man” title track on locked groove while it collides and re-collides with more Leigh Stephensian overdriven -- and sadly, under-recorded -- fuzz guitar interplay. In contrast, Sohns’ vocals are loud as hell as they proclaim tenuous powers of psychedelic guru-ness: “I’ll paint pictures in your mind/Flashing faces/glow inside...” Anyway: Like “Uncle Wiggley’s Airship,” the mid-section breaks out into a guitar-imposed improvisation of uncontrollably wild and heavy Rock punctured by Sohns’ random cajoling and teen appeal come hither entreaties (either as per double entendre bubblegum standards, just being overtly sleazy, or both.) During a second, shorter improvisation there’s a part where a break down for the drums to complete a quick and complicated fill when the bass player either attempts a quick run up the neck or it’s his amplifier acting up and unaccountably lets loose a shuddering hum. Either way, it only adds to the track’s unruliness and although Woodruff’s soloing is undermined by the production, it’s like he’s got a hold of something as hard as it’s got a hold of him and he’s just about got it wrestled to the ground, crying out for mercy.

“Under Acoustic Control” is a slowly rising feedback drone sustains for 28 seconds that sweeps directly into “Bluebird.” A 5:40 minute cover of the Buffalo Springfield track, they make it sound more like -- you got it -- Blue Cheer than Buffalo Springfield. They steam through the cover rambunctiously, don’t even bother with the banjo section and like the previous track: stow away two separate instrumental breaks within its compartments which blow holes out from the song’s fuselage, thereby causing a forced landing into the final track, “Back Door Man.” Unlike the Knights’ earlier “Bad Little Woman” this version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Back Door Man” sounds nothing like The Doors and with an opening harangue of “WAAAUUGHHH...!” comes a slothful electric blues trudge that sounds nothing like The Shadows of Knight’s blues-wailing of yesteryear. The track didn’t appear on their previous “Back Door Men” album, so it kinda brings things full circle by using it to conclude this album. Sohns even sings the line “Got my arm full of holes” so it sounds like he’s “got my armful of whores.” Whoa -- Now let’s get it outta here, for this song concludes the kandy-koated goody-goody-giddy gumdrop with a proto-metal interior that is “Shadows of Knight.”

Two singles by Shadows of Knight were issued on Super-K, featuring three tracks: “My Fire Department Needs A Fireman”/“Taurus” with the follow up “Run, Run, Billy Porter” switching “My Fire Department Needs…” to the B-side. Out of these three tracks, the B-side “Taurus” is probably the best Rock moment of them all -- a sludgy, proto-metal instrumental to make your mind a vacant rental.