Gary Lee and Damian Knapp
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Gary Lee and Damian Knapp

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The best kept secret in music

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Sunday, November 8, 1998
By Tom Reed

Southington is a long way from Chicago, but Gary Lee is blowing fans away with his electrifying sound

Ernest Riggins knows the real thing when he hears it. You don’t spend more than 20 years on the road backing up the likes of Muddy Waters, Jackie Wilson and Etta James without being able to distinguish genuine talent from well-polished impersonation.
So when Riggins was asked to check out a local musician named Gary Lee, the 58-year old bass player was predictably skeptical.

A white guy from Southington who plays the blues? Sounds like a lead character in an Adam Sandler movie.

“I wasn’t really expecting much,” Riggins said. “But I thought I would see what the white boy was all about. With the blues, you had better have soul. If you ain’t got soul, you’re dead.”

It didn’t take long for Riggins to realize Gary Lee and the CatDaddys were something more than a converted rock or alternative cover band.

He sensed Lee, 30, not only had captured the sound, but the feel of rhythm and blues – that gift to move an audience, to draw out the emotions inside of it.
“I think Gary Lee has what it takes,” Riggins said.

Maybe that’s why Riggins, a Warren native who has returned home to be closer to family, joined the CatDaddys five months ago.

While the area club scene doesn’t hold the allure to the Apollo Theater or Golden Nugget, he takes pride in knowing the music Lee is generating would not sound out of place in those fabled rooms where Riggins once worked.

Since forming his band 3 years ago, Gary Lee McKimmie has been blending a mixture of blues, gospel, funk and rock into one of the area’s hottest acts. The CatDaddys seem to be winning new fans with each weekend performance and figure to expand their audience base once the band releases its first disc sometime next year.

“Our music is like a melting pot,” said Lee, the lead singer who claims to have about 25 original songs. “With blues and gospel you have the soul; with funk you have the rhythm; and with rock you have the drive. We’re trying to create our own sound.
“In the meantime, what we want to do is make people feel better than they did when they came in to hear us. Music is a healing thing. The blues is healing for a troubled soul.”
Judging by the number of bodies routinely spotted grinding on the dance floor, Lee provides more quality care than your average HMO. Originals such as “Midnight Train” and “Like Your Kind” transmit an unmistakable energy.

But how has Lee developed such a strong blues identity without having spent time in the Deep South? Since when did the term “Goin’ down to the crossroads” come to include the intersection of U.S. 422 and Ohio 305?

Gary Lee blew me away the first time I heard him several years ago,” said Chuck Yannucci, 42, who along with wife, Holly, has become a loyal CatDaddys supporter. “After the show, I approached him and asked, ‘Where are you from, Chicago or someplace in the South?’ He said, ‘Southington,’ and I said, ‘Come again?’ I couldn’t believe it.”

‘Anointing of God’

Until Lee appeared at the renowned Chicago club Buddy Guy’s Legends for the first time three years ago, Southington was producing blues musicians at the same rate the Hawaiian Islands were churning out ice hockey players.

But Lee said just because the blues is not indigenous to the Mahoning Valley doesn’t mean artists should be dissuaded from nursing its sound. Blues, after all, is the foundation on which all American music, including rock ‘n’ roll, was built.

During the 1980s, when friends were tuned into Journey and Def Leopard, Gary Lee was discovering Jerry Lee Lewis, Stevie Ray Vaughn and B.B. King. His love affair with the blues grew to include Robert Johnson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Albert Collins, Homesick James, Waters and others.

“Everything we do has been done before,” said Lee, who began playing piano and harmonica at age five. “We’re just following the guys who never got credit. We’re trying to take what they have done, add our own style to it and take it to a different level.”

Like so many bluesmen before him, Lee found his first audience in the church. He has performed in front of congregations at the Warren Revival Center, where his mother, Relda, has taught Sunday school for 35 years, and other churches throughout the state.
It is not uncommon for Lee to follow a blistering guitar-driven set with hymns such as “Precious Lord” played on the piano. It is a prime illustration of the diversity and range he possesses and it serves as a powerful experience for those who never may have been exposed to gospel in the club setting.

