In the late 1970's, four young men were taking the Sunset
Strip by storm. Together, Doug Fieger, (vocals/guitar); Berton Averre, (guitar);
Prescott Niles, (bass) and Bruce Gary, (drums) called themselves The Knack
and their music described by some as pure pop was making a major impact on
Rock & Roll history. They released their debut record; "Get the Knack",
in 1979 and with the leadoff single "My Sharona" The Knack climbed both the
album and singles charts, eventually selling millions of copies around the
world. Now back in the spotlight thanks in part to "My Sharona" being included
on the movie soundtrack for "Reality Bites", The Knack with new drummer Pat
Torpey (of Mr. Big fame) is once again putting out great music. Epiphone's
Don Mitchell talked with Doug Fieger from his home in California.
Hey Doug, thanks very much for taking
the time to chat. Your music has impacted so many people, both players and
non players. Tell me about your early musical background and how you got
started in music. Was anyone else in your family musical, other than yourself?
Not really, although my mother loved to listen to music. She loved opera
and folk music and I actually learned how to speak listening to her records.
She had all the 45's of the day like Peggy Lee and Dean Martin and she told
me I was singing along with those records before I could even talk. She'd
just kind of sit me in a high chair and put on a stack of records and that's
really I guess where I fell in love with music. I've been playing music since
I was about five years old. I started out on piano, and then moved to trumpet
but when I was eleven years old the British invasion started and that's when
I really knew that I wanted to do this. That's when I started playing guitar
as well. A friend of my brothers had this old Jazz Master and it wasn't cool
at all but I thought you know, maybe I'd like to try playing guitar.
Did you take guitar lessons at that
point or just kind of plunk around?
DOUG: I did take some lessons but they wanted to
teach me stuff like "Lady of Spain" and I really wasn't interested in learning
that single-note kind of square music. Not long after that I met a guy who
lived across the street from me that was in a band. By this time I had gotten
Gentleman which was a really beautiful and expensive guitar. Well, he
offered me a gig in his band if I would switch over to bass and let this
other guy named John Corey play my Country Gentleman! (Laughs) I had to go
out and rent a bass while this other guy was playing my guitar! Anyway, after
that I became a bass player for the next fifteen years. I really never played
guitar in a band until The Knack. John Corey and I went on to form a band
called Sky that got signed right out of high school. We made a couple of
records with Jimmy Miller who produced the Rolling Stones and Traffic.
That's pretty impressive that you were
signed right out of high school! How did you manage to accomplish that so
DOUG: Actually I was still in high school when
we started having some success with Sky. I was only fourteen when we were
opening for some major acts. We opened for Traffic, The Who, Joe Cocker,
Jethro Tull, The Jeff Beck Group plus we played with all the local Detroit
stars like Bob Seger and Iggy. Around that same time I wrote a letter to
Jimmy Miller saying "If you're ever in Detroit, come and hear my band". Well,
he not only answered the letter, he came to my house and later signed us.
Five days after I graduated from high school he flew us to London where we
recorded our first album at Olympic Studios, right next door to where The
Stones were recording "Sticky Fingers". We recorded our second album at Mick
Jagger's house using the Rolling Stones mobile studio. In the midst of all
this we moved from Detroit to California.
And what label did those Sky projects
come out on?
DOUG: RCA, which explains why you probably never
heard the records. (Laughs)
I guess really the band Sky was where
you gained your initial stage experience?
DOUG: Yes, opening for all those major acts at
fourteen was quite an experience.
Were your parents OK with you doing
all this at such a young age?
DOUG: They were cool with it as long as I didn't
bother them. (Laughs) No, they were fine with it. We used to rehearse in
my basement during the day while my parents were at work so it worked out
So what happened after Sky?
