Knoxville Girls

Knoxville Girls, which began in December 1998 as a recording project devised by former members of the New York country-flavored garage band Little Porkchop, aimed to put aside all the hierarchies of rock & roll in favor of voicing democratically its time-worn roots in blues, country, and rockabilly. Co-founders and guitarists Jerry Teel and Jack Martin joined former Congo Norvel guitarist Kid Congo Powers, former Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert, and former Stab City organist Barry London on the Knoxville Girls' eponymous 1999 debut CD on the small indie label In the Red. Deriving its name from a murder ballad by the traditional Appalachian band the Louvin Brothers, the Knoxville Girls rooted its sound in a travelogue of American musical styles, yet there was an undercurrent of the Velvet Underground and Newport-era Bob Dylan. Though the Knoxville Girls began as a group without a bass and dominated by three guitarists, there was still a heavy bottom to its sound provided by London's Farfisa organ, which showed the influence of gospel, the Memphis Stax sound, and ? & the Mysterians. Covers of some of the band's idols played as big a part in the band's identity as original songs on the group's debut CD. There was a raunchy remake of Ray Charles' R&B classic "I Had a Dream." They revamped Percy Sledge's "Warm and Tender" into gritty Rolling Stones blues-rock. They showed gusty fervor on their version of Memphis rockabilly legend, Charlie Feather's "Have You Ever." They redid Johnny Cash's "I Feel Better All Over" as jumpstart rockabilly and then went country ballad on George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today." The Knoxville Girls began out of Alabaman Jack Teel's frustration over the breakup of Little Porkchop. Martin, who had performed in the band with him, decided to move to New Orleans. Teel filled the gap by going into his Fun House recording studios for sessions in the East Village in New York City. That's where he hooked up with organist Barry London. He knew drummer Bob Bert from hanging out at East Village clubs when he was playing with the Honeymoon Killers and Bert was performing with Pussy Galore. Martin had also worked with guitarist Kid Congo Powers, who had recently split from Congo Norvel. Upon Martin's return from the Big Easy, the circle was complete. Songs emerged from informal jam sessions, with Teel adding lyrics later. Finally, the Knoxville Girls got their debut gig, opening for Mudhoney at the Bowery Ballroom in 1999. The Knoxville Girls released a second CD, In a Paper Suit (In the Red Records), which featured more original songs full of campy humor, blues, and country as well as covers of the Shangri-Las' "Sophisticated Boom Boom," Hank Williams' "'Neath a Cold Gray Tomb of Stone," and Hasil Adkin's "By the Lonesome River," in April 2001. ~ Robert Hicks

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