Dennis Knutson: The Story of a Blue Collared Songwriter is an installment series on one of the most prolific songwriters in Country Music. Visit Dennis Knutson’s All Music Guide page for a list of his credits.
Dennis Knutson is an old fashioned blue collared songwriter who writes songs for all the right reasons. Over the years, Dennis has put together quite a resume of genuine craft, from cutting his teeth writing for Buck Owens with an exclusive writing deal to loading up the truck to head to Nashville and penning a thread of hits for George Jones. Never at a loss for a great story, “Uncle Den” has bared his soul, writing honest lyrics that went on paper for scores of the all time great country music singers.
The year was 1951. Dennis Knutson was around the age of seven years old when a moment of faith would articulate what would become his calling in this life. A father/son drive in a 1939 Buick Century with the radio playing a Lefty Frizzel song, a fresh faced youngster would take notice to the resonance in Lefty’s tone of voice that made the dashboard chrome grill buzz. It was a moment in time that would plant a seed for a fruitful labor of love in song writing.
Around the same time, a friend of the family brought over a 45 single record of Hank Williams Sr. Dennis holds these two Icons in his heart as the focal two that would begin it all musically for him. After a gift of an upright piano and taking lessons for a year, it was all becoming a gravy train with biscuit wheels for the soon to be renowned songwriter.
By the age of 16 years old, things began to fall in place. “I was in a five piece band and we would rent local dance halls and pack ’em out,” says the fella who would later put pen to paper the George Jones classic, “Wine Colored Roses.”
The Berlin Crisis of 1961 was grounds of the building of the Berlin Wall, causing a country to be divided. Culture was promptly altering and Dennis Knutson (now 18 years old) was in the Army, posted in Hanau, Germany and began to experience the loneliness that is the basic structure for many country songs. The loneliness is a raw emotion that everyone in some way or form can identify. Back home in the United States of America, The Beatles had played the Carven Club for the first time, “Stand by Me” was number one on the charts, and Patsy Cline had a crossover hit with “I Fall To Pieces” while she was in the hospital due to a car accident.
But in frigid, lonely Germany, temperatures would reach 20 degrees below zero while soldiers were on constant alert and that meant the weekend passes were taken from them all the time. Dennis established a little salvation from the radio and began to write melodies from the songs that would inspire him to create his very own.
“I could type over a hundred words a minute,” Dennis recalls, “so I was changed from an artillery grunt to a court recorder in the Battalion headquarters…it made my stay a little easier, but still lonesome for home.”
This would be a statement that would honestly describe the harsh reality of the young folks who enlisted for the promise of a better life. “We had to get up at five AM every single morning of the week no matter how drunk we were the night before and take head count in the freezing cold, ” Dennis remembers. It was like prison for the lower ranks, while the gung-ho lifers were mostly non-commissioned officers. They just had to swallow their pride and go along with what was asked from Uncle Sam.
“It was so nice to get out of the service on the troop ship back across the Atlantic… I would go to the bow of the ship and rip the ranks and patches off my fatigue shirts. That should tell you how much I hated it,” he remembers, chucking. Meanwhile, across the pond, Conway Twitty had made the transition from rock to country. Dennis Knutson, however, was making the transition from solider to civilian.
“I guess my attempt to start writing songs was around late 1964…Man, I was dumb as bag of rocks…but I stayed with it,” says Dennis. Civilian life had brought him back to where he was born and raised in Tacoma, Washington and where the beer joints he hung out in would make for some good material. Writing songs for his friends in Washington State, Dennis was beginning to get notoriety from the musician friends he had met.
Bonnie Guitar was the stage name for Bonnie Buckingham who lived in Seattle, Washington and she took Dennis under her wing. The lady whom most was known for being the first to have a crossover country song to pop radio with her hit “Dark Moon” would be second to only legendary Patsy Cline with a crossover hit.
“I learned a lot from Bonnie Guitar,” says Dennis. “My one and only time as an artist was on an Indie label…it was with a duo called Jerry and Denny that sounded in the same vein as The Everly Brothers. It was shipped to five states in the northwest and got a small amount of airplay, but that was the end of that.” Dennis says he has a mint condition of the 45 record but in today’s modern society he has no way to play it.
The first major cut was on Dot records, the label on which Bonnie Guitar was signed and she helped him get the cut. The song was called “Dawn Holds Another Day” and it became a hit for 11 year old Browning Bryant. The teen heart throb was a fixture in 16 Magazine and he played the song on the variety show called The Kraft Music Hall, by the side of Johnny and June Cash. “That was a huge thrill to see my song being played on national television,” he says.
One of his songs got in the hands of a female singer who asked could she have some of his songs to use for a voice try out for Buck Owens. Dennis arranged a few songs together for her to present to Buck.
“The next thing I know, I received a call from Buck who told me he was not going to sign her but he wanted to sign me to an exclusive writing deal…”
Stay Tuned for Part II in our installment series, Dennis Knutson: The Story of a Blue Collared Songwriter…
~ Jason Robinson
Jason Wallace Robinson hails from Spartanburg, South Carolina. He’s a writer, storyteller, philosopher, single father raising two children, music lover, dreamer, joker. He writes to speak for the Common Man. He enjoys football and driving around in his ’96 Chevy Lumina adorned with an American Flag and decorative bird offerings.
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