Curtis Knight & The Squires – You Can't Use My Name

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On the album cover we see four young, well dressed musicians, posing enthusiastically for the camera. One of the young men pictured here would go on to revolutionize popular music forever, and it wasn’t Curtis Knight. That honour would go to Jimi Hendrix, the man standing to the right of the camera. Someone who certainly doesn’t resemble the same person who would wow audiences at the Monterey Pop Festival just a couple of years after this photo was taken. But first a bit of context is in order. Curtis Knight (whose real name was McNear), was an experienced veteran of the R&B scene, and someone who as it happened was living in the same building as Jimmy Hendrix, an aspiring albeit struggling guitarist. And when the two of them met one day, Knight asked him if he would like to join his band, The Squires. It was soon after that Knight would introduce Jimmy to a one Ed Chalpin, owner of PPX studios, and when Chalpin signed Hendrix to a recording contract in late 1965, how was Jimi himself to know that less than two years later he was to become one of the biggest guitar players on the planet. As it was, it was a contract that would come back to haunt him big time, so much so, that a protracted court-case ensured, instigated by Chalpin (obviously) who wanted his money and who demanded that Hendrix was his artist, by law. Eventually the case was settled, with Chalpin walking away with a small percentage of royalties on Jimi’s first three solo albums, as well as the full rights to his next album (which would turn out to be the live The Band Gypsys).

But Chalpin didn’t stop there. Since the late 1960’s he released a series of shoddy compilations of Curtis Knight and the Squires material, often under the moniker of Jimi Hendrix, as a way of continually cashing in on the man’s fame and popularity. And to add insult to injury, many of these collections were badly produced, poorly mixed, and just plain sounded like shit (I know, I’ve owned a few of them in my time). However the good news is that Experience Hendrix finally managed to acquire the rights to every recording Hendrix made during his tenure with The Squires (and even after then), and release the first of what is planned to be a series of albums designed to offer further insight into Hendrix’s pre-London career.

The fact is, as much as Curtis Knight and the Squires were a fine group, there’s not much here to recommend it, musically speaking, apart from Jimi’s involvement, and the listener can certainly hear some of the energy, and originality of the young guitarists playing throughout these tracks. Jimi’s increasing obsession with Bob Dylan can be heard on “How Would You Feel”, where Hendrix recreates Mike Bloomfield’s contributions on “Like a Rolling Stone”. There are some other interesting pieces as well, such as “Gloomy Monday”, on which Jimi plays a few licks that would hint at what was to come after he was discovered by Chas Chandler (or Linda Keith as the official story goes), and rocketed off to England. Though what soon becomes clear, even after the first few tracks, is Hendrix had more talent and ability than the rest of The Squires combined, and this is what will hold the listener’s attention more than anything else, rather than the songs themselves, which are nothing all that special, just your average, everyday standard R&B compositions, no matter how hard Curtis Knight tries.

Jimi’s original engineer Eddie Kramer has, as ever, done a superb job in remixing and mastering these old tapes, meaning that this music has never sounded better. But keep your eyes peeled; Experience Hendrix has stated that this is the first of several volumes yet to come, though personally I don’t see it, if for the fact that R&B bands in the ‘60s were a dime a dozen, and The Squires, with all due respect to their individual talents, were in this instance no exception. In other words, an above average R&B band which happened to be blessed with a guitarist whose talents far outweighed their own, who made a tonne of recordings ever hoping for ever elusive radio hit.

Ultimately You Can’t Use My Name is nothing more than a musical footnote in the career of an as then unknown musician who in time would go on to become one the most important electric guitarists the world has ever known, and is ever likely to. And while historians might rejoice, I can’t imagine there being much here for anyone else apart from the most ardent of musical scholars.