Curtis Knight

Biography by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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New York-based '60s R&B singer best-known for hiring Jimi Hendrix to play with the Squires in the year before Jimi formed the Experience.
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Artist Biography by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

If he is known at all, the Harlem-based '60s soul singer Curtis Knight is remembered for his connection to a pre-fame Jimi Hendrix. Knight met a down-on-his-luck Hendrix living in a New York City hotel. The singer gave the guitarist a spare axe and hired him to play with the Squires, Knight's band. A native of Kansas, Knight had previously spent time in California -- he appears in the film Pop Girl -- before relocating to New York, where he worked the circuit with the Squires, a workaday party R&B band. It's quite possible Knight saw something in Hendrix. Not long after Jimi joined the Squires, Knight whisked him into the studio to record "How Would You Feel" -- a shameless rip of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" -- and soon started writing with Hendrix. More consequentially, Knight helped encouraged Hendrix to sign a deal with record man Ed Chalpin. Jimi later claimed he thought he was signing on to a role as a sideman, but the contract bound him to Chalpin's PPX Records. This became a big deal once Chas Chandler signed Hendrix to a contract in 1969. Chalpin claimed he owned Jimi, so Chandler owed him money. This legal dispute became protracted, complicated by the fact that Hendrix inexplicably kept returning to the studio to cut sessions with Knight while he was in the thick of proceedings.

These early singles and latter-day jams with Hendrix form the bulk of Curtis Knight's catalog. A bunch were issued under Hendrix's name on Capitol Records via a licensing agreement with PPX, but over the years they'd show up often, appearing under any number of variations on the names of Knight, the Squires, and Hendrix. The lawsuits weren't settled prior to Hendrix's death, so they kept coming over the next few decades, but it was this association with Hendrix that provided Knight with a career. He moved to London, forming a band called Curtis Knight, Zeus -- "Fast" Eddie Clarke, who'd later join Motörhead, was among its ranks for a while -- and he published a book named Jimi: An Intimate Biography in 1974. This was the splashiest attempt to ride Hendrix's coattails Knight would ever attempt, but he kept grinding out a living in the U.K. and Europe, playing gigs and cutting the occasional record. He wound up settling in the Netherlands, which is where he died from cancer in November 1999.