“If you come out of the church, it doesn’t matter if you are black or white,” said Lee, who graduated from Warren Christian School in 1986. “The blues doesn’t have color.”
Several of Lee’s biggest fans rarely see him because of their religious convictions.

Relda McKimmie, who sings and plays piano and gu - Warren Tribune Chronicle


July/August 2005 Volume 16 Issue 4
Interview by Marguerite R. Marsh

Damian Knapp has spent his life around "really good" music. His father, Peter Knapp, was a musician. Peter formed the band 'I Don't Care', and performed with national acts such as Bruce Springsteen, Dr. John, and Captain Beefheart. Peter introduced the young Damian to a wide variety of music, mostly Jazz and Rock, with a little Blues thrown in. Damian remembers listening to early Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen and Miles Davis with his father. Damian's mother preferred music by the Beatles.

But it was a neighbor who introduced him to the artist that would help him find his voice. And begin his love affair with the blues.

Damian was eleven years old when he discovered Robert Johnson. The 1961 Columbia vinyl album his neighbor gave him persuaded him to buy his first guitar. Starting with Johnson, Damian has listened to many different artists including Johnny Winter, Albert Collins, and Buddy Guy. What inspires him is the "good music' all of these artists produce.

When talking with Damian, the conversation turns to the blues or his father, who was a huge musical influence. It took a while, but Peter finally convinced his son to compose and sing his own songs. At the time, Damian was happy playing his electric guitar in his own band, 'Fester Presley', and letting others sing. But something his father said stuck with him - "Damian, I'd rather see you be a shitty artist than a great copy cat."

And so a songwriter was born. Damian and his father, Peter, collaborated on an album, 'The Knapp Album', which Damian describes as "more spiritual". The reflective songs took on new meaning when Peter passed away shortly after completing the songs. Damian does not think it was a coincidence, and the lyrics prove it. "As soon as he showed me the music, he died."

With 'The Knapp Album' completed, Damian returned full time to his first love - the blues.

When performing, he prefers acoustic Delta Blues and songs by artists such as Son House, Skip James, and, of course, Robert Johnson. He also likes to share the folk lore he has learned about the artists and their music between songs.

Damian lives in the Youngstown area but travels frequently to Columbus and often to perform. He appreciates the support of the Blues community here - playing at both the Creekside Blues and Jazz Fest and the Comfest this summer. Damian also performs regularly at the CBA Sunday Jams at the Thirsty Ear Tavern (4:00-8:00 pm).

Damian's description of the blues says it all - "There is something about the blues. When you play it, people respond. It communicates, it transcends race and gender. I knew a Chinese boy who spoke no English, but he played the guitar in a blues band."

His personal statement as an artist is a lyric from 'The Knapp Album' - "Art is truth and the absence of fear."
- The Columbus Blues Alliance "Bluespaper"


July/August 2005 Volume 16 Issue 4
By Marguerite R. Marsh

Damian Knapp's CD, 'Hellhounds and Hot Foot Powder', honors the masters. His steel guitar is busy paying its respects to those who came before him. Included are Robert Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson, Son House, Skip James, Charlie Patton, and Muddy Waters covers. The songs take us back to an earlier era. The basic rhythms are evocative of hard times, when music was one of the only ways these men could tell their stories.

Damian loves the Delta blues and it shows in his song selection and his mastery of the steel guitar. His love of the music, and the artists who brought it to him, is evident in his interpretations. All of the songs have a story to tell and Damian and his guitar do them justice. He even includes an acappella cover on track 3 - "Grinnin in Your Face" by Son House. The track is just Damian, his clapping hands and the powerful lyrics of the song.

According to the liner notes, Damian explains that once he found Robert Johnson, he began seeking out artists from the same era. He chose these sixteen tracks for a reason. As he states in closing, "The music that we play shoud reflect how we feel, as these songs do."