DOUG: Well unfortunately that band broke up but
I wasn't going to go back to Detroit. I didn't want to spend another winter
in Michigan so I stayed in California. The reality of it was that suddenly
I was just another musician among the thousands of musicians already out
here. Even though I'd made a couple albums and hung out with a bunch of heavy
people it didn't really mean much. I just had to start looking for musicians
and the first guy I met was Bruce Gary who was to become the original drummer
in The Knack. We started jamming together and then a couple years later I
met Berton Averre who would become the guitar player in The Knack. We started
writing songs together but it actually took seven years to put The Knack
together. We'd record demo tapes of the songs we wrote, many of which were
later recorded by The Knack, and shop them around but we got turned down
by everybody….more than once. An interesting story is that "Good Girls
Don't" was written in 1972 and Capital Records which finally put it out on
1979, selling millions of records with it, turned it down four times before
they took it! Anyway, finally by 1978 The Knack was officially formed and
by then I was playing guitar in the band. On the demo's I would play bass
and guitar but when we started playing live I had to pick one so I chose
the six-string and that's when Prescott Niles joined the band on bass.
And Burton and Prescott are still with
DOUG: Yes they are.
It sounds like you shopped those original
demos to everybody on earth! What do you think it was that finally got the
attention of somebody after all those rejections?
DOUG: Yes, we shopped them to everybody in Los
Angeles, New York and London! Despite the rejections we decided to start
playing gigs in Los Angeles and by our fifth gig we were packing the clubs,
literally. There would be lines around the block and it had become like a
local phenomenon. Still the record companies were not real
interested…..they wouldn't know a good song if it came up and bit them.
Anyway, at one point all these stars started coming to our shows. We didn't
even know these people but they heard about us and came to see us. Raymond
Manzarek of The Doors was the first one and he asked us if he could sit in
with us. We did a couple of shows with him and then Eddie Money and Tom Petty
came down and we did some shows with them. Then Steven Stills came down and
then Bruce Springsteen came down. Bruce got up with us on a Friday night
at the Troubadour and on Monday we suddenly had fourteen offers! I'm not
sure but I think it was the fact that Bruce Springsteen got up with us that
suddenly made all these record companies think we were cool.
So Los Angeles was a great place for
you to be at the time. What about up and coming bands today? Do you think
a move to L.A. would be a wise thing for a band to do?
DOUG: I don't think so anymore. I think Los Angeles
is the last place that record companies want to go because they can't use
their expense accounts if they just have to drive down the street! (Laughs)
You can probably tell I'm not a big fan of record companies!
It seems like a lot of artists I talk
to these days share your sentiments.
DOUG: Well, you know nowadays the record business
is pretty well over….but that doesn't mean the music is over. As a matter
of fact I think it's actually much better for music.
Which of the fourteen offers did you
DOUG: We signed with Capitol.
And then was it right into the
DOUG: No actually we played some more gigs. We
did bout 150 that first year and had all the songs for the first and second
albums by the time we started to record. We actually wanted to release a
double album but the record company didn't think we would sell that well
that a double album would be too expensive for people to buy. So we got a
producer, Mike Chapman, and went in and recorded our first album "Get the
Knack" live in the studio in eleven days. We still had this whole other album
that went with the first album but we didn't record it until later. It turned
out to be our second album "But the Little Girls Understand". They came out
very quickly, one on the heels of the other because they were meant to be
a double album.
So all the material was ready to record,
you just didn't get the green light from the label to do the initial double
DOUG: Right. And we had a lot of other songs too,
in fact some of the songs on the third album and even some of the songs we
recorded later than that were written during the time when Berton and I were
just trying to get something happening.
At what point did you become aware of
DOUG: When we were recording "But the Little Girls
Understand" I got a 1963 Casino with a Bigsby tremolo. It was just like Paul
McCartney's and I fell in love with it. He's been quoted as saying that if
he had to pick one
it would be that one and I can see why. I totally fell in love with it and
it's still one of my favorite guitars today. A couple years back I got one
Lennon 1965 Casinos that I use live.
And you like it?
