(photos: Phil Kampel)
Words by Carolyn McCoy
By now, most of us have a serious case of the Lockdown Blues. But there is hope! Almost like a homeopathic dose of the blues to cure the blues, Katie Knipp’s latest release, The Well, is just the antidote for the overall hell we are experiencing right now.
Last year at this time, Knipp was climbing the Billboard Blues charts, in which she shared honored space with other masters like Buddy Guy and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. She was also flying high on a nod from the Grammy Association by almost acquiring a nomination for her 2019 release Take It With You, as well as planning this latest release of The Well. But then COVID hit and The Well took a detour.
With no real safe way to rehearse, Knipp rocked it regardless, using today’s technology to distance-share the songs with her band before recording The Well together. “I just gave my band the raw songs (live phone recordings of my playing and singing), told them the vibe I was going for, and I made sure they had the lyrics to get into the story,” states Knipp. “Because they are such great players and people, they showed up for recording and absolutely got it. They nailed the first take, which was ‘The Gospel of Good Intentions.’ The fact that we had never played it together, and that what you are hearing on the album was our first live run-through…well, I feel like the luckiest gal ever to work with people like that.
“I also went into this knowing I wanted my bass player Zack Proteau to co-produce with me. In the past, I would always go into a project producing myself, but this time I knew better. Dustin Ryan, our engineer, ended up in the co-producer role by the end of it as well. There is no stronger structure than a triangle! Zack was also the producer behind Jackie Greene’s Gone Wanderin’ album, so he has been producing quite a while now. The special guests on here, like Mick Martin (harmonica), the Au Bros (horns), and Joan Osborne’s Keith Cotton (Hammond) were also people that I didn’t need to direct. I knew that if they were being themselves, we would get the right sound.”
Knipp takes her music seriously, writing songs for The Well that ran the gamut of blues-inspired subjects such as abuse, sex, drugs, and love — regular love, bad love and what she calls “psychotic love.” She sings with great exuberance, allowing her powerful, full voice to be the muse of the lyrics as she punctuates each verse with juicy howls and fierce moans — all controlled with brilliance.
“As I say in the song ‘Chamomile and Cocaine,’ ‘been singing the blues since the age of 13,’ it all started with singing. I always felt the freest when I sang this style in particular,” she says. “After falling in love with New Orleans piano styles and Delta blues on the dobro, the instruments began to catch up with what I was already doing vocally, allowing me to write contemporary blues songs more easily. Some songs lean towards jazz, some towards Americana, but it’s all blues at the core.”
Knipp has worked very hard to get to where she is, and she is grateful for her musical career. “I cherish every moment and just feel completely grateful. I definitely feel pressure to always do better than my previous albums, but it’s a good kind of pressure because all it really comes down to is the desire for constant growth. Music is so wonderful that way because you can never stop growing your craft on different instruments, styles, and writing.”
Knipp wants to continue to create music that resonates with her soul with lyrics that express her personal truth, and The Well reflects exactly that. She is a woman on the go, climbing the ladder of musical success on her own terms and with her own vision intact.
The Well is out now. Orders can be made here.
Carolyn McCoy is a Bay Area writer and photographer whose been covering the local music scene for 12 years. You can usually find her with a camera strapped to her body, and a big smile on her face.