In this interview spotlight, we chat with veteran singer/songwriter Erik E Knudson aka Lightning Hall about influences, navigating the digital world, the newest project and much more.
Full Q&A along with links and streams available below.
Where are you from and what style of music do you create? (In your own words, not necessarily in marketing terms or by popular genre classifications.)
I am from the West and South/Southwest. I grew up largely in Galveston, TX. I got exposed to a lot of Southern music there; Bobby Blue Bland, Albert and BB King, John Lee Hooker. Charlie Daniels and Molly Hatchet even.
I grew up exposed to many different kinds of music; classical, ragtime, bluegrass, 70’s soul, ’50’s and ’60’s rock. When my step father joined the family in the late ’70s, he brought a big collection of records he had been given by an old DJ friend. There I found all kinds of rock, R&B, blues/blues rock, even early rap and that expanded my ear a great deal.
The main influences that drive my music creation are acoustic and electric blues, the singer songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s, Southern rock and to some degree country, bluegrass and jazz. My guitar playing style has evolved from listening to players I really like such as Lightning Hopkins, Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Vaughan, Duke Robillard, and bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd to name a few. I learned a lot by improvising over recordings of my favorite artists. So I love to improvise. That’s one of the benefits of being a solo act too. I can change arrangements and lengthen or shorten them as I like. Some of my favorite artists have been great improvisers and jammers, or just liked to mix things up at will; Lightning Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Ritchie Blackmore, Albert King, the Allman Brothers.
I like to draw from what I have heard, my own personal imagination and make something original, and I sometimes avoid listening to artists that I consider to have a style similar to mine when I am writing because I don’t want to be derivative. I work constantly at finding and developing my own style, both in guitar and songwriting.
What led you down this path of music and what motivates you to stay the course?
I’ve always been creative. I have education and practice in visual arts. And I have always loved music. I love the creative process. And music has so much to do! I love writing, and then there’s performing and recording and marketing, graphic design, etc. I even put together and modify some of my own instruments.
There weren’t really any serious, performing musicians in my family. But there was certainly an appreciation for music and a couple played folk instruments, or at least took a few lessons. My earliest music performance was quite interesting, so I’ll relate it. My father was a professor of Cultural Anthropology and studied migration and culture in the Gilbert (now Kiribati) and Solomon Islands of the Pacific. When you visit these kinds of places it is polite and important to plan get togethers with their leading families. The meetings are held in a Maniaba, a thatch roofed open-walled structure they always have. Everyone eats, shares talk and yes, plays music and dances, etc. My first performance was singing with my family group at one. We learned a few pop type songs and sang them for our hosts, and they sang a few of their traditional ones. We did “Delta Dawn” and a couple others. I was in my early teens I believe. But guitar was more my path of choice early on.
When I was eight, my parents and my brother and I were all injured in a huge fire. My hands were burned and I have limited use in all of my fingers. It took some work, but I found my own approach to guitar, and after all that work, I certainly don’t want to stop. I enjoy it all too much. People tell me I’m good at it too. I played guitar and harmonica for years before, in my mid-fourties, I decided to get serious and began performing, writing and singing. It just seemed like the right time for me to do it. A late bloomer, yeah. But I don’t regret that.
I’m basically a solo artist. First with solo acoustic/vocals/harmonica and then I started working with recorded backup using looping technology. The only thing I’ve had to “outsource” is drums. I use drum loops and arrange them myself. Otherwise I play guitar, bass, blues harp. and whatever little rhythm I can add. When I started all this what I wanted to work on was songwriting. That’s stayed the focus of it all. There’s positive and negative points to writing solo , but it’s been working for me I hear writers say it’s very difficult to keep up a certain level of quality without collaborating. It has to do with my personality, I’m basically a loner anyway. I’m not ruling anything out though
How is your new release different than previous ones? Did you set out to accomplish anything specific?
My first release, called Blues Machine, ranged from straight acoustic blues to sort of an Americana-ish, bluegrass like style, and some jazz like elements thrown in. And all of the songs were sung with acoustic guitar(s) and harmonica. My latest release, Secrets and Ruins, differs because there are some songs in a style less influenced by blues. It’s available at: www.cdbaby.com/lightninghall. It is a collection of songs that were in some ways inspired by the recent Great Recession, and it’s similarities to the Great Depression. And I found a rich place to seek new ideas for stories in exploring things that might have taken place in the ghost towns of the West, which have long interested me. It also has songs with a rhythm section. It’s a further study in developing my own songwriting and guitar style.
This release is a hybrid of folk-blues-country-etc, I believe that’s what they call pop/rock, right? Acoustic in this case. I think it tends to run a bit into Glen Campbell/John Denver territory. Of course comparisons can be useful to a point but after you’ve been playing and writing for a certain amount of time you find your own style by just writing and getting out of your own way, rather than striving to do something original.
Do you face any challenges as an indie musician in a digital age? On the flip side, how has technology helped you (if it has)?
There’s a lot of musicians out there and they are all looking for attention, but then it’s always been that way, the old needle in the haystack conundrum. If you know how to use the technology and resources that are available today you can get noticed, and that’s only improved in the last ten years or so. I’d say get familarized with computers, graphic design and marketing as much as you can. Especially the older folks out there, . Or, of course, have someone do it for you.
Where can we follow you online and hear more music?
- I currently have a website at www.lightninghall.artistpr.com
- profiles at www.reverbnation.com/lightninghall
- a press kit at: http://www.artistpr.com/members/lightninghall/
- Album downloads and previews at: www.cdbaby.com/thelightninghall
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/eknudsonblues
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/z509zqv
My music is available streaming on many services.
Anything else before we sign off?
Bookmark me! Share me with your friends, Ya Know!! I am writing away and recording new material. From straight blues band to lonely folk/blues songster solo stuff with a contemporary edge, and Southern rock like material. Thank you for the interview.