DOUG: Oh God Yes! The thing that's wonderful is
that it feels exactly like an old guitar. Not that I don't like new guitars,
I do because I think that Gibson and Epiphone are now making guitars as good
as they were back in the day. There was a time that they weren't, a period
in the late 70s and early 80s when the quality of the instruments wasn't
so good but fortunately for us guitar players the Gibson companies are now
making guitars as well as they ever did.
We've worked very hard in the past several
years to put out the best quality instruments possible. The John Lennon Casinos
are a real treat for guitar perfectionists out there. We actually went to
"The Dakota" in Manhattan and met with Yoko to examine John's Casino. During
the examination, measurements were carefully performed, body tracings were
done, drawings were created, and photographs were taken. As a result, the
guitar is a "true" reproduction of the guitar as John originally purchased
DOUG: It shows! It just feels like an original
mid 60's Epiphone. It plays and feels very similar to my '63. The neck feels
very, very similar and the sound is very similar as well. I recently got
one of the
Casinos too and I love it. You know, for a while I actually had a mid
60's Casino that somebody had stripped like the Revolution. I recorded with
it on a
songs on the album Zoom we did in 1998. You can also hear the '63 on that
project. I used my '63 on our last album also which we did in 2001 called
"Normal as the Next Guy". You can see me playing the '63 on the song "That's
What the Little Girls Do" on our DVD, "Live from the Rock and Roll Fun
How can our readers can get these
DOUG: Online is the best place to get them. You
can go to www.Knack.com or
and pick them up.
The live DVD sounds like a fun project.
DOUG: Originally the company that we signed with
wanted us to go to a club and record a live show but we had already done
that back in 1979 when we played at Carnegie Hall. We didn't want to do that,
I mean how can you beat Carnegie Hall, so I came up with this idea of doing
like an old-time 60's TV show complete with host and audience. It was a lot
of fun even though "The Rock & Roll Fun House" never really existed.
I heard you have some other projects
you're working on besides The Knack?
DOUG: The newest thing I'm doing is a project with
Elliott Easton and Clem Burke called Zen Cruisers.
That sounds very interesting. Any idea
when we might see a project released?
DOUG: It's hard to say. We've been working on it
for a couple years now but because we're busy with our day jobs so to speak,
Clem with Blondie, Elliott with Creedence and me with The Knack we kind of
have to grab the time when we can. Coincidentally, Elliott is actually coming
over today to put a lead on one of the songs.
So you have your own studio?
DOUG: Yes, it's in my house and is "full on" analog.
I have a 16 track Studer 800 tape machine.
So you mean…."full on" analog….
DOUG: Yes, on purpose and then we dump to Pro Tools
but basically I just use Pro Tools for storage.
I'm sure you know that every interview
with you must eventually come to "My Sharona"! Do you ever get tired of talking
DOUG: Well, I'm more sick of talking about it than
I am of playing it!
It's a great song! How could you ever
get tired of playing it?
DOUG: You can't and honestly we still love playing
This is one of those early songs that
you wrote with Berton?
DOUG: Yes, we wrote it in 1978. Berton had the
lick for a while, he seems to think it was only about eight months but I
think it was more like a couple of years. He'd pull it out every once in
a while and say, "You want to write this song yet?" and I'd say, "Naaagh".
But then I met Sharona. She was this girl who my then girlfriend actually
introduced me to and I instantly fell in love with her. I wanted to impress
her and what better way to impress her than to write a song about her? So
we wrote it and I'm pretty sure it impressed her! Really, a lot of our early
songs were about her. She was my muse!
Obviously she will always be a big part
of your life in a musical sense but is she still a part of your personal
DOUG: Oh yeah, she's a friend of mine. She is a
great person and also happens to be a very successful real estate agent in
the Los Angeles area.
Thanks Doug for talking with me. We
are proud to be associated with you and The Knack.
DOUG: No problem, it was my pleasure.