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The Knack’s bassist Prescott Niles discusses their new Record Store Day double live vinyl album

Smile Records and Liberation Hall release the historic recording “The Knack Live at the House of Blues - September 25, 2001” on April 23
L to R: Doug Fieger, Berton Averre, Prescott Niles

L to R: Doug Fieger, Berton Averre, Prescott Niles

GOLDMINE: I am so pleased that your Record Store Day release Live at the House of Blues has songs from all of The Knack’s albums on it beginning with “Pop is Dead” from your Zoom album, which originally had drummer Terry Bozzio from Missing Persons on that 1998 recording.

PRESCOTT NILES: Yes. Terry did most of the drumming on our Zoom album. I enjoyed working with him. He is a brilliant guy and oddly enough a pen collector. When we went on our brief tour with Terry, we would go to different antique stores where he was searching for old fountain pens, which was interesting. He brought a twenty-piece drum kit for our tour. I have been playing bass in Missing Persons for the past few years with his ex-wife Dale Bozzio, so that is interesting to be in Missing Persons without Terry. Dale is my best friend.

GM: Also from Zoom is a fun song with a fun title, “Can I Borrow a Kiss.”

PN: That is one of Doug’s autobiographical songs, about meeting a girl, and he had a great line for that title. The song is a bit Phil Spector-ish, one of my favorite songs and Berton’s guitar solo is fantastic.

GM: Speaking of guitars, there is a bit of a mid-1960s Beatles guitar sound on “Harder on You.”

PN: That one is also from Zoom and was my first composition with The Knack. When Tom Hanks was making the movie That Thing You Do!, I wrote “Harder on You.” I was living in Malibu at the time and made friends with Bill Hudson, who is a great singer. We recorded a demo of “Harder on You” for the film, but unfortunately, they already had already chosen the soundtrack. So, when we reunited as The Knack with just Berton, Doug and myself, we did writing sessions together and I brought the song in and everybody loved it. Berton said that maybe we could add a bridge to it, so I worked with Berton on the bridge, and I am very happy that this song is included on the new live album. “Harder on You” has a great boy-girl relationship storyline.

GM: Years ago, you moved from New York City to Los Angeles, the city which was paid tribute to in “Another Day in Paradise” originally on your 1981 Round Trip album.

PN: When I listen to the song now, I still marvel on how great the lyric is and the story told. Bruce Gary’s drumming on the original recording was incredible. He was a whole other evolution of drumming, one of the greatest ever, and we have played with some great drummers including Dave Henderson on the live recording, who also goes by the nickname of Holmes Jones. Bill Hudson and his brothers sang backup harmonies on the original recording. Jack Douglas did the production on that versatile and pristinely recorded album.

GM: Let’s move on to the 1991 album Serious Fun and the song “One Day at a Time” with an “Every Breath You Take” tempo and a touch of a Cars’ “Drive” lyrical delivery, which is a neat combination.

PN: I’ll throw in one more song reference which was one of my favorites from that time, The Rembrandts’ “Just the Way It Is, Baby.” It is along that line, but we put our own touch on it. Doug was in AA, so it was both a love song and an AA mantra of “one day at a time.” I think it is a well-crafted song and again one with an excellent guitar solo.

GM: Absolutely. Your seventh and final album, Normal as the Next Guy, which was the new album at the time of the 2001 concert, was represented with a couple of songs. “It’s Not Me” is up-tempo Searchers-like.

PN: For sure and a bit of The Hollies. That is my favorite song from that album. Emotionally, it affects me more than any other song from that time period. The hook is a bit McCartney-ish, Berton’s guitar part is outstanding, and Doug’s vocal is excellent.

GM: Also from that album is some steady fun with “Seven Days of Fun.”

PN: That is one of Doug’s unique songs with incredible imagery. It is beautifully crafted by Doug, and Berton gets a lot of credit for its arrangement.

GM: Let’s go back to the first album for one of my favorites, the bouncy “Oh Tara.”

PN: I love that. That was a potential single. Capitol did not pick a single from the album. They gave the album to radio stations to play and “My Sharona” became the most requested song in America overnight, so “My Sharona” was released as the first single a few weeks after the album’s release. I am grateful for that, because when you have a single out, people may not listen to the full album, but this allowed a variety of songs from the album to receive FM radio airplay and I think the album showed our collective talents. Most of those songs, including “My Sharona,” were pretty much done in one take with minor overdubs. Mike Chapman liked how we played and tried to capture a live feeling in his production, and he was the only one to say that “My Sharona” could be a No. 1 single. He heard that right away. It was great working with Mike.

GM: You began the encore with the intense flip side of “My Sharona,” another one of my favorites, the opening number from your debut album Get The Knack, “Let Me Out.”

PN: This song came from us initially needing an exciting club opener. It channeled a rebelling energy with pseudo-punk urgency. Doug was singing what we all were feeling at the time, making a statement that we felt stuck, and wanted to be let out.

Knack flip side

The Knack

Fabulous Flip Side: Let Me Out

A side: My Sharona

Billboard Top 100 debut: June 23, 1979

Peak position: No. 1

Capitol 4731

GM: You concluded the encore with The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville,” blending into your song “(Havin’ A) Rave Up,” which is so much fun, originally on your second album, …But the Little Girls Understand.

PN: We love to drive it home with fast rock and roll tracks. We all liked “Last Train to Clarksville” and gave it our own twist. We used to also do Jay and The Americans’ “Come a Little Bit Closer,” “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” from The Beatles’ “White Album” and so many fun covers because we were all like encyclopedias of music. This was an inspiring show because it was right after September 11, 2001, and all of us had our feelings of strangeness.

