Goofball ‘90s country outfit Hot Country Knights fulfilled a dream three decades (and countless pairs of high-waisted jeans) in the making on Friday (May 1), when they dropped their studio debut, The K is Silent.
Lesser fans of the Knights may know them as the spoof group fronted by Dierks Bentley’s alter ego, Doug Douglason, which has been making sporadic appearances along Bentley’s tour routes since 2015. But true diehards know that the band got together way back in 1990 at a Murfreesboro, Tennessee Olive Garden.
“I’d seen [bassist] Trevor Travis on the Ricki Lake show for having the most failed paternity tests, so I recognized him in the Olive Garden,” Douglason recounted to reporters over video chat earlier this week. He was hunkered down in the band’s van during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the fact that the media event was virtual, the singer came prepared with a leopard-print cloth mask and, inexplicably, tiny cuticle masks over each of his fingers.
He explained that the bandmates started frequenting a local joint called Teaser’s, where they performed on Tuesday nights in exchange for free wings, and the Hot Country Knights was born.
“We learned how to sing, we learned how to write songs. We learned all our dance moves. That’s where the ‘Doug thrust’ comes from,” Douglason continued, nearly knocking over the camera recording him as he stood up to demonstrate. “And all these bands started coming down and copying all our looks, our dance moves — it all started from playing Teaser’s.”
The K is Silent’s 10-song track list may remind some listeners of other famous ‘90s country songs, and it’s true that the Knights have served as inspiration for the likes of Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw and countless more titans of the country genre.
“We did trademark the mullet back on January 1st, 1990, and we were the first guys to wear our hair like this,” Douglason continues. “That’s another way we made a little side revenue: Every time Blake Shelton wore his, every time he stepped out of the house, he had to pay me 30 cents. So it was adding up. That’s actually why he cut his off, because it was starting to be expensive for him.”
On their new album, the Knights are applying a similar approach to their music: The band knows that their song, “Then it Rained,” bears a striking resemblance to Garth Brooks ‘90 hit “The Thunder Rolls,” but they’re adamant that Brooks is the one who ripped off their original.
“[Then it Rained] is one of the biggest examples of somebody coming down to Teaser’s and copying what we do,” Douglason declares. “I remember exactly where I was when ‘The Thunder Rolls’ came out, and for a second I thought it was an old song that we cut back in the day — that we hadn’t actually cut, but we’d thought about, called ‘Then it Rained.’
“So I know it steps a little bit on the Garth thing, and I’m hoping maybe he sues us,” he continues, pointing out that a lawsuit would be a convenient way to tie Brooks’ name to a project that already features duets with Terri Clark and Travis Tritt.
“Between having Travis Tritt at the beginning and Terri Clark at the end, and then a Garth Brooks lawsuit in the middle — I mean, it’s kind of genius,” he adds. “It is a little bit of a sore subject for me, because I feel like nobody did drama, does drama, like we do it. Nobody knows tension — certainly right now — like the Knights.”
That high drama and deep, emotional songwriting is on full display in The K is Silent, especially in tracks like “You Make it Hard,” a sensual, heady duet with Clark that is destined to swiftly rise into the ranks of country music’s canon of iconic, seminal love ballads.
Another song, “Mull it Over,” finds Douglason showing his most sensitive side, drawing from real-life heartbreak to tell a plaintive story of love and loss.
“Every girl out there is trying to figure out what makes Doug tick,” he muses. “It’s a lot. It’s a complicated situation there…People think of me as a party guy, you know, out there doing all the drugs and hanging out with all the girls. It’s not really who I am, underneath. I’m really a guy that’s tender. I’ve had my heart broken before, believe it or not. I know I don’t seem like the guy that could ever be hurt that way, because I’m the guy that people are lining up to get the chance to party with in the van, but yeah, I’ve had some moments where I’ve had to ‘Mull it Over.’”
But Douglason’s biggest hurdle, when it comes to being misunderstood, is the comparisons made between him and Dierks Bentley, with rumors that they’re secretly the same person further stoked by the fact that Bentley produced the Knights’ new record. Douglason admits that being linked to Bentley has lost his band a bit of credibility, but he hopes that fans will be able to see past their relationship with their producer enough to take their new music seriously.
“I mean, this is a guy that wore all black clothing for a long time and thought he was some sort of rock star,” the singer says. “He’s forgotten that country music is — well, he did have some funny songs. ‘5-1-5-0’? How that became a No. 1 song and [our single] ‘Pick Her Up’ died in the mid-fifties, I don’t understand that. That will always boggle this mind.”
Through it all, though — the jealousy, the lawsuits, the band’s infighting — Douglason says the Hot Country Knights’ staying power can be credited to the songs themselves.
“All the songs are divine intervention,” he reflects. “As a songwriter, I’m kinda like Hank Williams. Somebody up there writes these songs. They’re just coming through me. I just hold the pen.
“I’ve got the big ‘G,’” Douglason goes on to say. “Garth has the little ‘g’ because I trademarked…the big ‘G.’ I’m gifted.”