Preview of band’s 7/12 performance at Akron Art Museum
Interview by Ted Zep
If legendary Cleveland horror host Ernie “Ghouldardi” Anderson’s legacy could be summed up in one word, it’d be “irreverent.” The quick-witted, jive-talking television personality captivated a generation of Cleveland teenagers in the 1960s who were deeply influenced by his cool, contemptuous on-air personality.
In the mid-90s, four Northeast Ohio transplants met in New York City and decided to form a band. Drawing inspiration from their childhood hero, Purple K’nif was born. Naming themselves after one of Anderson’s most popular catchphrases, Bob Basone, Ted Lawrence, John Teagle and Chris Butler formed an instrumental rock ‘n roll band that absolutely refused to play by the rules. And 25 years later, they are still at it.
The Devil Strip recently spoke to guitarist John Teagle about the band.
Ted Zep: Purple K’nif was formed in New York City in the mid-90s. Considering the era and location, why did the members decide to become a surf band?
John Teagle: [We started the band because of] a common love of instrumental music, particularly guitar-driven tunes. We don’t sing at all, but aren’t really a “surf” band, per se, either. Or [if we are] we’re an irreverent one. We do a lot of songs that are pure surf, but we’re willing to step outside the limitations many bands put on themselves, both musically and stylistically. Ted (Lawrence) was in a “matching suits” surf band that was a bit stifling. He tried to get me in as a third guitar but that idea was met with resistance, so he quit and we formed Purple K’nif. We do however try to wear matching purple sneakers!
TZ: Who are some musicians that inspire the group?
JT: Certainly, the Ventures [the SoCal one-hit wonders], NYC’s the Raybeats, the Shadows, and, of course, Link Wray, who we embrace in a big way. Ditto for the Atlantics, [who are] my faves by a mile. There is also some hillbilly, a touch of jazz . . . we stay away from the instrumental versions of vocal hits.
TZ: The band exclusively plays vintage instruments. What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing so?
JT: No disadvantages other than we are really attached to them. We’ve all been playing the same instruments since we started in the early 90s . . . and they were old then.
TZ: When it comes to original work, what is the group’s creative process like?
JT: We’re lazy and it’s always been more of a boys’ club, much to [Chris] Butler’s dismay. One of the things I love is that we let everybody else play how they feel. Rarely does anyone make suggestions to the other members. Ted writes most of the tunes and he likes what we do with them. My stuff is a bit trickier but I try to clarify more than preach.
TZ: There is a fair amount of knowledge and taste that goes into selecting and crafting cover songs. How does Purple K’nif choose the covers that go into its repertoire?
JT: We’re fans. We learned how and what to play from the era before CDs, so you had to be a record collector to get the goods. We aren’t slaves to anything; we’re willing to play covers as though we wrote them.
TZ: What is a typical performance like?
JT: A lot of how we approach the gig is dependent on where we’re playing. If it’s a concert, we play mostly originals and rip through them nonstop. For bar nights, we might stray into more danceable stuff and engage the crowd more. We tend to be as loud in a small bar as we are on a big stage or outdoors, which is just who we are.
TZ: There is a real cult of personality surrounding legendary Cleveland horror movie host Ernie Anderson. Why has the fascination with Ghoulardi endured?
JT: Turn blue. There’s a k’nock on my phone. Stay sick. This is what we were exposed to as a generation of kids that made Ghoulardi their king. Look at all the bands from the 70s that were in the path of his on-air madness; all the Northeast Ohio bands that list him as an influence and not just because he played great obscure beatnik music. His DIY approach and total disregard for respecting anything “proper” taught us everything we needed to know to live happily ever after. He was enormously influential and it was something that the four guys that started the band had in common. And the name was a no-brainer!
TZ: What does Purple K’nif have in store for the Downtown@Dusk crowd on July 12th?
JT: Everything we know and more—and some extra Link Wray for the promoter! [It’s going to be] two sets of full-tilt rock ‘n roll without the distraction of a lead singer. You can sit and listen, mingle with the crowd, dance, or watch the sun go down. We’ll work up a sweat, just like every show for the last 25 years!
True to their analog roots, Purple K’nif has no website or social media accounts. The only way to enjoy their music is to get off your keister and see them live. Their next show is July 12 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm in the gorgeous Bud and Susie Rogers Garden at the Akron Art Museum as part of the Downtown@Dusk summer concert series. And, oh yeah, the show is free.
For more information about Downtown@Dusk, visit: AkronArtMuseum.org/calender.
(all photos courtesy of Purple K’nif)