GM: In the liner notes, Smile Records’ president Tony Valenziano wrote about seeing the news on September 11 and later trying to decide if the September 21 show should still go on and ultimately the group decision, “We all agreed that we should do the show and wanted to do it for the best possible reasons, to show how strong we are as humans and Americans and keep on living our lives undeterred, no matter the circumstances.” This exciting and historic show is wonderfully captured with this new double vinyl release on Record Store Day and its upcoming CD release on May 6. You mentioned The Beatles’ “White Album” earlier, another double vinyl album, and one which includes my favorite Beatles George Harrison song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Please tell us about working with George.

PN: I am lucky that I first danced with him, ha ha. I lived in England from 1973 through 1975 and I was dating a girl who was very good friends with the secretary of Apple’s Derek Taylor. We would often go to the Tramp club in London and go dancing. I met George through the connection with Derek Taylor and we were both on the dance floor dancing together, well not together, but with women. One day in 1986 I got a call from a producer who was very secretive. He said he had a session for me, but that he could only tell me where and couldn’t tell me anything about it. I was intrigued. I got there and found out that it was a session with George Harrison. Jim Keltner was the drummer and Laurence Juber played guitar. The song we did was “Someplace Else” which was used in the film Shanghai Surprise with Madonna and Sean Penn, and it was also played in the trailer for the movie in movie theaters. Jim Keltner was laid back. I knew that Laurence Juber had played with Wings, and I felt comfortable with George, only because I met him a decade prior. He said to me, “I know you were in The Knack” which felt good and gave me a sense of being accepted by him. I was looking at the music chart and at George in the control room, then eyeing Jim and thinking that I better not screw up on this song with its unique chord changes. You are always humbled by situations like that. It worked out well. Unfortunately, I was supposed to go to England to record his album, but he ended up with Jeff Lynne, who lived near him, and together they made one of George’s best albums. So, they did their own version of “Someplace Else” for George’s Cloud Nine album, released the following year. I cherish the memory of working with George on “Someplace Else.”

GM: You were truly someplace else in the summer of 1969.

PN: That is true. I was at Woodstock. I had been upstate with my parents when I was growing up, so I kind of knew the territory. I knew about the festival coming up, but I went there to see some friends. A girl had a guitar case but no guitar and said I could take the case with me, so I did. I met a friend of mine and he asked, how can we get to Woodstock. I said I didn’t know and that maybe we should hitchhike, like I always did. I said, “Let’s see who is playing.” We looked on a telephone pole poster of the musicians scheduled to play there. I asked my friend if he had ever heard of Santana and he said no. I suggested that we say that we are in Santana, since I have a guitar case, maybe people will drive us near there, which is something that an eighteen-year-old kid would do. A guy drove by, slowed down, and I said, “We’ve got to get to Woodstock where we are playing. Have you heard of the group Santana?” He said, “No I haven’t.” I said, “I’m the guitar player. Do you think you can give us a ride?” The guy said, “Sure!” He drove us near the site, and I wonder to this day if he told people that he drove the Santana guitar player there. I went there early and didn’t have any money, so I signed up to work, hammering nails and doing set construction. My idea was to get in there and not have to worry about having a ticket, so the next day, I had a pass. I had no place to stay, no money, and my friend disappeared. Because I had a pass, I was able to talk to the security people and I asked if I could work security too. He said yes and because of that I had a place to sleep in a trailer. I loved seeing Sly and The Family Stone, who I had seen many times prior to that and after they played came The Who and they were great. John Entwistle was one of the reasons why I started playing bass. On the final morning of Woodstock, I woke up and heard Jimi Hendrix playing and ran down the hill. It was unbelievable. To hear him play “The Star-Spangled Banner” seemed odd, as he would kick out melodies, but that became historic. After his set I hitchhiked to Queens, took the train home to Brooklyn. My mom asked, “Where have you been?” I told her that I went to Woodstock, and I worked there. Three weeks later I received a check for $48 and I was one of the only people who was actually paid. I should have saved that check. Who knew? The following year I moved to from New York to California. After Jimi Hendrix passed away, I went back to New York to see my friend Velvert Turner, who was a protégé of Jimi’s, and we had a chance to get a record deal. People thought our music would be along Jimi’s line. The guy who signed us was Michael Lang, the Woodstock promoter, who had a label called Sunshine Records. You can imagine that the year before at age eighteen I am at Woodstock and then I was signing a record deal with Velvert and Michael in Woodstock, New York. Wow! We came to L.A. and recorded the album. It didn’t work out like we wanted, and we fell apart. I then worked with Randy California from Spirit with Bruce Gary, and I had a chance to do a T.V. show with Arthur Lee of Love, which was pretty wild, when his Vindicator album was out. Thank you for asking about my pre-Knack days. It was so good talking with you again, sharing my stories with the Goldmine readers. Where are you off to next?

GM: Well, on Record Store Day, I’ll be headed around the corner to Rainbow Records in South Daytona, Florida to pick up the vinyl release of your album.

PN: Thank you. I hope you like it on vinyl as much or even more than you have enjoyed the advance tracks of our live show.

Prescott Niles will be autographing the new Record Store Day release on Saturday, April 23 at 3 p.m. Pacific at Licorice Pizza, 12230 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City, California

Prescott Niles will be autographing the new Record Store Day release on Saturday, April 23 at 3 p.m. Pacific at Licorice Pizza, 12230 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City, California

Knack tracks