Interview: Knack Guitarist Berton Averre

The Knack's lead guitarist speaks about the latest reissues of the band's music.
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Blinded by Sound recently spoke with Berton Averre, lead guitarist for The Knack, about the rerelease of several of the band's albums, the history of The Knack and his current projects. Here's what he had to say.

The past few years have been good ones for Knack fans in terms of new releases. How did this latest batch of rereleases come about?

Doug Fieger's sister Beth inherited his business side of things and she is a very capable woman. She is interested in furthering the business side of things and found this label, Omnivore, who really liked our music. She called and said she wouldn't do anything unless I signed off on it.

This is the second rerelease of Zoom, though with different bonus tracks, right?

Right. It was originally called Rezoom.

How did you go about picking the bonus tracks?

With Live at the Troubadour, it was obvious, picking songs we played there. Otherwise we just picked things we thought people might want to hear whether it be "That Thing You Do" or the rerecording of "My Sharona."

How did the movie Reality Bites help you?

It brought the song ("My Sharona") back into the consciousness. You had older people remembering their youth and younger people hearing it for the first time.

So then you did a showcase show at the Viper Room, which led to the band recording Zoom?

It wasn't so much of a showcase, but more that the band was back with the original four members, which hadn't happened for a while.

You mentioned the original band being back together. Was the original intention to have Bruce Gary play on Zoom?

Yes it was. There were personality issues with us and Bruce. Bruce sadly wasn't on the same page as us.

So Terry Bozzio ended up playing on Zoom. How did that come about?

Just lucky I guess. I know Doug and him met. It might have been our manager at the time, Danny Sugarman. For our band there are not many drummers that can do what we need them to do in terms of musicianship.

You mentioned the "My Sharona" rerecording. What was the reasoning behind that?

It was one of those cold-blooded business decisions. When the writers have a song that can generate income for things like movies, then the band owns the master as opposed to the record company.

After the Zoom tour, the band seemed to lay low for a bit with Doug working on his Trip project. How did the "Rock 'n' Roll Fun House" tour come about?

It wasn't really a tour. It was more of a thing for Image, who did the album. They said there wasn't a good DVD out of us, so they filmed us.

Whose idea was it for the 60s retro theme of the DVD?

That was Doug. He was having fun with that, doing the character Jimmy Lemonjello. He was remembering the 60s movies and TV shows and there was this guy, Jimmy Savile, who had long blonde hair and a Prince Valliant hairdo that Doug was doing a parody of.

Will we ever see the 1979 Carnegie Hall show released?

We have always felt like that should be a DVD. I think Capitol doesn't own it anymore. It was released as a laser disc if you have a laser disc player! It was a good performance at the height of our popularity and it was Carnegie Hall! Most of that tour was comprised of major cities in the U.S. I hadn't seen before. The first time I had ever been to Europe was with the band, too.

Normal As The Next Guy is kind of the band's Tattoo You in that it came from many sources, yet still sounds as if it was all written at the same time.

It was kind of a repository for a lot of older songs. "The Man On The Beach" was written during Serious Fun.

The album features another great drummer, David Henderson - aka Holmes Jones. How did he end up in the band?

Randee St. Nicholas, an old friend of ours and a photographer who shot a photo of us that ended up being the cover of Get The Knack said, "I know this great drummer who'd be great for your band."

The title track came from the movie Plain Clothes?

In the 80s, we got this assignment to record these songs for the movie Plain Clothes. I'm pretty sure "She Says" was in it and we did a cover of "Nowhere To Run." It's kind of an obscure movie.

"The Man On The Beach" has that Beach Boys sound to it.

While we were recording Serious Fun, I was listening to a lot of the amazing (then) unreleased music from the Smile sessions like "Surf's Up," which has since been released and "Wonderful." I tried to do chord changes like Brian was doing and poetic imagery like Van Dyke Parks. It was an homage. The lyrics reflect what I had heard his life was like and his relationship with his brothers. I actually played with Brian a couple times. Once at a private party for Todd Gold, the writer. It was Don Was, me, Dallas Taylor on drums and Brian on piano. It was very surreal.

Besides Brian Wilson, who were some of your influences?

We were a lot more influenced by The Who and The Kinks (than The Beatles). Both bands had a goofy wryness to their lyrics, but they slammed it out. A good way to describe power pop is ear candy but still slamming it out. I've never considered the term ear candy an insult and I've never been overly interested in what was considered cool or hip. I would always tell people, completely seriously, that I love the Sex Pistols and I love Abba and I'd sit back and watch their heads explode. The attitude is the byproduct. It would be like suggesting "My Sharona" was a hit because of skinny ties. It's not the trappings, it's the substance.

What about your influences as a guitarist?

My heroes on guitar were the usual gang. Hendrix was my idol. Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, Johnny Winter, Jeff Beck.

So what's next for fans of Berton Averre? Do you have a website?

I'm writing musicals. I have a writing partner who does the lyrics and another who does the script. In musical theater it's best to have strongly defined roles. There are very, very few shows in which one person does the music and the lyrics. There's a big fan who lives in Holland who runs a site www.bertonaverre.com. That has some old versions of my theater songs. Also, you can Google Hell Drivers of Daytona to find some information about that.

Band photo by: Randee St. Nicholas.