Fiddles, Banjoes, and a Squeeze Box Full of Beer

In the old days, before iTunes, before Dolby Digital sound, before cassette tapes, and even before phonographs and gramophones, music was just as sought after and looked forward to as it is today, but back then you had to find those that could spontaneously make it, or better yet, make it yourself!. The Knight family, like many or most others had its share of gifted, and at times, not so gifted musicians. I would say, in my recollection and without a doubt, Glenn Knight was the musical “prodigy” of the family. But Glenn was joined by many others and this story mentions just a few.

Glenn Knight
Glenn Knight

Glenn played the fiddle by ear and could just about match any fiddle player I’ve ever heard. He simply listened to music once and was then able to play it. He played for his first dance at the age of nine years old and continued to play at events through much of his life. Glenn organized a group that changed members over time called “G. Knight and the K’s” that included, at various times, a guitar player, piano player, banjo player, and for a brief time an accordion player, accordions being very popular in the Midwest area during those times. Many a girl was encouraged by her family to take up those 25lb. weighty instruments in their childhood. Perhaps Midwest county girls were renowned for their strength and endurance not because of all the farm work that they undertook, but it might have just been that they had taken up the accordion!

Glenn In His Youth
Glenn In His Youth

But, at any rate, the accordion player in Glenns band was short lived in that one night at a local tavern things got a little too lively and a patron poured a mug of beer in the accordion and that was the end of the “squeeze box” both as an accompanist as well as a musical instrument.

Photos of Glenn from his childhood and continuing on through his life betray him as the fun loving and funny man that he was. He always had that half smile and a joke or humorous observation at the ready. Glenn also was renowned for his uncanny fishing abilities and as having the best garden (a small farm really) with the largest and sweetest onions to be found anywhere. But the fiddle playing was his highest calling and he truly mastered it much to the delight of the listeners.

Glenn and Son Dale
Glenn and Son Dale

It is worth noting that Glenn found himself in the situation of raising his 5 children for much of their childhood virtually by himself. And raise them he did with good outcomes for each one with some of them also taking up instruments.

Perhaps inspired by Glenn, Bayard Knight, his brother, took up the banjo later in life but with a certain amount of frustration at times. Bayard had an excellent engineering mind so when it came to playing musical instruments, he tended to perhaps overthink it a bit, but he mastered it none the less and very much enjoyed playing with his brother Glenn, Glenn’s sons, and his own son Donald.

Bayard purchased his banjo at the Ode Banjo Company in Boulder, Colorado, visiting there to talk to them about building a banjo for him. The company undertook the project and within a few weeks he received his new banjo which he highly valued. This was a five-string banjo and his perseverance to finally play “Cripple Creek”, a particularly difficult banjo piece was finally realized.

Bayard and Dale
Bayard and Dale

Early in his life Bayard had played in a circus band for a short time. The Green Bull Circus toured around the Midwest and Bayard played the clarinet. This, he would relate later, was rather than being an inspiration to music, had more so been an effort to stay employed during hard times, which he always succeeded in doing.

Bayard also had children that took up the instruments of music, including his son Donald Knight. Don was an engineer by trade and tended to master any skill he set his mind to. Along with the skill he developed with the banjo Don also was a talented singer. In fact, early in his life he actively sang at events with a wonderful voice. However, an occasion where he sang at the funeral of a friend affected him so much that he no longer enjoyed singing at such events and for many years he ceased to do so. However, much later Don returned to this activity, singing with a “barbershop” group, winning awards for their skill.

Don played both the five string and tenor (4 string) banjo. The purchase of one of these banjoes put on display his excellent negotiating skills. He found a banjo at a pawn shop in Phoenix, Arizona and decided it was to be his. He made, what one might term, an embarrassingly low offer for the instrument and was immediately turned away by the pawn broker. Not to be deterred, Don returned every day to the pawn shop and renewed his offer for the banjo, in the process finally pushing the pawn proprietor to anger. Don continued these visits in spite of the emerging “chill” in the relationship until, finally, at last, the pawn broker agreed to the price with the request that Don never return.

So one of Bayard Knights dreams were realized in that he and his son could finally play banjo together and form another common bond.

These are only a few examples of how music played a much needed and enjoyed roll in the Knight family history. But in the end a special thanks should be reserved for Glenn Knight for his inspiration to many and the pleasure and enjoyment he brought to a multitude more through his wonderful music.

 

David Bayard Knight

2019