I think that Damian has fulfilled his mission. If you like acoustic guitar and Delta blues, this CD is for you!
- Columbus Blues Alliance


September 1, 2005
By Andy Gray

Peter Knapp always wanted to make an album with his son.

That dream finally comes true, nearly two years after his death.

Damian Knapp will perform with a seven-piece band at 10 p.m. Saturday at the Horseshoe Bar in downtown Warren to celebrate the release of "Will You Cry When I Die?" a songwriting collaboration between father and son.

Peter Knapp played in several area bands in the '70s and '80s, most notably I Don't Care, which was signed to Buddha Records in the mid-70s and shared the bill with such acts as Bruce Springsteen, Frank Zappa, Dr. John and King Crimson.

His son Damian also is a regular player on the local bar circuit, fronting such bands as Fester Presley and Machine Gun Mary and performing as a solo artist.

"Ever since I can remember, he wanted to make an album with me," Damian said. "He talked about it first when I was a little kid, before I was even a musician."

But the father and son had an estranged relationship. Peter Knapp dropped out of the music business and moved to Hawaii, where he lived from 1988 to 2001. Damian only visited him a couple of times there, and they frequently went months, sometimes years, not communicating.

"He wasn't the easiest guy to get along with," Damian said. "He was hard on those around him, but I learned by reading these notebooks that he was harder on himself."

Those notebooks helped bring the two together. When Damian finally went to see his father in 2003 after he returned from Hawaii, Peter showed him the composition books he filled with lyrics and musical ideas, even though he no longer was performing.

Those notebooks became the genesis of "Will You Cry When I Die?"

"Being a trumpet player, he was the guy with the melodies," Damian said. "I had my guitar and I would work with him, arranging and shaping the lyrics. I'd take a part from one song and put it with another. He could be writing about something meaningless, and then there would be this really deep thing in the middle of all of it."

Damian's music has leaned more toward blues, roots rock and folk in the past, but working with his father encouraged him to explore a more jazz-oriented approach.

He also played more slide guitar, trying to mimic the sound of a trumpet on the stringed instrument.

"He wasn't impressed with my old guitar acrobatics," Damian said. "He said, 'I'd rather see you be a s----y artist than a good copycat.'"

The two worked on the songs throughout the summer and finished writing before Knapp died Oct. 16, 2003, at age 54.

"Staying true to our routine, we were in a tift when he passed away," Damian said. "That's why I still have his notebooks with me. We had been arguing for a couple of weeks. He wanted me to bring the notebooks back to him, and I wouldn't do it."

His father's other possessions were taken by others after his death, so the notebooks are all Damian has.

"I think it was fate," he said.

Damian worked on the songs over 18 months marked by false starts and incompatible musical combinations, but he said the right musicians seemed to come together over the last six months.

Musicians on the record who will be performing with him Saturday include: Teddy Pantelas, bass; Darren Thompson, piano; Bob Bacha, drums; Christina Veneron, trombone and backing vocals; Matt Petrarca, rhythm guitar; and Jake Wynne, trumpet, with guest appearances by Dennis Drummond on guitar and Joe Toto on bass.

"A really nice cohesive group has come together," Damian said. "The reason I'm excited about the band is because they believe it it, too. They're there because they want to be. And I can't tell you how much it means for Teddy Pantelas to come on and play bass. He knew my father and went to visit him in Maui -- I studied guitar under Teddy and having him in the band is very inspiring."

While Damian and his father had a less than ideal relationship, he was closer to his father than either of his other children, Mary Gabrielle and Josh Knapp. Two of the songs are about them, "Mary Luvy" and "Letter to Josh," and Damian dedicated the CD to them.

"Maybe someday they can get to know who their dad was by reading this and listening to it."
- Warren Tribune Chronicle "Ticket"


Discography

Gary Lee-Goin' South
Damian Knapp-Hellhounds and Hot Foot Powder

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