This article, from May 14, 2008 (for the Crawdaddy! website), was written by Peter Knobler, who was a writer and later the editor-in-chief of Crawdaddy (then without the “!” in the title) from 1972 to the magazine’s original demise in 1979, when it briefly went under the name Feature…
When I was in college, Crawdaddy! was about the coolest magazine on earth. It was so small that when the first issue of my subscription came, in the spring of 1968, there was a handwritten note scribbled on the mailing envelope asking me, “Did you go to Downtown Community School?” I had gone there through fourth grade. Turned out that a kid I knew from when I was eight-years-old was working in the office and noticed my name; the magazine was that small and that personal. I answered and asked if I could write for them; I had been writing about music and politics for my college newspaper but Crawdaddy! would be the big time.
I visited Paul Williams in the Crawdaddy! office loft on Canal Street, climbed four flights and found the place filled with albums leaning up against the brick walls. I was very impressed when, in the middle of our conversation, the New York Times called to get Paul’s opinion on some issue of rock ‘n’ roll importance. It was only recently that the Times had noticed rock ‘n’ roll, and then had panned Sgt. Pepper. I got two assignments that day—one a review of Steve Miller’s first album and the other of the Rascals’ Greatest Hits. So came my first professionally published piece of writing. Fresh out of college, I analyzed Steve Miller in terms of Wallace Stevens. I was very pleased that Paul didn’t touch a comma, printed the piece exactly as I wanted it run. My kind of editor. Paul was also kind enough to grab a copy of the Beatles’ White Album for me when it came out because he knew I’d like it. He was a good guy and he knew his music.
Four years later Paul had moved on and I was 25-years-old and the editor of Crawdaddy (we dropped the exclamation point but kept the enthusiasm). Our staff was filled with people who knew their stuff and lived for the music. It was a great time to be young. Crawdaddy discovered Bruce Springsteen. In December, 1972 I drove to Sing Sing Prison and heard Bruce and the band play for the Prisoners’ Liaison Committee and about 300 assorted felons in the prison chapel. That night in New York at Kenny’s Castaways he played to an audience of no more than 20 and he was fully possessed by his own music. The next day I drove to Jersey and did his first interview. His first album was going to be released in a couple of weeks and he was excited about it. I went home and wrote 5,000 words (with special assistance from Greg Mitchell) about this guy nobody had heard of. Crawdaddy didn’t care that the story wasn’t going to sell issues; we had someone our readers needed to know about, and that was our great purpose.
Through the years I broadened the magazine’s focus to include politics, movies, food, sex, drugs, and pretty much everything my generation was interested in. William Burroughs wrote for us, and John Lennon, and Abbie Hoffman. Paul himself was a columnist for a time. We encouraged writers to write about what pleased them, to share what was important, or to savage what was dangerous. Otherwise, what’s the point?
There was always something good playing over the Crawdaddy office speakers, there were always stories about what we had heard the night before and what we were going to hear when we left for the evening. It didn’t hurt that most everything was free. We were serious about our writing and our artwork, and we worked hard, but the Crawdaddy office was intended to be a fun place to be. I was professionally young well into my 30s and then the music business retrenched, we lost our advertising, and the magazine closed. It was a great run.
I now collaborate with people on their autobiographies. I’ve written with James Carville and Mary Matalin, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ann Richards. I’m currently working with New York City Mayor David Dinkins. (It’s a good year to be writing about race and politics.) Somehow, some way the conversation, as a good conversation will, always comes ’round to music.
I still love music, and I find myself by far the oldest guy at most of the clubs I go to. Wherever I go I’m definitely breaking the age curve. Where is everyone I used to hear music with? Beats me. These days I’m into funk, New Orleans music, the whole culture that says music is life. I am happy to say that my son shares the passion. He’s lead guitarist in the funk band Captain Coconut and he’s got the Crawdaddy spirit. The old Crawdaddy would’ve loved this band. The old Crawdaddy knew a good thing when we heard it.